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Old March 14th, 2006, 11:21 AM   #1
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Default Fat City history - fall 1994

I came across this post by Gary Helfrich from November 1994, which is a repost of an article by the Boston Globe about the situation at Fat City Cycles. Pretty interesting read.
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Old March 14th, 2006, 11:50 AM   #2
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Thanks for posting..... made interesting but also depressing reading.

Makes you wonder if they'd ridden out the recession wether they'd still be around?
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Old March 14th, 2006, 11:56 AM   #3
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The full article:


This article appeared in the Boston Globe, November 6, 1994




FLAT CITY
Venture capital, high-tech cycling and working-class visions come to a crossroads in Somerville

By Jerry Ackemm
GLOBE STAFF



SOMERVILLE, MA - This is the story of a little company that thought it could
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Old March 14th, 2006, 12:01 PM   #4
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Interesting write. Kind of amusing to hear the views on the start-up of what is now Independent Fab. Timing, market changes, business sense or whatever, IF seems to have at least been able to create a business that is still producing hand-made bikes. Good for them.

It's really sad to learn that poor business decisions lead to the the fall of the company we all love. I guess that's the same with any company failure, really. The shame of it all is that the art, design, talent and mystique all dies with the wrong business turns made by someone who just wanted to build bikes.


From past experiences, I know I am not capable of running a business. I just don't have the tools to do it from a business perspective. I'm the craftsman, the labor, the heart... but not the brains needed to make something work fiscally or even function logistically. It's too bad that both sides of the brain can't work together better. You really need to be TWO different people to be able to run a business like this successfully.
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Old March 14th, 2006, 12:47 PM   #5
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Well said Doug, too often those with the creative/artistic talent suffer needlessly under the pressures of the business end.

Hate to see it happen, but unfortunately, it is the story shared by many small builders in America, even today.

Heart can only take you so far, desire must be balanced with a willingness to give up control of some of your dream to others to ultimately succeed.

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Old March 14th, 2006, 3:21 PM   #6
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Wow that is 180 degrees from what I thought happened. Then again I lived in one of the biggest sales regions for fats during the heyday. I suppose I always assumed they were just as popular everywhere else. It never dawned on me that CC ended up leaving basically broke and broken. What a bummer.

That same recession (circa 1991) nearly killed patagonia. They responded by cutting most of their product line annd ultimately regrouped to great success.

IF does seem to be getting by but I think it's just barely. They are making a living but not getting rich by a long shot.

I am interested in building bikes as a hobby but the writing seems to be on the wall as to how it fares as a business.
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Old March 14th, 2006, 3:36 PM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by rody
Heart can only take you so far, desire must be balanced with a willingness to give up control of some of your dream to others to ultimately succeed.

I've watched it personally and professionally, and seen it many times. That sentence is the key to business for any creative person, and by nature, creative people are CONTROL FREAKS and can't delegate responsibilities outside of their own two hands. It's a terrible twist of fate that keeps artistic and creative minds from running successful business operations.

I've been a Creative Director for 10 years and sometimes still have a real difficult time giving up responsibilities of projects to others.
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Old March 14th, 2006, 9:29 PM   #8
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From what I can read out of the article is basically what I thought - Fat bit off more than they could chew at the wrong time compounded with the accounting,sales,managment problems etc. Moral: Bigger is not always better - just ask GM. What about Walmart you might ask? True they are huge beyond what most people think, but there will always be those who will never support companies like Walmart and who will always support companies like Patagonia - included me in.
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Old March 14th, 2006, 10:28 PM   #9
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I find it interesting how Cox et al. basically pissed away the Fat Chance brand. This was repeated again and again across the bicycle landscape. I don't know enough about brand management, but I am curious to know how luxury brand companies like LVMH manage to preserve the individual qualities of their consituent brands within a larger corporate structure. Maybe they don't.

For me the mountain bike cottage industry is special because it is a place where things are unique and there is a sincere pursuit of perfection. High end audio is similar and there are the same issues of consolidation in which companies die and the general problems of profitability. Sadly the margins on perfection are very thin.
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Old March 15th, 2006, 8:58 AM   #10
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I would say that the group at Yeti has done a good job of hanging on by their fingers to become a good bike company again after the very low times in the mid to late 90's.
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Old March 22nd, 2006, 1:25 PM   #11
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Default This reminds me....

I called fat city to inquire about a job once. I had [have] the skill set any frame shop would want in a new hire. Unfortunatley, the timing was pretty bad. I happen to call on the VERY DAY Chris made the announcement that the business had been sold, and the company (sans employees) was moving to NY.

I was really sad about it, and bummed I didn't get the chance to work for the best bike maker of the day. I ended up getting an offer from Bontrager and the rest is history.

I think this parable is on topic for any small time company looking to go big time.....


An American investment banker was vacationing in a small Mexican coastal village. While walking near a pier, he observed a small boat with just one fisherman. Inside the boat with the Mexican fisherman were several yellow-fin tuna. The American complimented the Mexican on the quality of his fish and asked how long it took to catch them.
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Old March 22nd, 2006, 1:39 PM   #12
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KP, that was a nice read
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Old March 23rd, 2006, 7:30 AM   #13
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tis a sad tale. From what I've been told, its a sad irony that some of FATs most famous creations, (the original FAT chance titanium & the FAT chance shockabilly being just two examples) are partially responsible for the companys downfall. IE the incredible R+D & other associated costs. To confirm what I've heard, & as stated in the article there wasnt any main reason for the closure, just a long chain of smaller events.

popularity massively exceeding demand .. & yet just a few short years later 50c barend plugs are making $50
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Old March 23rd, 2006, 3:18 PM   #14
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Kirk,
Is a bummer that you never got to work at Fat.........great story about the fisherman though!!
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Old June 3rd, 2006, 8:22 PM   #15
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Sorry to drag this up intresting way to put things that happened it is good of Chris to take the blame I am sure he asked richard to write it that way. Truth is Wendel sold th company when she relized there were far more serious problems than she had though. It happend far more sudden that the story represents, it was a matter of a few days. It created quite the major shock wave in the Boston bike industry, a lot of job scrambling was going on.
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Old June 15th, 2006, 1:35 PM   #16
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I visited Independent Fab in 2000 and spoke with a few of the ex-Fat City employees, it was interesting to listen to them talk with real passion about what they were doing and the workers co-operative they'd created at Indy. Got a really cool personal factory tour too and watched them Tig'ing, filing, reaming and painting away...

I'd agree with whoever posted that Indy seems to be surviving but they sure as hell ain't gonna be making zillions... just creating cool, artful frames that a lot of people want but many can't afford.

My own take (and this is my personal opinion OK - I'm not stating it as fact) is that Fat Chance didn't move with the times. In the mid-90's everything went from steel to aluminium and it was hard if not impossible to get the mass market interested in steel frames. Along came full suss and frankly, Fat (and Bontrager, and Mountain Goat, and Salsa, and *insert any other name you care to mention here*) were left in the dust. What about the Shock-a-Billy I hear you cry? Oh come on, that was outdated the day it was designed.... the reason so few people actually bought one. I'm not slagging it off, it could well be a great frame for all I know - I haven't ridden one - but the market was moving waaay quicker back then than Fat was.

I lived near Santa Cruz and had several Bontrager's, spoke several times to Keith Bontrager and the same happened to him - he just ended up with perhaps a better deal from a better parent company. Don't forget Bontrager had just designed their new full suss prototype frame when they were bought out and it was shelved.... but how far behind the market was that???

I have a love of bikes, especially a love of high end cool stuff like original factory Bontragers, Fats, original Merlin Ti's, Moots, Mtn Goat Whiskeytowns etc... but at the end of the day you gotta sell stuff to be in business. If the public aren't buying your sh1t you gotta give them what they want or you'll be destined to become an also-ran. It's not as if you have to be Trek, Giant or whatever... look at Santa Cruz for example - a tiny little company just like Fat used to be, but who've moved with the times and are delivering what the public want.
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Old December 25th, 2010, 6:27 AM   #17
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I've bumped into this site a few times over the years. I noticed Scott was posting. Anyhoo, i was curious how many other former Fat employees have posted here in the past.

I had a brief stint at Fat between 90 and 92, in the tacking department while I was in highschool and early college. My primary duties were as a "domer", which was essentially forging the seat and chainstays using a torch and lathe to create the signature conical shape at the dropouts. Over parts of 2 years, i think I domed enough stays for approximately 2000 bikes give or take. One of my first duties was helping build Don Myrah's 91 custom rigs. I was with the company during the olive square days, before they moved to their final somerville space in 92 or so. this was across the way from merlin, and fat head cycles above.

at the time the only experience I had was highschool shop, a basic understanding of metalworking practices, and a growing love for fat tires. I bumped into harry one day while out on a ride, riding what was the largest mountain bike i had ever seen (Harry was an enormous guy) and he mentioned they had an opening for a "domah" so i called them up and was offered the position at 6 an hour in 1990. At the time, hardly anyone there was making much over 10, but there was a vibration to the place, like you could tell something bigger was going on than its modest, grungy appearance.

those were some pretty amazing days, arguably the golden period for the brand just having released the Yo but before dallying much into Ti and suspension. I was too young to really appreciate how unique the opportunity was, mostly concentrating on college and dreaming of a cushie office job in my field of industrial design. Little did i know it would never get any better than that. I've never been prouder of a job since, despite earning vastly more. It seems like a lifetime ago, and I suppose it was. I miss everyone there, although I hardly remember everyones name to be honest. I worked directly with Reggie Jackson (anyone heard from him?) who headed the tacking department, along with a tool maker named Rob. Reggie showed me how to run every mill in the department. before long i was doing jig setup and mill work. I'll never forget how bad the mill sumps stank in the summer, never mind that somerville had a stink all its own regardless. 11 am foodtruck. The wednesday meeting....( at least I think it was wednesday?) WMBR in the mornings and WZBC in the afternoon. The 91 "tour de square" (STILL got the tee shirt!) Drinks at Cambridge Brewing Company. Driving to mt. Snow with Chance in the summer of 90 in a beat up dodge omni missing the first 2 gears. Getting busted by Wendyll for "borrowing" stickers and water bottles. yah, those were the days.

I went on to become fairly close friends with James Achard who initially was a brazer/finisher but moved over to tacking after I left. I think he is an engineer at Skip Barber racing school these days. haven't seen him, or anyone else for that matter, in ages.

I moved to california in 95, spent some time in the tech industry designing cell phones and computers in silicon valley for a bit before returning to the bike industry, spending time doing industrial design work (mostly helmets ) for Bell, Giro and Specialized before spending about ten years with fox racing. Living in the Santa Cruz mountains these days, not too far from the latest incarnation of Ibis headquarters.

i'd be shocked if anyone remembered me, but I'm the skinny guy in the black t-shirt and glasses on the far left in this 92 catalogue shot that i was able to scrounge up in a search earlier tonite:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/paulmos...ol-527719@N23/

pretty funny image to look at under present context..you'd think we were a gang of proto-tea-partiers

bonus points for anyone who knows my name!

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Old December 25th, 2010, 6:38 PM   #18
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Earthtoned: I don't know your name, but I appreciate any past employee of Fat City posting on this site. Welcome!
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Old December 25th, 2010, 9:02 PM   #19
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...and thanks for dredging up a great old thread!
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Old December 26th, 2010, 7:02 PM   #20
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Hi Derek

Been a long time!!

No, I couldn't remember your name so I cheated and looked up your profile

Thanks for bringing that thread back. I do remember that article in the Globe.

Sounds like you've carved out a pretty nice career for yourself just as I have. Wish I more time to ride but such is life.

It still amazes me how much people love the bikes we had such a big part in creating.

Snowing like crazy here in Mass right now. Hope things are drying out in CA.

I wasn't in the shot that you're in along with the rest of the crew. Not sure why I opted out of that one. I remember Dave Blaney complaining about how Chance's butt was about three inches from his face and you can see him ducking away with his eyes shut just to the right of Chris.

Glad to hear from you again.

Happy New Year to all my Fat Friends!!

Scott
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Old February 4th, 2011, 10:55 AM   #21
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Quote:
Originally Posted by earthtoned View Post
I've bumped into this site a few times over the years. I noticed Scott was posting. Anyhoo, i was curious how many other former Fat employees have posted here in the past.

I had a brief stint at Fat between 90 and 92, in the tacking department while I was in highschool and early college. My primary duties were as a "domer", which was essentially forging the seat and chainstays using a torch and lathe to create the signature conical shape at the dropouts. Over parts of 2 years, i think I domed enough stays for approximately 2000 bikes give or take. One of my first duties was helping build Don Myrah's 91 custom rigs. I was with the company during the olive square days, before they moved to their final somerville space in 92 or so. this was across the way from merlin, and fat head cycles above.

at the time the only experience I had was highschool shop, a basic understanding of metalworking practices, and a growing love for fat tires. I bumped into harry one day while out on a ride, riding what was the largest mountain bike i had ever seen (Harry was an enormous guy) and he mentioned they had an opening for a "domah" so i called them up and was offered the position at 6 an hour in 1990. At the time, hardly anyone there was making much over 10, but there was a vibration to the place, like you could tell something bigger was going on than its modest, grungy appearance.

those were some pretty amazing days, arguably the golden period for the brand just having released the Yo but before dallying much into Ti and suspension. I was too young to really appreciate how unique the opportunity was, mostly concentrating on college and dreaming of a cushie office job in my field of industrial design. Little did i know it would never get any better than that. I've never been prouder of a job since, despite earning vastly more. It seems like a lifetime ago, and I suppose it was. I miss everyone there, although I hardly remember everyones name to be honest. I worked directly with Reggie Jackson (anyone heard from him?) who headed the tacking department, along with a tool maker named Rob. Reggie showed me how to run every mill in the department. before long i was doing jig setup and mill work. I'll never forget how bad the mill sumps stank in the summer, never mind that somerville had a stink all its own regardless. 11 am foodtruck. The wednesday meeting....( at least I think it was wednesday?) WMBR in the mornings and WZBC in the afternoon. The 91 "tour de square" (STILL got the tee shirt!) Drinks at Cambridge Brewing Company. Driving to mt. Snow with Chance in the summer of 90 in a beat up dodge omni missing the first 2 gears. Getting busted by Wendyll for "borrowing" stickers and water bottles. yah, those were the days.

I went on to become fairly close friends with James Achard who initially was a brazer/finisher but moved over to tacking after I left. I think he is an engineer at Skip Barber racing school these days. haven't seen him, or anyone else for that matter, in ages.

I moved to california in 95, spent some time in the tech industry designing cell phones and computers in silicon valley for a bit before returning to the bike industry, spending time doing industrial design work (mostly helmets ) for Bell, Giro and Specialized before spending about ten years with fox racing. Living in the Santa Cruz mountains these days, not too far from the latest incarnation of Ibis headquarters.

i'd be shocked if anyone remembered me, but I'm the skinny guy in the black t-shirt and glasses on the far left in this 92 catalogue shot that i was able to scrounge up in a search earlier tonite:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/paulmos...ol-527719@N23/

pretty funny image to look at under present context..you'd think we were a gang of proto-tea-partiers

bonus points for anyone who knows my name!
Derek, very cool of you to share some FC shop memories.I believe the James you mention is the same guy who lived in Flagstaff for awhile in the late 90's. I bought his FC bike built with Genius tubing (1 of 2) and quite the mix of parts.....Campy, Mavic,Salsa etc.This bike was painted either in the Harlequin or Spumoni style, every tube is a different color. Very nice box crown fork. I still have the bike and ride it once in awhile.2 Wheels Good
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Old February 8th, 2011, 3:48 AM   #22
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Facinating read. Thanks to all who have contributed.

A personal slant from someone belonging to 'the fickle European market'... At the time, myself and many others over here felt that Fat City just failed to move with the times. A few days ago i was looking through some Fat City brochures- by 1995 they were looking so dated (most kids i hung out with back then had pictures of San Andreas' and Outland VPPs stuck on the wall). I don't think that building steel bikes and refusing to move to other materials, or suspension were their downfall, but a reluctance to let the designs evolve and move forward being the cause. Looking again now at a 1995 catalogue I see amberwall tyres, curved blade rigid forks and cantilever brakes. Although the hardcore Fatcog bought Fats for their abilities, many Fat owners bought them as a statement. This was the big problem. Your true Fat fan was happy with his ride and did not need a replacement every two years to keep up with fashion- and the bike had not changed anyway, so he had no need to buy another. The trend orientated buyer looked elsewhere as the bikes were sliding out of fashion and there were much 'cooler' looking bikes to be had elsewhere. Fashionistas did not want cantis, curved forks and amberwalls in 1995.

Skinny tubed steel frames are still quite popular over here in Europe, especially here in the UK- they always have been and are still bought by the same kind of people who would have bought Fats back then. But they have evolved- 140-150mm forks, long top tubes, tight stiff rear ends, disc mounts, lots of standover height etc.
I do feel that if Chance had continued, but allowed evolution of steel hardtail frames then they would still be with us- just as IF are today. I don't think they would be selling 10,000 frames a year but it would still be a living. Just look at how many builders there still are in the US churning out well designed, beautifully built and finished steel frames.
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Old September 29th, 2011, 5:28 PM   #23
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Quote:
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Derek, very cool of you to share some FC shop memories.I believe the James you mention is the same guy who lived in Flagstaff for awhile in the late 90's. I bought his FC bike built with Genius tubing (1 of 2) and quite the mix of parts.....Campy, Mavic,Salsa etc.This bike was painted either in the Harlequin or Spumoni style, every tube is a different color. Very nice box crown fork. I still have the bike and ride it once in awhile.2 Wheels Good
not only do I remember that bike and the summer james built it, but for a period that bike was in my possession while I lived in rochester NY. I don't fully recall why he left it with me, but it was around the time he moved to flagstaff. He wanted to sell it to me but we couldnt agree on a price. I remember at the time it was insanely light for a steel bike, and I put some miles on it. I seem to remember it having a custom bottle opener (a campy drop out actually, fairly common for a lot of the builder bikes of the time) under the top tube....? altho i could be confusing it with one of my own, who knows. I totally forgot about that bike until you mentioned it...crazy.
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