The bicycle business ebbed and flowed over the years, and in 1969 the company found itself teetering on the edge of bankruptcy, which would have caused 1,500 workers to lose their jobs. To prevent this, the employees set up a cooperative, and the company became part of the Mondragon group of cooperatives. The fact that at the time the country was headed by dictator Francisco Franco creates a unique juxtaposition of economic models. On the one hand, Spain was effectively being governed by a single, fascist ruler, while on the other Orbea was being governed by its employees, a distinctly socialist business model. Orbea's switch to a cooperative allowed the company to stay in business, and a few years later the company moved their headquarters to Mallabia, where they are still located. To this day they are still a cooperative, which means the workers still, in a very real and legal sense, own the company. Twice a year they get together in company meetings to make the important decision about the future.
Until fairly recently, for most cyclists the name 'Orbea' conjured up images of spandex-clad riders aboard flyweight carbon fiber bikes duking it out in the dirt of the World Cup XC series, or on the endless asphalt of the Tour de France. In 2014, the Spanish company's introduction of the latest version of the Rallon, a 160mm all-mountain rig turned heads, a clear signal that Orbea was serious about making their mark on the enduro racing / all-mountain side of the sport. To find out more about the brand, we visited Orbea's headquarters in Mallabia, Spain.
Orbea's origins date all the way back to 1840, when they began business manufacturing guns and ammunition under the name Orbea Hermanos. Not surprisingly, business boomed during times of war - in 1916 alone Orbea produced over 725,000 guns. The shift to building less destructive machines began in the late 1930, when the company added bicycles to the list of goods they manufactured, and easy addition due to the fact that they already had the tubing machines and raw materials needed to produce bicycles.