Passion for pedaling

With 28 years in business, Chicoan Paul Price has made a name for himself as a bicycle innovator

Paul Price holds a bicycle hub (the central part of the wheel) and stem (which secures the handlebars) in his shop on the Midway in Chico.

Paul Price holds a bicycle hub (the central part of the wheel) and stem (which secures the handlebars) in his shop on the Midway in Chico.

Photo by Meredith J. Cooper

To hear Paul Price talk about bicycling is to hear a man speak of his true passion. He says things like, “I’ve long believed that bikes could save the world.”

If that’s the case, then Price is doing his part on behalf of the planet. As a designer and manufacturer of bicycle parts, his goal is to harness the potential of each piece of equipment. To do that takes a lot of fieldwork.

“At any one time, I have about 20 bikes I’m riding,” he said while providing a tour of his facility on the Midway. In the rafters hang bicycles. Lots of them. Below them are all manner of machines, which turn long sheets of aluminum into smaller pieces and, ultimately, parts for bicycles. Paul Component Engineering, launched in 1989 out of Price’s garage, makes many different parts. Price says he generally concentrates on “tiny details” that make a bike perform better, whether it be in terms of strength, control or comfort.

“I’m always riding,” Price said. “I’ll be out on a bike in Bidwell Park and all of a sudden my mind will start going—What if I did this?’”

Much of what Paul Component makes are brake parts—from housing mounts to levers to the brakes themselves. But Price doesn’t stop there. He also designs cranksets, gear shifters, quick-release seat-post collars and mounting adapters.

Price comes up with the idea for a part and sketches it, often by hand. He then turns over his sketch to be digitized in order to tell one of the many machines in the shop how to create it.

During the tour, Price stopped to demonstrate the process. Inside a glass case, machine arms switched out tools and quickly went to work drilling into the aluminum that had been set inside. In another room, finished parts tumbled in a large vibrating bowl full of rocks to smooth the metal edges.

Having grown up in Danville, in the Bay Area, and earned a degree in mechanical engineering at Sacramento State University, Price got his first taste of Chico while helping a friend move stuff from a storage unit here. He was immediately attracted to the area. Then he got a “real job” in the East Bay for a while, but after going through a breakup with a girlfriend, decided to drop that job, move to Chico and do what he really wanted to do.

That was working with bikes. He bought the cheapest house he could find in town with a garage—for less than $50,000—and started working for the now-defunct Mountain Goat Cycles, which made mountain bikes at a time when the sport was beginning to boom. In Chico, that seemed natural with Bidwell Park offering a whole world of terrain.

Price worked there while starting his business, at first just him in his garage, then growing to four employees in his cramped house. He’s moved a few times, finally settling about a decade ago in a former Texaco petroleum distribution center along the Midway. Out back, he pointed beyond the rear fence. “The train used to come through here for the petroleum,” he said. Now, quite fittingly, there’s a bike path.

“A lot of us bike to work, so it’s really convenient,” Price said. These days, Paul Component employs 15 people, several of whom have been with the company for many years. “The crew I have is spectacular,” Price said. “We’re in a really good spot.”

Over the years, Paul Component has made a name for itself in the bicycling community. Just this past December, Price was named by Bicycling magazine as one of “11 innovators making cycling more awesome for everyone.” While the company does enjoy some local business, Price said his biggest markets are throughout the United States, Europe and Japan, with Europe booming at the moment.

“We’re definitely going through a growth spurt right now,” he said. The spurt has been significant enough—40 percent over last year—that Price is considering another addition to his building.

A lot has changed in the 28 years since Price set up shop out of his garage. One thing, however, has remained the same—his love of being on a bicycle. That very day, he said, he’d already spent time trekking through Bidwell Park. It was clear in the way Price said it that it was no mere road test or assignment for work: “Bidwell Park is the best place in the world.”