American Classic Calls It Quits... For Now

Jan 11, 2018
by Vernon Felton  
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.


American Classic Wide Lightning wheels
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.


American Classic 2017


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.


150 Comments

  • + 86
 "...the funds weren’t there to keep things rolling." ...slow clap
  • + 18
 "...This isn’t a brand that rolled out “me too” products..."
  • + 4
 Bill could work with Stan
  • + 18
 @steelpolish:
Staaan? (randy marsh voice)
  • + 29
 “American Classic closed their factory doors in Taichung.”

Hm Taichung. Is that in Kansas or Illinois or what?
  • - 1
 We should make a Disney movie, but instead they become the world standard of bicycle wheels, and Ryan Leech endorses them, and there's a big happy group get together at the end with all the characters, and confetti.
  • + 7
 I dont get it, their wheels are some of the best out there. Ive had 2 sets and the build quility and materials were excellent. The weight was well below other more expensive brands too. Thats a real shame. Some of the best wheels ive ridden.
  • + 1
 @maxlombardy: Why does it matter where it is?
  • + 3
 @mgolder:

'American' Classic
  • + 1
 we have a good thing going but the bike industry decided to keep on going and going and going and going till some just cant go on.
  • + 1
 @steelpolish: Bill and Stan worked together for sometime, at some point the lawyer split them up, now they are enemies.
  • + 35
 Could they have been better protected with stronger patents? There were a lot of imitation products ripping off their designs. All the best in the future gentlemen.

Now enter some random brand scooping up the name as their in-house component company pumping out generic crap with a classic name. Salt in the wound.
  • + 24
 Patents are only useful if you have the muscle to defend em. As the patent holder it's totally up to put up the $ to do that if they're infringed upon.
  • + 9
 @schnellmann: It's what makes Specialized so wonderful...
  • + 1
 @schnellmann: With a little research you can submit the lawsuit forms as a plaintiff without a lawyer. Depending on the state, it could cost around $79(Oregon) to file. That would save several hundred off starting the process. Then once you have submitted your lawsuit you can contact a lawyer and bring them up to date and also use them to contact the needed people.

That's one way, anyways.
  • + 4
 Get used to it. This is the future, consumer driven pricing market. Pay peanuts, get monkeys.
  • + 1
 @Bustacrimes: That's exactly how a free market works - consumer driven pricing. Get used to it.
  • + 9
 @m1dg3t: i am used to it. Very used to unknowledgeable consumers buying on price not quality. Very used to marketing companies loss leading and feeding off that ignorance. Very worried that the end result is companies run for profit and selfish means. Shame you dont see the impending issues this will bring in an industry that used to be about quality and respect.

Good luck with the consumer led future your marching towards.
  • + 4
 @Bustacrimes: If it were just a race to the bottom we'd all be riding Huffies. There are always tradeoffs between quality, pricing, and the marketing of items. There will always be some consumers that put quality as a top priority and some companies that fill those niches.
  • + 1
 @XCMark: Saving hundreds of dollars in a patent case has little more impact than saving hundreds of thousands dollars of the national debit debt. Wink Kidding aside, realistically you will not win a patent litigation without an experienced attorney. if nothing else so that you will file in federal court and not state court. Wink

Plus, as a patent holder the deck is stacked against you nowadays. If the person taking the IP from the patent holder looses in one forum, they get a chance to call Mulligan and try over (and over again) in a different forum until they get the result they want. The infringer only needs to win once, while the patentee has to prevail every single time. All of this before any court of appeals ever gets involved.
  • + 1
 @Bustacrimes: quality and respect lolz! think of all the shite products foisted on us over the past 20 years. so many garbage-piss products... so many brands shouldn't be around. shame we're losing this one though.
  • + 1
 @Bustacrimes: You're worried that companies want to make profit and act selfishly?? You realize that that is the whole point of business.
  • + 1
 @jefe: The purpose of a business is to fulfill its mission. Profit is required to achieve this, but profit is not the purpose in itself.

Profit is to a company as air to a human. We need air to survive, but breathing is not a purpose in itself.

Accepting profit as a purpose is to promote crony capitalism, which is unsustainable, and will ultimately lead to a breakdown of the market, if not civil society.
  • + 1
 No one infringed on Bill's many patents, they simply spent more than they earned. Economics 101.
  • + 28
 Once upon a time hard work and brains were enough, now it’s marketing a media (smoke and mirrors). I think Yt is a prime example, good product, price, hype= cash. Sometimes the good guys don’t win but I hope they make a comeback.
  • + 9
 Agree it sucks about AC but I'm not sure about this time of which you speak when hard work and brains was enough.
  • + 4
 And hype costs money, the more a company spends on hype the less of their overall resources go to things like R&D and prototyping.

Of course hype equals consumers equals capital, but in my mind if two bikes are near identical in price and spec and one company spends more on marketing, purely visual elements like decals and color matching...the less likely I am to buy that bike. In this example I think plugging YT and Canyon into the equation, or Commencal and Canyon, works perfectly.

In my opinion they're all more than sufficient, but canyon has the most ingenious design and attention to detail of the three.

I make no judgement of the current landscape, but hype and good 'gram skills count for a lot.
  • + 7
 @LoganKM1982: As much as I like YT they do very, very little R&D. They basically copy the geo from a Specialized and add super progressive leverage ratios. Total R&D cost= renting a spesh for a day. They even admit that. Que the smoke machine...
  • + 2
 @LoganKM1982: Great analogy and perfectly in tune with the current issues the industry faces. Some consumers are really seduced by the shiny shiny - others actually read past the marketing BS.
  • + 2
 @Boardlife69: it really is this obvious. I wouldn't ever support this business model with my money. It feels like a turkey voting for Christmas.
  • + 1
 @Boardlife69: Cue the mirrors?
  • + 1
 @Boardlife69: actually, I bought a YT Jeffsy 29 and compared it to an old Giant Trance 29 from 2013 that I have too. The Trance is so old that it barely has any useful geo info on their webpage. So I measured the bikes myself and lo and behold they are pretty much the same except for Jeffsy having slightly slacker front and steeper seat tube. So that were some expensive couple of degrees. Amazingly enough, Jeffsy corners better though.
  • + 1
 @Boardlife69: totally agree on yt also they would love to have in sales what spesh trek giant spend in r&d
  • + 1
 I think to run a small local business in a basic industry then hard work and brains are enough. You want to set up a carpet fitting shop - for as long as you do a good job for a good price, never screw anybody over and work a lot of hours etc you'll probably do very well. Once you're established you won't even have to do any advertising because enough people will already know about you to keep you going. However if you want to sell high end mountain bike wheels internationally in a stacked marketplace where other companies have a tonne more money than you and are willing to make less per wheelset AND you're trying to do your own research and development. That's always going to be tough and requires a lot more than hard work and brains. I have barely heard of American Classic and I've been riding 10 years. I don't think I've ever seen a pair of their wheels with my eyes. That's nothing against them - their products actually look really good - it just shows what a stacked market it is.
  • + 22
 What a bummer. I'm excited to see where they land. I haven't owned any American classic wheels, but I've certainly found Shook's knowledge helpful in evaluating what makes a good wheel.
  • + 16
 How much money you need guys? Let's restart it. I will organise an ICO and I am sure that manny will participate...Wink
  • + 36
 IPO Initial Pinkbike Offering
  • + 17
 You know Crypto is mainstream when it appears in the Pinkbike comments... Wink
  • + 4
 you don't give money to a company that's losing money. that's investing rule number 1
  • + 5
 @makripper: You read the news much? That's how we do things down here.

Seriously: sad to see AC go but won't be surprised to see their work pop up other places in the future.
  • + 6
 Who's Manny?
  • + 1
 @fullfacemike: that's how you lose money down there. yup. I know. taking advantage of dips is one thing but throwing cash on a burning pile of garbage doesn't put the fire out. see yahoo.com or MySpace or uber as an example lol
  • + 2
 @fullfacemike: I should have added GoPro to the list of companies that equate to burning garbage
  • + 4
 @makripper: If it's a cash flow issue they aren't necessarily losing money. In the UK something like 60% of business' that go under are profitable, but have cash flow issues.
  • + 1
 @makripper: I thought you were supposed to buy low, and sell high... So you find someone down and stuck, and invest, with the risk generating strong returns if they bounce back.
  • + 1
 @makripper: Look, no one said it was a good plan.
  • + 2
 @focofox37: the problem with that is there are no guarantees a company will turn around.
  • + 0
 @makripper: well..there never is...nobody gave a hoot about Apple in the end of the 90ths but now you would be happy to have a few thousand shares Wink But that was probably before you were born Big Grin
  • + 0
 @themountain: apple was big in the 90's. they had issues in the mid late 90's and the iPod saved them in the early to mind 2000's maybe you are too old to remember
  • + 0
 @makripper: idiot..its exactly what I wrote...just take off your sunglasses when online . ????
  • + 0
 @themountain: you didn't say that at all. you said nobody gave a hoot. plenty of people gave a hoot. when did they buy Pixar again??! lol
  • + 1
 @makripper: They bought pixar in 86...which is relevant how..??
  • + 12
 That. Fucking. Sucks. Bill Shook, you did some great things, and I know this isn't the end. Can't wait to see what you do next.
  • + 6
 I'm bummed out like many here. @vernonfelton you nailed it here. Nicest people around, always address your concerns when it comes to product feedback.

I had the chance to ride for them this year, and will keep the wheels rolling for another few more! 35 years ain't nothing, and they won't be gone for too long... I can tell you that, they will find a way of a comeback.

Love you guys, you can be proud of what you have built.
  • + 5
 I understand that the two partners didn't care about the "cool" factor but they are not their own customers. To understand how consumers think and want is super important. I like the fact they did listen to people's feedback but without a strong marketing campaign to spread awareness and that "Cool" factor the boat slowly began to sink.

I don't know much about the company but I would have sponsored some good athletes. Brought on board some ambassadors who are just as passionate as they are to spread the word.

In order to keep afloat in business is to understand and accept change.
  • + 1
 This is the point, Bill used to say he builds what he wants, as long as many people want what a 60yo ex national team member wants, cool,,,,, but the market is by far more about what a 25-45yo wants. In the end non of this works if they don't follow the rules of business. The factory in Taiwan was far too big, everyone there knew this and warned him. He knew better and grossly over invested. Now dozens of global employees are SOL because someone went on an ego driven financial bender. Fiscal failings.
  • + 4
 Disappointing news. I started using their seatposts and bottle cages in the early 90s racing on the road. Still have a ti spindled BB from them in my parts box, and a few hub sets. I agree that they are some of the best folks in the industry. Had many good chats will Bill at Interbike over the years. Best of luck Bill and Ellen! Los
  • + 4
 Guess the wheel industry is a tough one especially when you read the previous article on the sub $500 Stan’s S1 review.
Think we will see a lot of American companies hit by the new tax laws. Companies that manufacture over seas are in the line of fire.
Makes me wonder about brands like Specialized and Intense, will we see carbon frames made in the states or will there be an aluminium revival?
  • + 5
 > Think we will see a lot of American companies hit by the new tax laws. Companies that manufacture over seas are in the line of fire.

The new tax laws don't contain any additional import taxes (assuming you're talking about the US tax bill).
  • + 1
 If the Trumpism screws with the NAFTA agreement, it could be challenging for many global US companies in the future.
  • + 4
 @Myfianceemademedoit: Nafta doesn't have anything to do with either the tax bill or Asian imports.
  • + 1
 I think the point is, a wheel is a wheel is a wheel. How many companies are there making wheels that are in the same ballpark weight, material, price or number of clicks. There are more companies making the same stuff than the market can support. That's the bottom line. We're always being told that boost this and spoke count that, barfing angle x and Poe y blah blah blah. Really they are just round things that make our bikes go along. It's a shame when companies bite the dust though. I hope those Taiwanese workers who have been laid off don't have to bite the shit sandwich that is moving to China.
  • + 1
 @dthomp325: Correct, and I didn't say it did.
  • + 1
 Apart from an American name and designer, nothing was American about American Classic. Not saying its good or bad, but most of the profits were captured by the overseas entity. They offshore to exploit lower cost labor and shipped back into US, and exploited the American name internationally. Many people believed this was partially US made. None of it was.
  • + 3
 Really nice people and thought outside the circle. It is a shame to see them fold. I think they were harmed by Bill’s hubs not having a high enough POE to market well, despite their light weight. Frankly, I think 24 points were adequate and their unique pawl design without springs was neat.
  • + 3
 I hope to see them survive, but at the same time I am hoping to see Am Classic at blowout pricing. I have never had an issue with any of their products over the years..seat posts, stems, cranks, and hubs have all been on one bike or another since the mid 90's. I still have two of the bottle cages from '95.
  • + 3
 I hope this is not a result of the massive amount of new "standards"...where nobody (exept the largest) can afford to have all hub options of all wheel sizes in stock all over the globe. What a SHAME for the whole industry if so.
  • + 1
 The standards are easy to meet, but old skool holdouts like to wait for standards to settle, when you see a few come back to back this waiting costs you market share in the very category you imagine to work in.
  • + 3
 I wasn't so sympathetic to their latest attempts to equalize dish by reducing bracing angle on non-drive side - but I still use a circa 1992 American Classic 27.2 seatpost - is now on my trainer bike.
  • + 3
 This. I just moved my 1991 Am.Classic post from my old college crashaterium bike to my daughter's hardtail. Thanks for the ride Bill Shook!
  • + 3
 loved my ac hubs. prolly had 10 sets over the years. never had any issues. always the lightest and affordable. easy to adjust if needed, but rarely needed. still runnin a couple sets.
  • + 2
 maybe this was the problem . I had one set of hubs for 12 years. no problems. No chance to repurchase.
  • + 2
 We sell their wheels in and they are honestly the best value wheels you can get. Sure the hubs are a bit slow but find a good shop that can buy the rims on their own (american classic are very protective) and lace them into some hopes etc and theyre bomb proof. We literally all ride them in the shop.

Shame to see them go. However... Good news. I hear there is a certain company trying to buy them out Smile
  • + 5
 Bummed to hear this. The lightest and longest rolling hubs in my quiver bear the "American Classic" name.
  • + 4
 I have the most durable, fastest wheelset I've ever owned from Amclassic from 2008 and its still kicking ass. Sad to see them go.
  • + 1
 I love my AC All Mountain Wheelset. I don't love the hub engagement compared to my i9 wheelset but they are light, durable and ride phenomenal. I wish they would have been more willing to design their rims around other hubs. Wide lightning paired up with some i9/hope hubs would be awesome!
  • + 1
 So bummed! I just built up a set over the summer for my Enduro Mixer. Used the new 3834 rims with boost hubs and they are as light as some of my friends ENVE's (double lay ups mind you...which have cracked mind you). The wheels are super durable and I haven't had to true them up but once after the initial ride. Cody was super helpful as well. I may just have to pick up another set of rims as they come in both 29 and 27.5 which is unusual and what I need. Sorry to see you guys go. There aren't many true innovators like yourselves out there any more. Best of luck if you read this.
  • + 1
 Always sad when a true brand goes under, and as you say, not a me too brand either.

Its a poor reflection of the state of the industry currently - direct to market brands (usually me too brands as they rarely innovate and simply ride the coat tails of the true product innovators) get lauded by consumers because they win points in the biggest metric the consumer requires - price. But they wont be companies pushing the boundaries and researching and developing new product because that costs money, and the consumer doesn't see value in the next five years of development, only the price NOW. It fits with the online business model of serving customers who believe they know better than established brands, a common theme these days.

When the dust settles in a few years, and more true innovators like AC have gone, we will probably be left with a bunch of "me too" companies that will struggle to fill the quality void left. And if consumers think these companies wont ramp up pricing (the direct to market guys have already began to do) as the competition disappears then they aren't as clued up as they think they are. Loss leading is this industries biggest problem and fits the model of either previously failed and now relaunching companies (Marin, Whyte recently in the UK?) or those who are trying to buy your business. Its short term, and unfortunately something that is very appealing to what increasingly looks like a dumbed down market. The problem is, a true innovator like AC cant compete for this market on price as they have too much respect for their consumers and they strive to produce the best product they can, not the best Price Point they can.

I am sure to most here this will make no sense - why pay more? But the result in a few years appears to be a rather unpalatable industry run by massive multinationals with huge marketing budgets. But then, once you've got the taste for the Koolaid.....
  • - 1
 Since you make your claims & speak in generalizations, how bout you back them up instead of running your mouth! True facts always prove to be the cure for what ailes most. Anyway, take whatever product you liked that they made and compare it with the "2-3 top companies" similar products. Tell us exactly the specs of the product & their competitors, looks of product, maintenance of product, performance of product and the cost to make the product and retail cost to consumer? Since you claim the big dogs only produce "me too" products & don't invest in R&D this should be easy for you.

No need to give us updates, final factually based results is all we need. Pipe down & get to work Busta!
  • + 1
 They didn’t do too well in the UK.
Distributors had difficulting in getting shops to stock them.

My experience of a carbonator wheels was bad. Rim failed on a 4” drop and I was denied warranty. Hubs very slow to pick up.

Miss....
  • + 2
 American Classic alright! Offices in the US, and factory overseas. Top guys get top dollar, the workers get scraps, and the consumer pays for it all. Sucks they're closing, but maybe if they did things differently?
  • + 2
 i love my american classics 26". inexpensive light and strong, pick all three. I was just looking at getting a pair of 27.5 wheels from them. Bummer, thanks for the great product.
  • + 9
 From one geologist to another, they rocked!
  • + 2
 I just loved how "no bullsht" AC was. I still have set and they're 10 years old. Still dead straight and roll like a dream. They're a bit like the light bulb that still worked after 110 years. That company folded too...
  • + 4
 Bummer news, AC made great wheel tech.
  • + 4
 awesome light hubs. will miss this brand.
  • + 1
 So wanted his seatpost and QRs back in the day. Ended up getting a early cassette hub that had a penchant for going kablooey. I don't think I've run anything American Classic in over 20 years. But man...that seatpost....
  • + 4
 Sad news, but thanks, Bill and Ellen, for the 35 years.
  • + 2
 Probably the best upgrade I ever made was a pair of American Classics to my Orbea Occam 29er. Completely changed the feel and speed (for the better.)
  • + 3
 The bicycle industry is in decline...
  • + 2
 Completely agree, Mr. Felton has consistently come across as a no bullshitter.. Keep up the passion and great job!
  • + 1
 @vernonfelton I love your writing style. Brutally honest and from the heart. You're a great compliment to pinkbike's writing staff.
  • + 2
 Doing anything like this for 35 straight years is a win in my book! Good Luck Bill!
  • + 1
 Dang. I just order axle conversions to update some Terrain wheels for back ups. I guess Bike Bling won't be filling that order.
  • + 1
 www.bicyclepartsupply.com has them
  • + 3
 The road to making america great again seems bleak
  • + 2
 Chinese manufacturers will be very interested in western brands like this. Get hook up - with the right partner that is...
  • + 2
 Their wide lightning wheels from 2014 are still tough to beat by today's standards. 29mm iw and light as carbon wheels.
  • - 4
flag MrDiamondDave (Jan 11, 2018 at 16:34) (Below Threshold)
 LOL I9 is way better......
  • + 2
 Sad to hear that but a smart company would pick up all the talent at American Classics. Good people is hard to come by.
  • + 1
 yes they are....
  • + 3
 Always sad to see a company fold that's been around for a while.
  • + 2
 Urgh what a shame, my AC wheelset has been great!
  • + 2
 No more AC for Yoann Barelli, sad.
  • + 1
 I liked a lot of their stuff. But always too expensive by far. Live by the sword..
  • + 1
 I needed to buy some parts for my AC wheels. I found them here: www.bicyclepartsupply.com
  • + 2
 Not an american classic end
  • + 2
 What wheels will the Commencal Enduro Team ride ?
  • + 2
 Always wanted a pair of Wide Lightnings... Sad.
  • + 3
 But you didn’t buy one, right?
  • + 0
 Great products sub-par marketing and sales force. I tried ordering a few over the years and was always ignored or hung out on some technicality.
  • + 1
 I really liked their rim strips (I think that is shown as the shiny bed of the rims above).
  • + 1
 ....and there goes an other American classic.. Frown
  • + 2
 Such a shame Frown
  • + 2
 "conventional boost 148"
  • + 0
 If they allowed online sales from retailers, maybe consumers could buy them and give the "more cash flow"....
  • + 0
 A little rebranding would have helped...10 years ago.
  • + 0
 Your old AC anodized purple stock just went up
  • - 2
 Their attempt at Boost spacing was hilarious
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