Chicoutimi, Quebec, Canada
If ever there was a place in the world to make aluminium bike frames then that place would be have to be Aluminium Valley, Chicoutimi, Quebec.
World Cup racing
Gabe Fox (formally of Cove and Evil) came onboard and bought with him World Cup racer Stevie Smith to race the revitalized Wilson downhill bike, a Canadian rider on a Canadian bike.
Made in Canada
Almost everything takes place in–house. That includes every process from design, fabrication, machining, heat–treating, fatigue testing, through to spray painting, wheel building and final assembly.
An inside look at Cycles Devinci
“No time for omelettes Stevie, we’ve got to get going”. It’s Monday morning the day after Mont Sainte Anne World Cup round four in Canada and Gabe Fox (Devinci Team Manager, among other roles) is trying to prise a frying pan from the hungry hand of WC racer Steve Smith and shepherd him from the apartment to the van outside where team mate George Brannigan and mechanic Nigel are waiting for the off. While the rest of the World Cup circus migrates south in preparation for the Windham World Cup in the USA the following weekend, I’m pointing the hire car north from the mouth of the St Lawrence Seaway and following the Devinci Global Racing bubble trailer for the three hour drive up highway 175. Through the thick belt of conifer trees and wandering caribou of the Grands Jardins national park and on to the Industrial town of Chicoutimi, Quebec; home of Canada’s very own Devinci Cycles, for a whistle stop tour of the factory and possibly an omelette for Stevie.
If ever there was a place in the world to make aluminium bike frames then that place would be have to be Aluminium Valley, Chicoutimi, Quebec. Think Silicon Valley but with more bauxite and less wafers. Alcan, Canada’s and maybe the world’s biggest aluminium producing plant, is situated here. Its energy hungry cookers soaking up the cheap hydro electric power generated from the vast amount of water flowing nearby. The raw material, bauxite, comes by boat from Brazil, but once that arrives and the alchemy begins, then there is more aluminium here than you can shake a stick at, which is rather handy for a company that likes to make bicycles.
So how did it all start Leonardo?
OK, here’s the history lesson bit. Back in 1987 Devinci began life as Da Vinci (as in Leonardo), a company started by two engineering students from Chicoutimi who wanted to build a recumbent bicycle (one of those weird lying down contraptions) for a university project. Once that was completed they continued with more traditional bikes. A short while later a road biking entrepreneur from Quebec, Felix Gauthier, was introduced to them, liked what he saw and wanted to be part of it. By 1990 Felix had bought half of the company and swapped the vowels around in the Leonardo name tag.
The early days of Devinci proved tough going. Teething troubles with the heat treatment of the aluminium frames meant that at one point more frames were being returned to the factory than actually coming out of it. What to do? Sink or swim? An early accountant advised Felix to sell the business, but such was the passion and determination to succeed that the accountant was given the boot instead. Money was invested in people; designers and skilled technicians were bought in, R&D was increased, reinforcing the commitment to quality and future growth of the company. A lot of the staff from the early days are still here, Michel Giroux for instance, one time engineer and now part of the design team sixteen years later. Devinci were focusing almost exclusively on the Canadian market in the initial days so naturally there was some emphasis put on freeride bikes with frames like the Kamikaze, Banzai and later the Ollie coming out in the mid to late nineties. They had a presence on the gravity scene as well, with Andrew Shandro racing as part of the Ford/Devinci team. But the Chicoutimi company were, and still are, making many different styles of bikes, including road frames, commuters, kids bikes and loads of those clunky looking Bixi bikes that are populating major cities worldwide. In total the big D make about one hundred and six different models of bike these days, which is a heck of a lot, with all but a few coming out of one factory in a remote town in Quebec.
Anyway, so during the early years of 2000, Devinci were ticking over and doing all right on the Canadian scene. It was around 2008 when the revised Ollie and the first Wilson came out Devinci was really thrown into the public eye. Red Bull Rampage was going off and quite a few of the huckers and senders were riding Devinci bikes, which gave the brand some much–needed international exposure. At this stage in the game Devinci had very limited worldwide distribution as the focus was still on home soil. They had a guy in Spain, a guy in the UK a few US dealers, but little else. But cult followings were popping up all over the place; people were starting to talk about and hunger for the big D. The trouble was that the Devinci mountainbikes were still using the FSR design (patented by Specialized) on the rear end, which had legal implications when trying to sell bikes in the US. If they were to get a foothold in that market then Felix and team needed a new suspension design.
Enter Dave Weagle and the split–pivot.
Interestingly enough Felix had met Weagle years earlier and actually used to manufacture the Evil Imperial hardtail when DW owned Evil. The split–pivot design was integrated into the off–road range of the Wilson, Dixon and Dexter, transforming the bikes into seriously desirable machines. Things were moving fast now for Devinci. Gabe Fox (formally of Cove and Evil) came onboard and bought with him World Cup racer Stevie Smith to race the revitalized Wilson downhill bike, a Canadian rider on a Canadian bike. Smith was on fire on the Wilson this year, consistently getting top ten World Cup results and standing on the box twice before a big over the bars in Val di Sole broke his ankle and put an end to a terrific debut season for the bike.
So what is it like inside the Devinci factory? The unit sits on a quiet industrial estate on the outskirts of Chicoutimi, off the Boulevard Saint Paul and a stone’s throw from some XC trails where regular testing takes place. An unassuming white building, with a small creature burrowing under its main entrance (a marmot I think), houses one of the neatest factories I’ve seen. What struck me was how incredibly neat and organised everything was, there didn’t appear to be a nut, washer or welding rod out of place. OK the marmot might have been in the wrong place, but everything else was clinically clean. We visited at a particularly quiet time in the manufacturing calendar so the place wasn’t running at full tilt, but even so it was a case of wiping your shoes twice on the way in. The whole Devinci creating process takes place under one roof. Raw materials, including the local aluminium, arrive at one end and complete bikes are wheeled out the other. Actually that’s not strictly true, the Wilson tube set is sent to the Far East for hydro forming before being returned for assembly, but everything else takes place in–house. That includes every process from design, fabrication, machining, heat–treating, fatigue testing, through to spray painting, wheel building and final assembly. And also includes a state of the art on–bike testing system which measures every stress and strain in real life situations.
You can see the value and efficiency of this in–house approach. Changes to a particular design can be prototyped then tested, altered and re–tested in days rather than weeks if a sample had to be continually sent over seas and returned. Here it’s a short walk down the corridor and ask Alex the welder to make the modifications (a simplistic version but you get the idea).
Having ‘Made in Canada’ stamped on a frame might not be as prestigious as it once was but for passionate people to be able to make beautifully crafted bikes in Canada for the same price as a product made in the Far East is still an important factor. If bikes like the Wilson or Dixon get the full carbon treatment then they will obviously be made overseas, but they are only a tiny proportion of the range. Boss Felix Gauthier has invested nearly 25 years of his passion and belief in Devinci and the people who work alongside him driving the big D onto the main stage of the bicycling world. With this close–knit spirited team I can only see things getting bigger and better for Devinci in the years to come.
Words by Billy Trailmix.