SoCal Cycling Tech and the Silverado Speedsters

By Chris Kostman

Originally published in California Bicyclist, April 1992

At the risk of stating the obvious, Southern California is quite possibly the world hotspot for cycling. For the same reasons that we'd all cite to explain our choice of locale (sun, beaches, mountains, deserts, and the near guarantee of 365 training days a year, to name a few), SoCal is perhaps the ideal proving grounds and manufacturing location for cycling-related companies.

Nestled at the foot of the Santa Ana Mountains in the Cleveland National Forest lies the hamlet of Silverado, population 1,500. A former silver mining town (hence the name), it's surrounded by 100's of miles of dirt roads and single track and is, of course, blessed by the many positive attributes of life in South Cali. Not a bad place to live, nor ride, nor churn out hi-tech bike components, one might say. ActionTec and Grafton Performance would agree, for these innovators both work and live in this mountain bike paradise.

ActionTec founders Russ and Suzie Robinson have carved out two niches for their company. With new innovations in suspension systems and titanium applications constantly streaming out of their home/workshop and onto the nearby trails for refinement, they have quickly become pioneers and leaders in two of cycling's biggest movements. With 30 years of off-road motorcycle racing experience behind him, Russ knows how to build a product that performs and lasts more than a season.

However unlike others in the suspension scene with motorcycle backgrounds, Russ didn't try to pattern his system after the heavier and motorized bikes. Instead, his suspension fork's unicrown setup eliminates the wheel flop and hub stress associated with independent blade action. Being nearly maintenance free, offering the most amount of travel on the market (2 3/8"), having three different spring options, and being the lightest system made, ActionTec may have come closest to the perfect front suspension system. Builders such as Curtlo, TG, Boulder, and Moots seem to agree, as they build frames specifically designed for the ActionTec setup. And according to Russ, these "aren't shelf-hangers, they're meant to be ridden."

ActionTec was and is at the forefront of the "magic metal movement" which has taken the cycling industry by storm. Now besides their original titanium bottom bracket, the Robinsons offer chainrings, cogs, axles, spindles, skewers, and every nut, bolt, and fastener imaginable in titanium.

Summing up their work in suspension and titanium, Russ commented "If you don't like our products, tell us. If you do like our products, tell your friends." That's Southern California-bred design, quality, and attitude at its best in my book.

Sharing in this distinctly SoCal attitude and environment is ActionTec's Silverado neighbor John Grafton, maker of the coveted brakes, cranks, clipless pedals, and bottom brackets that bear the Grafton Performance moniker. John states his motivation simply and matter of factly: "My goal is to become, within five years, the foremost bicycle component manufacturer in the U.S. And that means shifters, derailleurs, everything- a complete and totally American component group."

Lofty ambitions, but this Silverado speedster may just have the knack to pull it off. After all, bicycle manufactuers like Trek, Mountain Goat, Cannondale, Boulder, and Funk have embraced his carefully machined compenents with open arms and checkbooks. Only into its third year of production, Grafton Performance is now moving some 500 sets of Speed Controller brakes a month. Not bad considering that just two years ago a good month might have moved 50 sets!

And now with an ever increasing lineup that includes the only legitimate rival to Shimano's off-road clipless pedals, Grafton's output numbers continue to increase. What makes John's components so special and desirable is that "they're not just lighter and nicer looking, but they change the way the bike works for the better." With the second generation Speedstick cranks due out later this month and the rest of the group in the works, Shimano may soon be worried about more than pedal sales. Especially in the California cycling hotbed, this sounds more than a bit interesting and maybe even plausible to me. Stay tuned...