by Jeff Lockwood
March 10, 2014
News coming out of Cove Bikes has been sparse for a while, but rumours of new bikes in the works have begun to trickle out of Canada. Marcus Farley and Tim Spickernell recently had the chance to talk with the head honcho at Cove bikes, Chaz Romalis. In addition to learning about the history of the company and Romalis’ opinion on wheel size, Farley and Spickernell get some info on the new designs coming from Cove.
Back in 1980, a number of British Columbia-based bike nuts heard about the Klunkerz scene in Marin County, and started building up their own old cruiser bikes into fat tire trail bikes. One of the main players was Chaz Romalis, who along with Doug “Dr Dew” Lafavor (later of Kona fame) and Ashley “Nummers” Walker, started importing old Schwinn cruisers, running bike gear from California to British Columbia, and set about carving the very first trails on the North Shore around their Deep Cove base.
Their parents soon asked when they’d be getting proper jobs, so they took a punt and bought an old motocross shop and turned it into the first mountain bike shop in British Columbia. Named Sycles and Surfers, the shop began selling wind surfers and snowboards alongside bicycles to make ends meet. By 1992 they’d started making their own frames, which became an instant hit and buzzword for anyone wanting to ride the North Shore or emulate that cult feeling in their local woods.
After exhausting the available import stock of old Schwinn cruisers and parts, they started importing cruisers built by the Koski Brothers, as well as cruisers and parts made by the Cook Brothers. They continued importing US bikes as mountain biking evolved, and by 1992 Romalis and his pals felt that the bikes they were importing were not keeping up with the advances in riding and trail-building happening along the technical descents and wooden trick sections of the North Shore. After unsuccessfully pitching their ideas to some big American brands, they literally thought, “Screw this, let’s start our own brand! Cove bikes.”
Romalis says they had something of an epiphany when Vancouver contemporary Paul Brodie started making frames with radically sloping top tubes. Cove decided to make frames that featured slack geometry, long top tubes and short chainstays and stems—perfect for their North Shore playground.
Their first bike, the Hummer, was a big hit with riders. Eventually, the Hummer, along with the Stiffee and Handjob hardtail frames, went on to garner awards and develop a cult following on both sides of the Pond. As the skills of North Shore riders went through the roof, these bikes were soon followed by the Hustler, G-Spot, STD and Shocker full-suspension rigs.
The brand became a buzzword for bombproof frames capable of dealing with the natural trail obstacles, increasingly difficult man-made lines and the inclement British Columbia weather.
Cove has been relatively quiet on the new product front for the last few years, but Romalis says he’s not one to be rushed, and will only bring out new product when he thinks the company genuinely has something new to offer. But there is activity. Cove will release three radically updated designs this year. In January, they released an updated titanium Hummer frame, and this Spring will see new versions of the aluminum Stiffee and Hustler frames.
The updated Hummer hardtail is designed around 27.5″ wheels and a low bottom bracket, and features sliding drop outs and curved tubing to accommodate 29″ wheels.
Romalis and his team have spent a lot of time honing the new Stiffee 27.5″, and are hopeful for a Spring release date. They tell us that it’s being made with the same lighter-weight tubing that goes into the Hustler frame.
Cove has been working with German designer Stefan Stark and local designer Aaron Knowles to build the new Hustler. After a number of mules, they’re ready for an early April release. Romalis is extremely pleased with the design, referring to it as the “cat’s arse,” because of the Cheshire Cat-sized grins from he and his buddies after riding it around their local trails.
Romalis believes the Hustler represents a bike that epitomizes the new trail building philosophy around the North Shore. After too many accidents on ever-crazier man-made skinnies and ramps, he says trail builders and designers are working together with park rangers to ensure that the trails are safer without compromising the fun factor.
On the emotive subject of wheel size, Romalis and his team have spent some quality time testing the different sizes. They say wheel size choice ultimately needs to be about the rider, the terrain and the suspension travel. They favour 27.5″ and 29″ wheels for hardtails, 29″ for short-travel suspension, 27.5″ for bikes with up to six inches of travel, and finally 26″ wheels for bikes with more than six inches of travel.
We asked Romalis if he’s been tempted to dip his toe into the carbon pool. He showed sound reluctance stating, “Carbon is ecologically unsound, gives no warning before it snaps and has a poor second-hand value for riders.”
All frames continue to be made in Taiwan, with the exception of the Hummer, which now built by Lynskey. Drawn on the “Canadian Handmade vs Taiwan” question, Romalis favours Taiwan production because he feels the Taiwanese have the best skills at making large product runs, which helps keep the price down for the consumer. He goes on to say that the quality of the work from Taiwan for the new Hustler and Stiffee is the best he has seen.
Cove is a staple in the North Shore scene. Their attitude and bikes have helped define a whole category of riding. Thirty-four years after the company’s inception, they’re still loving every moment of being at the hub of the North Shore. While they may have been quiet for a bit, they have definitely remained active, as these new designs have shown us.