The man of steel 

Chromag building mountain bikes to last

In the last five years mountain bike technology has been revolutionized, as hydraulic disk brakes, shocks with more than five inches of travel, fat tires, and burly frames have become the norm.

What was once a race to build the lightest bike has become a race to build the machine that can physically swallow the most punishment.

As the industry diverged into two distinctly different directions, cross-country and downhill/freeride, Whistler bike mechanic Ian Ritz noticed that there was nothing left in the middle for the rider who liked to ride in Loonie races on one day and ride the bike park the next.

He built his first bike two-and-a-half years ago; designing it himself and having it welded by a bike builder in Squamish.

"I guess I made that one because there was no bike like it on the market at the time," said Ritz. "Hardtails were kind of out of vogue at that time unless you wanted a race bike or a jumping bike."

Hundreds of rides later that frame, which was custom built for Ritz’s height, is still going strong.

In the meantime, he’s continued to make bikes. There are now 16 Chromag bikes in action around Whistler.

Some of the top local mountain bikers liked Ritz’s concept enough to shell out for one of his frames, including Chris Dewar, JJ Desormeaux, Tyler Morland and Paddy Kaye – guys who really know how to put a bike through its paces.

"I know every person out there riding my bikes, and there are definitely some awesome riders out there," said Ritz.

"When I built this first prototype, I got as many people to ride it as possible. I told them not to hold back, basically giving it to all the animals out there to put through the ringer. The frame made it through everything okay, and the people really liked it. They gave me a bit of feedback, and the design has evolved a little since.

"For field testing, Whistler is the ultimate place."

There are several design concepts that make Chromag unique. The most obvious is Ritz’s choice of materials.

After evaluating the pros and cons of different materials, Ritz decided to use steel – a 4130 chromoly to be exact.

"It’s fairly unique in that (the bikes) are extremely durable," said Ritz. "The idea is that if you own a bike like this, it should literally last you your lifetime."

Although steel bikes used to be the norm, most manufacturers use different types of aluminum now because it is lightweight and easy to use. Steel frames are pretty much limited to custom builders these days.

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