Homegrown – Lenz Sport

Matt Weatherbee, photos by Theodore Barrett Van Orman

Devin Lenz has been building performance mountain bikes under the Lenz Sport name since 1997. Lenz Sport bicycles are all hand-crafted by Devin in his warehouse, adjacent to his home in Fort Lupton, Colorado.

Devin is responsible for almost every step of the frame building process and is usually accompanied by Betty, a small black pug, whom we had the pleasure of meeting. He’s a self-taught engineer who began his career building custom guitars in his father’s guitar shop. His father, Dan Lenz, is a luthier (guitar maker) who still builds and repairs guitars at his shop in Westminster, Colorado, Dan Lenz’s Axe Haven. I had a chance to check out two of Devin’s hand built electric guitars and you can see and feel the quality, precision and care that Devin puts into his craft. The quality and performance are the same as what you can feel in his bicycles.

Devin began riding BMX bikes in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, as well as dirt bikes, racecars and snowmobiles. In grade school, Devin saved all of his money from delivering newspapers to purchase his first BMX bike, an FMF aluminum frame. This bike was, and remains, his inspiration for making the larger-wheeled bikes he’s producing today. Devin built his first 26” mountain bike in 1989.

The first prototype mountain bike he built under the Lenz Sport name was the “Bouldervore,” built in 1996. The Bouldervore was a 4.5” full suspension trail bike. That same year, Devin packed his parents’ mini van and headed to Vail, Colorado, for a NORBA Race. He then headed to Mammoth Mountain, California for the legendary Kamikaze downhill. There he realized the Bouldervore was not enough bike for the rigors of downhill racing. On the drive back to Colorado, Devin began dreaming up the idea for a 6” travel downhill race bike, which became the Pro-Descender.

In 1997, Devin began selling production models of his bikes, including the Pro-Descender. The Pro-Descender was easily identifiable by the Kawasaki green Wedgie DH saddle, invented by Devin and still used on his Alpine Brawler ski bikes.

Since 1997 Devin has become completely immersed in building mountain bikes. Over the years, he has done everything from remortgaging his home to maxing-out credit cards, to working a regular job during the day and building bikes at night and on the weekends. In the early days Devin would frequently work twelve and fourteen hour days. His hours are slightly less frantic these days, though not by much.

In 2003, Devin met ultra-endurance racer Mike Curiak. Mike became the driving force behind Devin making the decision to build primarily 29”-wheeled full suspension frames. You can still purchase a 26” Lenz, but his current focus is high-performance 29” bikes. Devin has someone who assists him with marketing and his website, but when it comes to the manufacturing process, he is responsible for everything.

The process begins with raw 6061 aluminum. Pieces of aluminum are cut and CNC’d using CAD. This step in the process is quite unique and Devin can literally customize all of the frame components from the linkages to the tubing for the frames. The next step is tacking the tubing together and organizing the pieces in kits to be welded completely and assembled. The frames are then aligned by hand, checked and re-aligned to ensure quality.

Devin can then bead-blast and/or buff the aluminum to prepare them for heat-treating. The heat-treating process is outsourced to a company in Longmont, Colorado. Heat-treating is a 2-step process: The frames are heated to 900° Fahrenheit and then dropped in a glycol and water solution to cool so the molecules freeze in a uniform state. The second step is to age-harden the frames at 350°F degrees for eight hours so that the aluminum reaches a T-6 hardness. This ensures that the aluminum is ready for years of abuse.

The final step in the production process is aesthetics. The customer can choose from a variety of colors and finishes. Powder coating and anodizing is also outsourced. Possibly the most striking finish option is called bright-dipping, a tedious chemical-brightening treatment, which produces an extremely high luster finish. This finish is done by a company in Oregon, one of the only facilities doing this in the U.S.

When the frames return to Colorado, Devin carefully applies the graphics, and faces and chases the head tubes and bottom bracket shells. In terms of design philosophy, Devin is a big believer in a product that works well, requiring little maintenance and that is why he uses the current design, which is a slightly modified single pivot design. This design is a tried and true pedaling platform that is efficient and low-maintenance.

One of the advantages to Devin’s 29” bikes is the ultra-short chainstays. When he was in the midst of R&D for the Spankster, which is the Lenz Sport mountain-cross frame, Devin realized he needed to shorten the chainstays so the bikes could manual with ease. He began using a bent seat tube so the effective chainstay length on the Behemoth, Spankster MXT and PBJ bikes is 17.3” even with 29” wheels. This makes for a relatively short and flickable rear end.

When speaking with Devin about the entire manufacturing process, you can tell that he takes immense pride in his work. He could probably outsource his manufacturing and create an exponential increase in his production and revenue, but then he would not have the pleasure and control over his frames, which are functional works of art.

The Lenz lineup

Devin now produces 100-200 frames per year. Lenz Sport has a very diverse lineup for such a small operation: Devin builds 3” endurance race bikes, 29ers designed for DH racing and everything in between. One of the newest models is the Lunchbox, a 6” travel 29er, do-it-all, all-mountain/freeride machine. The Lunchbox utilizes a 150x12mm thru axle rear end for added stiffness. This monster of a bike is best described by the quote on the Lenz Sport website, “There is no comparison; this bike is like putting Andre the Giant up against the seven dwarfs.”

The PBJ is a full-on DH race bike with 29” wheels. The PBJ also uses the 150x12mm rear thru axle and floats on 7” of travel combined with the 8” 29er-specific Manitou Dorado fork. I had a chance to play around on this bike and it is something to behold.

A new niche

In addition to carving a niche as a U.S. framebuilder and pioneering the development of long-travel 29” bikes, Devin has become an avid ski bike enthusiast, as well as an advocate for this growing sport. Currently, there are only a handful of ski resorts in the world that allow these new-school machines and only time will tell how the sport will evolve. The flagship Lenz Sport ski bike is the Alpine Brawler, which has 6” of rear travel and is designed to work with a 7-8” travel dual crown suspension fork. The newest ski bike model is the Launch, which also has 6” of rear travel but is specifically designed to work with 6-7” single crown forks, allowing riders to do bar spins and X-ups. Interested in trying one? Winter Park Resort in Frasier, Colorado has a full lineup of Lenz ski bikes for rental. They also offer lessons and guided tours.

It was a pleasure to talk with Devin Lenz and tour his facility. As a self-proclaimed bike geek, it is comforting to know passionate, progressive, bike manufacturers still exist. All Lenz Sport frames come with a 2-year manufacturer’s warranty. If you are interested in throwing a leg over a Lenz Sport cycle or ski bike, talk to your local shop or visit www.lenzsport.com.

5 Questions with Devin Lenz

It looks like you are primarily building 29” bikes now. What led to that decision?

As a small frame builder, I needed to separate myself from all of the big guys like Specialized and Giant. Mike [Curiak] was a big part of why I have been making 29” full suspension bikes.

He’s [Mike] is quite a hammerhead, isn’t he?

He was more of an XC endurance guy. Not just endurance, but super-endurance. He’s kind of gotten the bug of hitting jumps and jumping off stuff, you know, with the longer travel bikes.

I am intrigued by the PBJ, which is a 7” travel DH bike with 29” wheels and a Manitou Dorado dual-crown fork, made for use on a 29er. Did Mike have any influence on the PBJ?

Absolutely. This is Mike coming back to me asking for more. Mike wanted a bike that he could take up to Whistler. Manitou had a Dorado that would work with a 29” wheel. Mike has been pushing the 29” wheeled movement all along and he’s totally responsible for me doing that.

So you put in a ton of hours, and you do everything yourself, but you don’t seem jaded?

I definitely can’t go as hard as I used to, but I definitely do it for myself. I have a pretty good passion for it and the ski bikes definitely keep me motivated—ski biking is so new and so progressive.

Do you find there are advantages to being a small operation?

I do. I can do whatever I want. I’ve got all of these different models. I love trying new ideas and the ski bikes have done that for me. I just like trying new stuff.