A former textile mill in Johnstown is getting a new breath of life with new tenants, and Toronto-based bicycle company No. 22 Bicycles is celebrating its first year of production at the site.
The Johnstown Knitting Mill Co. was a major employer in Fulton County for almost 100 years. In 2000, however, it succumbed to the financial pressures created by foreign manufacturing.
Following the closure of the mill, the space was renovated and now houses multiple tenants. Last year, the mill found itself with a vacancy. It was here that No. 22 Bicycles found a home for its manufacturing operation.
No. 22 Bicycles was founded in 2012 by Mike Smith and Bryce Gracey and currently employs four people at the Johnstown site. Smith said both he and Gracey were drawn to titanium as a material for bike frames, due to the unique ride that it provides.
“It just has a nicer, muted ride quality,” Smith said.
Until last year, the company had contracted production out to other companies, Smith said. It now produces all of its inventory at the Johnstown site and sells its products independently and through 32 vendors throughout the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, New Zealand, Germany and Asia.
The company currently offers five different models: The Broken Arrow, Reactor, Little Wing, Great Divide and Great Divide Disk. Every model is named after a different Neil Young song.
The cost of a No. 22 bike frame runs between $2,099 and $3,999, and the company currently produces about five frames a week.
Scott Hock, who manages the Johnstown site, said the use of titanium is one of the things that makes No. 22 unique. The company even derives its name from the atomic number of titanium on the periodic table of elements.
Hock said titanium has several advantages over steel and aluminum bikes. He explained titanium is lighter, stronger and more resistant to scratching while still allowing for a certain amount of flexing that makes the ride more comfortable.
Though it has many advantages, Hock said titanium does have its drawbacks — it is hard to work with due to its strength and it is difficult to weld. Despite these difficulties, Hock said the finished product is worth the trouble.
Hock explained that No. 22’s bicycle frames start as nothing more than titanium tubing.
“We get raw tubing from the mills and then we basically customize it for each individual frame,” Hock said.
Once the tubing is worked into the desired shape of the frame, the pieces must be welded together to create a workable frame.
Hock said that he has always been a bike enthusiast, starting when he was growing up in Johnstown.
“When I turned 16, I got a mountain bike instead of a car,” he said.
Hock’s interest in biking continued and he eventually found himself working for Serotta, the internationally acclaimed Saratoga bicycle maker that supplied bikes for many professional cyclists. (In fact, U.S. Secretary of State and cycling enthusiast John Kerry owns a Serotta, a fact that came out after his bike crash late last month.)
In 2013, Serotta closed its doors and Hock went to work for Saratoga Frame Works. However, he and several others were laid off when that company also ceased production. One of the contracts that the company had before closing was to build frames for No. 22 Bicycles. Suddenly, No. 22 had no one to build their frames. That was when Hock went to work for No. 22 Bicycles.
“They didn’t have anyone to manufacture their bikes and I didn’t have a job,” said Hock.
According to Hock, the company coming to his hometown was something of a happy accident. The company looked for space in several locations, including Saratoga and Amsterdam, before settling on Johnstown. He said the large amount of available industrial space in the area made Johnstown suitable.
Mike Smith, co-founder of No. 22 Bicycles, said that part of the reason they chose to locate in Johnstown was Hock and his fellow workers from Saratoga Frame Works. He said having them on board was extremely important, given the highly specialized skill of working with titanium.
“Working with titanium is something that takes a huge amount of experience,” Smith said.
When they first moved into the space, Hock said there were some challenges. They had to first bring several lathes from Long Island. When those arrived, they still did not have electricity in all the areas they needed it, so they had to use extension cords in order to begin the work.
Since the company moved into the building, Hock said they have made progress in their manufacturing operation.
“We went from having one model in production to four in a year,” Hock said.
One of No. 22’s newest models, The Reactor, won first place at the North American Handmade Bicycle Show in Kentucky in March. Hock said it was a complete surprise, but added that people want these bikes and that is a good feeling.
“People want to buy the product, which is cool … people are coming to us because they know we make these bicycles,” he said.
Despite the high price tag of No. 22’s Bicycles — The Great Divide model frame costs $2,499 — Hock said he has faith in the quality of the product to create the demand.
“Demand is good. I think we have a very modern product,” said Hock.
Smith said he would like to see the company grow, but feels that the company should remain as a small- to medium-sized, more exclusive company.
Reach Gazette reporter Matt McKibben at [email protected] or @mattmckibben on Twitter.