BikeE Corporation is revolutionizing the bicycle business, and powder coating is helping make it possible. The Corvallis, Oregon company is the world’s largest manufacturer of recumbent bicycles. They are much more comfortable, especially for older riders, than conventional bikes, which force riders to sit straight up on a hard, narrow seat, then hunch over to reach the handlebars.
As the country’s population continues to age, the recumbent bicycle addresses two increasingly important concerns: the aching backs of the baby boomer generation and the need for a fitness-conscious and ecologically friendly way to commute to work and get exercise. Although recumbents now account for only about 1% of the bicycle market, the share is growing, and BikeE is leading the way. They now produce half the recumbents sold, far ahead of the nearest competitor.
The company has been using powder coating since its start in 1993. It was the brain child of two bike-loving engineers and a small machine shop operation. The two engineers wanted to produce a bike that was more comfortable, easier to ride, and more fun than standard bikes, conventional or recumbent. It’s clear they found the right formula. The company’s annual sales have doubled every year since it was founded. The company now employs 22 people full-time and brings on additional workers to meet times of peak demand. With 800 dealers, BikeE boasts a dealer within approximately 50 miles of anybody in the country. Two years ago, BikeE added a manufacturing plant in Taiwan to its U.S. facilities to help meet the rising orders for their products.
“While the bike industry as a whole is in a slump, we keep expanding,” said Lee Eckroth, the product marketing manager at Bike E.
At its U.S. plant, BikeE coats parts prior to assembly. It sends out every part for powder coating (except the frames) such as the handle bars, forks and chain stays. Even the Taiwan manufacturing plant, which had been using liquid paint for 20 years, has recently installed powder coating capabilities to meet the need of BikeE and its products.
Powder coating meets BikeE’s needs in several major ways. It provides longevity. “We have seen very little fatigue of the powder coating,” Mr. Eckroth said. “The bikes are exposed to the environment every day for six to seven years, and they look the same as they did on day one.” The engineers at BikeE find powder coating simple and fast to use, helping to increase productivity, which has played a major role in BikeE’s success.
BikeE is also committed to powder coating, because it supports the overall company mission and culture. “Bikes are an environmentally friendly product. We try to stick with that environmentalism in everything we do at BikeE,” said Mr. Eckroth. “We recycle everything in our facility–boxes, aluminum and steel. We try to have the same philosophy when it comes to our processes, especially when that process wastes less. Powder coating is a very environmentally friendly application.”
BikeE has worked with a local custom powder coater for the past six years, and Mr. Eckroth added, “They have been fabulous. They can turn around a product in 24–48 hours, so we are never down. That eliminates the fear of a halt in production if we have a rush order.”
The future looks very promising to BikeE. As its slogan declares, the company does appear to be “the next step in the evolutionary cycle.”