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Story by Tyler Hart, Op / Ed Editor

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A bike is a pretty amazing piece of technology. Years of competition and development have driven bike manufacturers forward in their constant search for lighter and faster bikes, and the competition is fierce.

Fifth year seniors Jay Birkholz, an advertising major, and Philip Schommer, an accounting major, have learned this first hand while creating their own bike company here in Eau Claire called Tuxedo Bicycles.

The duo is currently focused on a specific type of bike, which is different than your average commuter bike.

“What we’re launching is a cyclocross bike which is essentially a road bike with knobby tires and cantilever brakes,” Birkholz said.
Birkholz said the sport of cyclocross is gaining popularity quickly in America. Basically, it started in France and Belgium when people would race cross country on their bikes and jump over any fences they encountered along the way. The sport soon evolved into what it is today, an outdoor course with man-made obstacles along the way.
“The equivalent would be cross country running, but on a bike,” Birkholz said.

The idea for a bike company began when Birkholz, a sponsored second-tier professional in cyclocross, broke his collarbone two years ago in a race and had to find a way to keep himself occupied. He soon decided to make his own bikes, so he employed Schommer’s help to develop the brand and take care of the accounting side of things.

The selling point of their bikes is the originality of the design itself.

“We do unique, almost over-the-top paint jobs,” Birkholz said.

So far they have released two paint schemes, neon and noir, which fall at each end of the color spectrum. Also, they are working on a glow-in-the-dark color scheme to add another element to their design.

To fund the project, the two scrounged up all of the money they had and set to work. Schommer took a trip to Europe over the summer and attended Eurobike, the world’s largest bike convention. In that trip, he narrowed bike frame manufacturers down to three or  four possibilities while Birkholz worked on the marketing side of things.

The two soon chose a carbon fiber frame and set to work on their design. They had two frames shipped and painted to their strict specifications, all while deciding where they would get the rest of the necessary parts.

To acquire things like brakes, handlebars etc., Birkholz and Schommer formed industry partnerships with large part manufacturers. They made sure to have multiple purchasing options for every piece of the bike so that they will never fall behind on orders. They strive to make each bike perfect for their customers.
“With a lot of bigger companies, when you order a bike you get the bike out of the box. When you order a $6000 bike and don’t like the handlebars, you’re basically just throwing away a $300 set of handlebars,” Schommer said. “We want the bike that comes out of the box to be exactly what (the customer) rides.”

Currently, the two are waiting for a review of one of their bikes to come out in Cyclocross Magazine, a nationwide publication dedicated entirely to the sport. In addition to the review, they’re running an ad in the publication to spread the word about
their brand.

“Our first three or five years we’re going to focus on establishing ourselves as a national brand,” Birkholz said. “We want to be a key player in the boutique market of bikes.”

Tuxedo Bicycles has already received three orders that they are working on filling. If the advertisement and review do well, they have a plan to fill as many orders as they need to.

“If we become overwhelmed with orders, we do have a bank that is willing to lend us a line of credit in order to fill those orders,” Schommer said.

Things are going relatively well for Birkholz and Schommer, but they see where they are right now as just the beginning. Their long term goal is to establish Tuxedo Bicycles as an international brand.

“We’re on step 1.5 right now, and we’ve thought it through step 10,”
Schommer said.

The benefits of the project aren’t just monetary for the duo. They’re learning a lot about the business world and about themselves in the process.

“It’s something Phil and I can evolve, grow and learn from,” Birkholz said.

He also said that they wouldn’t be where they are now without the things they learned and the connections they made at UW-Eau Claire. The amount of free knowledge and willingness to help around campus has been instrumental in their success so far.

“We’ve got a toe in the water, and now we’re getting ready to cannonball here pretty soon.” Schommer said.

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