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Story #23American Bicycle GroupChattanooga, TN

Creating environments that are healthy for people physically, mentally, spiritually is paramount at American Bicycle Group.

Major employers across the nation are implementing wellness programs in hopes of counterbalancing sedentary work environments. At American Bicycle Group however, physically active employees are more than an objective in a human resources initiative, they are part of the sales team. The Chattanooga, Tenn. based company manufactures Litespeed and Quintana Roo bicycles. As a small business working with a limited marketing budget, American Bicycle Group relies on its employees to be active brand ambassadors. The company’s employees are avid cyclist who ride and train with the same vigor as the cycling enthusiast who buy the bikes American Bicycle Group makes.

The melding of business with an active work environment is one of the things that attracted American Bicycle Group CEO Peter Hurley to the company. “In 2002, I was working in investment banking and consulting,” recalls Hurley. “I was 44 years old, and I had a quadruple bypass. After the surgery, I completely changed my lifestyle and started cycling. Through a friend in the cycling community, I was introduced to the previous owners, and we put a deal together. We do exactly what we sell. We are mountain bikers, we are road enthusiasts, and we are triathletes. We travel and compete all around the world.”

Flexibility around work schedules at American Bicycle Group should not be confused with a laissez-faire approach to business. Margins in the cycling industry are notorious slim and American Bicycle Group has to compete with companies up to 50 times larger. However, much like in the world of sports, talent is the ultimate differentiator.

The frames for company’s Litespeed bicycles are made from titanium. The craftsmen at American Bicycle Group have an unparalleled reputation as experts when it comes to titanium, and their reputation extends well beyond the cycling community.

“One of the engineers working on the Mars Land Rover project was an avid cyclist,” explains Hurley. “NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratories in California has its own titanium lab, but they were running into difficulties when building the titanium legs for the Mars Rover. He said, ‘Let’s call American Bicycle Group. They have been shaping titanium bicycles for years.’ And they just called. A dialogue began and we ended up working with them directly. We built the legs for the rover, signed all of our names on one of its legs and then it was launched into space.”

Being able to cite that your company was the one NASA called for advice would be the highpoint for most organizations. American Bicycle Group, however, is determined to make it one of many. Their pursuit is one that cycling enthusiast and champions of small business are wise to follow.

Photos by Ed Kashi

  • Owner Peter Hurley says his key to a successful business comes from a lesson imparted to him by his family. "You get up every morning, put your feet on the floor. You go to work and you're honest with people and you are as frugal as possible." This philosophy and the company's uniqueness continue to differentiate it from large competitors.

  • After being contacted by NASA, American Bicycle Group crafted the titanium legs for the Mars land rover project. Peter Hurley and his team are proud to say that their company signature is now currently roaming on Mars.

  • The frames for the company's Litespeed bicycles are made of the highest quality titanium. The craftsmen at American Bicycle Group have developed an unmatched reputation as experts in high quality titanium, which has won them recognition both among the cycling community and beyond.

  • Because profit margins in the field are so low, Hurley stresses that, "Money isn't the most important. Creating environments that are healthy for people physically, mentally, spiritually is paramount here."

  • With a staff of 50 employees, the American Bicycle Group's team includes some of the most dedicated and talented craftsmen in the field. Owner Peter Hurley's goal is "to provide an environment for [his] employees and [his] consumers where each are very proud of the company and the products that they ride."

  • American Bicycle Group has weaved itself into the fabric of the Chattanooga community. You can find Peter Hurley and his team volunteering at local churches, suporting the Chattanooga triathlon club, and working tirelessly to bring events like the US Pro Nationals, Ironman, and Half Ironman to Chattanooga.

  • American Bicycle Group's employees are mountain bikers, road enthusiasts, and triathletes. All of their products are tested and quality controlled through hands-on, personal experiences.

  • As a small business, American Bicycle Group has to compete with companies 50 times its size. It is the talent and dedication of the company's employees that sets it apart from the competition.

  • Peter Hurley, owner of Chattanooga-based American Bicycle Group, saved the company from bankruptcy while also saving his life through a health and lifestyle revolution.

Q & A

Pete Hurley spoke with us in his office after giving us a tour of the facilities.

You were in your 40s when you had a quadruple bypass, did the experience provide you with a different perspective?

It definitely does. Money isn’t the most important. Creating environments that are 
healthy for people physically, mentally, spiritually is paramount here. I always tell everybody here I don’t make the rules, but I certainly have to enforce them sometimes. So there are rules to business. We need to be profitable. We need to make sure that we are paying all of our bills and that we have, in our community, a lot more than just the employees inside of these walls. There’s consumers. There’s safety. There’s our suppliers. So it’s just a big family that we all have to be very careful about making sure that all of our obligations are met.

What’s your biggest challenge being a small business owner?

Oh, boy. [Laughs] Lots. We have some really tough competition out there. There 
are some people who are 10, 50 times the size of us. So how do we, as a small business, 
eek out our own uniqueness to provide value to consumers with a certain amount of 
managed cost, keep the story out there, and fulfill those needs logistically? It’s an 
everyday battle. We need to make sure that we stay to our scope or our direction. It would be easy for us to get caught up in what’s the newest and greatest fad. We have to remember that we’re not one of these big manufacturers. We have a uniqueness, and we need to develop our uniqueness and remain true to that.”

You’re not interested in becoming one of those companies that’s 50 times bigger?

We’re not. We’d like to have a little bit more size to us, because with that size, comes a little bit more depth and resources for personnel here so that we can do a better job in servicing our customer – our consumer base. And we’re getting there over the last few years. So we’re now out at all the triathlons. We’re renting bikes. We’re putting demos on for our consumers. They get to try it and use the bicycles before making a purchase. So instead of putting a lot of print advertising out there, we prefer more of a grassroots approach. And we work with the athletes to make their decision on why they need to invest in such a high-end bicycle.

Business Details

Proprietor: Peter Hurley
P.O. Box 22666 Chattanooga, TN 37422
PH: 800.229.0198 / Website
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