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North Bonneville a surprising bike hotbed

A six-person operation, Volcanic Bikes quietly succeeds as bike maker for police

By , Columbian staff writer
Published: January 3, 2017, 6:00am
3 Photos
Wes Foster works on one of the many bicycles built by Volcanic Bikes. The North Bonneville-based company supplies heavy-duty bicycles to police departments such as those in Seattle, Washington, D.C., and Los Angeles. (TROY BRYNELSON/The Columbian)
Wes Foster works on one of the many bicycles built by Volcanic Bikes. The North Bonneville-based company supplies heavy-duty bicycles to police departments such as those in Seattle, Washington, D.C., and Los Angeles. (TROY BRYNELSON/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

NORTH BONNEVILLE — While the town of North Bonneville is still largely a bedroom community for dam workers, it has quietly become a hotbed for bicycles for public safety agencies around the country.

Holed away in the small town off state Highway 14, behind a Chevron gas station — but still dwarfed by the Columbia River Gorge — is an unassuming, red, two-story home. It is the headquarters of Volcanic Bikes, a multimillion-dollar bike manufacturer specializing in heavy-duty cycles.

The company has supplied hundreds of bikes to the Seattle Police Department, the Los Angeles Police Department and the Metropolitan Police Department in Washington, D.C.

It is a six-person operation, and they don’t advertise.

“It’s extremely word-of-mouth,” said sales manager Marisa Falon, who lives in the ostensible headquarters’ second story. “And that’s the best way to advertise.”

The company started in 2003 while co-founder Eric Kackley worked at a bicycle shop in Olympia. That’s when a police officer from Seattle strolled in complaining about his flimsy patrol bike. The wheels, so to speak, were set in motion.

“They wanted a bike that was built strong and could hold up to the rigors of police work,” said co-founder Jennifer Kackley, adding that some of their police customers, with all their gear, weigh up to 350 pounds. “You can’t put a police officer on a toy and expect them to be able to do their job.”

The key, Jennifer Kackley said, is a fortified frame — particularly in the triangle connected to the rear wheel. The bike-makers build the area extra rigid, out of thick aluminum, to reduce the amount of flex. She said that is imperative for bike patrols who ride all day every day.

Though it was founded in Olympia, the company’s name and logo are derived from Mount St. Helens. Boxes lining the company’s basement bear a stencil of the volcano, which famously erupted in 1980.

The company really only took off in the last couple of years, Jennifer Kackley said. They mostly made small batch orders of two dozen or so until 2008, when police departments started developing bike patrols and cutting fuel costs. They looked at the Seattle Police Department as a model.

“We had almost a decade of Seattle (police) riding our bikes, which really has proven the concept worked,” she said. “(The bikes) had a history of holding up, and the department saved money on maintenance and parts.”

The company moved to North Bonneville in October 2015.

She said the company does “a couple million” a year in sales, making about 100 bikes per month. Last year, the company fielded an order from the Metropolitan Police Department in Washington, D.C., to make 210 bicycles in about three months.

They nearly landed the contract to supply bicycles to the security detail at the Republican National Convention in Ohio in July, but were outbid.

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The company supplies bicycles to paramedics and firefighters, too, but has been hesitant to sell to regular customers — at least when it comes to its police bikes.

“You don’t see civilians ride around in police cars,” Jennifer Kackley said. “It’s kind of the same with our bikes.”

The company turned quite a few potential customers away in early 2015 when Seattle Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett celebrated a victory over the Green Bay Packers by plucking a nearby bike and taking it for a spin around the end zone. It was a Volcanic.

Volcanic Bikes expects to open an improved shop just a stone’s throw from the house in North Bonneville. The shop will include a tap room, Jennifer Kackley said, and the company hopes to expand into selling new models for the general public.

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