5: Fat City

We still remember the first time we ever met the guys from Fat City Cycles, it was in Crested Butte Colorado, we think in 1984. They had flown from Boston to Denver, loaded up 5 people and five bikes in a huge rental Cadillac, and drove the 5 hours to Crested Butte.

fat city xmas card

Upon their arrival, Gary Helfrich jumped out of the car, hopped up on the trunk and started stomping around, offloading bikes from the roof rack. Chris Chance shook his head, thinking about the damage he was going to have to explain to the rental company, and Ron Andrews was on the sidelines giggling.

We proceeded to have a great time getting to know those guys, going on rides and hanging out at whatever party was being hosted that night.

Sun Tour was the sponsor that year; they were very early adopters in the mountain bike movement.

The big party was hosted by Sun Tour. Ron Andrews (who this year is celebrating his 20th year since founding King Cage - Happy Birthday Ron!) decided it would be a nice night to go for a drive and explore some of the dirt roads around Crested Butte. See what kind of a rally car the Caddy really was.

Turns out, the Caddy wasn’t quite up to the task, as it ended upside down in a ditch. You know what? They signed up for the optional insurance on the rental car!

Ron hitched a ride back into town and then gave Hertz a call, to tell them there was a problem with the car. The conversation went like this:

Hertz: “What seems to be the problem with the car?”

Ron: “It fell over”.

Hertz: “Ok, we’ll send you a new one.”

Incredibly, Hertz delivered a replacement car to them, and took care of the stranded Caddy. They even apologized to Ron for ruining his vacation. But not until we used it for a trials obstacle (you can see the broken out windows).

We got along great with the Fat City gang, and soon started visiting each other regularly, and along with each visit was an attempt to completely halt the other’s production. It was usually pretty effective, whether they were here with us or we were out in Somerville. We’d go race the Ross race (in Western Mass) and then go visit them. We’d do the Mt Washington Hill Climb, or a funky local trials event.

They’d come out to the Long Beach trade show (remember that?) and then come and visit us after the show (doing bike rides instead of building frames).

One year after Long Beach, we had a big BBQ, Scot had spent a lot of time fishing in Alaska, and we were eating a big slab of salmon that Scot had brought home. It was a great outdoor party at our Sebastopol orchard facility, we were drinking and carrying on, and since the Fat City crew was leaving early the next morning, they were packing up their bike boxes. We started to clean up, and then Wes Williams decided it would be a good idea to scrape the nasty leftover fish bones in the various bike boxes (while the Fat City guys weren’t looking). We finished the clean-up without getting discovered, enjoyed the rest of the evening, and wished the boys well when they left the next morning.

Winter was setting in back in Boston, so none of the guys got around to unpacking their boxes too quickly.

Pretty soon, a popular refrain among the guys who were there that night was “what’s that smell?”

Once that smell was discovered, it was time for retaliation.

They warmed up by throwing a beater bicycle in front of a freight train, then sending it to us.

Here's Ron hamming it up, taunting the train

And here's the aftermath.

sky train bike

Ours didn’t look quite this good, this one lives at our friend Sky’s house, this one also got crushed in a press after the initial train encounter.

We were collaborating on a project or two here and there. One project involved an order of some special tubing from True Temper, some very fancy big diameter lightweight steel tubes. It arrived at Fat City from True Temper, so they had to ship it to us (freight collect). We were surprised at how heavy the box was and wondered what laid in store for us.

Fat City at that time was next door to a bakery, and it turns out that one of the tubes they sent us had about twenty loaves of banana bread stuffed into it, and pressed with a hydraulic press to some incredible pressure. They effectively stopped Ibis production with this move, as it took hours and hours for us to dig the bread out. They had some pretty impressive hydraulic presses back there in the town of beans.

We sent them some a few small gifts that were pretty harmless, but they hadn’t forgotten the fish.

There were lots of big machine tool auctions happening in the Northeast at that time, and the FCC guys would go to some of those auctions. Sometimes they’d find a pallet of micrometers or calipers, and send us a box (freight collect). So you never knew if you were going to get something good or something questionable.

We can’t remember how we kept escalating it, but we did. And they’d never really paid us back for the fish bone episode.

The whole thing came to a head with the delivery of an overnight envelope (freight collect). We knew that there was about a 50% chance it would be something cool. So we gambled, accepted the freight charges and opened the package. It was a rat, a dead rat that was smashed the day before in a hydraulic press.

That’s about when we realized that we’d lost this battle, and we stopped lobbing crap back to Fat City. What’s that phrase?

We’d met Wes in Crested Butte and we met Ron in Crested Butte. It turns out that Ron came to work for us too; he made the pilgrimage out from Boston to Sebastopol for a couple of years, and worked for us for a few months building tooling and production equipment. We’ll talk about Gary Helfrich more in an upcoming installment.

Ron Andrews

Those were good times.

If you haven’t seen it, here’s a current shot of Ron making one of his King Cage bottle cages.

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