In the previous installment on Profile Racing, we spoke with Matt Coplon, who introduced us to the inner workings of Profile, the detail behind the cranks in particular, and what's going on with the teams. This time round, we start the interview with Profile's founder, Jim Alley, and talk about the period of frame manufacturing there -- for Profile made some of the finest frames in BMX, and at one time, they were making 500 of them every month. If you have one collecting dust in the garage, clean it up and preserve it: it's a piece of BMX history. We also wanted to know more about the development of the BMX cassette hub, Madera and what's coming next. Here's more.
Hey Jim. Profile did have a reasonable stab at making frames: why don't you do that any more?
Profile Racing started building frames in the early '80s. Our first frame model was the signature Champ Pro frame and fork. I think our timing for the bike industry was hungry for something new, innovative and lightweight. This frame catapulted our production and with the addition of five other frame sizes, it brought our output up to 400 to 500 framesets a month. This amount included the first production frames from Hutch BMX, late 1980 until 1982, which was basically a Profile frame and fork with minor additions. Another company we built frames for during this time was Bike Brokers out of Fort Myers, Florida. In the late '80s, Profile was contacted by the company who bought the rights to Hutch out of bankruptcy court and again built Hutch frames for about a year. Unfortunately, the BMX Industry during the late '80s went through a severe slow-down across the board. In 1992-93, Profile brought out the X-File frame and fork set which we built until 1995. But the increase in the foreign market for framesets started to take its toll on our bike frame production. So, at that point, we really concentrated on our components line. But by 1999, David Robechaux drove our frame production back into full swing -- Dave was a very talented frame builder and excellent fabricator. With Dave's help, we re-designed our BMX race frames and added freestyle frames back into the mix, and started to venture into the MTB industry all of which started to put Profile back on the map as a frame manufacturer. Tragically, Dave passed away on November 30th, 2001 while parachuting. This was a real blow to our frame division -- after this, a decision was made in mid 2002 to stop building bike frames, and between 2002 and 2006 we contracted frames to be built through outside US vendors.
1996 was the year Profile made the first prototype BMX cassette. It looked like a beer keg and was appropriately called The Kegger.
And now back to some more questions for Matt Coplon. I also want to talk about your cassette hubs -- when did you begin making cassettes, was that '96? Did you look at mountain or race cassette hubs and basically engineer something better for BMX?
You've done your homework Mark, good job. 1996 was the year Profile made the first prototype BMX cassette. It looked like a beer keg and was appropriately called The Kegger. It was a pretty bulky hub -- the basic concept was taken from existing high end MTB hubs, White Industries and Shimano, and made into a bit of a smaller version. Prior to the cassette, the only way you could switch up appropriate hub ratios was to ride a flip-flop hub with a 16 tooth freewheel on one side and a 14 on the other. Besides blowing freewheels out, which a lot of the more powerful pro racers were doing consistently, to switch out gearing was extremely limited. With the concept of a cassette hub, as we know now, you just undo the lock ring, take your cog off and throw another one on -- all the way down to a 13 at first, then to a 12 tooth later on. Besides the advantage to the easier switching of gears, getting away from the caveman like internals of the freewheel was also a big step forward. A cassette could offer multiple sealed bearings, making it stronger and allowing the drive mechanism to last much longer, as well as the ability to service the mechanism instead of just tossing it in the garbage when blown out.
How have they developed since those early days?
Profile was the first company to introduce the nine tooth driver. We made our drivers bi-directional, adaptable to RHD and LHD. We also reduced the hub spacing from 113mm to 110mm, which reduced the amount of axle hardware pieces from four to three. We went from 19mm nuts to 17mm nuts, reducing weight. The flange on our mini hubs were brought in behind the bore so as to decrease potential for bore expansion when building or truing the wheel. Our hub material upgraded from 6061 aluminum in the beginning to 2024 aluminum, a much harder material. We've upgraded to more precision sealed hub and driver bearings, 14mm solid to GDH 14mm axle as the new standard, and we anodize first and then finish bore the hubs to ensure quality. Also, we reduced length of 14mm axle by 4mm to decrease weight.
You started making race hubs, which other freestyle riders adopted to reduce their sprocket set-ups -- when did you first notice this?
When Jeff Harrington came to Central Skatepark, a park I used to work at, to ride one day back in '99 -- he had a 36 tooth prototype Flywheel sprocket. I couldn't believe its size -- how small it was. But looking at them now, they look huge. From then on, everyone at the park ended up getting a Profile cassette hub and dropping down to a 36. 36 became the new 44. It seemed like it happened overnight, which happened again four years later with the introduction of the nine tooth driver.
Did that kind of take you guys by surprise?
Yes, it was pretty wild. That was right about the same time that we started offering black as a color option. I can't tell you how many black, 48 hole high flange, 13 tooth cogged, 14mm rear hubs we used to send out the door. That was back when the color, axle style, and driver options were all at a minimum. That hub seemed to become the universal. It's funny that it felt like a hand grenade in your hand, or maybe a boat anchor.
With so many new cassette hubs on the market now, which ones do you look at and admire from a technical standpoint?
Technically, the Industry Nine MTB hubs have a pretty wild internal drive mechanism, however, the way the springs and pawls are arranged won't allow for a small hub design. Aesthetically, and this is my opinion, the Simple hubs have a really clean look to them; the name fits them perfectly.
Basically it seems that the original Profiles hubs have stood the test of time. What do you guys think about that? And what do you accredit that to?
We can definitely attribute that to the simplicity of the design: minimal pieces, fairly easy to repair, and you only need two wrenches to get the drive side jam nut off to expel the driver from the hub body. Most, if any, problems are going to arise in the driver: a crushed bearing or riding abuse over time, which might create a problem with the spacing of the hub.
So how's Madera going?
Really good. This year has been pretty amazing so far with a couple additions to the flow team, Jeff Dowhen and Tom Villarreal, and plenty of new product: Pivotal seats, the Unity front load stem, Dave McDermott's V-2 Font hub design, and the first Madera DVD.
What brought about the whole Madera project?
For years we were debating the start of another components line. We started throwing around the idea in 2004 and after two years of mulling it over, 2006 saw the inception of Madera. The idea behind the brand was to make an aesthetically simpler components line -- same material, produced on the same machines as Profile, just produced quicker with a more streamlined look. The first Madera products christened out of the machines were the Protocol cranks. There are normally ten steps in producing Profile cranks and that tenth step is what Madera cranks lack -- the Profile stamp. The only other differences are that Madera cranks have limited color options and the lifetime warranty provided on Profile cranks does not apply. Overall, we wanted to create an American Made alternative in price to the components lines made in Taiwan.
Who's on the Madera team right now?
Our team is made up of these fine young lads: Dave McDermott, Mike Hinkens, Jeff Kocsis, John Ludwick, Josh Eilken, Bill Politis, Tom Villarreal, and Bryce Toole. A group that is not only a blast to ride with but also who can party like it's 1999.
Is there a danger that as Madera parts get more, shall we say, 'polished' that they could end up rivalling Profile?
I don't know if danger is how we feel about it. It's undeniably a situation where we have created another brand that is in direct competition, design wise, with Profile. The best example I can give was the debate last summer when Corey designed the Unity stem. Due to its intricate design, the production cost exceeded what we were hoping for as a product under the Madera banner. We were on the fence for months: either make it more intricate and release it as a Profile product -- or keep the design static, use black anodizing as the only color option which keeps costs down, and keep it a Madera product. In the end, Madera won the battle.
What are the technical differences between the parts on both brands then?
Technically, there is absolutely no difference. It's all about aesthetics. The more time it takes to machine the intricacies in a component, the more it costs to make. Madera is aesthetically simpler, therefore it costs less overall. All Madera components, minus the seats, are made here in our factory.
Cool. So what is next for Profile, Madera, and beyond?
We've got a bunch of ideas in the works but nothing set in stone yet. Summer is always a time when we're busy making product blue prints. We'll definitely be doing more product endorsed with the team. Chad Degroot is coming in on Wednesday to talk with us more about that. Stay tuned.