Retail, Small Business & Startups, and Technology

Technology creates a more comfortable bike

Alter Cycles have a flexible frame with a curved spring that can be adjusted for conditions.

April 1, 2016
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Alter Cycle
The Alter Cycle was designed by Mark Groendal, who is famous for creating the Slingshot bike in the 1980s. Courtesy Alter Cycles

In a city where biking is becoming all the rage, a startup is looking to create the most comfortable bike for everyone.

Alter Cycles is a Grand Rapids-based company that’s bringing a technology-savvy bicycle to the marketplace. The company, which was founded in January 2015, makes bicycles that have a special flexible frame with a curved spring that can be swapped out for the traditional metal down tube, said John Walton, CEO of Alter Cycles.

Mark Groendal, the firm’s founder and director, designed the Alter Cycle. Groendal first came to bicycle prominence in the late 1980s with his similarly designed Slingshot bike, which garnered a mention in Michael Embacher’s 2011 book “Cyclepedia: A Century of Iconic Bicycle Design.”

The new Alter Cycles still have the flexibility of the Slingshot, but the look is more traditional, which Walton said makes it more marketable. After all, “three-wheel cars don’t sell very well, even though they work fine,” he said.

The company wants to eventually develop a road-bike version using the same technology, as well as a mountain bike.

The shock suspension is a concept borrowed from motorcycles, but previous attempts led to overly expensive, complicated and “heavy” designs that frustrated designers and left riders sore.

Walton said the firm’s patented “ARC” technology manages road conditions from a less obvious place — the frame’s down tube. The removable tube can be adjusted to a rider’s weight or road conditions.

Alter Cycles, which is located in approximately 800 square feet of office and workshop space at 4652 Danvers Drive SE in Grand Rapids, stores the bikes at Grand Haven Powder Coating Inc., 1710 Airpark Drive, Grand Haven. The company just started making its first shipments last month to independent bike dealers. Alter Cycles are currently available for purchase locally at Speed Merchants in Rockford.

Walton said they don’t plan to sell the bikes online because “bike dealers tend to frown on bike dealers who sell online. They don’t want to have the Amazon situation happen.”

“The bike needs to be assembled. We prefer to have a professional assemble it for warranty reasons. … They’ll be sold through independent bike dealers throughout the country. We’re in the process of signing up some now,” he said. “The local dealer is Speed Merchants in Rockford, and we’re working on other bike sellers around here. We’re working on signing five other dealers in the West Michigan area.”

Alter Cycles currently offers three types of bikes, Walton said. The first model, an entry level bike, is the Reflex 100, which retails for $699. Then there’s the midlevel Reflex 300, which retails for $899. The Reflex 500 retails for $1,249.

The bikes are marketed for the 25-and-older population, he said. Since the bike isn’t a hard-core racing bike, Walton is looking to attract commuters and the retirement community.

The driving force behind Alter Cycles’ bikes is they’re designed for comfort, he said. The removable down tubes, which Alter Cycle calls Rider Fit Tubes, are offered in three levels of dampening and can be tuned to the weight of the rider, the road conditions, or just to change appearances.

The bike market is solid right now, Walton said. While he doesn’t think bikes will ever replace cars, he pointed out there are segments of the country that are turning to them as a primary form of transportation.

He also noted the bicycle market is a mark of the overall state of the economy.

“When the economy gets bad, the bike industry gets good,” Walton said. “Everyone in the local industry we’ve shown it to has been excited for it. … I personally ride it. I love it. It’s ideal for rough roads or two-track or gravel track or trails. It’s not a mountain bike, but it can handle off-road,” he said.

“We’re a little guy competing against the bigger guys. It’s an uphill battle, but it’s a good-looking bike.”

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