Innovative designer opens bicycle shop in Glenwood
He makes and sells products that are illegal.
But only if you’re a top-level international bike racer.
Eric Sampson can sell you one of his stock bikes that weighs 12.4 pounds. You can ride it, but you won’t see it in the Tour de France. The UCI (International Cycling Union) has declared that racers are not allowed to use any bike that weighs less than 15 pounds, largely for safety reasons.
Sampson became part of the local landscape when he opened Sampson Sports in early March at 819 Grand Ave. in Glenwood Springs, relocating from Denver. He sells road bikes, components, clothing and accessories, most of which are his own brand, Sampson. He makes everything except tires, wheels and chains. In Sampson’s words, though, what he sells is fun.
“We sell products that make people go out and have fun,” he said, explaining that his gear will give people a smoother ride and help them go faster and longer, adding up to more enthusiasm for riding.
He’s been working toward that goal for 28 years. When he ski raced in college he designed some skis and bindings, which he said gave him a background in product development. In 1984, Sampson was racing bikes on the track when Look came out with the first clipless pedal. But it didn’t work well enough for Sampson, he said, and he thought at the time, “Screw this, I’ll make my own.”
And he did, successfully. His were the first clipless pedals that large bike brands included as stock on their bikes, he said. And his pedals have helped riders achieve some lofty success over the years: Through the ’80s and into the ’90s track sprint racer Connie Young won three of her four world titles, some of her 10 national titles and an Olympic bronze; in 1984, track racer Steve Hegg won an Olympic gold medal in the 4,000-meter individual pursuit; Canadian Peter Reid won the some of his IronMan World Championships; and Colorado triathlete Sarah Haskins won gold at the 2011 Pan American Games, all using Sampson pedals.
“It all started with pedals,” Sampson said. But he has numerous innovative ideas, some in production and some still a little secret. Probably the most unique thing about a Sampson bike frame is the Sampson Attenuation System, which uses the largest tubes of the frame to dissipate vibrations, “sending shocks over millions and millions of pathways instead of right up into your butt,” Sampson said. He hasn’t patented this system because he doesn’t want to explain how it’s done, but Bicycling magazine said it makes normally harsh aluminum ride as smoothly as carbon fiber.
He’s also working on a pedal that can be adjusted in three directions to perfect bike fit according to the peculiarities of an individual’s legs and feet, increasing efficiency and lessening discomfort.
At the shop (or online) customers can ogle racing bikes and gravel bikes (for riding on unpaved roads), but most of his sales are to what he calls the enthusiast, road cyclists who love bicycling and are strong riders but not racers. For them Sampson said he offers “pro quality frame power but real world comfort for average riders” in prices ranging from $1,000 to $8,000. He may start making some mountain bikes as well, as lots of people who stop in his shop say they ride only on trails.
Customers’ preferred frame material is carbon fiber. Sampson said he thought other frame materials — like scandium and magnesium — would increase in popularity, and he didn’t anticipate the popularity of carbon. He does still sell some titanium, titanium/carbon and magnesium bikes.
Custom frames are a small part of his business these days, though he’d be happy to design one for an interested customer. Sampson said that in the ’90s he made about one custom frame per week. These days, he has a wide enough variety of frame sizes that it’s unusual that someone would require a custom bike.
Sampson has a degree in marketing and finance, which fits in well with his other business, Event Gear, which he said keeps him plenty busy as well. He has sunglasses, water bottles, shirts and bottle cages on which he can put event or corporate logos. Samples of all of these can be seen at the shop.
Sampson said he chose Glenwood Springs when relocating for several reasons. He didn’t want to move to a resort town, he wanted to live in a “real” town that was affordable. Yet the proximity to ski towns is very good for business: He has a strong existing client base in Vail, to which he is now closer, and he expects interest from Aspen cyclists.
He also needs easy access to an airport for business trips, as his parts are made in Taiwan. His first pedals, which began production in 1987, were made in Japan for three years. Manufacturing moved to Colorado for several years until the late ‘90s, when he started having things made in Taiwan.
Though the personable Sampson doesn’t like to talk about himself, visitors will be happy about one thing: He said he had to quit track racing because he lost his mean streak.
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Several Carbondale businesses are scrambling to relocate and others are just plain calling it quits following plans for one of the town’s oldest strip malls to be redeveloped.