COVER STORY: ONE SPARK 2014

THE BEST BICYCLE EVER MADE

Clayton Smith wants to make it in Jacksonville, and he made us believers

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Clayton Smith has been working out the design for the ultimate bicycle for the last five years, part of his mission to bring back the Emory Bicycle and re-establish the American bicycle manufacturing industry. He designed and patented a stem that connects the fork and handlebar. He’s located stainless steel tubing for the frame that will be as light as the frame of a titanium bike. He bought the seat manufacturing equipment from Messinger, which made seats for Schwinn and Emory before Emory closed.

Smith comes from a storied bicycle business. His father Clayton and uncle Willard opened a bicycle shop in Miami in the 1940s and were the southeastern distributers of Schwinn bicycles in Jacksonville. In 1976, Smith and his father began manufacturing the
Emory bicycle as a
workhorse machine marketed for industrial and government applications. (There are Emory bicycles from that era still in use at Naval Air Station Jacksonville.)

The single-speed bicycles, with their wide, comfortable seats, also became popular as beach cruisers and road bikes. And each Emory bore a metal tag, with a horse’s head and the insignia “Handmade” in “Jacksonville, Florida.” That gives the vintage bicycles a special appeal on the Jacksonville market.

Smith says he was selling 5,000 bicycles a year before the bottom fell out of the industry. In the mid-’90s, Smith says, he could no longer buy U.S. bike parts because when Schwinn, Raleigh, Murray, Huffy and other bicycle companies took their business to China, American manufacturers shut down. He couldn’t import Chinese parts and compete on price.

That’s the political underpinning to his dream. He thinks the United States needs to rebuild its manufacturing base. Now Smith says he’s ready to re-enter the industry. He has the plans, the parts, the manufacturing know-how and the patents to build a sturdy, light, comfortable bicycle with most of its parts manufactured here in Jacksonville. If he can’t make a certain part in the city, at least he’s buying top-of-the-line parts for the rest of the bicycle, which will be manufactured here.

The new seven-speed Emory will have a seamless stainless-steel tubing for the frame, ground to be as light as titanium, SKF-tapered roller bearings, Kevlar-infused tires, Shimano gears and an American-made Gate belt drive instead of a chain. (A belt is lower maintenance, doesn’t rust and lasts longer than a chain.) 

He’ll manufacture the wheels, frame, handlebars, hub, headset, fenders, seats, stem and kickstand. Jacksonville’s Velocity will make the rims. The Emory horsehead tag will again advertise “Handmade” in “Jacksonville, Florida.”

“Nobody else is doing that. That’s what makes it unique,” Smith says. “It has usability, durability, eye appeal and something that sets it apart, high craftsmanship. We’re not making the most expensive bicycle ever made. We are making the best bicycle ever made. It will last forever.”

Tags: emory bicycle, clayton smith, jacksonville, handmade, bike culture
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