Brent Steelman has a cult following for his hand-made bicycles. In the days when ultra-light carbon fiber bikes are king, Steelman has welded out a niche for people who love the old-school steel bikes.
Once you get past the coincidence that his real name is ‘Steelman’ and he’s the man behind the steel bikes craze, it’s a cool story. And if you’ve got some extra cash and want a cool and truly unique vehicle to help deter gas costs, read on.
He charges $5,500 on average for one of his handmade bikes, and it sometimes takes 6 months for the finished product to be delivered to the buyer. Impressively, Steelman Cycles has no advertising or marketing campaign. The popularity and demand for the brand is all from word of mouth.
This is particularly amazing when you realize how computer assisted design and big factory bike manufacturers have cut down the number of handcrafted bicycle makers to under 60 in the whole country.
Steelman makes only 50 bikes a year, but he’s in no shortage of funding or new business. Some of his investors include Jim Breyer, a venture capitalist who made Facebook what it is today, and KKR co-founder, George Roberts.
With all that confident investing behind him, Steelman is sitting pretty. He makes his own hours and spends plenty of time riding his bikes.
Steelman, a former professional cyclist, finds that he works best alone though. His company consists of himself, making all the bikes from scratch, and his wife, who handles all the front office orders. Steelman is a very particularly guy. He refuses to hire anyone else to help with his shop because he feels a hired gun could never match the passion for a product that its creator has.
But what’s with the steel bikes? According to Jim Goldman, who profiled Steelman for CNBC:
He prefers steel — as do his customers — because of the ride the material offers. Stiffer, a better connection to the road. You “feel” the ride differently than you do with carbon fiber — in much the same way drivers feel differently in a Porsche than they do in a Lexus. Each weld is a precise work of art; each frame capping his obsessive pursuit for perfection.
You’ve gotta envy this guy. He found something he loves and his little company is doing well for itself. From what this guy says, he seems pretty committed to working on his own, but it would be interesting to see what Steelman would say if he got offered a huge contract from a large bike manufacturer. Should he turn down a deal like that to stick with his ideals, or is it exactly what he’s waiting on to cash in?
CNBC Tech Check: Silicon Valley’s Steel Bike Guru, April 24, 2008