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30 Years Wandering Around Chico
PAUL Component Historical Chico Tour by Paul himself
Follow Paul around Chico as he walks you through the birth of PAUL Component Engineering 30 years ago. We talk to his last boss and his very first customer, and hear stories about building a truck from the junkyard, meth lab raids and what it's like to drill a 3/8" hole in your finger.
PAUL: A Short History

Way back in the late Pleistocene Epoch, Paul was born to an artist mom and an engineer dad. Somehow, he was able to get his hands on the tools and supplies of both and began creating at an early age. Pedal cars, train sets, paper airplanes, macramé, drawings, skateboards. If he had a sliver of an idea, he’d gather what he needed from wherever he could find and would attempt the creation of the thing he thought would inevitably be the next hula hoop.

He claims to have known he was going to create things and then sell them his entire life, but it probably wasn’t until 2nd or 3rd grade this really became solid. Sixth grade was the beginning of a skateboard company. It went through many iterations; he never made a dime and sometimes drove his parents crazy when that one piece of wood they’d been saving would go missing and a fresh skateboard would appear. That extra leaf for the dining room table wasn’t really needed, was it?

At any rate, on through high school and college, while actually making some money working in bike shops, this thing called a mountain bike was invented. It was the greatest invention of all time, except all the parts really sucked. Shortly after graduating as a mechanical engineer, about a year into an actual “real job” as an engineer, a long-term relationship went straight down the drain and Paul decided that things just couldn’t get any worse. Also, he really couldn’t handle much more of the Bay Area and damnit, those crappy mountain bike parts needed to be made much better. And they needed to be anodized in ridiculous colors. So he quit his job, bought the cheapest house in Chico, California with a garage, and headed north. Soon, the garage filled up with a manual milling machine and a lathe, and the kitchen was stocked with Top Ramen. Oh, and he landed a job as a brass grinder at Mountain Goat Cycles, one of the original mountain bike frame builders, where he made a few connections in the bike world that would later become very important.

At the time the external-cam Quick Release had become popular, but Paul knew this was not the way Tulio Campagnolo would have done it, so he made some the much harder, old-fashioned way, and his first products were on the market. These were followed by the Stoplight Brakes which eventually gave birth to linear pull brakes and the Klampers of today.

Around 1996 he made a derailleur and was instantly famous and had a HUGE demand for his products and absolutely no idea how to run a business. So that crashed. Then single speeding came along and saved his ass and he was able to eke out a living supplying the very fringes of the bike world, IE: all the weirdos. It was also a period of more Top Ramen.

Eventually the experience of just hanging on over the years, hiring some really good people, slowly adding products that looked good AND worked even better, and riding bikes transformed this little one-man operation into a world-renowned innovator of very good and nice bicycle components.

It’s been quite a ride that would not be traded for a world of riches. Turning a raw block of aluminum into a beautiful, useful, sometimes even praised, bike part is far too rewarding.

Open House

How did we make it 30 years?! There have been some high points for sure. Like our derailleurs making it onto the covers of magazines, being spec’d as original equipment on Bianchi Singlespeeds, our parts mounted on bikes winning everything from land-speed records to National Championships, and making it on every hot bike at NAHBS to name a few. And yeah, there have been some low points, such as surviving on ramen when times were tough. Luckily, between the dedication of our hardworking staff and the loyalty of you passionate bike nerds, we’re still here cranking out the highest quality bicycle components, and we even have some very exciting secret new products in the works!

As much as we’ve loved our annual PAULoween cyclocross race (what a party!), we’ve decided to replace it this year with a 30th Anniversary Open House. That’s right, we’re opening our factory gates to the entire cycling community on October 19th from 2pm to 11pm. It’s a total Willy Wonka type of situation, with Paul himself giving tours of the machine shop, live music, movies, the best tacos in town, refreshments, custom bikes, and framebuilders in attendance.

The Schedule:
• 2pm Open House begins with custom bikes on display all day
• 2:30pm-6:30pm factory tours by Paul himself
• 4pm-10pm Jalapeño City Taco Truck
• 5pm-10pm Hosted Bar
• 7pm Movies: California Gold and Dirt Magic
• 8pm Live Music: Whifflehammer
• 11pm Party’s over dude, time to go
We hope you can join us!
 

7 Questions With Paul Price... With Paul Price!?
We know that if you’re reading this now you must be a diehard fan of our nerd-out newsletters, so you know that in each edition we try to toss some love to other folks trying to eek out a living in this crazy industry with a little column we call: 7 questions with Paul Price. Normally, Paul dives deep into his brain bank so that he can ask the hard-hitting questions about the memories, triumphs and, tribulations of others in the bike industry. Well, for this 30th anniversary edition we decided we would flip the script…we asked some of our dearest friends to send in their questions for Paul himself to answer. It was very difficult to only choose 7 (there were some dandies that just barely missed the cutoff) but we did our best! 

John Watson of The Radavist: “What was the one product you were sure would be a flop, but surpassed expectations?”

Stoplights. My first brake product. We still use the exact same pivot design. Back then I was so intimidated with Grafton. They were so slick and had really good advertisements and MBA loved them! But, we caught on. Sold a TON of them, almost all made on fully manual machinery.
 
Paul Sadoff of Rock Lobster Bicycles: “Here’s a question- if you had the time to do a bike tour of any kind for a week, where would you go?”

I would leave my house and head into the Sierras, which are right in my backyard. I’ve always wanted to stitch together a combination of dirt roads from Chico to Downieville.
 
Cameron Falconer of Falconer Cycles: “If you weren't making bike parts what would you be doing for a living?”

There’s an airplane restoration facility for the Smithsonian in Silver Hill MD called the Paul E. Garber Facility. I’d work there. Or a surgeon.
 
Ronnie Rainbow of Ultra Romance: “CNC component manufacturers were as common as Mariah Carey hits in the late 80s and 90s, what happened to that market? - how did PAUL remain relevant, when so many others took a dump like the reviews for “Glitter”? (Another Mariah Carey reference).” 

It’s called Top Ramen. 5 for a dollar. I was willing to do whatever I needed to do to avoid getting a job and let my dream die. Eventually I had a couple ideas that stuck and I could build on. Seriously, I just worked my ass off for pennies where ever I could get them. After a while the odds are, you’ll get lucky and get a winner.

Patricia Price (Paul’s Mom): “What was the name of your first business? How old were you? What was it about?”

Sorrento Skateboards. I grew up in the Bay Area on a cul-de-sac named Sorento Court. Sorrento seemed so European and exotic that I named my skateboard company after it. For my 14th birthday my parents got me a hundred business cards. It was most excellent.
 
Doug White of White Industries: “Why in the world did you pick a quick release as your first product?”

Ringle had just come out with their external cam skewers and being a huge fan of Campagnolo (the inventor of the bicycle quick release) I knew this was not how Tulio would do it. So I did it like a Campy except with some aluminum bits to make it lighter, and purple. I had no clue about liability, didn’t even occur to me. Luckily I had less than zero net worth at that point.

Steve Rex of Rex Cycles: “How long did you make parts at home before getting a commercial space? And was that house ever the same after having the closet floor cut out to install a tumbler?”

Ha! That really struck you. The only thing that saved that house was cutting the hole in the floor so the tumbler could sit on the ground and not shake the whole thing to pieces! It took about 4 years to fully get out of the house. I stretched it our way too long, everything but my bedroom was for work. The bathroom was disgusting with 4 dudes machining parts in the garage. The living room was the assembly shipping area. Good times, wouldn’t give that up for anything but I wouldn’t want to do it again.
Jim's History of Manufacturing at PAUL Component
Paul Component Engineering has been proudly manufacturing bicycle parts in Chico, CA, USA for thirty years. As a "shop guy" who has been along for the ride for 27 of those years, I thought I'd share some perspective on where we have been, where we are now, and where we are headed. Clip in friends, as this is a fun story, especially if you are someone who enjoys innovation, problem solving, making chips, and a bit of grease under your fingernails.

First, a bit about me: I met Paul on a Saturday evening in the summer of 1992 on an outdoor patio at a local bar (imagine that!) through a close friend of both of ours who thought that Paul and I might have something in common. I had recently failed out of Chico State as an engineering student, and was back in town to pick up the last of my stuff, ready to move back to my parents home in SoCal to an uncertain future.

Anyway, Paul, our mutual friend, and myself had a beer or two. We talked about bicycles. We talked about cars. We even talked about machining. At one point, Paul asked if I knew how to run a lathe. As someone who knew nothing, but had taken a basic machining course in college, I said, "yes, yes I do!."
I lied through my teeth. None the wiser, Paul asked me to show up at his shop on Monday morning.

Not wanting to blow this opportunity, I went to the Chico State library that Sunday afternoon and read up on lathes, mills, and everything else machining related that I could. I was ready. Sort of.

Enough about me. For now, anyway.

Paul's shop was very basic in 1992. There were a couple of lathes and a milling machine that you had to start by spinning the motor with your foot.  The whole place was glorious. The shop stayed "fully manual" for a couple of more years. New machines were brought in, and new machinists were hired. Every machine had a purpose and every machinist had a task. At one point, there were three rooms filled with manual equipment.

Then, the next phase began.

Everyone in the shop had heard of these things called "CNC's." Computer Numerical Control. What the heck was that? Nobody knew how to operate one, let alone how to program one. There were, however, several Paul parts that were manufactured locally by CNC's, but off site. Not by us. Not by Paul. He wasn't having it, so he jumped into the game.

The first was an automatic screw machine from Germany that had no computers anywhere, and was run by a system of pins, electrodes, relays and mechanical stops. It was named Gunther, and Paul and I spent hours learning how to "program" and run it. Gunther's greatest strength was its ability to spit out hundreds of bad parts before anyone even looked up from their coffee. But it was fascinating to watch, and many lessons were learned.

Next came the Cookie Monster, a sturdy Lagun manual mill that was retrofitted with servo motors and a primitive CNC control. Paul bought this beast from a local machinist who was making some parts for him that couldn't be manufactured with manual machines. Picking it up, getting it on the trailer, and unloading it at the shop was a chore, but worth it. The Tiffinator, a newly hired Chico State engineering grad, was tasked with programming. I was tasked with running it. Neither she nor I knew what we were doing, and Paul was probably wondering what he had gotten himself into. However, once we all figured out the basics, the Cookie Monster was making parts, and we were in awe. Who knew that machining could be done without turning handles?

The first run of derailleurs were made on this thing. Seriously. We were off and running.

Yes, the derailleurs. Those were a hit, and Paul was flooded with orders, but we had to figure out how to make them. First, he bought a proper CNC lathe, which I was given the "opportunity" to program and run. Many late hours were spent learning G-code, tool and work offsets, all from the poorly translated manual that came with the machine. After a few weeks, it was making parts as well, and good ones at that.

Around the same time, Paul purchased several vertical machining centers. Leadwell 610's. Fully enclosed with automatic tool changers, and capable of "high speed" machining, they were fabulous for their day. But once again, nobody at the plant knew much what to do with them. Fortunately, we still had our ace programmer, The Tiffinator, and with the help of her and some new hires who had a vague inkling of how to run the things, Paul Component Engineering started spitting out derailleurs in large quantities. Things were good.

Then, XTR happened. You've probably heard the story. Things got lean at PCE, and there was some downsizing. I went back to school. Many USA bicycle component manufacturers fell by the wayside. But not Paul.

Paul has always been an innovator, an engineer, and a true bike dork. So when the derailleur thing didn't pan out, he came up with something even better: Singlespeed. With the machines he had left, he produced the WORD hub (Wacky One-speed Rear Device), and mountain biking was changed for the better. Old derailleur parts were turned into Melvins, a chain tensioner that could convert every mountain bike to singlespeed.

More innovation followed. Thumbies were a solution to a problem no one knew they had, until they rode a bike with proper thumb shifters. New brakes, such as the Neo Retro and Touring Canti, were developed. The Love Levers were redesigned. Shit was happening.

Let's get back to the manufacturing side, and a little more about me: I finished college, majoring in Manufacturing, and minoring in Production Management. As luck would have it, Paul's main manufacturing guy was leaving for new opportunities, and Paul offered me a full-time job (again). I had worked evenings and weekends in Paul's shop all through college, and I was excited about the opportunity, the new products, and the direction the company was going.

Once again, enough about me.

Sales started picking up, and Paul started buying more machinery. To help make ends meet, Paul took on a bunch of job shop work, and made everything from laser parts to go-cart hubs. This taught us many lessons, but in the end, only made Paul's parts better. We learned how to do proper fixturing. We learned about tooling, and we learned how to make high quality, badass parts. Efficiently.

Things were going well enough that Paul finally grew out of the old digs, so he bought a new (old) building just over the creek from the old shop. To be honest, it was a bit of a wreck, but it was three times the size. There would be room to grow. In true Paul fashion, he rebuilt the place mostly by himself.

All of the machinery was brought over from the old shop. The offices were upgraded with new computers and manufacturing software. There was a proper kitchen area, and air conditioning for the hot Chico summers. And Paul had a separate building (The Durham Facility) for all of his manual machinery, allowing him to tinker late into the night in relative peace, even when the second shift was cranking out parts next door.

As production increased, machines started wearing out. Over the years, one of the many things Paul had grown to be an expert at was fixing old, dilapidated machines. Understandably, he grew tired of being such an expert. One of the many lessons he learned through this journey was that cheap, old machines can be quite expensive to own.

So, as old machines gave up the ghost, Paul replaced them with brand new, faster equipment. Cycle times decreased dramatically, sometimes as much as 50%. A modular tooling system was developed that decreased setup times. Lean processes were incorporated, and the whole building got the whole 5S treatment. (For those who aren't familiar with dorky engineering lingo, let’s just say that parts were being made at a pace never seen before.)

Perhaps now is a good time to talk about the Klamper disk brake caliper, as it helped bring the shop into it’s most modern age of manufacturing. Paul had been toying with the idea of a disk brake for a few years, knowing that rim brakes were becoming an increasingly smaller section of the market, and that he would have to develop a disk brake to remain competitive. But it had to perform flawlessly, last forever, and have the unmistakable Paul aesthetic.

The first prototypes were entirely hand built by Paul in the Durham facility. They were hideous and beautiful at the same time, but served a purpose, allowing most of the mechanical details to be sorted out. Once the initial design was sorted, Paul drew up some rough CAD drawings and handed the project over to his engineering department (me). I'd make a prototype, Paul would ride it, and we'd refine it. At last count, there were 13 different versions of the Klamper before Paul was satisfied.

Now, how to make it? The Klamper was a complicated assembly that required many precision machined parts to perform flawlessly together. A single caliper body needed five different tooling fixtures, which wasn't going to cut it when it came to production. So we got into fourth axis fixturing (for the uninitiated, a fourth axis is a rotating platter that allows parts to be machined at different angles), which made it possible to machine several bodies at a time. We figured out how to make the other parts efficiently as well, and the Klamper was born.

Now, to the present: 2019. Paul's 30th year of manufacturing.

He keeps buying machines, every one faster and more refined than the one it replaced. New manufacturing methods are on the horizon to allow new products to be developed, and production efficiencies continue to be streamlined. And he still loves his Durham Facility, where he gets to tinker and innovate.

Most importantly, Paul has always had the unique ability to assemble an amazing team, all of whom work together toward a common goal of manufacturing the finest bike parts available. As one who has been here for a while, that's probably what I admire the most.

Thirty years. Think about that. Cheers, Paul. And thanks for the ride.
Copyright © 2019 Paul Component Engineering, All rights reserved.


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