Big Flats, New York is not a mountain bike mecca. Let's be clear on that. It's certainly not a place where you might expect to find the headquarters of one of the industry's leading high-end wheel manufacturers, but sitting just off of Interstate 86, and about 15 miles directly south of the Finger Lakes region you'll find the home base of the brand synonymous with tubeless wheel and tire innovations. Stan's No Tubes is celebrating 15 years of delivering game-changing innovations that began with sealants and rim strips and has since evolved into a much more comprehensive range of products for everyone from Olympians and World Cup athletes, to park rats, to your weekend warriors looking to make it back to the trailhead before dark. Founded and owned by Stan and Cindy Koziatek in 2001, the origins of the sealant actually predate its first sale. Stan began experimenting with the concept back in 1998, and even managed to have prototype systems ready for testing at the World Cup level a year later by the likes of Thomas Frischknecht. Sealant bottles and conversion kits were being sold two years later. Stan immediately began working on developing a rim design that would soon be sold as the alloy ZTR. No Tubes athletes saw immediate success on the wheels and using the sealant, taking medals in the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens.
The tubeless innovators would release even more wheel designs for mountain bikes, before eventually forging a path for road cyclists as well. A few years ago, Stan's began producing its first carbon fiber wheel, the hallowed Valor wheel with 'bead socket technology.' This would be immediately followed by the release of both the Neo Hub design, featuring up to 72 points of contact and designed with every possible 'standard' in mind, and the new Bravo downhill specific wheelset, designed with heavy input from the Atherton Racing Program. More recently, a new sealant has been released, featuring the same non-toxic, low viscosity latex blend but with larger crystals designed to more effectively and quickly seal punctures.
Stan's supports several athletes and racing programs today, including Hans Rey, the GT Factory Enduro and DH Team, the Rocky Mountain Rally Enduro Team, Team Stan's NoTubes/Pivot (Chloe Woodruff and Rose Grant), Stan's NoTubes Elite Women's Team, Stan's NoTubes Enduro Team (Krista Park and Anthony Diaz), the Marin Enduro Team , and the CST Superior Bren among others. These are the relationships that form the backbone of the Stan's Racing Development program, which according to the company, "is the embodiment of all of the time spent determining how to shave tenths of a second from the clock by developing the absolute best equipment that provides our athletes with an advantage on race day." We recently spent some time at both the Big Flats, NY location, as well the State College, PA offices to explore their production and testing facilities, we picked Stan's brain a bit, and sat down with President and engineer, Mike Bush to discuss the past, present and future of the brand.
Can you tell us a bit about your job and responsibilities at Stan’s?
Mike Bush: I’ve been the president of Stan’s No Tubes for about two and a half years. I have been with the company for about 11 years. I look over the engineering and product groups. I also look after the sales team. I lay out goals for quality control and fulfillment rates.
Generally, it’s a lot of fun to do this stuff. Making your hobby your job, it’s kind of the dream. I came from bigger companies where you feel like a small cog in the machine. We have a global reach and deal with people from pro athletes all the way down to your local trail rider. It’s really satisfying being able to walk into a shop and see something hanging on the wall that you worked on. It does take a lot of hours to get there. Not everybody is this fortunate. A lot of small companies come around and fail within a year or two. Something like 70 percent of small businesses. To be around for 15 years and push the envelope. We started out doing something that a lot of people didn’t even think was possible. It’s kind of nice being a trendsetter. We do have people nipping at our heels constantly. We have to keep our eyes on everyone.
|You will notice that with tubeless ready tires, the max recommended psi is getting lower and lower, which is something I have been telling them to do for years. They were hesitant at first, and kept saying that the German market likes to run their tires at a higher psi, but I said that they are going to risk blowing tires off of the rims. Now they are all finally coming around. Stan Koziatek, Founder|
What helped you guys avoid some of the common small business pitfalls early on?
Mike Bush: We’ve been keenly aware of what the consumer is interested in. We want people to ride further and faster, with fewer flats. That could mean a new rim design or a better sealant. All of that back end needs to happen in a timely manner. None of that will happen if we don’t do the R&D. There’s an awful lot of backend work between here and our New York facility. We pride ourselves on a high fulfillment rate. We have very little warranties. When you install our product on your bike, it’s going to work the way you want it to. We check a lot of boxes along the way. Competition drives you as well. We’ve experienced some of the growing pains of being a small business. Someone might come with good funding and a great idea, and that pushes you to ramp up your own time to market without sacrificing the design, the quality control, and that backend support.
What are some of the industry-driven advancements that have pushed your own brand forward?
Mike Bush: With plus tires, we saw that coming. Some of our O.E. relationships help us see these things coming. They might be getting pressure from their dealers or markets. So we start looking at plus size tire profiles and shapes. You can take a standard 2.5 tire and stretch it out on a 40 mm rim, but it certainly won’t perform the way you expect it to. The side knobs won’t be in the proper position, the casing is susceptible to damage, and the rolling resistance is going to be greater. We were fortunate to be in the middle of a hub redesign when boost came along. We were able to adapt and be ready for it. We build our hub system in a way that’s very modular. We can easily adjust axle lengths, and our caps can be swapped across models. We built that flexibility in as early as possible. There’s more to come on that. There are always new 'standards,' or maybe specifications is a better word, coming along. It pushes us constantly.
|We want to see how much movement we can get in a rim with what amount of force and not have it pinch flat the tire. We do not want any pinch flats. We want maximum radial compliance, and the high-speed camera can measure that for us. He uses a scale just off to the side, which is in millimeter increments. When he films it, he can calibrate the rim movement using accurate measurements. Stan Koziatek, Founder|
As far as wheel and hub design go, where’s the next bit of refinement coming from?
Mike Bush: I think we’ll be seeing more and more snappy, mid-travel bikes that are designed and intended to fit both 29” wheels and 27.5+. That’s going to be really popular. Bikes are ridden around the world, and people might like different combinations for different types of terrain. Someone might like a plus tire on the back, and a 29er up front. We need to have the ability to be able to adapt and change. We try to position our rims accordingly. It’s hard to call something cross country or trail when people can interpret that phrase so differently from one another. I think you’re going to see some advancements in tire casings soon. Someone might want that 2.8 tire that doesn’t weigh a ton, but they also don’t want to sacrifice durability. No one wants to be stranded. I think there’s a lot of room there.
What goes into the method you guys choose to present yourself and market your products?
Mike Bush: It’s always changing. Five years ago, the Crest was a pretty new rim. It was our number one selling 29” wheel. It was super successful; I can’t begin to count how many events it won, and the thousands of miles our customers were putting on those. If you ran an ad in the past for that wheel, it was very clearly a cross-country market. Now, it’s tough to run an ad, either in print or online, saying that this wheelset is specifically built for this style of riding. So now we take the Crest, put together three different types of copy and photos for three different media outlets. In the end, we still want to suggest the best possible use for our product, but everything also needs to have some versatility to it. It becomes pretty tricky. You know, 142X12 spacing is pretty cut and dry. The frame needs what it needs. But to define a segment by both duty rating and tire sizes is going to be a bit tricky. We come from a long line of cross country success, and we’ve been really happy with that. The vast majority of riders out there still ride what might be classically referred to as cross country terrain. But, the gravity influence is big and it really helps us push product development. We have sort of seen this unintentional success in World Cup downhill as well. The Flow and Flow EX was never designed to be a downhill rim, but it fits the bill. It’s light, durable and tubeless compatible. It’s been important for us to bring that XC success into other worlds, and show that we can do light really well, but we can also beef things up a bit and size it appropriately for what downhillers want to do.
|Even when they fail, we can see the impact, we can see the crack and we learn that there are different things we can do with carbon. I can make the rim weight the same as it is now and we can run downhill with it. Gee Atherton raced on our Bravos last year with false Flow stickers on them. When Gee sends me a carbon wheel that he has been running for a week straight and it has not failed, that is big for us. Especially considering he usually bends an alloy wheel after two days of riding. Stan Koziatek, Founder|
How do you guys utilize athlete feedback? How important is the relationship you guys have with your riders?
Mike Bush: If something new comes along, we’ll do as much testing as we can on the computer before we cut tooling, and we’ll do a lot of in-house testing with drops and fatigue testing. Of course, you need to have various standards for Europe as well. With our local trails here in State College, we can put some really good miles in on prototypes as well. But, the miles that our athletes can put in is so valuable. A lot of them are really in tune with product testing as well and get us some really detail oriented feedback.
We had a good relationship with the Athertons for a few years. They took a wheel that we never intended for downhill use, and asked what would happen if it were a little bit wider. We took their feedback and shaped what was the Flow and turned it into the Flow EX. What a little more time and World Championships, we now have the Flow MK 3. Rider feedback definitely feeds into our design. It’s a long process from start to finish, but we couldn’t do it without rider feedback from that level. Maybe most riders don’t approach that level, but it’s just like Toyota or Dodge being involved in NASCAR; it’s not directly applicable to my 4Runner in the parking lot, but the testing and engineering feedback leads to refinement.
What is Stan's No Tubes' philosophical approach to growth? Is it a fluid process, or do you guys have a more regimented outlook for moving forward?
Mike Bush: It’s a bit of a combination, to be honest. We have several different metrics we look at, from a financial standpoint and from a product volume and employee headcount. There are certainly long-term benchmarks that we want to be able to check, but with new products coming along and an evolving set of specifications coming from the rest of the industry, we need to be flexible and able to adapt to change. That’s a lot easier to do when you’re small. The bigger you are, the more red tape there is. There's a lot of process and procedure. So in that sense, having the ability to be flexible is extremely important. In a year when maybe the Euro is off 20%, and maybe some markets that are normally good for us are taking some hits, you adjust your expectations and your focus. We stay in close contact with our distributors to see if there’s a product we’re missing, or if there’s a better way for us to deliver them to our customers.
Has Stan's No Tubes exceeded the expectations you might have had for the company when you first began working here?
Mike Bush: Oh yeah. When I first started, I came from a pretty comfortable job in the aerospace world engineering helicopters. When I came here as a full-time employee, one of the owners of the company I was leaving told me that he liked bikes too, and if it doesn’t work out, I could always come back in a year. So I had a security blanket, which I appreciated. At that point in time, nobody had any idea where things were headed. A lot of hard work later, it’s panned out pretty well. There are definitely constant challenges, and there will be from here on out. You have to keep over 30 employees happy, 60 something distributors supplied, and people rolling along happily on the trails.