An Inside Look at Devinci Cycles | What Did You Do to Me Chicoutimi?
We're pointing the hire car north at Quebec; home of Canada’s very own Devinci Cycles...
“No time for omelettes Stevie, we’ve got to get going"
It’s Monday morning the day after Mont Sainte Anne World Cup round four in Canada and Gabe Fox (Devinci Team Manager, among other roles) is trying to prise a frying pan from the hungry hand of WC racer Steve Smith and shepherd him from the apartment to the van outside where team mate George Brannigan and mechanic Nigel are waiting for the off. While the rest of the World Cup circus migrates south in preparation for the Windham World Cup in the USA the following weekend, I’m pointing the hire car north from the mouth of the St Lawrence Seaway and following the Devinci Global Racing bubble trailer for the three hour drive up highway 175. Through the thick belt of conifer trees and wandering caribou of the Grands–Jardins national park and on to the industrial town of Chicoutimi, Quebec; home of Canada’s very own Devinci Cycles, for a whistle stop tour of the factory and possibly an omelette for Steve....
From Dirt Issue 118 - December 2011
Words by Billy Trailmix. Photos by Colin Meagher.
If ever there was a place in the world to make aluminium bike frames then that place would be have to be Aluminium Valley, Chicoutimi, Quebec. Think Silicon Valley but with more bauxite and less wafers. Alcan, Canada’s and maybe the world’s biggest aluminium producing plant, is situated here. Its energy hungry cookers soaking up the cheap hydro electric power generated from the vast amount of water flowing nearby. The raw material, bauxite, comes by boat from Brazil, but once that arrives and the alchemy begins, then there is more aluminium here than you can shake a stick at, which is rather handy for a company that likes to make bicycles. >>
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OK, here’s the history lesson bit. Back in 1987 Devinci Cycles began life as Da Vinci (as in Leonardo), a company started by two engineering students from Chicoutimi who wanted to build a recumbent bicycle (one of those weird lying down contraptions) for a university project. Once that was completed they continued with more traditional bikes. A short while later a road biking entrepreneur from Quebec, Felix Gauthier, was introduced to them, liked what he saw and wanted to be part of it. By 1990 Felix had bought half of the company and swapped the vowels around in the Leonardo name tag.
The early days of Devinci Cycles proved tough going. Teething troubles with the heat treatment of the aluminium frames meant that at one point more frames were being returned to the factory than actually coming out of it. What to do? Sink or swim? An early accountant advised Felix to sell the business, but such was the passion and determination to succeed that the accountant was given the boot instead. Money was invested in people; designers and skilled technicians were bought in, R&D was increased, reinforcing the commitment to quality and future growth of the company. A lot of the staff from the early days are still here, Michel Giroux for instance, one time engineer and now part of the design team sixteen years later.
Devinci were focusing almost exclusively on the Canadian market in the initial days so naturally there was some emphasis put on freeride bikes with frames like the Kamikaze, Banzai and later the Ollie coming out in the mid to late nineties. They had a presence on the gravity scene as well, with Andrew Shandro racing as part of the Ford/Devinci team. But the Chicoutimi company were, and still are, making many different styles of bikes, including road frames, commuters, kids bikes and loads of those clunky looking Bixi bikes that are populating major cities worldwide. In total the big D make about one hundred and six different models of bike these days, which is a heck of a lot, with all but a few coming out of one factory in a remote town in Quebec.
Enter Dave Weagle and the split–pivot. Interestingly enough Felix had met Weagle years earlier and actually used to manufacture the Evil Imperial hardtail when DW owned Evil. The split–pivot design was integrated into the off–road range of the Wilson, Dixon and Dexter, transforming the bikes into seriously desirable machines.
Things were moving fast now for Devinci. Gabe Fox (formally of Cove and Evil) came onboard and bought with him World Cup racer Stevie Smith to race the revitalized Wilson downhill bike, a Canadian rider on a Canadian bike. Smith was on fire on the Wilson this year, consistently getting top ten World Cup results and standing on the box twice before a big over the bars in Val di Sole broke his ankle and put an end to a terrific debut season for the bike.
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So what is it like inside the Devinci factory? The unit sits on a quiet industrial estate on the outskirts of Chicoutimi, off the Boulevard Saint Paul and a stone’s throw from some XC trails where regular testing takes place. An unassuming white building, with a small creature burrowing under its main entrance (a marmot I think), houses one of the neatest factories I’ve seen. What struck me was how incredibly neat and organised everything was, there didn’t appear to be a nut, washer or welding rod out of place. OK the marmot might have been in the wrong place, but everything else was clinically clean. We visited at a particularly quiet time in the manufacturing calendar so the place wasn’t running at full tilt, but even so it was a case of wiping your shoes twice on the way in.
The whole Devinci creating process takes place under one roof. Raw materials, including the local aluminium, arrive at one end and complete bikes are wheeled out the other. Actually that’s not strictly true, the Wilson tube set is sent to the Far East for hydro forming before being returned for assembly, but everything else takes place in–house. That includes every process from design, fabrication, machining, heat–treating, fatigue testing, through to spray painting, wheel building and final assembly. And also includes a state of the art on–bike testing system which measures every stress and strain in real life situations.
You can see the value and efficiency of this in–house approach. Changes to a particular design can be prototyped then tested, altered and re–tested in days rather than weeks if a sample had to be continually sent over seas and returned. Here it’s a short walk down the corridor and ask Alex the welder to make the modifications (a simplistic version but you get the idea).
Random Facts About Devinci
-Devinci will be 25 years old in 2012
-The company has 90 employees
-The factory is 40,000 square feet
-One marmot lives under it
-Chicoutimi has five girls to every one guy in town
-Devinci don’t have a Code, like Da Vinci
-In Quebec they serve 325ml beers, but in Chicoutimi they serve 750ml beers
-Steve Smith (of the rounds he raced) was the only rider besides Aaron Gwin to not finish outside the top 10 this year
-There are 106 different models in the Devinci range
-Devinci make city bikes, the Bixi, which can be found in New York, Toronto, Montreal, Melbourne, London, Washington DC, Minneapolis, and Boston