From Dirt Issue 113 - July 2011

double barrel (6)
double barrel (6)

Words by Ed H. Photos by Ed H.

I don’t know if it’s just me, but I had the impression that Cane Creek were some kind of global giant. I think it all stems from the fact that there seem to be more Cane Creek headsets in the world than you can shake a stick at. Being a strong supporter of the underdog I normally try and steer clear of such corporations, but with products like their Double Barrel rear shock and the Angleset adjustable headset there was no way I could avoid Cane Creek. It turns out though that I had nothing whatsoever to worry about, my conscience was clear.

The realisation that Cane Creek were nothing like I imagined all started when I met Josh Coaplen, the head of R&D. Actually that’s not quite true because when I first met him and heard his title my mind ran wild again and imagined that he headed up some vast team of engineers who all sat in some fancy design office dreaming up the next great invention. It turns out that he pretty much is Mr R&D, but more about that later.

Anyway, fast forward some more false imagination and we get to a point where I’m discussing the ever expanding range of fitments for Anglesets with Josh, and during that conversation I say something along the lines of, ‘I just wish you could make one for old skool 1 1/8" headsets, but I suppose it isn’t possible?’ Josh then said, in his typical ‘not wanting to give too much away/should I be saying this’ way, ‘well actually it is possible and I might possibly have made one...but I don’t think it’ll ever make it into production.’ Feeling as strongly as I do that an 1 1/8" Angleset would be the saviour of many older frames, and in many cases more useful than ones designed to fit bikes that already have more up to date geometry, I then launched into a bit of a tirade along the lines of ‘why the hell not?’.

The answer that came back actually infuriated me even more because it was essentially purely down to aesthetics. Basically to make it possible the cups have to be a bit bigger than a regular 1 1/8" headset, and Cane Creek had decided that the end result wouldn’t be pretty enough to bear their name. Well, that’s the way I read it anyway, and as I just said that made me mad because there’s nothing that annoys more than style over substance. Personally I think if you can make a truly great product I don’t care that much what it looks like. Yes by all means make it pretty too if you can, but if you can’t then as far as I am concerned it’s no hard loss. Anyway, the conversation ended with me asking how I could convince Cane Creek to make it, and how many they’d need to sell to make it viable. Josh simply said ‘if you can prove that 100 people would want one then we will at least start to consider it.’>>

Click through to keep reading...

[part title="Cane Creek"]

boss man (3)
boss man (3)

Within just a few hours we’d reached that magical figure, with many reckoning they’d want more than one (in fact I seem to remember Brant Richards of Nuke Proof, Ragley, etc., said he’d take 100 himself), and then just a few days later we’d gone past quadrupling that figure. It turns out that I wasn’t the only one to be surprised by the response, Cane Creek had been pretty blown away too, especially when they also got several phone calls from bike manufacturers about it.

This was when I really started to get the feeling that I might have been wrong about the scale of Cane Creek. Firstly because I couldn’t believe that a massive company would even consider changing their mind, and secondly because after several more emails from Josh it became apparent that he was working crazy hours to try and improve his original prototype. Obviously he didn’t have a pile of minions to do the dirty work. Anyway, it turned out that Cane Creek were pretty pleased to get such feedback because when you’re so immersed in the bike industry, surrounded by the latest and greatest shiny stuff, it’s far too easy to forget just how many riders are out there on older stuff, and their different needs. They were so pleased in fact that not long after this whole thing kicked off I got an invite to go and visit them.

Now I’m really starting to doubt my intuition because for some reason I had it in my head that North Carolina, where they are based, was super flat. I was even thinking that right up until the last ten minutes of the flight from Chicago to Ashville. Everything I had flown over up until that point was flat as a pancake, but then suddenly these mountains appeared out of nowhere and stretched for as far as I could see. Yet another serious misconception then. It also appeared that I had landed in the middle of nowhere, you don’t get airports much smaller than Ashville, and I soon discovered Cane Creek weren’t even based in the relatively bright lights of Ashville, they were right out in the hills.

office dogs (1)
office dogs (1)

I think it’s fair to say that I quickly came to the conclusion that Cane Creek was anything but the faceless corporate company that I had once imagined. As soon I was in the door I was greeted by a waggy tailed dog, and then in the corridor was a plethora of bike stuff, from exotic hand built singlespeeds to full–on DH bikes, and a whole manner of different bike parts. It was already apparent to me that these guys live and breathe what they do, it was about as far from sterile as you can get, and I loved it. I then got a quick guided tour of who’s who, and it really was pretty quick because in total there’s only about 30 people who work for the company. As far as I can remember that’s a fair few less than Hope employ. So it wasn’t long before I asked how can such a relatively small company produce so many headsets, after all that’s what had led to my original impression of the company, and I could only spot two CNC machines in the entire building. The answer was a pretty simple one; they only made a small fraction of them. It wasn’t a case of them getting another factory to make them though, it all stemmed from the fact that up until last year they held the patent for the ‘Aheadset’ (what we now all just call a headset). Whilst many companies paid a royalty to use the design with their own name on it, there were also several manufacturers in the Far East that were allowed to produce licensed headsets that bared the Cane Creek name. These were mainly used by bike manufacturers on new builds.

malcolm tropies
malcolm tropies

[part title="Cane Creek"]

seatpost production (1)
seatpost production (1)

Anyway, enough of the history, what about the present? Well as I just said the company is now in a period of healthy and stable growth, but that hasn’t just happened by accident. Last year marked a pretty big change for the company because up until that point it’s probably fair to say that they could have existed on headset royalties alone. The side effect of this was that they could almost have been described as resting on their laurels. Peter Gilbert, the VP of sales, is a man who knows more than most about the company after starting in 1988, was pretty straight with me, he said that it wasn’t that long ago that they didn’t really think too much about spending some money here and there, but the looming end of the patent has meant that the company is now much more focussed and efficient. They know all too well that in order to carry on succeeding in the future they need to keep coming up with great products and ideas. The Angleset is a perfect example of what that new drive has resulted in, and I didn’t think I was going to be allowed to say this, but thanks to Orange springing the leak there’s now another great new product that I can tell you about…the DBair. As the name suggests this is an air version of their incredible Double Barrel, and although I only got a quick spin on a prototype I was impressed to say the least. It’s clearly aimed at taking on the likes of a RockShox Vivid Air rather than a Fox RP23, and when I asked them how come they’d gone down that niche route I got an answer that basically sums up Cane Creek’s current way of thinking. They know that if they made a trail air shock today it’d probably sell like hot cakes, but currently they just don’t have the ability to cope with that kind of production. Well at least not to their exacting standards. The majority of their products are made in–house on those two CNC machines, so to release such a product now would require rapid growth, and that doesn’t seem to be something they’re keen on, so we’ll just have to wait for some things.

ohlins shock (2)
ohlins shock (2)
fancy headet
fancy headet