616 Bicycle Fabrications: Local Bike Manufacturer with Big Ideas

Sitting at the 616 Bicycle Fabrications headquarters with John Muezenmeyer, Aaron Joppe and Daniel Koert, I couldn’t help but notice an air of excitement and anticipation in the room. It’s no wonder; since 616 Fabrications began operating in July 2011, orders have been piling up. They have formed partnerships with retailers nationwide and in just eight months, have become a leading manufacturer of mountain bike components. What sets them apart from competitors is their intense desire to not only grow their business, but improve the local economy as well.

616 Fabrications specializes in the manufacturing of mountain bike components for specific models such as the 29er, 650b, Cycle Cross and Fat Bike. They are well known for their handcrafted products and attention to detail. “We put a personal twist to everything we make; our products are customizable and high-quality,” says Aaron Joppe, co-founder of 616.

While 616 Fabrications is a new facility, those who founded the business have a history of success and a passion for biking. John Muezenmeyer first founded Nukeproof and by the mid-90s, it was a million dollar company. He sold Nukeproof in 2000 and didn’t think he would return to the bike industry. Aaron Joppe is still a minority partner in Slingshot, but was also transitioning away from biking.
“It was like fate,” says Muezenmeyer. “In the 1990s and 2000s, so many bike manufacturing jobs moved overseas -- nothing was local anymore. This was our chance to develop high-quality products while remaining dedicated to the local industry.”

Robert Gaddis, a lifelong bike enthusiast, was brought on board and before long, they were in need of an additional member skillful in welding and manufacturing. Daniel Koert was not only an experienced welder, but a pillar in the biking community. He started a local bike ride for the Grand Rapids community that grew to 150-200 people on weekly basis.

They wanted their business model to be different than the typical bike manufacturer. All partners were born and raised in West Michigan, and wanted to help their community grow.

“We utilize local manufacturers and believe in zero outsourcing,” says Muezenmeyer. “Manufacturers need work and are excited at the prospect of helping us showcase West Michigan and elevate the biking industry.”

Maintaining a competitive price without outsourcing has been a challenge they admit, but Koert thinks the cost has been overshadowed by something else. “People are excited to buy an in-house product," he says. "This is rare in the biking world. The local hype has reduced any concern we have about the cost of our components.”

The team was assembled and with product in hand they debuted at IceMan Cometh this past winter. Their innovative bike designs, coupled with a local flair, were met with open arms by the community.

“The community support has been overwhelming; everyone is on board with us,” says Joppe.

616 Fabrications plans to not only assist West Michigan with economic growth, but community service as well. They currently sponsor Joe’s Legacy Tour, founded to raise money for veterans' support agencies, and help promote events affiliated with the nonprofit organization.

When asked if there has been an increase in bike usage nationally, their response was positive. “There has been consistent growth since the 1990s,” says Muezenmeyer. “There are people of all ages, shapes and sizes cycling for fun and fitness than ever before.”

They attribute this increase to a number of factors. “Cycling helps build communities,” says Koert. “When I organized bike rides, people came to make new friends and enjoy the outdoors. We would always go to a local restaurant or pub afterwards and people looked forward to that.”

Muezenmeyer and Joppe also think the downturn in the economy had something to do with it. “People couldn’t afford to go on luxurious vacations anymore. They needed to find a more consistent, affordable pastime. Cycling was the answer,” says Joppe.

New bike models such as the Fat Bike have also allowed cycling to become an all-season sport. Fat Bikes are equipped with ultra-wide tires, allowing the rider to bike in sand, mud or snow. 616 Fabrications says this is currently one of their most popular items because of its versatility.

In the past five years, local support for cycling has increased significantly. The West Michigan Chapter of the Michigan Mountain Bike Association has a lot to do with that. Last year, they announced a new initiative called “50 in 5” that plans to build 50 new mountain bike trail miles in the next five years. They are well on their way to achieving that goal. In 2009, Mayor George Heartwell was even presented with a sign designating the Grand Rapids metropolitan area as a bronze-level bicycle friendly community by the League of American Bicyclists.*

616 Bicycle Fabrications has also formed partnerships with many retailers across the U.S., offering their specialized products to the general public. In Grand Rapids, they have partnered with a brand new urban bike store called Central District Cyclery. Opening in March 2012, Central District Cyclery is the brain child of mountain bike enthusiast Nate Phelps. With the opening of this new store, along with their increased retail partnerships nationwide, the future for 616 Fabrications is looking bright. “We want to pave the way for our competition and spark a resurgence of local bike manufacturing,” says Joppe.

Want some more information related to mountain bike group rides and new trails in West Michigan? Visit the West Michigan Chapter of the Michigan Mountain Bike Association for more information.

* Greater Grand Rapids Bicycle Coalition. (2012). About GGRBC, History. Retrieved here.

Chelsea Slocum is a resident of Grand Rapids. She works as an educator enjoys spending quality time with her family and friends. She has a passion for city life and loves finding new and interesting activities to check out in the Grand Rapids area. She loves to travel, stay active, and stay informed. Follow her on Twitter @cslocum.


Top photo: Bob Gaddis joins his partners to make superior quality bicycles, made by hand in West Michigan.

Second photo: Johnny "Rok Star" Muenzenmeyer with some of the bicycles he helps make.

Third photo: Aaron Joppe cleans a freshly finished frame.

Fourth photo: daniel Koert delicately welds a frame together.

Fifth and sixth photos: 616 Cycle Fabrication makes more then just frames, they also make custom hubs.

Seventh and eight photos: 616 bikes are marked with the logo in front and a cutout above the rear fork.

Photography by ADAM BIRD
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