A Toronto precision bicycle designer has opened a new U.S. bicycle frame-building production facility in Johnstown, NY, in a former textile plant called the Johnstown Knitting Mill.
No.22 Bicycle Company designs the kind of precision-crafted road and track bikes that inspire passionate obsession in their owners. When it was ready to expand from design into production, No.22 chose Johnstown, which has an inventory of affordable manufacturing spaces ripe for repurposing, as well as easy access to multiple methods of shipping.
The Johnstown Knitting Mill Company was a large employer in Fulton County throughout the entire 20th century, manufacturing knitted goods and work glove cloth. By 2000, the Johnstown Knitting Mill Company succumbed to the financial stresses of foreign competition and closed after more than 100 years.
The industrial-age mill at 309 West Montgomery Street was renovated five years ago to accommodate multiple tenants, making it a flexible choice for the young and growing bicycle company, which was founded in 2012.
A Ready Workforce
The location was attractive, but it was the availability of talent that drew the Canadians to upstate New York. No.22 hired three of the craftsmen who had been responsible for making the now-defunct Serotta company in Saratoga Springs the bicycle industry benchmark for build and finish quality.
The 40-year-old Serotta was sucked into the December 2014 bankruptcy of Divine Cycling Group, a private equity firm formed in 2012 to acquire Serotta and other high-end bike makers. A new company, Saratoga Frameworks, was promptly formed to try to keep the craftsmen working, but financial and legal complications forced it to close six months later.
“There are only a couple of places in the world that have experience with high-end titanium bikes, ” said Mike Smith, who founded No.22 with partner Bryce Gracey. No.22 had been having its designs produced by a large Tennessee manufacturer. In an effort to move their products upmarket, they had started to shift production work to Saratoga Frameworks.
“The talent pool is a 100 percent of the reason we’re in Johnstown,” Smith said. “When we were looking at setting up the facility, we were looking for a place that was close to the employees we wanted.”
Scott Hock, No.22’s new director of operations for the production facility, is a Johnstown native. The Canadian partners contacted real estate agent Clayton Sitterley and began to tour vacant Fulton County manufacturing buildings of all shapes and sizes, from modern industrial parks to old glove factories.
“There’s no shortage of nice space, and the rents are extremely affordable,” Smith said. “What we really loved about the Knitting Mill is the character of the space. It’s a beautiful building. There are hardwood floors and these big, beautiful windows. You can’t help it when you walk through there, you want to hatch an idea to be able to take advantage of it.”
No.22 has outfitted 4,500 square feet in the 100,000-square-foot Johnstown mill with a mix of vintage and new equipment, such as a bank of 50-year-old US-made Bridgeport vertical mills for precision mitering and a new HAAS CNC lathe to remove minuscule flecks of titanium from the frame tubes for a precise fit.
Hock, head welder Frank Cenchitz, welder Bryar Sesselman, and a newer hire named Sam Dries are producing No.22’s Great Divide titanium road bike, Broken Arrow cylocross cross-country racing bike and Little Wing track bike, as well as working under contract to produce high-end frames for other brands. Great Divide and Broken Arrow bikes start at $4,800 and $5,500 respectively.
A new No.22 race-focused model, The Reactor, was introduced at the North American Handmade Bicycle Show in Kentucky in March, and it took home the blue ribbon for best cyclocross bike. The Reactor frame kit (not a complete bike) starts at $5,200.
Smith says No.22’s sales will probably triple this year over last. The Knitting Mill offers room to grow, and Smith thinks the company may need to expand soon. He likes the fact that the tenant across the hall is a high-end machine shop, making it convenient to order supplies – “May I borrow a cup of titanium, please?”
The incubator-style nature of the Mill opens a lot of different future scenarios for either expansion or building a community of businesses with compatible interests. No.22’s production team was thrilled when a craft brewery briefly made plans to open in part of the building, but that ended up not happening.
“We are extremely excited about the opportunity to work with this team as the long-term manufacturing home for our bikes,” Smith said. “We have been building our brand around the resurgence of North American craftsmanship, and the frames that Scott, Frank and their colleagues are able to build have us thrilled about this relationship. We feel privileged to be working with them to produce bikes that we can all be proud of.”