Written Doug O'Neill
When asked to describe the experience of starting your own business, LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman replied: “You jump off a cliff and you assemble an airplane on the way down.” That could be said of Bryce Gracey and Mike Smith, co-founders of the Toronto-based No. 22 Bicycle Company, except in their case they’re assembling hand-made titanium bikes.
Gracey, originally from Calgary, and Smith, an Ontario native, had been avid cyclists since their teens – but neither had the remotest dream of turning their passion for cycling into a career. In 2012, Gracey was working as an architect in Toronto and Smith, upon completing law school, had just been offered a junior position in an established law firm. However, Smith had a dream: he wanted to cycle across Canada before setlling full-time into his legal career, and to do that he required a good bicycle. That’s when his friend (now business partner) Gracey suggested Smith get a titanium bike custom-made by a contract frame builder. Together they made that happen.
Upon returning to Toronto at the end of his trip, Smith was so in awe of his custom-made bike that he said to Gracey, “Wow, we have to do something with this titanium bike. There’s got to be an opportunity here.” They launched No. 22 Bicycle in 2013, Toronto’s first boutique shop dedicated to designing high-end titanium frames and complete bikes.
Gracey’s passion for titanium is palpable: “Titanium is non-ferrous, rides well, and doesn’t rust. The power transfer is great and it doesn’t beat you up like an aluminum bike would do. Titanium bikes have one of the best road feels, and are extremely comfortable, and incredibly durable compared to other bikes.”
The partners were designing and proto-typing the titanium bikes in Toronto – for customers in Australia, the United States, South East Asia and Canada – and then having them manufactured in the United States. “It takes a special skill set and experienced craftspeople to make custom-designed titanium bikes,” explained Gracey. “We tried a few manufacturers before finding a great bike-builder in New York state. We’d just place an order for 20 bikes when they suddenly went out of business, which left us scrambling. So we made a quick decision: we had clients who wanted custom-made titanium bikes and here was this shop full of incredibly talented craftspeople. Within a matter of weeks we were manufacturers as well as designers.” Both partners eventually left their day jobs to commit themselves full-time to No. 22 Bicycle Company.
The timing was right. “There’s a growing demand for what we call ‘gravel bikes’ or ‘adventure bikes,’” said Gracey. “People want to get their bikes off road, onto rail trails, country roads, even urban fire roads. People’s desire to go on expeditions with their bikes prompted us to design the Drifter, which is our best-selling model.”
The efficiency the two partners apply to the design of their bikes is also crucial to the way they run their business. “We have to be efficient,” says Gracey. “We don’t have a large team here in Toronto so we’ve learned to focus on what we’re good at. For instance, we don’t run a shop where we sell to walk-ins because that would distract us from the rest of our work. Instead, we have our models on display at two of the best cycling shops in Toronto – La Bicicletta and Blacksmith Cycle.”
Gracey and Smith know their customers are happy. At the recent 2018 North American Homemade Bike Show Awards they won the Judge’s Discretion Award and the People’s Choice Award – perfect accolades for a lawyer and an architect who turned their passion for cycling into a start-up success.
Photo credit Zlatko Cetinic, Images Made Real