Saris Makes it Happen – Made in the USA

Jan 14, 2014
by Richard Cunningham  


Saris Cycling Group

WORDS: R. Cunningham
IMAGES: Paris Gore

During the ride from downtown Madison, Wisconsin, to visit the Saris factory, the question arose: “Why are so many successful bike companies located in the Midwest?” The answer lies outside of the industrialized cities and the steel buildings that pepper their near landscapes. Farming is the heartbeat of the Midwest, and like the business of cycling, farming has a vicious annual production cycle, it requires large capital investments to get products to market, and there is always a risk that variables in the market or weather will eat up any profits for a given season. Farmers’ conservative business model – work hard, fulfill your commitments, plan for the long-term, and pay your bills - allow them to thrive on slim profit margins and recover from downturns in the marketplace. It should be no surprise then, that bicycle brands like Saris, who call the Midwest home, are run in similar fashion.

Saris factory visit 2013
  (Clockwise) Chris, Saris' CEO, and Sara Fortune pose in front of the restored farmhouse that is their corporate headquarters. Lon checks the accuracy of a tubing bender. CycleOps' pro-level indoor cycle is about as rugged as they come. Resistance unit housings for CycleOps Fluid2 hydraulic resistance trainers. PowerTap wireless MTB 142x12 power metering hub.

Saris factory visit 2013
  The quiet, contemporary offices inside the Saris farmhouse are only one step away from the bustling manufacturing facility it adjoins.

(Top) Jorge checks tubing after it is bent for a trainer
frame. Steel tube, cut and ready, is stacked everywhere at
Saris. Half of a hydraulic resistance housing is being
prepared for assembly. CycleOps uses turbine oil in the
Fluid2 trainer for its consistent feel.

Saris Cycling Group manufactures CycleOps trainers, Saris carriers and PowerTap hubs within a cluster of steel buildings that sprouted from an 1850's farmhouse that was once a stop on the "Underground Railroad" – a chain of safe-houses that ran from the deep South, which protected runaway slaves seeking freedom in Canada and the northern US. The farmhouse has been immaculately restored outside and the interior has been renovated into office space, meeting rooms, a cafeteria, and exercise areas equipped for indoor cycling, Yoga and weight-based fitness.

Step Into the Factory

Three steps from what may have been the back porch and we are surrounded by tube benders, arc welders, and a myriad of heavy machinery that smashes, punches, machines and cuts the steel parts that will soon become either an indoor trainer or a bike carrier chassis. The mood is unhurried, but nobody is standing around. There is a keen, “get ‘er done” attitude throughout the building.

bigquotesSaris is lucky that its two staple products, bike carriers and indoor trainers, sell at opposite seasons. We are making indoor trainers now, during the winter, and in early spring we start building carriers. The fact that we make almost everything here allows us to build exactly what we need in time for major orders. It helps us use our labor effectively.
- Bill Shager, Executive Vice President

Top Saris trainers, like the PowerBeam Pro, use a digitally-controlled magnetic resistance generator that can be programmed using ANT+ or Blue Tooth aps' to furnish a constant effort, or to provide a simulated workout that varies the effort to emulate a typical ride or a number of training routines. Saris manufactures the electronics and mechanical parts of the resistance generator on site. Saris also makes a line of outdoor bike racks, some small enough for a Starbucks, others, large enough for the Smithsonian. While we explored further into the interconnected buildings, fork-lifts were loading twenty-foot racks made from heavy galvanized pipe onto pallets, destined for a library in Some City USA.

While the lion’s share of its products are made here, Saris imports some of its products from Asian manufacturers as well, including its popular CycleOps 300 and 400-series indoor cycles, which arrive in boxes and are then completely disassembled, reassembled and tested at the Madison factory before being shipped to customers. Saris used to have all of its micro-electronic components made locally, but it has been transitioning some of the integrated circuits and assemblies used in its PowerTap hubs and computers to Asian manufacturers as well.

Saris factory visit 2013
  Steve welds internal fittings into CycleOps stationary trainer parts.

PowerTap Hubs

“PowerTap hubs” were on the tip of everyone’s tongue at Saris. Their power metering system is unique to the marketplace because the power and speed sensors are inside the rear hub, not at the crank, or on external bosses elsewhere on the frame. The advantage of the PowerTap wireless hub system is that the user can switch wheels from one bike to another and enjoy the benefits of having a power meter on any bike in his or her stable.

Saris factory tour 2013
  Disassembled, the disc-brake version of the PowerTap hub reveals the simplicity of its design. An aluminum torque tube inserted in the hub shell is driven by the freehub assembly. Strain gauges sense minute twisting in the torque tube and the hub then converts torque and speed to display the rider's actual power output. The sealed plastic dome (PowerCap) houses the battery and wireless transmitter. PowerTap provides its own brake rotors with a larger bolt pattern to allow access to the PowerCap.

One possible disadvantage is that pro road racers who flat in a race are left without their power meter after a rear wheel exchange. On the mountain bike end of the power-monitoring business, PowerTap is slightly behind the development curve, as it copes with redesigning the hub system for through-axles, eleven-speed cassettes and SRAM’s XD driver system. That said, PowerTap engineers were well on their way towards developing a full range of hubs for both XC and DH when we toured the wheel-building section of the complex..

Saris factory tour 2013
  Saris makes a number of electronic devices. (From left) The internals of the PowerTap wireless hub computer before the plastic PowerCap is ultrasonically welded together. A wall of Joule wireless remote PowerTap computers being tested. The guts of the magnetic-resistance system used on magneto and Powerbeam trainers. Completed magnetic resistance systems ready for testing and final assembly.

Virtual Trail Riding?

On the horizon, CycleOps is developing virtual mountain bike software for its Virtual Training System – computer-governed resistance software that links the 420 Pro indoor cycle or PowerBeam Pro trainer to a video monitor. Presently, the user can download a popular road ride or race course from anywhere in the world and give it a go. The system shows the rider’s view of the course on the monitor in real time and changes the resistance of the trainer to match the watt output necessary to climb, descend and push the flat sections.

  CycleOps indoor cycles use a 45-kilogram steel flywheel to emulate the stored energy of a cyclist in motion. The 300 and 400 series indoor cycles also feature freehubs to further the natural feel of the training experience.

CycleOps had the popular Alp de Huez stage for the Tour de France loaded up for our enjoyment, where Pinkbike’s Karl Burkat nearly bested Marco Pantani’s time on the grueling switchback segment of the class-five ascent. CycleOps said that the computer uses GPS and Google Earth data to map the courses. The video aspect is the challenge for CycleOps, because it must be recorded in high definition and be stabilized in order for the edits to play well on large monitors. CycleOps says that they input the GPS points to correspond with the video and the computer software can then convert the information into a virtual bike ride. CycleOps did not respond to our request to program a shuttle code for Pinkbike members who wanted to skip the climbs.

  Tim demonstrates the 400 Pro trainer plugged into CycleOps' Virtual Cycling System. He is half-way up the Alp de Huez stage of the Tour de France and going for the win..

Among the many historical photos and memorabilia framed on the walls were pictures of Chris Fortune meeting with a number of US presidents (from both sides of the fence). Fortune said that George Bush, an avid rider, had a stationary trainer installed in Air Force One so he could maintain his fitness while travelling. Colonel Tillman, who was then captain of the President’s personal Boeing 747, said that after one extremely rough patch of turbulence that almost toppled the President and his bike over, the President asked Tillman who made the best trainers in the US. “Saris,” was the reply. Turns out that Colonel Tillman was a road rider and a satisfied Saris customer. Air Force One was immediately upgraded with a CycleOps indoor cycle that was bolted to the floor.

Former US President George Bush works out on his Saris indoor cycle inside Air Force One.

How Saris Got its Name

Near the end of our tour, we met Saris CEO Chris Fortune – an energetic businessman who answered questions candidly and who epitomized the positive vibe that permeates the factory from the receptionist at the entrance to the team at shipping and receiving near the back door of the factory. Chris recounted that Saris was originally called Atkins-Graber Products, a family-owned manufacturing business that entered into the cycling industry to back in the 1970s. Shortly after the factory changed hands, it was decided that a more contemporary name was in order, and the eventual winner was Saris, chosen by Fortune’s wife, Sarah – a conjunction of the couple’s given names.

Saris bike carriers represent much of its core business. Each year, they switch from
manufacturing trainers to building carriers in early Spring to meet peak demands.

bigquotesWhen asked, 'Why did he choose to continue to manufacture Saris products in the US?' Fortune didn't hesitate: 'Patriotism,' he replied. 'Why can't we make the stuff ourselves, here?'

Posted In:
Industry News


  • 23 0
 Bought a CycleOp off Craigslist that went into the hitch with a pin instead of a bolt. Called them up and they sent me an entire new hitch unit at cost with free shipping. Fantastic customer service.
  • 2 0
  • 1 0
 For sure! While I haven't had reason to, I know folks who have just walked in and said "My strap broke" or "The tension screw wore out" and they hand them a replacement on the spot.

I think a lot of bike/accessory manufacturers can learn from how Saris does business.
  • 12 0
 Cool. That is how it should be. Real people making quality stuff. Price is secondary since you only buy once.
  • 3 1
 the price is pretty good to for the cycle ops hubs
  • 10 0
 Damn I go by here pretty much everyday and I had no idea stuff was actually made in the U.S. Pretty cool! Also Madison has some decent riding!
  • 3 0
 Wisconsins scene has been getting a ton better in the past few years!
  • 1 0
 Yeah for sure. I think rays has a huge part to do with that. Parents with bored children decide to visit in the winter, they love it and now more and more trails and bike parks are popping up everywhere as new people discover that it can still be fun even with no sizeable hills
  • 6 0
 I've got a Saris Bones rack, which does the job pretty well, and is a reasonable price considering it is made on the contient. One thing that is dumb, though, is that I bought it from Chain Reaction in the UK, yet it was cheaper to ship from over there than it was to buy from US - Saris' offices being maybe a days drive from where I live. Globalization !
  • 7 0
 I have the Saris Cycleop PRO tray rack and it's dope. Holds 2 DH bikes, or bmx, and anything in between. Way better than Thule of similar price. Maybe not as baller as Kuatt
  • 3 0
 saris is an incredible company. i can't say enough good things about them. sarah and chris are wonderful people with a great vision for their business and take wonderful care of their employees.
  • 5 4
 Like most American made products, they're not as good as their foreign made counterparts (Thule, Yakima.) The racks while functional, aren't as nice as the competitors. Again, this can be compared like American cars, they do the job but other offerings give you a better and/or more refined product.
  • 5 0
 just casually simulating the tour to france in some jeans
  • 1 0
 My Saris Freedom platform rack weighs ~26 lbs compared to the other hefty brands out there that's light. It's hands down the best platform rack out there under $150 that's Made in the USA with a lifetime warranty. Saris makes good stuff!
  • 3 0
 If you are bound to a rear gate/trunk mount rack, the Saris Bones is the best rack I've ever owned.
  • 2 0
 They made great roof rack bars before they decided to let those go. Very easy to put on maybe the easiest I had ever used. They also provided great customer service.
  • 4 4
 There's an amazing story here. I haven't seen anyone use their racks, and I've only seen a few of the cycleops trainsrs. How close was Burkat to Pantanis time....that has to be a joke lol
  • 3 0
 Their Bones racks are everywhere. And probably the best trunk mounted rack on the market IMO. Super versatile and easy to use plus they are really light weight!
  • 4 1
 I think the real question here is what kind of trainer does Obama ride?
  • 19 2
 Obama has a pump track on AF1.
  • 11 8
 Ah, Obama is out golfing...unless there's an attack on a us consulate, in which case hell be in bed resting for a fundraiser. Carry on.
  • 4 0
 Training wheels is more like it.
  • 6 4
 There's actually no seat on W's bike.
  • 1 0
 I bought my Fluid2 trainer from my boss because he wanted to get rollers instead. It's about five years old, and still works like it's brand spankin new.
  • 1 0
 To the moderators of Thanks for removing my post Razz

Wouldn't want to upset those companies that pay you.

  • 2 0
 Props to Saris for keeping it in country
  • 1 2
 Fool me once shame on you, fool me twice shame on me... Fool me three times ; see the definition of insanity!
Doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results.

liquidSpin. Your bananas.
  • 1 0
 SARIS haha, in SLovakia we have beer SARIS
  • 1 2
 This should be called an 'Advertorial' not industry insider. Interesting as it is, its nothing more than a paid for commercial.
  • 3 2
 How do you expect us to react after reading your comment? What do you think would be the best possible outcome of your action? How about Pinkbike hires you to write industry insiders articles? Can you maybe write one yourself and send it to PB content manager?
  • 1 0
 Hahaha, you take life far too serisouly Waki.
Its just an opinion, not any action.
If this article had a true independent opinion highlighting both pro's and cons (etc), then I would be bothered by what you said... as it is you're just buying into the acceptance thats its ok to believe biased opinions.
  • 1 0
 So you believe that this article is biased? Please give me an example of a non biased article/ opinion. Let's get through with it - I'm trying to help you here Big Grin
  • 1 0
 Gollee, are you really that naive?
  • 1 0
 Ok, better tell me which documentary or book have read lately. I've been rolling on anti capitalistic literature from 2009-2012 it won'tget you far
  • 1 0
 Not sure what you're even trying to say here now...
Anti capitalistic literature? Really. Whatever you need to make yourself feel better chap... good luck with that. Rolleyes
  • 1 0
 make a 11-40t cassette!!!
  • 2 2
 Power-tap hub: Why? People are so weird.
  • 3 1
 if you want to do some serious training, than WATT data could be important.
Can you go to the gym and lift the weights without knowing how much weight you have on? Pretty much it makes no sense...
The same is with power-meter. If you try to use it, you can quickly see that training without makes no sense.
But sure, you can just go out and ride - that's what i do, but i still don't think that one who uses power-meter is weird. It's just his way of biking...
  • 1 0
 wrong reply, my bad Frown
  • 2 4
 Obama rides a Donkey.
  • 1 1
 No. A donkey rides Obama.
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