Fairwheel Bikes, a Tucson, Arizona based boutique shop known for their comprehensive selection of high-end exotica, have ventured into new territory with the opening of a new bicycle gallery in Portland, Oregon called Het Fairwheel Podium.
The space is roughly the size of two cargo containers. Finished with simple off-white walls and wooden floors, it gives Het Fairwheel Podium’s exhibits all of the attention. The gallery will be used to showcase a wide variety of the shop's wares and a rotating collection of bikes from local builders and pro riders.
"[We want] to show parts to people that they're not going to regularly see, to bring a little boutique gallery to physical presence, to pull it off of blogs and websites and things into a space where people can actually check it out," said Fairwheel's web developer and gallery co-owner Emiliano Jordan.
ADA and Lightweight wheels are notably similar in design and construction but while you see quite a bit of the latter, ADA creator Cees Beers mostly does design work for others now
Though the gallery is expected to draw a strong local crowd in bike-crazy Portland, Jordan also expects the appeal of the gallery to extend far beyond the greater metro area, mirroring the international clientele of the mainstream Fairwheel shop. One recent customer flew to Tucson from Switzerland just to go over details of a bike purchase.
A tour through the gallery — even in its early state — is enough to prove that the shop has accomplished its goal. Littered throughout the modest space are open glass cases filled with carbon and machined aluminum components from the likes of THM-Carbones, AX Lightness, Tune, Extralite, Schmolke, New Ultimate, Soul-Kozak, ENVE Composites, KCNC, Far and Near, eecycleworks and countless others.
These are items many people may have seen pictures of but few have seen in person, never mind handled. There are even extremely rare finds such as THM-Carbones' prototype carbon fiber rear derailleur – estimated to cost around US$3,000 – Tune's new magnetic rear hub and ADA carbon wheels.
THM-Carbones developed this ultralight rear derailleur but ultimately decided that it was going to be too expensive to introduce to the public
Over the past few years, Fairwheel Bikes have earned a reputation for some remarkable project bikes that have occasionally made the rounds in online forums and the tradeshow circuit. Included in the mix is an insanely light complete road bike weighing just 2.7kg (6lb), a Titus 29er titanium hardtail with a thoroughly re-engineered sequential-shifting Shimano Dura-Ace Di2 transmission, and a variety of special paint jobs.
Fairwheel Bikes' Titus titanium 29er would be an impressive rig on its own but what really makes it special is the re-engineered sequential shifting Shimano Dura-Ace Di2 system
It's those amazing Di2 reworks that have earned the shop the most visibility in our eyes, though. What started out as more basic adaptations for mountain bike use have now morphed into something much more complex and ambitious. Fairwheel have enlisted the aid of a computer engineer and former hacker who operates in the shadows from his home in Hawaii and normally charges US$1,000 for his consulting work.
Fairwheel Bikes retasked a Shimano Dura-Ace Di2 satellite shifter for their sequential-shift mountain bike project
"We can't really say much about him," said Jason Woznick – better known as "madcow" on forums and essentially the public face of Fairwheel Bikes. "He's a computer engineer that writes kernels and lives in Hawaii and is a bike fanatic. He just likes doing this kind of fun stuff – I think it breaks up the monotony of his day job. He's been a friend of mine for a long time and donates his time – we otherwise couldn't afford him."
Woznick says the Di2 projects that the company's secret developer has created thus far are just the tip of the iceberg. Supposedly, there's much more potential given the right programming. Woznick adds that there are some patents pending surrounding the development work that may be sold or possibly put into a limited production run. After riding the sequential-shift Di2 system ourselves – albeit very briefly and gingerly on account of non-glued tubular tires – we'd love to see something like this more widely available.
Still, "widely available" is a relative term here as much of Fairwheel Bike's inventory and work caters heavily to the very well heeled. Included in the company catalog are US$1,500 cranksets (without chainrings), $580 rear hubs, $700 seatposts, $140 water bottle cages, $1,200 road brake calipers and $825 road handlebars. In all fairness, there's also a wide variety of machined aluminum and color anodized bits under US$50 but even so, we're generally not talking about stuff that's affordable to the average rider.
THM-Carbones' Clavicula is one of the rarest mountain bike cranksets currently available
Despite this, Woznick says Fairwheel's numbers are steadily climbing. "We actually continue to increase in sales," he said. "Not that all of our customers are ultra-rich but for the guys that have money, when there's a recession and they lose 20 percent, they're still well off." Moreover, Woznick sees no end in sight to what some folks are willing to pay to have the very best.
"There's absolutely no upper limit.," he said. "I know of companies that have done jewel-encrusted head tube badges.The clientele shrinks with each step in price so at some point, there's only going to be handful of people that would want a jewel-encrusted head tube but they're out there. They're the same guys that want a $30,000 watch or have a Ferrari collection or just prefer bikes to Ferraris."
Geoff McFetridge's graphics work would normally be very expensive but luckily, some personal connections earned Fairwheel Bikes a favor
"You'd be surprised how much goes to upper-middle-class guys that aren't rich, that aren't making over six figures a year," Woznick said. "You can put together a bike with the upper end of all of this stuff for $14,000, $15,000, so it's really not that big of a jump over the £8,000, $9,000, $10,000 that you'd be looking for a Di2 whatever."
Contrary to the shop's online persona, the brick-and-mortar presence is decidedly more humble in nature and Woznick says it was a slow start getting into the high-end business. "It's a 60-year-old building that was a grocery store in the Forties," he said. "It looks like any other bicycle shop in middle America. It's filled with Treks and Specializeds. There are a few of our projects hanging up on the walls but 99 percent of what's done there is just day-to-day, regular bike shop stuff. Some people fly in to build project bikes but most of this kind of work is done off-site.
"We had a customer that wanted a really light bike a decade ago and we had to start purchasing from some really exclusive companies in Europe to do it and then we started adding a few more pieces to the order and then adding more. Over the years we've built the clientele and built our relationships with the manufacturers so we've been able to increase our volumes both in terms of what they'd allow us to buy and what we could sell. Nowadays our biggest problem is that we can't fill the demand."
Fairwheel Bikes not only have an impressive collection of Tune hubs but even have the company's new model with the ultralight magnetic driver mechanism
Whether or not you can afford any of it, Het Fairwheel Podium is still worth a visit if you're in the area, if only for the overwhelming selection of 'bike porn' available for viewing. The gallery will hold regular public hours on Saturdays but it'll also be open by appointment during the week.