One of the best things about handmade bike builders is the pure love they have for creating two wheeled machines and the time and effort they put into a startup business, just for the simple joy of making and riding bikes.
Jon and Erin Acuff of Proudfoot Cycles are no different. When you meet them, there’s no mistaking the passion they have for their bikes and brand. Erin’s personality can be described as unmistakably “bubbly”, and, while Jon is a bit more reserved on the surface, after talking to him for five minutes about his bikes, you can tell that his passion runs deep. The pair manages to keep the excitement alive, all while juggling the responsibilities of starting a bike company and raising a family (they have daughters who are 3 and 4).
Jon and Erin launched Proudfoot in 2015 after moving to Golden, Colorado from Los Angeles, California because they wanted to raise their daughters in a more natural, laid back environment. The move meant both of them leaving their jobs and either finding new ones or starting a business. They chose the latter.
Bikes were a natural choice for several reasons. Jon started riding bikes in the early 1990’s in Laguna Beach, and his love for riding and exploring dirt trails has never faltered. “I am fueled by solitude in nature and pushing my body to extremes while riding. I love to ride up as much as I love to ride down,” he says. For him, riding is his religion and the “Dirt Church” is a reality.
Aside from an obvious interest, Jon’s background left him primed for the task. For starters, design and manufacturing is in his DNA. He’s a direct descendent of the Wright Brothers (who actually made bikes before they made planes) and his grandfather taught him to work with his hands and use metalworking tools and machinery at an early age.
Jon became an aerospace mechanical engineer, designing products for commercial and military aircraft and learning skills that would later aid in his design and fabrication of bikes. Erin Acuff has a background in sales and marketing and now uses those skills to run the business side of Proudfoot Cycles. The two actually worked at the same company before starting Proudfoot, so they also knew that they could work together without killing each other, a very important piece of the equation when starting a business with your life partner.
The name Proudfoot started as a joke, when Jon threw it out as an idea while brainstorming what to name the company. It was his father’s middle name and an old Scottish clan name from his lineage. Jon never thought it would stick, but it did, so they ran with it. The logo design is based on the Proudfoot family crest but adapted to a bike theme, and the font in Proudfoot’s branding is meant to have a Celtic feel.
The first bike that Jon made was a hardtail fat bike, called the Jest. After moving to Golden, Jon took up fat biking in order to ride year-round, and quickly fell in love with the completely different experience it offers and “the quiet solitude and intense physicality of pedaling through the snowy front range.” This new sport replaced snowboarding as his go-to winter activity and was the inspiration for Proudfoot’s first offering.
In the two years that have followed, Proudfoot has introduced five more models to the lineup, including a gravel bike, cyclocross bike, full suspension fat bike, and full suspension and hardtail 29er/plus bikes.
All of the frames are steel, which Jon made his material of choice for several reasons. It was the main material he worked with as an aerospace engineer, so he was familiar with its properties and how to best use different types of steel for different applications.
He also appreciates the ride quality and durability that comes from a steel frame. “And,” he adds with jest, “steel is romantic and retro. Retro is cool. Who doesn’t want to be cool?”
For the first year of Proudfoot’s existence, Jon and Erin shared a start up space with Jon’s sister and her husband, who were in the process of starting New Terrain Brewing. When they officially opened the brewery and moved across town, there was room for the Acuffs to come along. The dynamic duo, now joined by a third team member, Derek Young, opened the Proudfoot Cycles gallery, flagship store and open air workspace smack dab in the middle of the brewery.
The relationship is a very synergetic one, as bikes and beer tend to be. Brewery visitors can peek at the workspace (or even go on a formal tour), Proudfoot customers can sip on a beer while they watch their bike being built, and a weekly group ride that leaves from New Terrain Brewing allows folks to demo a Proudfoot and finish with beers at the brewery.
Every aspect of bike building, from design to powdercoat, takes place at this Golden, Colorado facility by Jon and Derek. While Proudfoot offers stock geometry and builds, about half of customers choose to customize their frames or parts kits, and Jon is more than happy to oblige.
In addition to building bikes, Jon and Erin also support a growing team of racers and ambassadors, most of whom (but not all) reside in Golden. The team has grown organically since the first racer came onboard in spring of 2016, and it continues to expand, focusing on working and riding hard but also playing hard, having fun and enjoying the camaraderie at events.
As any business owner does, Jon and Erin would love to see Proudfoot grow and they are currently working on developing streamlined production and manufacturing practices to decrease lead time and introduce new product features, which will be implemented in some of their next bike releases. But more important to Proudfoot than growth is retaining core values such as keeping manufacturing local, making bikes that are meant to be ridden hard and last for a long time and maintaining an intimate relationship with their customers.
Next time you’re in Golden, stop by and say hello, demo a bike, grab a beer and maybe join a group ride while you’re at it.
For a review of Proudfoot’s full suspension mountain bike, the Primed, pick up a copy of Dirt Rag issue 201.