Our stuff is not cheap – by that I mean our products are neither inexpensive nor just of acceptable design and construction. Let’s take the Helm fork as an example. It is one-thousand one-hundred dollars. Whenever I have purchased a car and had to write a check, the weight of the amount really settled in when I spelled it out. My first car was “eight-hundred dollars and no/100s” not $800. We know the Helm costs a lot of money. Cane Creek Cycling is in the bicycle industry and situated in Fletcher, NC. Neither of which bring in the dough like Apple in Cupertino, CA – no Teslas in our parking lot! So we don’t take such sums lightly.
But why would one spend so much on a Helm? Right off I’ll acknowledge that our competitors make some damn good product. I’ve worked with them directly and indirectly for years – numerous times I was fortunate to ride prototypes and receive briefings on what they were doing and why. I have also used their products on my personal rides. Their reputation for value, performance, and quality are well-earned. So their forks will provide satisfactory performance and sometimes lower price. However, we believe the Helm holds its own and provides a different riding experience. While this is not intended to be a sales pitch, if the words that follow resonate with you, then you’ll have the answer to the question at the beginning of this paragraph.
As I said in last month’s blog and you’ll likely hear me say again and again, to a person we are here to make products that we believe in and want to ride. In the case of a trail/enduro fork, we wanted a fork that could handle a hard-charging riding style, that featured enough adjustability to dial in the ride but not be overly complex, that was as user-friendly as possible, and that was designed and constructed to be robust. This is not a sales pitch, but we believe we delivered on these, and the media reviews and rider feedback support that belief.
We hand-assemble every part of every fork. We build only twenty forks at a time. We could have this fork built in Taiwan for less. There, factories use increasingly more automation to build 2,000 forks at a time. That speed and quantity decreases costs, and this is not a bad thing. However, there’s no substitute for the fulfillment and pride of building things with one’s own hands. Furthermore, we constantly learn how to improve designs when building them ourselves. The distance between our engineers and the production floor is measured in meters – like sixty – not ten-thousand kilometers. And hardly a week goes by when our engineers are not actually working in production personally. Building forks in our factory is not the only way, but it is our way.
One thing that blew me away when I moved to Switzerland some years ago was how they don’t hide the machinery – hell, they seem to celebrate it. In public buildings the HVAC components are not hidden behind suspended ceilings, wiring and switches are not encased in sheetrock, and plumbing is literally on display. Function can be appreciated, even beautiful. However we have not found a way to make visible the functional beauty inside the Helm. Nearly every part inside the Helm damper and air spring is CNC machined and anodized. We don’t use injection molded plastic. There are no cheap steel stampings. We screw things together instead of crimping or rolling. This speaks to the robustness we were after and affords the long-term serviceability Cane Creek has supported for decades.
A Cane Creek Helm is not for everyone, and we’re OK with that. But we know that there are enough of you out there that are like us – people that see themselves as defined by their riding, and that definition relies on their bikes enabling that riding – to make our business model work. Without you out there that are like us, we would not be able have this wonderful opportunity known as a labor-of-love. So we cannot say it too often or too frequently, Thank You.