Here are the facts: A few weeks ago, American Classic closed their factory doors in Taichung. After 35 years in the bike business, the brand seems to be done. Forty workers in Taiwan and the United States have been given severance pay and let go. Their demise is being described as a “cash flow” issue. The brand experienced declining sales in 2016, hoped to bolster things with OE sales and when that didn’t materialize, the funds weren’t there to keep things rolling.
Bill Shook of American Classic... going really wide back in 2013.
Those are the facts—sad, simple and tidy—but they don’t really say much to me about the reality of things. I am, frankly, saddened to see American Classic on the rocks. This isn’t a brand that rolled out “me too” products. Bill Shook, the engineer and founder of American Classic, was never a man at rest. The former national team racer was an absolutely ruthless innovator who was always willing to spit the status quo in the eye.
Bill Shook and American Classic were consistently ahead of the curve when it came to building hyper-light, but surprisingly durable wheelsets. The brand had their glitch moments—I won’t deny that—there were freehub issues at times and sometimes those ultralight aluminum rims could have withstood the hits better... But one thing you could count on Shook to do was to push the limits of things—that was true, even in recent years when you might expect the brand to coast. Instead, they were pushing the limits of wide rims and questioning whether there are better ways
than the conventional Boost 148 approach to build a stronger rear wheel.
Look, a brand doesn’t get to celebrate 35 years in this business because they phone it in.
But if I’m going to be completely candid here, I’ll just say this: Bill Shook and his partner, Ellen Kast, are two of the nicest damned people I’ve met in my life. They are also two of the smartest, wittiest and completely passionate (to the point of nuttiness) people I know when it comes to bikes.
While there is a lot of time and attention spent on cultivating a Brand of Cool in the bike industry, Shook and Kast never, ever gave a crap about any of that. They loved engineering. They loved riding bikes. They loved talking to customers who would wander up into their booth and press Bill Shook for hours about the merits of ceramic bearings or some minute detail about the tooth profile on one of his pawls. Shook and Kast always took the time to listen to those customers. Year in and year out.
Let me tell you: that is a rare damn thing in this world.
I don’t know what’s ultimately in store for the couple or their brand. According to Bicycle Retailer and Industry News, American Classic is currently in negotiations to sell its trademarks and other intellectual property. Bill Shook is reportedly still at it, working away on designs and available for consulting.
While most people are counting American Classic out, I personally hope it’s not the end.