Taylor Kuyk-White and Sam Fox of the Philly Bike Expo Elite Women’s Team sat down for a chat with the folks from Asheville, NC-based component manufacturer Industry Nine. Freddie Kapel (East Coast Sales) and Clint Spiegel (Owner, aka El Jefe, Commander in Chief, the Don Dada) answered questions about the company’s history and vision, latest news and their sponsorship of the Expo and the Team.
Taylor: Can you tell me a bit about how i9 was born?
Clint: My first exposure to the bike world started in the early 90’s by making components for RockShox when they were being assembled in Asheville. After Rockshox moved to California, Cane Creek asked me to design a new type of fast engagement hub. I spent a couple years trying to pull that off, but failed in the mid 90’s. I was not a cyclist at the time, so after that attempt, I was pretty much out of any business related to the cycling world. Then, about 10 years later, I started cycling passionately, and every ride led me to think of new ways to create a fast engagement hub. I started experimenting and prototyping, and when I finally came up with a good idea that worked great, I decided to launch the company.
Taylor: Whoa! The idea rattled around in there for 10 years before first coming to the market? That’s impressive. While the gajillion points of engagement hydra hubs, wheel builds that make me feel like I’m surfing over rock gardens, and spoke patterns that look like candy rainbows are worthy of the hype – one of the things I really love about your company most is the commitment to manufacturing in the USA. Can you tell me more about this?
Clint: My father Harvey started the contract machining business when I was born. He built it up as a successful company through the early 90’s and then work turned to Asia and business was tough. I was involved in the company the whole time, but when I was full-time and out of college, the outsourcing to Asia was in full swing. We had about 50 employees that we considered family. We saw dozens of manufacturing facilities we did business with shut down and move production to Asia. We had personal relationships with all of these people as well, and we had a front row seat to see that devastation, how their lives were upended and reduced in quality. We of course lost the contract machining business from these factories that shut down and my father and I both worried about our future. One solution would have been to join the outsourcing craze. The future livelihood of us and our company would be protected, but many others would lose their jobs. Ultimately, all we could say was, “F*ck that.” We were going to stay in the business we knew, we loved making stuff, and we were good at it. Somehow, some way we were going to develop the methods and the businesses that would allow us to continue to manufacture in the states with the people we cared about. It was more than just our employees. The vision of a nation with a few well-off people and most with low-end jobs and less money, did not sound like a good idea. Our community and city would be less vibrant. Crime could increase. There is a social contract, there always has been, and we wanted to do what we could to make our local community better, because we live there. It seems obvious. Now, there is no benefit in carrying on such a belief system if it only leads to your ultimate failure. I clearly understand why so many companies need to produce with lower-cost overseas labor, but we were able to develop a product and were able to develop production methods that allowed us to thrive. Not everyone has that kind of product and not everyone has the vast manufacturing experience so many of us at i9 possess. We dug deep, got lucky, and made it work.
Taylor: How long have you been coming to the Philly Bike Expo, and what inspired you to take the leap to Sponsor this year?
Freddie: I believe this will be i9’s 3rd year, and it will be my 2nd! The leap to sponsorship this year happened pretty naturally. I had a wonderful time last year at the Expo, which was filled with a ton of great conversations with all types of cyclists. This is what moved me about the Philly bike scene. We have so many types of people in our industry and we will often run into people living in their worlds of “I’m not a mountain biker” or the “I’m not a roadie,” which is fine – you do you. However, not in Philly (I know it exists elsewhere) the vibe in Philly was “I LOVE BIKES – ALL THE BIKES!” During the event we had the opportunity to talk about mountain bikes, dirt jumpers, road, cross, gravel, touring, randonneuring, and commuting. This made me so happy and this energy was vibrating through the event.
I saw a post on Instagram about the opportunity to sponsor the Philly Bike Expo Women’s cycling team — another very important part of the industry we all agree needs more attention. I reached out expressing my interest and the interest of Industry Nine, letting them know that I believe we have similar goals and we could work well together to help bring attention to women’s cycling and our respective organizations. It just made sense to me. I would say it has been pretty clear that Sam and Taylor are badass at riding all the bikes and loving it. You all are awesome!
Taylor: Any highlights from our partnership this year?
Freddie: I have had a blast watching the team on social media. I can think of one photo of Taylor at Rasputitisa, which I heard was a brutal, cold, wet, and super tough race, and then there’s this amazing shot of Taylor grinning ear to ear, covered in what I can only think of as freezing cold mud- so good! Another one was the Tulsa Tough. I appreciated this event for a few reasons. The Philly crew did a great job of bringing attention to the sport, providing links and reminders about times and where to watch. My understanding was that this was a big race for you all, taking you a bit more out of your comfort zone and really laying it out there and going for it. It was very inspiring, and I believe this attitude helps encourage others. I also enjoy seeing Sam hop into the Mtn bike races and killing it! You all appear to have such a wonderful support group. There are certainly more, especially hilarious IG posts.
Taylor: What are you excited about at i9 right now?
Freddie: Right now I am very excited about our growth. Things are truly exciting right now, and I feel very lucky to be a part of such an incredible group of people during this moment in i9’s development. We have had a steady flow of new releases. Last year we released our new aero road line which has had great feedback. New TRA gravel wheels are super popular and our stem orders are flying in. Then our new HYDRA drive mechanism we released this year! Now i9 has a hub with only .52° of engagement! The phones were blowing up – things got crazy and very exciting – people wanted to know more. There is always something brewing around here, new product ideas, new events, new ways to interact with our customers. While we are growing it’s nice that we can all have a say and knowing that our feedback is being heard. All of those things to me, make for exciting times.
Sam: What is your favorite annual riding event (race/fondo/etc.) and which wheels do you choose to ride at that event?
Freddie: Aside from some local cross races, in the past I generally haven’t signed up for a ton of events. That’s starting to change; this year I signed up for the Asheville Gran Fondo and the Dirt Diggler. I can certainly keep you posted on how they go:) For the fondo, I will be riding the i9.45 carbon Aero Disc wheels. For the Dirt Diggler, I will be riding my cross bike that will be equipped with our ULCX 240 carbon.
Sam: What color combo do you have on your personal i9s?
Freddie: Well, like so many of us, I have lots of bikes and, working for i9, I am spoiled and have the privilege of equipping each of those bikes with our wheels. Currently the bikes getting the most attention are the mtn SS, road, cross and full suspension mtn.
My favorite set are the Trail 270 24H on my SS. They have pink hubs and rainbow spokes – they are beautiful and always make people smile!!! The cross bike has Pillar ULCX- purple hubs, purple nipples. My road bike is running i9.45 with purple hubs, and my adventure bike/hauler is running BC360 with blue hubs and blue spokes. My full suspension mtn has Enduro 310 24H with black hubs and orange spokes.
Taylor: Thank you so much Freddie and Clint! We can’t wait to see and ride with you at the Philly Bike Expo!