Chromag is eight years old, and it is already hard to think of another bike company that is so quintessentially Whistler. This is an article about Chromag components. Indeed, not a product review, because what can one intelligently and honestly report about handlebars, stems, chainrings or seatpost quick release clamps?. Instead, I offer a paean about the inception of Chromag and how its name became associated with quality products and the art of bicycle componentry.
Ian Ritz contemplating the first bike he ever designed: the Chromag TRL
The story begins with founder Ian Ritz and his vision of a simple, steel-framed hardtail designed to flourish in Ian's back yard, which happens to be the Whistler Bike Park. Ian's journey into frame-building soon inspired a modest range of components which were shaped and proven on the mountain's uber-technical trail system. Chromag's products soon attracted a following among Whistler's top riders. Before we get started on Chromag components, however, if you doubt the capability of a steel-tube hardtail in the world's most famous bike park, watch the following video:
Jinya Nishiwaki Killing it in Whistler on His Chromag Hardtail
The Birth of Chromag
Back in 2003, Ian Ritz was a co-owner and head mechanic of Evolution Bike Shop
(still going strong in Whistler). Recall that this was the age of Kooka, Syncros and Race Face. The Whistler bike park was in its infancy. Disc brakes were still new-fangled and the Marzocchi Shiver fork was the big thing. Working in a place where the sheer concentration of hard-charging riders is hard to imagine gave Ian the opportunity to see an extraordinary volume of broken bikes and parts - an education that no doubt, would assist the soon-to-be bike designer when he eventually left the bike shop to found Chromag.
Chromag's Headquarters: (clockwise)
Ian Ritz and Julian Hine • Ian and Marlowe • the workshop • and a Chromag fan admiring the showroom.
At the time dual-suspension bikes were coming on strong and Whistler riders were the early adopters. However, the hardtail still played a role. To save their suspension mechs, some would start the riding season on hardtails as the snow was melting. Suspension was in its infancy and unreliable, so more commonly, riders would break their fullys and spend some time on their backup hardtails as they were waiting for replacement bikes. That said, by the time Ian decided to make custom frames, most Whistler riders had adopted dual-suspension bikes, and hardtails were nearly forgotten.
Chromag hardtail in its natural environment - Revelstoke
As manufacturers switched research and development resources to full-suspension the hardtail ceased to evolve beyond its cookie-cutter NORBA geometry, steep angles, short-travel fork and and generic aluminum frame tubes. Ian wanted to bring back the elegance of hand-built hardtails, but reconfigured for longer-stroke forks and with geometry suitable for the Pacific Northwest. Enter Mike Truelove
. Mike was one of the original welders at Brodie Bicycles
who was underutilized in his home workshop in Squamish. In 2002, the consummate craftsman (Mike) and the enthusiastic designer (Ian) sketched out a design for the first Chromag TRL steel hardtail frame, with details such as a relatively slack head angle, an oversized seat-tube, a low bottom bracket - details that seem self-evident now, but were quite visionary for the time. The first production run of eight Chromag hardtails emerged in early 2003 and were immediately spoken for. It's a testament to Ian's foresight that Chromag hardtails haven't changed all that much and remain competitive in the present resurgence of the genre.
Chromag hardtail high above Vancouver. While steel hardtail frames are still their roots (watch out for a new 29er), components have become and will remain Chromag's bread and butter.
Chromag Ventures Into Components
Fast-forward three years: Ian met the guys at North Shore Billet
- like-minded craftsman who take pride in their North American manufacturing. Once based in North Vancouver, North Shore Billet is now located close to Chromag's headquarters in Whistler's Function Junction industrial area. NSB's extensive CNC-machining experience allowed Chromag to produce and market quality components, first with stems and later, with a line of seat post clamps and accessories.
Chromag all-mountain components dressed up a Transition Bandit: (clockwise)
Chromag Moon saddle, seat quick release, Ranger Stem and Acute bars • Chromag Lynx DT saddle • Chromag Ranger stem overlooking Revelstoke lake • Ranger Stem and Acute Bars over Mt. Revelstoke National Park
Far from its modest eight-frame hardtail run, Chromag has become an international business that manages almost 300 individual parts that make up its component lineup. Hand-built steel hardtails are still its signature product, but since breaking into the component market in 2004, frame sales have become a fraction of the company's business. Chromag now has four full-time employees and over 270 individual products to manage. Chromag remains a tightly knit, grass-roots operation with a very family feel. Ian’s wife Becky manages Marketing and PR.. Ian's mother Kathy Long is the artist who helped craft the 'twin bear' Chromag logo. Chromag is very involved in Whistler; organizing many events including trail work days, a twoonie race and the annual Chromag Family Gathering (Watch the Family Gathering video).
New Trailmaster leather saddle on Ian's Chromag 29er hardtail
Chromag is one of those brands that has that ephemeral quality attached to its products. There is a Whistler Zeitgeist
for those who can look beyond the shopping malls there. If I may be hippy-poetic -- one of intense joy in pushing personal boundaries, of living life to its fullest, and to play for the joy of the activity. I would argue that wanting to be associated with that Whistler buzz is what makes riders from California, Switzerland, Japan and from Vancouver put Chromag parts on their bikes. Of course, there is also substance to the bikes and components. The colourful components (colors are ink-transferred, laser-etching is used extensively and parts are sand-blasted for visual effect) does not derogate from their performance. The primary focus of Chromag's product design is on strength and reliability, so be warned that Chromag components are not for weight-weenies.
Chromag Twin Bear logo designed by Ian's mother.
Chromag First Impressions
It would have been disappointing for my Chromag components to under-perform. Rather than the usual reviewer schtick of trying to find something trivially negative to complain about, I'll sum it up to say that I was not disappointed. The Chromag Moon saddle
in particular was astonishingly comfortable. Its smooth surface allowed me to slide back and forth easily. The all-mountain Ranger
stem and bar combo looks sharp and feels stiff. The QR seat colla
r feels solid and smooth and has no plastic bushings to wear our and no sharp edges to tear skin. - Lee Lau
Chromag was one of the first brands to offer ultra-wide handlebars - Santa Cruz V-10 carbon with Chromag Fubars OSX
Features and prices of Components in this Article
Acute Handlebar (All-Mountain)
265g (1" rise - uncut 710mm)
• Black, Gun-metal, Polished
• 1" rise
• 31.8 clamp diameter
• 5deg up, 7deg rear sweep
• 710mm wide
OSX Handlebar (DH)
310g (1" rise - uncut 760mm)
• Black Chrome,
• Paint White, Paint Red, Paint Gold,
Satin Nickle, Silver, Dark Bronze, Orange, Black, Red, Blue, Lime, Purple, Polished Gold.
• 31.8 clamp diameter
Ranger Stem (All-Mountain)
• Black, Pewter, Red, Gold, Green, Blue, Purple
• 31.8 clamp
• 40, 50, 70, 80 & 90mm lengths
• Zero degree rise
Saddles (Lynx DT and Moon)
• Black, white, grey (Moon)
• Black, White, Blue, Green, Red (Lynx)
• Black, Pewter, Red, Gold, Blue, Green,