You know those conversations you have with friends after a good ride, often over beers, where you excitedly recount the super tricky line you nailed, your near death experience off the side of the trail, or ponder ways to fix that pesky bike part? When I stepped into e*thirteen's world for a few days, that post ride conversation - and the incredible, soul-filling excitement around it - never stopped.

And it wasn't just about bikes. During our first meal together, at least six different household items received a conceptual overhaul that would make them more efficient or better for everyday use, and another seven random ideas for new businesses popped up.

While the dedicated crew of engineers, designers, and thinkers at e*thirteen are constantly churning up new ideas, they're not just dreamers. The banter back and forth often includes reasons why something wouldn't work as best as it could, and for every potentially viable idea that pops up another is scrapped, or at least shelved away. The crucial thing I observed, and perhaps the most important key the company's success, is that the conversation always includes how something could be better.

Saddled up and ready to ride, just in front of e*thirteen's humble office location in San Luis Obispo, California.

In these post ride chats, over early morning coffees, and while tinkering in the shop, e*thirteen is always looking to solve a problem, and it's here that the company finds their glimpses of brilliance - the concepts, innovations, and eventually products that ultimately end up in bike shops, on trails, and beside winning riders as they step onto the podium.

Here at Vital, as a mountain bike product reviewer, it's sometimes difficult to differentiate between products. It seems as though ideas are often shared to some extent (or copied) within our industry and the best ones flourish, but e*thirteen's ideas often stand out thanks to some clever technical solution.

"It all comes from some sort of problem we see. Some kind of gap. Something missing," said Joel Peters, e*thirteen's General Manager and Head of Product/Sales in an interview with Vital. "We're sort of searching for things to solve, and we end up going down paths that we didn't expect."

Those unexpected paths have lead the company to produce everything from chainguides and chainrings in their early days to cassettes, carbon wheels, tubeless sealant, and tires in recent months. At the same time, you'll likely never see them make a stem or handlebar. Why? Despite being asked to a hundred times over by customers and bike brands, e*thirteen hasn't done it because they can't see adding value to them in a meaningful way.

West Cuesta Ridge towers above The Grade. One can only imagine how many great ideas have been dreamt up while climbing to the top or bombing down this mountain.

Bridging the Gap from Chainguides to Tires

With a product range that rivals some industry giants and a relatively small company size of around 20 full-time employees spread out over the USA, Germany, and Taiwan, it makes one wonder how they've created such a wide variety of components. Just six of them focus on design and engineering, and while they bring a wide variety of prior experience to the table, they often find themselves staring at a completely new problem that needs solving or another type of component they feel could be improved. Needless to say, making a bombproof chainguide isn't the same as creating a great tire.

"For better or for worse, since we started this company, we've always tried to learn to do things ourselves. I don't think it's been the fastest way to get to where we are, but I would say that it's true that we've always learned all the parts of whatever it is that we're trying to make. In the long run that's benefitted us," commented Greg Thrash, e*thirteen's CFO who also wears an engineering hat. "So now, a lot of the products we make are fairly mature. Now we're looking at little incremental improvements, and we're pretty confident. We're not in the same place we were when we started out."

The design and engineering group sees the creation of new types of components as a luxury of the job. Being able to do something new serves as both an inspiration and a learning experience.

George Dubois comes across as a bit of a mad scientist - crafting new products one minute and slamming them to bits in the lab and on the trails the next.

When Dave Weagle founded the company in 2001, it was originally an offshoot from Evil Bikes, and made a big name in the gravity scene thanks to its lightweight chainguides and impact absorbing thermoplastic bashguards. The Hive acquired the brand in 2010, and has continued to improve on the original designs ever since. Faced by loads of strong competition in the chainguide realm, it didn't take long for the company to leverage their relationships and experience gained alongside sister brand Chub into other products, starting with cranksets. Then they dove headfirst into the aluminum wheel game, and now, six years later, they're also producing World Cup winning carbon wheelsets.

Each product has addressed a problem along the way, from ease of setup to durability and everything in between. Often times, solving one problem leads them to solve another. Let's dive in for a quick overview:

Problems Solved

Chainguides - e*thirteen's latest guides reduce chain noise with co-molding and a rubber roller. They're impact resistant, easily serviceable, and feature a plastic compatible with a wide variety of chain lubes. More recently they introduced some nifty ISCG shims that make installation a breeze, because holding teeny-tiny washers in place is enough to test anyone's patience.

Cranks - Inspired by a high-torque connection commonly used in tank driveshafts (yeah, those kinds of tanks), e*thirteen's P3 Connect interface solves creaking as a more robust way to connect two pieces. The Quick Connect feature used to mount chainrings also reduces creaking while making it easy to swap rings. Add in the APS Adjust system to preload bearings just right, plus deep pedal inserts that don't come loose, and you've got a crankset that stands apart from the rest.

Wheels - It all started with large diameter hub flanges that made for more stable wheels thanks to greater spoke angles, long before the Boost standard was even conceived.

Today their new carbon wheels are designed with durability in mind. "When people buy a $2,500 wheelset they don't expect it to explode," commented Peters about a unfortunately common issue in other wheels. e*thirteen found a solution deep within the manufacturing process, which has to do with the how the preform is shaped before it goes into the mold, which they claim to have perfected for better compaction. That means perfect material consistency void of holes and waves that can lead to cracked rims. "We weren't going to make a carbon rim until we could achieve that reliability on a manufacturable scale," said Peters. The need for perfection means they're deeply involved in the rim construction process, setup of strict quality systems, and they validate their designs through a rigorous test process.

The wheels aren't just designed to last, but also to reduce a secondary failure mode by considering how they might flat a tire. A new freehub seal also solves durability issues for those riding in the grossest of conditions.

Cassettes - Riders searching for additional range from their 1X drivetrains may have had various expander rings to look to, but e*thirteen was among the first groups to address the range issue with a full cassette. The 9-44 tooth 11-speed spread gives an impressive 489% range. It fits on SRAM's XD driver (or in the future with an integrated freehub design) with a novel attachment method, and thanks to the the three-piece design you can replace worn out cogs rather than the whole cassette. Based on their experience with the wide-range cassette, e*thirteen will soon offer a compact 9-21 tooth downhill specific design that allows them to create stronger wheels with wider flange spacing.

Tires, Valves, and Sealant - Not a single person asked them to make tires, but they saw a few issues. For starters, they wanted to make tubeless easier. Tubeless certainly does improve the biking experience, but it's intimidating for many riders. By designing a complete wheel system (tires, wheels, tubeless valves, and sealant) and improving compatibility among the components, the process gets a lot easier. The tires can be put on by hand and they inflate with a floor pump thanks to a carefully shaped rim well, plus the fact that e*thirteen's tubeless valves increase airflow. Add in their coagulating sealant and you're looking at three to six months of maintenance-free use.

The tires also bring an incredible amount of traction and great flat protection. "We rode pretty much every major tire out there, and there were a couple that stood out as excellent above the others. We wanted to target that level of performance. We were going for that level of grip but a lighter weight," Peters said.

Following dozens of company wide back-to-back tests of competing designs and their own prototypes, e*thirteen was able to narrow in on a final, aggressive tread pattern that eliminates the washy feeling between the center tread and hard cornering. Durability is also excellent.

Made to Last - It isn't always about creating something new, and e*thirteen has certainly had a few reality checks along the way that made them reconsider how their existing products could be improved. When they do make a change, they make every effort to make it backwards compatible.

"We do a significant amount of upfront engineering on everything, so by the time it's in production we have a pretty low return rate. And it's not to say we haven't had problems with products, of course. The most important part is that we can be honest about it, and say, 'Well, it's probably not the best solution.' When people do have a problem, which inevitably happens, the support is there that, 'Okay, let's help you take care of this.' And do it in a quick way where they stay on their bike," Peters said. "We also look at how long something will be used. It's a pretty disturbing trend in the market. There's just this mass turnover of bicycles. It's kind of a bummer, so we're trying to spend more time thinking about that. We hope people will use these for years, and they're designed to last."

Go Time

All the ideas the brand has and the pace they come up with them can be a bit overwhelming at first, but as I settled into the conversations and embraced my inner bike nerd I couldn't help but think how impressive it was to see so much creativity in one room. The struggle for the company, it seems, is determining what to work on with so many possibilities floating around. They have an ever-growing list of things they've discussed, many of which may never go anywhere, but a handful of which they'll actually turn into products.

From the moment you walk in the door, you're bombarded with prototypes, artifacts, inspiration, and creative genius everywhere you look.

Surprisingly, choosing what to make is an informal process. They'll pick a project they're passionate about, decide on a budget, set dates, nail down the technical requirements and "just kind of go." The relatively small size of the company allows them to act on the fly with no major gateways for approval through committees or boards. All told they estimate about 70% of their time is invested in creating and researching new products, and just 30% of their time is spent on product maintenance and improvements.

Development of a new product often involves weekly meetings, priorities, and deadlines, with oversight from an employee in Taiwan that helps keep them on schedule. "The hard part is putting the bike parts down for a minute, focusing on a business plan, and making sure it gets followed," Peters told Vital. "It's not fun, but it's our reality."

Even so, that fun still comes across in a big way. Whether they're behind a computer designing, smashing products in the test lab, responding to customer needs, or putting in a late night push to get something done, the pride and passion for their products fuels a natural enthusiasm for their work that business managers could only hope to cultivate. They act as a single highly supportive unit, helping each other along the way.

Test Methods

While the company doesn't tout the fact that they're riders, they most certainly are, and it's from riding hard and riding often that many of their ideas are born. A good deal of that ride time is devoted to testing new products. Before it ever gets to ride testing, each product is lab tested to ensure it exceeds all relevant ISO standards, as well as lab tests they've designed to correlate to on trail abuse.

Devices and hints of destruction, all in the name of better bike parts.

Once it passes those requirements it's distributed internally to verify that (among other things) no one dies, then the product is handed over to a crew of external testers. Much of this testing takes place near San Luis Obispo, California, home to a portion of e*thirteen's design and engineering team, several hard-charging test riders, and dozens of very rowdy, rocky trails.

Sunny or muddy, it's two thumbs up on rides with e*thirteen. Ours included a stop at the car wash for 'bonus testing.'

Following any necessary revisions, the final step is to give it to their Pro athletes for validation at the highest level. With a current and past rider lineup including Aaron Gwin, Sam Hill, Josh Bryceland, Steve Peat, Steve Smith, Iago Garay, Fabian Barel, Jill Kintner, Fabien Cousine, Mick and Tracey Hannah, Andrew Neethling, and a host of others competing at the top level, you know each product is thoroughly tested before it hits the shelves. Take the LG1r Carbon wheels, for instance, which got their final stamp of approval after surviving Red Bull Rampage under Sam Reynolds. All told each product sees use by somewhere close to 20 test riders before being produced. That's a whole lot of rock smashing.

Faces Behind the Brand

Though the company is growing, I got the impression that it's more like a partnership than a big structured entity. When I asked five of the brand's key players their job titles, the responses were incredibly varied, and I learned that every employee takes on different roles within projects based on prior experience and individual talents. Sometimes one person will be driving a product, and sometimes they'll be supporting another. It's not often that you'll find a CFO designing a cassette from the ground up, for example.

Joel Peters, General Manager and Head of Product/Sales, is an espresso connoisseur, averaging two coffees before work. He was the go to guy on site for a while, and often makes the final call on what big idea to tackle next.

George Dubois, Director of Engineering, has a hoarding problem, though his collection of old frames and parts certainly shows an appreciation for MTB history. He designs components and "keeps everyone in check."

Greg Thrash, CFO and Engineer, connect dots on the regular. He's the "A to B guy, the IP guy, and handles business management."

Todd Bischoff, Marketing Director, asked his parents for batteries while sleepwalking at the age of five. We can only imagine what kind of machine he may have invented in his dreams. He handles marketing, visuals, industrial design, and graphics, though his role is transitioning to be increasingly design oriented.

Connor Bondlow, Marketing and Design Guru, once lived the #vanlife and loved every minute of it. He's a creative workhorse, tackling graphics, packaging, social media, manuals, marketing and more. At one point I overheard the higher-ups saying, "What a catch," while talking about the young gun, who I suspect will help the company continue do great things.

"Everybody brings their expertise to the table, and at the end of the day we make something pretty cool," said Thrash. The majority of e*thirteen's products are made in Taiwan, and they're quick to acknowledge that without support and expertise of their Taiwanese suppliers and friends they wouldn't be where they are today.

Whatever the recipe is, it's working.

On the Horizon

The company is now "over the hump," as they like to put it. Financial pressures are lessening, they're no longer fighting to exist, and their products are maturing. They're now able to focus on finer details that really matter, design elements that tie the collection together, and producing a complete system. Ten projects are in the queue, though they won't start on them until others currently in the works are done. They're trying their best to not release products until they're truly ready and proven at every level.

I spy...

"We want people to be happy when they put our products on their bike. In the end, that's what it's all about," Peters remarked. "We're trying to build a positive experience for people."

In the coming months and years they'll work to improve internal capabilities with better test machines and in-house prototyping in an effort to reduce project timelines. At all times they'll strive for engineering excellence as they continue to progress and learn while making their products as awesome as they can.

There's no doubt in my mind that the e*thirteen idea book contains some gold, and I'm excited to see what problems they solve next.


Follow e*thirteen on the web, Instagram, and Facebook to keep tabs on where they're headed. Feature and photos by Brandon Turman.

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