There are very few BMX brands or products which are elevated to the status of 'benchmark,' for it's a fantastically hard achievement to make. Products come and go, brands filter in and out of popularity as trends ebb and flow, and the pace of product development is pretty swift to say the least -- so creating something that sits on this higher benchmark level for a good length of time is extremely rare. These are the sort of products which you buy and pretty much live with for the remainder of your riding life -- other newer parts may come along and look prettier, come in fancier colours, be trendier and promise more. But you know what, here's the deal with these benchmark parts -- I'll stick with what I have: because it just doesn't get any better than this. I think it essentially comes down to trust, plain and simple -- trust in your BMX parts.
You could cite a few examples now. For example, S&M Slam Bars. Maybe Primo V-Monsters. Yet this list is bloody short. Amazingly, one Floridian BMX company has not one but two key products that have stood the test of time -- Profile Racing's cranks may have been around for two decades or so, but nothing has matched them for ease, quality, or simplicity. Sure, other cranks may come along with more bolts, or less bolts, and subsequently claim to do more, but the simple fact is you can just trust Profile three-piece cranks to do the job in hand. The fact that most three-piece chromoly cranks are based on Profile's original fundamental 48-spline design should indicate that they're the crank that all others are measured against. Likewise, Profile cassette hubs are the accepted marker in the sand: again, there might be lighter hubs, fancier hubs, or hubs with this 'n that functions, but when it comes to trusting your wheelset, Profile's hub design arguably rules the roost.
So we caught up with the main men at Profile Racing in Florida: Jim Alley is the HDIC, the guy who started it all with a racecar engineering company before BMX came along, and Matt Coplon is the jack of all trades team-manager, sales guy, marketing manager, do-it-all man. We spoke in-depth with Matt and Jim about just what makes Profile tick.
Hey Matt. So, what's a typical day like for you there?
In no particular order: make coffee, check e-mails, argue with Scooter about how to properly thaw out food, build hubs and cranks, pack orders, chat with bike shops, prank call Flip at Albe's or Vic over at Circuit BMX, talk to the team about trips and what has been going on in their lives, get put into a headlock by Jack our head machinist, then drive home while sweating profusely in the Florida sun.
What are you doing today for example?
I just organized a bunch of advert/rider shots for both Profile and Madera and sent them over to Mulville and John Ludwick to have them post em up. We have to finalize the Madera poster today -- and get that sent to the printer in order to have it in time for the Madera New Jersey trip starting July 2nd. I have to get the van rented for Props Mega Tour, Profile just got invited to go. Then I'll be back on the tables building and packing orders to finish off the day. Tonight I'm driving two hours north to see the Frodus reunion show and then going for an MTB ride at Paynes Prairie.
So you've been at Profile now for seven years -- how has it developed for you since then?
I came on at Profile in September of 2001. I was brought in to stock and pack orders. A year later, Jeff Harrington left and I was quickly put in the position of team manager. A year later, sales manager. It was really overwhelming at first but has turned into a really rewarding job: I have fun; stay really busy, while the workdays seem to fly right by. Never thought I would be selling anything. I remember when I was in college; I often thought to myself that the business students in the next building over seemed soul-less. There I was, the Liberal arts nerd reading Yeats, Orwell, and Milosz and writing poetry. I just wanted to ride my bike, read, and write. Now I'm a salesman -- but it has worked out amazing. I've learned quite a bit from working here.
How many guys work there at the moment?
The Profile factory is in the shape of a giant 'L' -- it's a 20,000 square foot building. The base of the 'L' is the machine shop with four full time machinists. In the stem of the 'L', there's ten of us that handle sales, packing, shipping, design and the website -- 14 of us total in the shop. We have a full time promotions manager [Charlie Fernandez], full time designer [Corey Alley], Web manager [Christian Henrich], shipping [Tracie Mae], Race TM/Sales [Gus Lanzilotti], Jack, Dave, Brent, and Dirty Dave hold down the machine shop, Grant Carter and myself handle sales, and Jim Alley is the owner/HDIC -- Head Dude In Charge.
Who's on the team right now?
Our Pro team consists of Mark Mulville, Chad Degroot, Mike Saavedra, Larry Alvarado, Conall Keenan, Tony Cardona, and Jeff Klugiewicz. Our Flow dudes are Joe West, Vince Kroff, Jared Eberwein, Chris Gille, Lucas Porzio, Greg Smee, Axel Jurgens, Aaron Behnke and Dan Sieg. Regarding the team, I've always tried to make our relationship as personal as possible. I'm friends with each rider -- at any point we can go out and have a session or hang out. I feel that personal connection to what we or I do here is really important. It helps maintain pride and support for the product we make. Handling the team is one of the most fulfilling parts of my job -- riding and the friendships I've created from riding have been life-changing, so to be able to help support those friends is incredibly rewarding for me.
Cool. Going back to the products, Profile are probably best known for cranks -- when did you start making those?
In 1979 Profile Racing was and still is a well-established racecar building company. The decision to get into crank manufacturing occurred when Corey and Justine Alley [Jim's son and daughter] became interested in BMX racing. When they started going to local races, Jim, with his fabricating background, started to take a close look at the equipment that was being used, particularly the crank arms. All of them were one-piece, forged, hunks of iron. He thought there was definitely a need for change and innovation. That year, Profile Racing designed and made prototypes and our first production crankset which was then sold in 1980.
There I was, the Liberal arts nerd reading Yeats, Orwell, and Milosz and writing poetry. I just wanted to ride my bike, read, and write. Now I'm a salesman -- but it has worked out amazing.
How have you developed them along the way?
The original crank arms were fabricated from sheet metal. They were square or box shaped crank arms. We still use the chromoly 48-splined spindle and sealed bearing, but now we manufacture the arms from chromoly tubing. Not much from the original design has changed. Some things have changed by market demand, for instance, bottom brackets have changed in popularity from American to European to Spanish to Mid. Titanium is being used to lighten the weight and now we're 'gun drilling' the chromoly spindle for weight and cost savings.
The latest cranks you guys are making -- with the GDH hollow spindle -- how did they come about?
The GDH Race cranks are the exact same crank arm that we have been making for years. The only change has been from the standard solid chromoly spindle to a Gun Drilled Hollow chromoly axle. Gun drilled simply means drilled all the way through the axle -- like a gun barrel. Instead of potentially sacrificing the strength of the crank arm, by reducing the weight by changing material, making it thinner, we chose to lighten up the spindle. The GDH spindle has reduced the weight of the cranks significantly while keeping the same torsion strength and stiffness. A small change can make a big difference.
Do you spend time looking at other cranks and crank ideas and just think, "Pfffffft"? Which other parts companies do you guys admire there?
I'm not going to deny that there have been some pretty bad designs on the market -- this isn't coming from Profile, this is coming from my personal opinion. As far as cranks go, the 48 splined, tubular crank design has been tried and tested -- why change what works? As far as what other companies we respect, again, each person here could probably give you a different answer. As for myself, I've always respected S&M, Solid, and FBM for keeping a good majority of their production here in the states. As far as overall aesthetic, business and team models, I would have to say Country Bikes, Deluxe, and Animal are at the top of my list. I think these three companies are going against the grain.
How does it feel to be the benchmark that other crank companies try to reach for?
Thanks for the kind words, but modesty is a virtue. I would say we've had two things working heavily in our favor: controlling inventory and production, and having been in the BMX business for a long time. If it weren't Profile in 1979, it would have been someone else a couple years later.
--To be honest though, I'm not so sure there would have been. For eons during the eighties, Redline's Flight Crank totally ruled the roost -- for they did invent the three piece BMX crank back in 1976 -- and back in the day if you rode a set of Flights, you were definitely king of the block, the pro at the track. But then the higher quality Profiles just took off, and the rest is history. In the next installment of this feature, we speak with Jim about their manufacturing, talk in detail about Profile hubs, and also about the Madera project and what's coming next.