What: Knight Composites

What it does: Company builds carbon-fiber bicycle wheels.

Pictured: The partners of Knight Composite Scott Wolfe, from left, Beverly Lucas, Jim Pfeil and Chris Horner

Where: SW Century Drive

Website: knightcomposites.com

The Bend headquarters of Knight Composites LLC combines front office, showroom and workshop into one cavernous, rustic space, the former pro shop at Widgi Creek Golf Club on SW Century Drive.

Set adjacent to a fairway, the bucolic setting belies what the company partners are proud to call a global presence. From Bend to Toronto, to Sheffield in England, Taichung City in Taiwan and bicycle race courses from France to the U.S. and Australia, someone somewhere is designing, engineering, building or riding on a Knight Composites carbon-fiber bicycle wheel.

Knight Composites makes 13 models of high-end carbon-fiber wheels for road cycling, mountain biking, cyclocross and triathlons. Their products are not cheap. A pair of Knight wheels can cost $3,000.

Knight engineers aerodynamic wheels, but only wheels. They partner with other firms, like Sapim, a Belgian firm that makes spokes, and Chris King, a Portland maker of bicycle hubs, for those components.

The company boasts familiar names in cycling among its clientele, including champion triathlete Heather Jackson, of Bend; 13-time U.S. cyclocross champion Katy Compton, of Colorado Springs, Colorado; U.S. road race champion Larry Warbasse and competitive mountain biker Annie Last, of Sheffield, England.

Another Bendite, one of the three U.S. cyclists to win a Grand Tour event (and the oldest outright), Chris Horner, is a partner in the firm. He’s also a human test platform for Knight Composites research and development.

“You have to race the wheels. It’s the only way to really test them,” Horner said Aug. 15. “It’s the only way you’re gonna hit a pothole you couldn’t see, it’s the only way you’re going to put somebody’s front pedal into your front wheel and break spokes.”

The principals at Knight Composite — founder and president Jim Pfeil, CEO Beverly Lucas, product manager Scott Wolfe and Horner — talked to The Bulletin on the eve of Knight’s third anniversary about their work ethic and the company’s future. Their responses were edited for length and clarity.

Q: Other than professional athletes, who buys your products?

Scott Wolfe: A lot of guys just want the best equipment you can ask for. So we go from everything from bike racers, (whose) bikes are worth more than their car, to the person who just wants to have the fastest Strava segment from here to Tumalo Falls. We definitely don’t sell to the customer who doesn’t embrace cycling as a lifestyle.

Q: Where do you manufacture your wheels?

Wolfe: In Taichung, Taiwan, which is where, I would say, 95 percent of the bike industry does their manufacturing in Asia. We like Taichung because, just as an example, if we wanted to have a workforce that has experience working with composites and carbon fiber and we tried to do it in the Pacific Northwest, I would venture to guess that Boeing has most of those people employed up in Seattle or somewhere. Whereas, we can go into Taichung, do the same sort of job fair for, say, 30 positions and probably get 800 applicants with thousands of hours working with composites. It’d be great if we could do everything here, we just don’t have the accessibility.

Q: In terms of an athlete associating with your product, is that a formal relationship or simply you taking advantage of the fact that someone is purchasing your product, putting it to work and doing well with it?

Beverly Lucas: We have both, honestly. We’re very, very fortunate in that athletes have sorted us for the performance benefits. So we don’t pay really any of our athletes. Ultimately, the best gauge of a well-performing product is the fact that an athlete calls you up and says, “Hey, I want to ride your wheels because I want to win a race.” That’s ultimately what we’re about because we can really make that difference for them.

Q: Who is Kevin Quan?

Wolfe: The guy who designs all of our products, and he’s also one of the owners of the company. He was lead engineer for a company called Cervélo; they had, by far, the fastest bike in the world for a long time and Kevin had designed that.

Jim Pfeil: He’s based in Toronto. He graduated from the University of Toronto, so he has access to the professors, the grad students, the wind tunnel.

Lucas: I think we’re probably the only company that I can think of in the global bicycle industry that’s connected to a big academic institution. We’re really fortunate to be part of that, realistically.

Q: to Chris Horner: The company was already established when you joined in. As a businessman, what was behind that decision?

Horner: First, the main thing is, do I like the wheels? Once I know I like the wheels, then it’s a pretty easy, I’m getting at an age where I knew I’d be retiring soon, so I need to start finding other work. So that’s important, but I also have to believe that the wheels are gonna sell and they’re gonna ride nice. The first objective is that I like the wheels and the second is can I be a partner, too?

Pfiel: Chris and I go back to 1998. I sponsored him way back then when he first started racing in Europe and so Chris has been part of it since the beginning.

Q: What do you foresee for the company over the next three to five years?

Lucas: We’ll never stop innovating. Invent or die, those are the three words that are absolutely meaningful to us. If you don’t keep going, you don’t keep moving forward, keeping your eye on everyone else’s designs and what the rest of the market is doing, you will fall out of the tree, simple as that.

For next year, we’ll have a second line of wheel products. We’ll have a cockpit (the bicycle components between the handlebars and the seat) and that will basically round out our collective products. When we started the company, it was never intended to just be a wheel company. We wanted to specialize in performance products and not necessarily carbon. We’ll look at other materials, as well.

Wolfe: When a company of this size starts, within three years it’s very difficult to have the impact that we’ve had with the amount of products we’ve had. Within the first year, we had the Grand Tour winner racing on our wheels. We had a set of wheels that got fitted with the Iron Man championship. Not a lot of companies out there can point to something like that.

— Reporter: 541-617-7815, jditzler@bendbulletin.com

Editor’s note: This story has been edited to reflect the price of a pair of Knight Composites wheels.

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