From The Top: Devinci's Félix Gauthier

Dec 27, 2018
by Ross Bell  




Success like most things in life is a fine balance. The story of Devinci's success is one paved with proud Canadian roots, a rich racing heritage, and a stumbling block so big that it nearly brought them to their knees before they could even get going. Félix Gauthier was the man that steered Devinci through rough seas and a potentially deadly course, and onto one that has allowed them to flourish as they tick over 25 years old. The story is best told by the man that experienced it all first hand.





Where did the Devinci story start?


It started with a bike crash, a big accident in 1988. I had to get stitches in the face, and I broke my leg. I was recovering and I was telling my friend I wanted to buy a new aluminium frame. He told me that there was someone making aluminium bikes in Saguenay and that I should look him up. So I met the local guy and bought one from him. Two years later I lost my parents and got a small inheritance. The frame builder came to me, he was looking for a partner. I got involved not really knowing what I was getting into. He had zero employees and zero customers, and I realised that he had several frames waiting on warranty repairs. I asked myself, ‘What should I do?’ Next, I called Alcan (now called Rio Tinto), North America’s largest aluminium producer located here in Saguenay. They had a research centre and they explained exactly what the problem was. It was caused during the heat treatment process—a series of controlled heating and cooling of the metal. We didn't have the proper oven to make it work. After listening to Alcan’s recommendations, we started looking into buying a new oven. It was crazy expensive, more than my initial investment in the company. So we ended up building one ourselves. To make a long story short, we stabilized the fabrication process. We still had all those frames to fix, though. And with our issues now solved, we replaced every single one. It was the start of our lifetime warranty pledge, and it’s the root of our ongoing investments in R&D.


There seems to be a lot of people that have been in the company for many years, is there a lot of loyalty within company?


Yeah, it’s true. Several of our employees have been here since almost day one. People at Devinci are extremely passionate. They ride during their lunch breaks, they travel for bike trips, and they build bike trails out here in our backyard. The company has a family vibe. We’re all working under the same roof and most of the staff live here in town. We often ride together, which helps solidify the bonds.



Your location in Saguenay seems like a strange place to find a bike manufacturer, how does it work being based here in terms of logistics?


Being located on Canada’s east coast may seem ‘far off,’ but it really isn’t. With aerial transport and new communication technologies the world is getting smaller and smaller. Our center of the world is obviously Saguenay, and we have everything we need in one location to accomplish our R&D and testing efforts, and to bring cutting-edge products to life. Having Alcan as our neighbour doesn’t hurt either. It’s an aluminum-manufacturing advantage that we’ve been able to leverage across the North American market.


Saguenay is heavily involved in the aluminium industry, how useful has that been to your manufacturing over the years?


It’s been hugely beneficial. And it’s one of the main reasons we’re located here. Being in Saguenay gives us access to Canada’s National Aluminium Technology Centre. And it helps connect us to highly qualified staff. All of our testing is done in-house, and all our prototypes, including carbon frames, are first crafted from aluminium. It allows us to create a new bike to exacting standards quickly and efficiently.


Aside from the initial stumbling block of heat treatment and warrantying frames, was there any other significant challenge you found in those early days?


Challenges are part of doing business. And doing good business really hinges on how you deal with those challenges. One of the biggest hurdles we’ve faced over the years has been balancing our continued growth. Since our quality objectives are so high, it’s essential that we never lose sight of what brought us into the business in the first place—creating best-in-class bikes that inspire people to get out and ride.


What was your background before starting at Devinci?


I bounced around. My background’s in administration, and I have a certificate from university. At one time I dabbled in some real estate with my brother. But I’ve always been driven to create. And I’ve always been passionate about working with machinery—finding a problem, and using the right equipment to solve it.



Were you learning a lot through trial and error at first?


Absolutely. Trial and error and the searching for answers to problems is really how it all started. And as we evolved we learned how to limit the error part. How? With great minds and great employees, and by partnering with universities and Alcan to improve the process. All these elements enable us to thoroughly prototype and test products, but with very limited errors because we know what we’re doing. It was fine to be ‘trial and error’ in the 90s, but now it’s so competitive you really need to have your shit figured out.


Did things suddenly take off, or was it gradual over time?


It was gradual over time, until it boomed in 2011. That’s when we introduced our DH team and brought Split Pivot technology into the mainstream. That was an important time for us, and we really broke some ground. It was also a fun time. Being around to see a guy like Stevie Smith take the downhill world by storm. It was good for Devinci. It was also good for mountain biking in Canada in general.


Being a mountain biker, I had no idea about your city bike manufacturing. Could you just give us a little background on that?


In 2007 we participated in a contest to design a new city bike. We used our experience with mountain bikes and poured it into a durable, highly reliable design. We won a contract with Montreal for 5,000 units, and it snowballed from there... London, then Boston and Minneapolis. We’re now established in 30 cities around the world. From Barcelona to Honolulu we have about 65,000 bikes on the street. Not one has had to come back for warranty. Those original bikes in Montreal are still going strong! London asked us for a seven-year warranty. Our bench-testing process allowed us to put 14 years of hard, simulated riding on the prototypes before they showed any signs of failure. We’re very confident in the quality of our product.


I guess in some ways Devinci has grown with the sport of MTB with all the different trends and disciplines that have come. How hard has it been to keep up with an ever adapting MTB world?


Well, we can never sleep because it's always changing. But we’re well positioned because we have a great, forward-thinking team. This includes our passionate in-house staff, but it also extends to our athletes and ambassadors around the world. These guys are out there racing and riding every day. They’re really tuned in to the latest trends, and the feedback they provide keeps us in-step, or even a step ahead of what’s happening.




From your point of view how has the market evolved and developed?


We've seen a lot of trends come and go. The evolution of each platform and some specific segments like wheel diameter preferences can change quickly. As far as how the market is evolving, we’re seeing a lot of positives there. Mountain biking is more accessible than it’s ever been. From parks to backyard trails, the opportunities to get out and ride are endless. We’re seeing more and more women in the sport, which is also great. And the rise of the weekend warrior is something we’re all excited about.


With bikes becoming so capable the gaps between the disciplines has shrunk somewhat, will this see a shrinking in bike brands portfolios of what they offer to the market? For example, the rise of the enduro bike has shrunk the demand for downhill bikes...


It’s an interesting point. I see two sides to it. The demand for MTB in general, the trails and the type of use, has grown so much that we see more segmentation in brands' portfolios. It feels like now there’s a bike for every single type of riding. On the other hand, the bikes being made now are so capable that maybe this is what’s cannibalizing some of the DH sales. You can buy an enduro or even an all-mountain bike like the Troy that can be used on DH trails, and they can be better than your DH bike from 6 or 7 years ago. Better geometry, better suspension. So to answer the question, I think the gap between the bikes has shrunk, but they all have their individual advantages. I think it’s great that the consumer has such a wide variety of options to fulfill their needs.


What’s your best seller?


It depends on the region. Some bikes are better fits for the kind of terrain you find on the West Coast. Other bikes do better in the East. Then there’s Europe. We sell different bikes for different realities.


You guys have a pretty rich racing heritage is that something you guys use for both R&D and marketing?


Yeah, racing helps us design better products. It all fits nicely into the R&D process. We have close relationships with our professional athletes, who give us important insights that help us fine-tune our products for the end consumers. Those riders are heavily involved in development. On the marketing side... when they do well it shines a positive light on the bike.


2nd in the world again for Frenchman Damien Oton and the small Devinci team out of Canada.


Is racing something you have personal interest in as well?


Personally, I don’t race. But I’m a huge fan and supporter. I’ve been following all the guys this season, and the World Cup stop at Mont Sainte-Anne is always a highlight. This year I got to hang out with Dakotah’s family and all the crew, which was a blast. And to this day, I still get goosebumps thinking back to Stevie’s MSA win in 2013. What an amazing day.


You have been involved with the EWS since it started, it gave the “All mountain bike’’ the centre stage for the first time and really drove on its development. How useful did you find that for developing the likes of the Spartan?


For sure it helps a lot. Our athletes are full-time on their bikes. Considering that an EWS event lasts a week, that’s several days of gruelling product testing. The end result is a higher performance, more reliable bike. A bike built to win races.


You guys are pretty patriotic Canadians with the bikes made here stamped 'Made in Canada', were you ever tempted to completely outsource to Asia?


No, we’ve never wanted to completely outsource to Asia. Again, it all goes back to the value we place in our in-house R&D efforts and our aluminium prototyping programs. These are the systems we use daily to ensure absolute quality across the line. Our carbon frames are made in Asia, and always with best-in-class partners. They may not be stamped “Made in Canada” but their high-calibre performance is a testament to our Canadian heritage.


When people think of Devinci they think of Stevie, myself included. How did his passing affect the company?


When Stevie died we lost more than a superstar athlete, we lost a family member. We took a break from the DH race world to mourn. He was a hero to all of us and he remains an inspiration.


Downhill at the 2013 Leogang UCI MTB World Cup Finals Austria.


What were the thoughts behind putting the downhill racing on hold?


It was all about Stevie. He was our main rider. We needed to take a break in order to reassess the future.


You've now returned to downhill in a different setup with the Unior guys. How has that played out so far?


It’s been a great partnership. We now have a better presence and infrastructure in Europe, with Unior being based there. They have an amazing setup, they’re extraordinary people to work with, and we all share similar objectives.


What is your market split across the World?



Our primary focus is on Canada, the U.S., and Europe. We also have secondary distributors around the world.


Talking about Europe, a lot of the European brands have gone direct sale. Is that of no interest to you?


No interest, we prefer to work with our passionate dealers. Personally, if I want to go buy a bike I'd rather go through a shop.


And finally, what do the next few years hold for Devinci?


More great bikes are what the next few years hold for Devinci. Ultimately, we aspire to inspire. When we circle in on something that gets us excited we have the tools in our kit, and the skilled, passionate employees in our ranks to bring it to life.




MENTIONS: @rossbellphoto / @devinci




72 Comments

  • + 60
 Always depressing to me to see a well-written article about a creative, disciplined entrepreneur and MTB company generate comments totally unrelated to the topic. Please enjoy your rants in private or consider running for an elected office!

Great interview, Ross. Thanks for sharing the insights about Devinci and Felix Gauthier! :-)
  • + 20
 What I really like is that devinci is still making frames in North America and proving that it can work financially to build stuff on our continent. PROPS!

That saidI just bought my son a used 2018 Spartan NX with an aluminum frame and it really feels indestructible... but i bought it used.
I think that the value proposition on most new bikes, Devinci included, is really not that great. It feels like there was a huge price increase for mid-level models of late. I have a 2016 Troy carbon GX that I purchased for just over $3,000. Great Value in my opinion. Today, a bike with the same specs would cost north of $5,000. What the hell happened in the last 2 years? DEVINCI, I know your communication department will be monitoring this board. Please bring better value to the equation! Leave those $10,000 Gucci bikes to brands ands like Yeti or Evil...and please concentrate on giving us a $4,000 proper quiver Killer! Kind of like that second generation TROY that I still love.
  • + 4
 2016 troy carbon gx, great value at that time, one of the best bikes i have owned and still shred like crazy!!!
  • + 1
 My 2016 27.5 Django has cracked twice... some more R&D needed... and I didn't even crash it. One rock scrape and a stone from the trail... (When queried on an email I was told no down tube protector was needed on the Django... yes.. in fairyland perhaps...)

I am glad I got it carbon repaired the first time since the 2nd crack was just 2 weeks after this in a different place.. imagine getting a crash replacement frame just to crack again. Repaired again, but not impressed at over £200-250 expense each time. Last chance for the Django, and no more carbon for me!!

Having said this I just love the way the bike rides. Shame.

Also a note, Devinci bikes almost doubled in price since last year, I would definitely go direct sales if I was them, their bikes ride great but so do others almost 1/2 the price.
  • + 1
 @mattmach7:
Completely agree about the 2016 Carbon Troy being an amazing bike. As we move into 2019 I'm still not looking to replace her anytime soon.
  • + 15
 That MSA 2013 race is forever engraved in our head and heart. Stevie on his Wilson winning home soil race. Nothing compares.
  • + 9
 One of the best bikes I've owned (and still do) is my alloy Devinci Atlas 29er. Exceptional frame design and build quality and extremely versatile geometry.
  • + 4
 Totally hear you. My 2014 Atlas carbon is going on strong and I love the way it rides to this day. Was ahead of its time and the DW link is still the best suspensions I've ridden.
  • + 0
 Dw link?@mountainbikerfisher:
  • + 5
 @DONKEY-FELTCHER: Sorry, I mean DW suspension in general, but I suppose in context to the Atlas its the Split-pivot which is amazing.
  • + 5
 Wasn't aware that aluminum Devinci frames have lifetime warranty. Cool to learn about close relationship they have with Alcan. I hope they don't follow the path of Intense. A welded M9 is to me is sexy .A carbon frame looks like generic plastic clone. Something about a nice weld. You can see the quality.
  • + 6
 Carbon and aluminum are lifetime for the original owner.
  • + 3
 It is awesome that you not only provide a 27,5” AM model in carbon or aluminium but also offer them as separate frame sets. The carbon Ultegra gravel bike looks really good too but I wish you offered that as a frame set as well!

For most of my bikes I have assembled them myself with preferred components and it is very satisfying in seeing the finished bike. Maybe you could offer some limited choices to personalize the bikes on order, like Orbea does.
  • + 2
 Just a quick comment on the shop model. When the new 29 wilson came out and was "available for sale" I called the 2 dealers in Calgary, Calgary Cycle and Ridleys. I told them I want an xl wilson 29 and I'll pick it up as soon as they have it. They both said they would call me back in a couple days with the details. Neither phoned me back. I called Calgary Cycle back and they said they have no record of my request but they would look into it and call me back in a couple days. . . . . .
I flew to the US and bought one instead.
  • + 5
 FYI, Cactus bike and ski is also a Devinci dealer. Couldn't have put too much effort in if you decided that going to the US was easier than driving to SW Calgary.
  • + 5
 @cueTIP: I put in more effort than I did when I bought a nukeproof direct from chain reaction.
  • + 2
 Typical CC customer service tale.
  • + 9
 If you want a shop to bring in a bike they don't have you don't phone them, you walk in the shop with a deposit to show them your serious. If I ordered in a bike for every guy that phoned saying they would pick it up when it arrived the shop would have been sunk in a month. As soon I told them that I needed a 50% non refundable deposit before I call in the order I never heard from all but a few again.
  • + 1
 @jason114: I would have paid the whole thing up front but they never called back or really showed any interest in selling a $7000 bike. You know the old saying "the local bike shop is always right"
  • + 1
 I'm pretty sure CC doesn't deal Devinci anymore. I picked up my Spartan Carbon GX during their 24h sale last fall and it was being sold at a ridiculously low price because they were clearing out all Devinci product. After speaking with a couple of tech's and salespeople is sounded like CC would no longer carry Devinci bikes.
  • + 1
 @jason114: Doesn’t change the fact they didn’t even bother calling a potential customer back.
  • + 0
 @Levelheadsteve: Yes and 50% non refundable deposit is a real joke. 10% should be the maximum asked.
  • + 1
 @lRaphl: so if you are buying a $5000 bike the shop should be ok with only a $500 deposit, that's ridiculous. 50% is the norm for every shop within 200 km of me.
  • + 1
 @jason114: 20% is the norm in my area. Probably depends on the shop.
  • + 1
 @employee7: Just wondering what the duties were for a bike from CRC? I've considered it but was scared I'd get nailed for another $1000
  • + 1
 @employee7: Had the exact same experience with Calgary Cycle - I was there in person, had my CC out ready to make a deposit and they "needed to check on availability" - never called me. And this was after I'd aready bought a $6K bike the previous year from them, so they knew I was serious.

I don't get it; I try and deal locally and get treated very poorly (by numerous bike shops) and then deal online or over the phone and get great service. The only shop that consistently gives me good service is when I need to pick up a spoke or some loose bearings from MEC, and I'd never by a bike from them..
  • + 2
 About the related "Europe" thing, I don't think it makes any sense to look at it from a North American perspective. Except for maybe Commencal (and surely some others), European brands didn't "go" direct sales. For many, it is just the way it always was. Back in the days people would just go to the local bike builder and had their bikes built for them. In Amsterdam alone, there used to be loads of builders like that, including those who built bikes for winning Olympic medals. During my student years I was shop rat in a shop which built steel race and trekking bikes to customer spec. Titanium frames with custom geometry we had built by Litespeed, but steel was all ours. And of course you have the bigger ones who have their frames welded in Asia (like the German Rose Bikes) and sell them through the shops. But I'd say it is more the brand -> (external) builder -> distributor -> shop -> customer model that killed those smaller builders late past century. So it doesn't bother me one bit that now that they're taking control again and maybe kill a few distributors and shops who trampled them a few decades earlier.

Another thing is maybe that the brands that are actually making it to the US market happen to be the direct sales ones as it may be easier to set up than work through distributors and shops. But loads of brands here were actually about enabling shops to offer a budget friendly yet decent bikes for different disciplines and price points. And moreover limiting the number of distributors shops had to deal with. That was also the whole selling point of PRO. They were using the distribution channel of Shimano which made it convenient for shops to deal with. You probably know Cube over there. Stevens and Haibike were set to do the same thing. The fact that many North American readers only associate Haibike with their pedal assist bikes goes to show that their view on European brands is mostly limited to what is being sold in the US and Canada.

Now I've got to say that except for only one frame, all my other bikes and frames were bought through a shop. And the one I bought as direct sale is from BTR. I don't see how buying that one through a shop would make the experience one bit better than dealing with Tam and Burf directly.
  • + 2
 @muskokabiker1: I think when I did it there was a shipping option for like $600 that included all duty and ensured it wouldn’t get held up at the border. I’d do it again in a heartbeat.
  • + 1
 @plyawn: Interesting - you would never buy a bike from the only shop that offers you good service. Is that because MEC doesn't sell a brand you are interested in or is there another reason?
  • + 2
 Love the brand. There's 4 in the garage now: Wilson, Spartan, Troy, Marshall. They've been reliable as hell, even when thrashed. My only complain is with the Troy/Marshall not having any downtube protection in the BB area. These bikes are meant for ripping, and inevitably get large rocks chucked at their sensitive underbellies. And with carbon frames, that can get sketchy.
As for pricing, I think they're competitive. They put together some stellar builds (like their LTD), but the top-end stuff needs some reviewing...
  • + 2
 My Devinci-Spartan is insane. Carbon bounding came loose on my first frame and had a replacement from Canada within 6weeks of raising the issue, excellent costumer service. Replaced with a ninja Red/Black, slightly newer model and its solid. Takes an absolute beating because I can't stay on the thing, just want's to go! Always looks deadly, gets a lot of good attention from fellow MtB'rs. Hopefully they give us a Tshirt range soon! Big Grin

Yes shes a little fat pie that weighs more than a family car, however it only gives you bigger legs... and when it's time to go down.... its f*cking rapid. The End. 10/10
  • + 1
 where did you get it?
  • + 1
 @700Pirate: I bought it from Pinkbike sale section from a shop called PushCartel, however I go through Freeborn for any manufacturing related issues.
  • + 1
 Great interview, loved all Devinci bikes I have owned from Wilson to Troy to my 29er Hendrix. If only I could SOMEHOW source a Hendrix or Marshall XL frame or even only mainframe, it is impossible to find one so I have to ride a large with 60mm stem and it's still quite compact.
I ride it with a 190mm shock instead of 200mm so I get a nice 65.5° headangle and its so much fund with just 130/110 travel..
  • + 3
 Unior/Devinci might be great in a business sense but I sure miss the impact that Devinci Global racing had on the Canadian downhill scene.
  • + 4
 Great Interview. #longlivechainsaw
  • + 3
 have a old jonson come talk to me in 50 years i'l be dead the jonson will still have tales to tell
  • - 1
 The comment in regards to direct sales: "No interest, we prefer to work with our passionate dealers. Personally, if I want to go buy a bike I'd rather go through a shop." Sounds like similar comments from many companies that have now gone out of business because they didn't keep with the times. Luckily some of the bike shops they sell through sell online, so customers don't have to go to a shop per se. Just an observation.
  • + 1
 I phoned devinci years ago to buy direct because the local devinci dealer was a dick and they basically said what you quoted above. That said, Dunbar in Vancouver is/was authorized to sell online and I ended up buying from them over the phone.
  • + 2
 How about starting a full custom aluminum shop. Customer picks the geometry, that would be sick!!
  • + 1
 I've ridden one of your city bikes in hnl wearing my remember chainsaw socks. It was surprisingly fun.
  • + 2
 I’m still riding my Wilson from 2013. Such a quality frame !
  • + 2
 Love my Wilson. Great job Devinci!
  • + 2
 Loved my 2012 dixon! Keep up the good work guys
  • + 0
 My wife's 2012 Devinci Dexter XP is still in great shape and is now being used and abused by one of our kids. The Devinci brand has a lot of cachet.
  • + 1
 Great article, love my '17 Devinci Django 29 Carbon XT ! Merci à tous à l'usine et à BSA St-Jérome !
  • + 1
 I'm confused by the comments... Isn't this an article about a bike company?
  • + 1
 Only brand where I'd take an Aluminum frame over Carbon.
  • + 1
 Maybe devinci could build some sultans for turner?
  • + 2
 Aluminium
  • + 1
 Great bikes!
  • + 0
 Gauthier's as straight up as his new frames are squiggly
  • - 1
 Did anyone else wonder why Tim Allen was on PB when they saw this article??
  • + 1
 "Then there’s Europe."
  • + 7
 Where people think that football is game where 22 passive-aggressive metrosexuals run around for 90 minutes rarely being able to score more than 3 goals, supported by millions of brainless fans, half of whom are racists and homphobes, and supposedly no player is jacked on steroids. They wouldn't! They play fair and never cheat.
  • + 31
 @WAKIdesigns: Where millions of kids enjoy playing football, all races, all colours, boys and girls. Simple cheep and massively inclusive. Unlike mtb in a lot of ways which seems to be full of opinionated clowns obsessing over fashions and standards and looking down their nose at those riders that aren't on trend. Football foundations and charities literally give 100s of thousands every week to a variety of causes from children's hospitals to inner city projects. And the sport is watched by people from all backgrounds, to claim 50% of whom are racist is just pathetic. Yes the sport has problems but it's global and woven into the fabric of many communities, anyone with a brain could perhaps understand the issues that brings. Can you stick to commenting on stuff you know about or perhaps even better just ride your bike..
  • + 1
 Leonardo would approve.
  • + 0
 @WAKIdesigns: Careful. You may be talking about MTB riders too...they too are football/soccer fans.
  • - 2
 @jemscott: except kids like riding bikes just like they like to play ball, jump rope throw each other on a matt, sing and dance (as well as use different sorts of play balls, volleyball, basketball). 99.9999% of MTB "fans" actually ride bikes, unlike football "fans" of which 0.0001% actually play ball. The worst sort of MTB "fans" will call someone a lazy fat ass for owning an e-bike, and worst sort of Football fans will club you to death for supporting other team than theirs, that includes a situation where involved team comes from the same city that their "favorite" team is from, like Rangers vs Celtic. If you go around town on a Trek nobody on Spec will beat you up, if you go around town with wrong scarf, well... please... the chimpanzee level tribalism, religious practices and suspension of reason are not present in MTB. Did I ever see heavily armed Police securing a MTB World Cup? No - did I see an army of Policemen with armed vehicles with water guns, shotguns with rubber bullets, tear gas, armor, helmets securing a local match of 4th league? Hell yeah. And sometimes it's not enough and "fans" still manage to burn cars, demolish a part of town. Bribing scandals, as well as mafia connections are uncomparable, they are of galactic proportions. UCI to UEFA is like bike thief to Camorra. Charity... huh... yeah... it's like Spirit of Christmas. Brings out the best in us. NOT

Sorry just enjoying myself pooping on a religion Big Grin
  • - 7
flag jemscott (Dec 27, 2018 at 4:24) (Below Threshold)
 @WAKIdesigns: Did I deny that there were issues in football? Actually the issues are nothing to do with the sport they are issues of society, issues of the human race, to which I believe you belong to. So as you say pooping on a religion a bit like burning a flag from another team, you call yourself a troll someone who incites others, how are you better than the moronic football fans (except they go and have a fight and don't hide behind a keyboard)? Actually don't answer that cos you have an answer for everything so what's the point. I'll try and enjoy my passions of bikes and football without trolls like you and mindless hooligans spoiling it for me.
  • + 6
 @WAKIdesigns: You better not come to my trails with your Specialized. This here is Trek land.
  • + 2
 @WAKIdesigns: I sense a lot of anger and frustration here but please temper your feelings and bury the hatchet for now. I believe in self-restraint and to keep calm and balanced I meditate daily in my spartan japan inspired living room.
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