Whistler has always occupied a special place in the world of mountain biking, but it's not just about trails, races and the incredible support from the community as a whole — it also happens to be the home of one of the most interesting and innovative companies in the industry — Chromag.
And there's no question that Chromag has come a long way in 10 years.
Rebecca Ritz, who works part-time for the company and her husband — Chromag founder Ian Ritz — said Chromag didn't want to have a formal event to celebrate a decade in operation, but wanted to use the anniversary to thank all of the people that made it possible.
"Our success is because the Whistler mountain bike community adopted us early on," she said. "There were a lot of early buyers and supporters in the community, and we really couldn't have done it without them."
Ian Ritz started the company after undertaking a project to make a custom steel-framed bike for himself. Once popular, most manufacturers were switching to aluminum frames in those days, despite the fact that steel could be superior in many of ways. Steel frames are durable, for one, they naturally flex more than other materials like aluminum, and you can use a narrower tube to get a higher strength-to-weight ratio.
Mike Truelove, a bike designer in Squamish, helped Ritz to build that frame, and after showcasing it on trails Ritz was approached by other cyclists that were interested in having the same kind of frame. And so Chromag — short for the chromium-molybdenum alloy and magnesium plating used in the frames, as well as Cro-Magnon man, the company's shaggy logo — was born.
Over the years the company has branched out considerably. Today, it has dealers in 22 different countries, makes 12 different frames and manufactures bike parts in a dozen categories — handlebars and grips, stems, saddles, seat posts, quick releases, seat-post clamps, saddles, bashguards and, most recently, pedals and chainrings. It also does a brisk business selling soft goods like t-shirts and hats.
A lot of Chromag's products are coloured. The ability to custom-style bikes had been underestimated by the industry, and offering a wide selection of colours and styles, as well as a quality product, helped Chromag stand out in a crowded marketplace.
The company also landed Whistler's Brandon Semenuk — arguably one of the biggest names in mountain biking these days — as a product creator and brand representative. It might seem like a coup of sorts, but Semenuk actually approached them.
"Brandon grew up just up the street from us in Emerald Estates, so we've known him a long time," laughed Rebecca. "He wanted to collaborate with us on a saddle, and that's what got us started working with him. He gave us input on design, Ian built it and we branded it as "Overture." We've also been working on a couple of other things with him, a pedal and a grip that will be the Liaison Series.
"It's pretty exciting working with him, he's arguably the biggest name in mountain biking right now. His saddles have been extremely popular."
What made the saddle different is that it was designed specifically for dirt jump and slopestyle — it's short with a high platform, and has grip areas on the side for doing aerial tricks.
Flush with success, Chromag is expanding its Function Junction shop once again to give its five staffers a little more room. Their eclectic and laid-back shop has also become somewhat famous internationally.
"We've actually enjoyed a fair amount of press in mountain bike mags, and the interest we've seen has just grown exponentially for us," said Ritz.
"A lot of people walk in the door from wherever in the world, Japan or Germany or wherever, because they were a fan of our stuff and just wanted to see the shop. So we'll give them a tour and show them all our latest stuff and they just love it — and then they'll pick up a hat and t-shirt on the way out.
"That's when you know you're doing well, when people start making a pilgrimage to come and see you."
Chromag also launched a new video called "Chromag Family Album" on Oct. 24, featuring some of the top riders that are riding for the brand. It's available at Chromag's Vimeo page.