The predominant colour on London's roadways is still double-decker red. But over the past four months, a shade of blue has been steadily encroaching. During rush hour, executives cruise down the city's blue cycle lanes, their manicured hands clutching curved handlebars on sturdy frames that bring to mind cartoonish Harley-Davidsons.
Score one for Félix Gauthier, president of Chicoutimi, Que.-based Cycles Devinci, which built the bikes for London's new bike-share program. Devinci, which has more than $15-million in annual sales, is best known among serious cyclists for its elite range of downhill, hybrid and road bikes. It's also the sole supplier to Public Bike System (PBS), a Montreal-area company that started that city's Bixi bike-share project in 2008, and now sets up similar programs worldwide.
In London, members of Barclays Cycle Hire (the bank kicked in £25-million –$39.9-million Canadian) pay a fee to access 6,000 bikes at 400 locations. Journeys under 30 minutes are free; a full day will cost £50. While the frames are lightweight aluminum, the rugged tires boost the bike's weight to 23 kilograms, making them too heavy (not to mention too distinctive) to attract thieves. Ten weeks in, riders had taken more than a million trips.
PBS has orders for thousands more bikes, from Melbourne to Minneapolis, and the PBS contract funds Devinci's core business. “We knew this was going to be huge, to capitalize on so many units,” Mr. Gauthier says. “Nearly all the money from the bike deal has gone into developing new products and entering new markets.”
The company recently added a head of international distribution to its staff of 85, to help build on deals already inked in Britain and Australia. And its new dual-suspension off-road bike has garnered interest from 50-plus international vendors.
Devinci has come far in 20 years. Gauthier bought a 50-per-cent stake in the company for $50,000 in 1990, armed with nothing but a management degree and a passion for bikes. Within months, the company was hit with a recall: Its aluminum frames were cracking because of a flaw in the heat-treatment process.
“We had zero employees, zero new customers, and hundreds of bikes were coming back to us from dealers,” he recalls.
Mr. Gauthier contacted Alcan's research centre and did a crash course in heat treating. Once he was confident Devinci could make roadworthy bikes, he pounded the pavement, persuading 10 Quebec retailers to sell them. He scraped together $750,000 to set up an R&D department, buy equipment and build a lab where engineers could test each frame. Today, its reputation among cyclists in Canada is unassailable.
With more cities (including Toronto) poised to join what London Mayor Boris Johnson calls “the cycling revolution,” Devinci's clunkers are gaining ground. “There are so many cities close to saying yes,” Mr. Gauthier says. “It's a good program for the community and, eventually, I think all big cities will be biking cities.”
Special to The Globe and Mail
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