North Shore Billet (NSB) has a pretty simple motto: a job not done right is a job not worth doing. With that in mind and a philosophy that excellence is found in the smallest details, NSB aims to produce precision machined bicycle components day in and day out.
The company was built on the pioneering spirit of two guys who wanted to craft such parts while working for themselves. 8 years ago in a small industrial unit in North Vancouver with 1 CNC machine and 2 part-time employees, North Shore Billet was born.
The first part they produced was a 2003 Specialized Big Hit derailleur hanger and since then they haven’t looked back. Today they manufacture over 63 different hangers that are compatible with over 100 different bike brands along with a complete range of disc brake adapters and cable guides. NSB aspires to not only produce bike parts but to provide mountain bikers with diversity, uniqueness and individualism. Focusing on the smaller, overlooked parts is what sets them apart from the big players in the industry.
NSB is a company that has been able to link their passion for riding and manufacturing to successfully produce high quality upgrades for your ride. Maybe it has something do to with the fact that they are able to work and live while surrounded by a vast mountainous terrain that creates an endless playground. Maybe it’s the West Coast attitude and the environment that breeds such passionate, driven and brilliant ideas & people... Or maybe it’s in the water. Either way, NSB are on to something with their vision of creating relevant products for the ever-evolving mountain bike market.
Chris Allen is the Vice President and is one of the 2 founders of NSB. He’s an integral part of every aspect of the company from shipping product to making parts. His passion lies in manufacturing and seeing the shiny parts coming off of the machines never fails to put a smile on his face. Chris recently took some time out of his busy day to answer a few questions and give us all some insight into the brand that is North Shore Billet.
Name, job title and years in the bike industry: Chris Allen, Vice President, 10 yearsHow did North Shore Billet start? It was pretty simple. Peter Hammons and I got to talking one day. We both wanted to make bicycle parts and work for ourselves. So we did it. We bought our first CNC mill, rented an industrial unit, and started making parts. For us, making bike parts was only half of the reason to start the company. We wanted to work at a company that respected its employees and treated them as partners. We try our best to let the people at North Shore Billet work when they want, how much they want, doing the specific work that they want. To me, this is as important as making high quality parts.Living and working in the Whistler area makes you a pretty lucky guy. How did you manage to make that happen? After renting an industrial unit in North Vancouver for 5 years we decided we needed more space or a better shop. Our original location had no windows, a poor layout and not the most reliable power. We looked around North Vancouver and the prices were very high; too high. It was actually less expensive to buy a shop in Whistler than it was to continue leasing in North Vancouver. Seems crazy huh? So instead of expanding, we purchased a similar sized unit in Whistler. Our new shop has a better layout and (wait for it) windows! It may seem silly, but if you’ve worked in a machine shop with no natural light, you’ll understand. Now we can run the machines and look out the window at the mountains we’ll be riding after work! With that being said, how many days a week does a guy like yourself get to ride your bike? Right now not many! During the Winter, bike riding is pretty much shut down. But once the Spring hits I usually ride 3-4 days a week.Lucky guy! Other than getting out for a ride after a long day at work, what remains the #1 concern for the company? Our highest priority at NSB is always producing high quality parts. If we can’t do it properly, we won’t do it at all.Speaking of high quality parts- most people think a derailleur hanger is a derailleur hanger. Can you explain what sets North Shore Billet derailleur hangers apart from the rest? All of our hangers are CNC machined. This is a highly accurate manufacturing process that allows us to ensure each hanger mates perfectly to the frame. We use 6061 T6 aluminum which is higher strength aluminum than what most other hangers are stamped from. Combining these two features you get the third advantage of crisper rear derailleur shifting.For those of us who know nothing about manufacturing, take us through a typical day at your facility. My work day starts at 7AM. We warm up the machines and get the daily production running. Some days I’m doing paper work, shipping product to our distributors, scheduling production, ordering aluminum, or making parts on the machines. Right now we are running 2 shifts a day, so at 2:30PM, the afternoon shift comes in. Production continues until 12:30AM. Then we start all over at 7AM.It sounds like the machines run the longest shift at NSB. What kind of machines do you use to produce your parts and why? We have 3 CNC Haas Milling Machines. Two are 4 axis mills and one is a 3 axis mill. These machines are made in the USA and are a good balance of accuracy, reliability, and performance.As more and more companies are outsourcing their production overseas, very few can lay claim that their parts are still built in-house. What is the advantage to having your own machines and an in-house production shop? For us, the advantage is that we can control the entire manufacturing process. I’m not interested in making parts that are OK. We spend the time to make sure that our parts are made to exacting standards and the finishes look good. When you outsource it is very difficult to get a consistent product. But when you make it yourself, you know that every part is top notch.What are some of the challenges that NSB faces as a smaller production shop? Our biggest problems are controlling our production costs and consistent service from our suppliers. Our run sizes can be as little as 50 parts so we have to be very efficient to make a run of that size profitable. We can do everything right, but if our material costs increase 5%, we feel it. Being a small company means that you have very little purchasing power and one has to be very creative to keep your pricing competitive.I’m sure that pricing is but one of the challenges that smaller players face. In your mind, why are smaller companies like NSB important to the bike industry? The large bike corporations are mass culture, and they really push the technological side of the industry. The downside to their success is that everybody ends up riding the same bike. Most mountain bikers pride themselves on being individuals, and being different. There is a strong current of counterculture in cycling and the small companies represent that. Small bike companies allow riders to have real contact with the bike industry. It is the smaller racing events, the local bike shops, riders' clubs and trail associations that really build up the enthusiasm for riding within the cycling community.We seem to be seeing quite a few rider owned companies popping up and becoming successful, do you think that being rider owned actually makes a difference to consumers? Yes and no. Yes, rider owned companies usually have a great deal of passion for cycling and that passion can resonate with the consumer. But that passion has to translate into good, relevant products. If it doesn’t then the company will not succeed no matter how many riders own it.Do you think rider owned and operated companies will survive in the long run against the big guns of the industry that seem to produce a bigger array of parts all of the time? I think that there will always be small rider owned companies in the industry. Getting back to what I said about riders and individuality: Mountain biking itself is an individualistic thing to do. You may usually ride with a group of friends, but when you are rolling along on the trail it’s just you and your bike navigating through the wilderness. For mountain bikers, what kind of bike you ride is a way of defining who you are as a rider. As with bikes it’s also with beer. Ever noticed that mountain bikers like micro brews? (I know I’m generalizing, some mountain bikers like PBR! A chacun son gout!) It’s about being unique, independent, an individual. The larger companies cannot cater to the small niche flavour that riders are looking for.With that being said, many people out there probably have NSB derailleur hangers on their bikes and still have no idea who you are. That begs the question - what are your thoughts on advertising/marketing? I used to think that marketing was a bad word. That’s probably why not too many people have heard of us! In the past we have tried to grow organically through word of mouth referrals. That definitely has worked, but it can only take you so far. Lately we’ve been advertising a bit and trying to branch out into new markets. It’s one thing to advertise to try and convince people to buy your product; it’s another thing to advertise to let people know that you exist. Well said. In a day and age where consumers are becoming increasingly environmentally aware, does NSB make any effort to adhere to environmentally friendly practices? Our shop is very environmentally friendly. I think that we produce about as much landfill waste as a common household. Almost everything that goes into our production is recyclable. We recycle waste aluminum, the oil used in our machines, scrap parts, broken band saw blades… You name it, we recycle it.NSB has carved a niche in producing unique bike parts such as hangers, disc brake adapters and cable guides which are all successful sellers. What are some product ideas that never came to fruition or were produced and ended up in the recycling? Ha! I once prototyped an aftermarket floating disk brake based on a parallelogram design… it sort of worked, but then I realized that the whole idea was kind of silly. I think Peter has drawn up about a dozen stem designs and machined a few. Stems are his pet project. You never know, he might actually take one all the way through to production.What are a few companies out there that you personally respect and like what they’re doing? I like Canadian companies that still manufacture products in Canada: Race Face, Straitline, and of course our local favourite: Chromag. What is your favourite part of working at and running North Shore Billet? I love knowing and seeing how things are made. I wish I could make everything that I use myself! So working at NSB allows me to make a whole variety of things, bike parts being my favourite. Any new parts coming down the pipe that you can tell us about? Yeah, I think that by the Summer you’ll see a lot of new parts from us. Until then you’ll just have to wait…Where do you see North Shore Billet in 5 years time? I see NSB being right where we are. Rapid growth has never been our goal. We are going to keep on making the best derailleur hangers out there and maybe branch out into some new product lines. Keep it simple.Keep it simple
. I’m pretty sure that North Shore Billet
(NSB) is on to something with that mantra. It’s refreshing to see a company in the bike industry that is so firmly grounded, genuine and hard working. The passion that drives this company is evident when you pick up any part that NSB produces. Talking to a guy like Chris re-affirms my faith in the bike industry and reminds me that not every company is out there for a cash grab. Learning that brands like NSB still exist in the bike industry makes me proud to be mountain biker.