Editor’s Note: The Angry Singlespeeder is a collection of mercurial musings from contributing editor Kurt Gensheimer. In no way do his maniacal diatribes about all things bike oriented represent the opinions of Mtbr, RoadBikeReview, or any of their employees, contractors, janitorial staff, family members, household pets, or any other creature, living or dead. You can submit questions or comments to Kurt at [email protected]. And make sure to check out Kurt’s previous columns.
The hum of machinery perfectly pairs with the unmistakable aroma of cutting fluid. Hanging from the ceiling of his machine shop is an extensive collection of handmade mountain bikes from some of the most respected builders in Northern California: Mountain Goat, Soulcraft, Salsa, Kelly. There’s even one with his own name on it – Paul. Although he made a limited run of seven bike frames in the late 1990s, Paul Price of Paul Component Engineering is best known for making “Nice Parts Since 1989.”
The tagline is classic reserved Paul; his parts aren’t just “nice”, they’re machined art. Paul was one of the original pioneers of chi-chi CNCed and anodized American made mountain bike components in the early 1990s. To this day, everything Paul makes is designed for the long run and looks beautiful in the process, highlighted by an original Paul rear derailleur that can still fetch north of $1000 on eBay. With the exception of White Industries, nearly every other American-made component manufacturer from the early days is either gone, swallowed up by a bigger brand, or entirely made in Asia. It hasn’t been an easy road, but Paul Price has survived by sticking to what he does best – making beautiful parts that work incredibly well.
I first got a glimpse into the persona of Paul last year at the top of Packer Saddle, the shuttle drop off point for the legendary Downieville downhill. Paul’s second home seems to be Downieville, as he and his wife Marley come up and ride as often as they can. In fact, Paul Component Engineering is a supporter of the Sierra Buttes Trail Stewardship and has adopted Downie River Trail, sponsoring a trail work day once each season.
But unlike most people who show up to Downieville on long travel full suspension bikes with more pads than a riot squad, Paul and Marley rock wool jerseys, hardtails, sometimes no suspension at all, often with only one gear and always with a beer or three in pocket. It was at the shuttle dropoff when a fellow singlespeeder came rolling up, looked at Paul’s titanium Engin hardtail, gawked at all the anodized components and said, “Man, you got a lot of Paul parts on your bike.”
Paul, in his classic laconic fashion simply replied, “Yeah.” The singlespeeder then asked his name, to which the response was equally laconic, “Paul.”
Then the singlespeeder asked, “Where did you get all these Paul parts?”
“I made them.”
It took the singlespeeder a second of grinding the single gear in his brain until his eyes lit up.
“So you’re…the Paul?!”
Gushing compliments immediately followed, and it seemed Paul became a little uncomfortable. All he wanted to do was ride his bike downhill in anonymity with his wife, but inevitably, when fans of Paul Price meet the man himself, they can’t help but shake his hand and tell him all about their 20-year-old Stop Light brakes that are still in use on a vintage 26” hardtail.
There’s no doubt that in the last five years, mountain bikes have become more capable and fun to ride than ever before. The number of technological advancements in suspension, geometry, and wheel size have turned what used to be merely surviving a place like Downieville into a somewhat enjoyable downhill romp for even a beginner. Although consumers love to gripe about all the unnecessary new “standards,” there is no doubt the increased specialization of bikes have made them better and more capable in rugged terrain.