November 1, 2010 at 3:23 pm #2480
Published: October 31, 2010 3:00 a.m.
Chainless bike business booms
FANNY S. CHIRINOS | Scripps Howard News Service
CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas Vince Denais was a territory manager selling parts and instrumentation to south Texas refineries 10 years ago when the idea hit him.
Refinery workers were using bicycles to move quickly around the plants grounds, but some bikes had flat tires. They were rusty. They were useless or unsafe, he said.
Thus the idea: a safe, rust-free bike requiring little maintenance and tires that wouldnt go flat.
It remained in Denais head until 2005, when he found a drive shaft that would eliminate the need for a chain.
He consulted with his father, Dale, a NASA engineer, and his brother Chad, who spent 20 years working in aviation maintenance for Northwest Airlines.
We took a regular bike and saw how we could apply changes to make it longer lasting, Denais said. We took Dads engineering, my brothers knowledge in metallurgy and my knowledge of the industry. Thats how Rugged Cycles came to life.
In 2007, he quit his sales job and dedicated himself completely to Rugged Cycles. The frames are made in Taiwan and the tires in the U.S., but the bikes are hand-assembled in Corpus Christi.
This is a local business making a local product that could be done anywhere else in the world, Denais said.
Although designed for the petrochemical industry, Denais planned to offer the bikes to the retail market this month with an initial trial push in Austin, Texas. In spring, he plans to open a showroom in downtown Corpus Christi.
Tucked away in a former funeral home is Rugged Cycles assembly plant. Almost 1,000 bikes have left the plant for more than 100 facilities worldwide, including Corpus Christi refineries and countries such as Peru, Australia and St. Croix.
Three assemblers put every piece of the bikes together, from the handlebars and baskets to the seat and kickstand. The company employs 12, including management and salespeople in Houston, Dallas, New Orleans and soon in Austin.
The tires are made of solid polyurethane, similar to skateboard tires but of a much softer composition. The frame is made of aluminum alloy and stainless steel.
The drive shaft replaces the chain, which can rust, kink and break. The coating used to cover some of the parts is powdered plastic that is baked onto the parts, making them longer lasting and rust-resistant. Denais called it a bulletproof bike.
The bike is designed as a cruiser, which Denais said conjures the pleasures of childhood, is easy to ride and utilitarian. The petrochemical industry has tested them since 2008.
We wanted the industry to use them and abuse them so we could re-engineer them, Denais said. We couldnt just settle for our first design because were selling more than just bikes. Were selling durability and reliability.
The bike companys biggest client is Exxon Mobil, which uses Rugged Cycles in at least 13 facilities in Texas and Louisiana. Other clients include Chevron Phillips Chemical, ConocoPhillips, Hess Corp., NASA, Shell and Texas Instruments
November 1, 2010 at 3:24 pm #5433
Having ridden several Refinery plant bicycles (and always having fix something) in past years this sounds like a great idea / application of good ole American ingenuity!
November 1, 2010 at 4:18 pm #5431
Very cool idea relative more relaible safer bicycles. I’m intrigued. One point of consideration is the human factor. Our refineries have had issues with people hurting themselves on bikes in the refinery because they did not have the physical skills to handle them, or were not attired properly, and were hurt in falls. As a result, many sites do not allow their use; others have changed policy back and forth over the years. In the latest policy at some sites, extensive training and qualification is required to become a “licensed and qualified” rider, IF you meet the usage need requirements (frequency, location, job type, etc).
Best regards – Mitch Moloney
November 1, 2010 at 5:07 pm #5430
Mitch – I am probably not the guy to contact on this as I dont have lot time for folks who are too inept to ride a bike or dress correctly.
We had lot young nerd process engineers (some include me among those- just took out young) and they all managed ride bikes. Not sure I would want ANYONE in refinery around process equipment who wasnt capable handling simple equipment. <Anyone can have accidents due to older type this article mentions replacing, however – which was safety elemnet of articles point>.
I also do not have lot time for anyone in refinery without head-toe nomex, hard-hat & gloves. This was always normal attire for almost every refinery I have been in – even labs & front office types that journey into plant. Anyone getting hurt due inappropiate dress should be fired for that reason alone.
Dont mean to be hard-butt I think its that simple & lot operational folks rode me hard anytime I didnt the right thing (coming from labs & metal foundry – was quick study) and I would be extremely supprised if they arent still extracting that simple pleasure from newbie’s today.
You must be logged in to reply to this topic.