Tall Tales of Texas Tech?

By Chris Kostman

Originally published in Texas Bicyclist, April 1992

Down south in the second biggest state in the Union, where heat, humidity, rain, and awesome stretches of open spaces might send many running for cover and a closeby cool keg, some notable innovators are flourishing in the industrial side of cycling. Building frames, accessories, and even ways to keep a cool drink within reach while riding, these Texan techies have carved out a lifestyle and career in an industry largely dominated by folks from the coast, west or east coasts that is.

Quite a variety of cycling-related companies, some large, some small, make their home in Texas. These include Spenco, the Waco giant that manufactures the most complete line of comfort products available for cycling and other sports. And Spenco founder Dr. Spence is now working with another company in the comfort product industry, WRS Group of , so in the world of comfy stuff for bikes, Texas is no doubt the world leader.

And where but in a climate like Texas could products like the easy-reach drinking systems of CamelBak and BikeStream be invented? Both the backpack-style CamelBak (from Odessa) and the on-the-bike or on-the-bod Bikestream setups (from Midland) have become as commonplace as aero bars at triathlons, time trials, and ultra-marathon races, not to mention club rides and fun rides. The hands-free drinking they offer is more comfortable, efficient, and aerodynamic, making for easier speeding, not to mention higher levels of hydration.

Of course Texas has at least its fair share of frame builders to boot as well. Skip Hujsak (say "Hi-sack") of Wimberley is one of this elite guild, producing frames of every brand of steel tubing for all applications from funny bike to tandem. Skip also built the infamous machine ridden to 152mph by John Howard. Chances are his other models will do just fine at speeds of 20 to 40. Former R&D man for Schwinn and AMF, Ray Gasiorowski, has been crafting frames under the Romic label since '74 in Houston. With over 40 years in the cycling industry and racing scene, he's more than paid his dues and done his homework, so there's no surprise that his steel bikes are known as rock-solid. Also hanging up their sign in Houston is the Ellison Aluminum Bicycle Co., producers of aluminum (no kidding) and titanium (no surprise) bicycles. Ellison boasts inovative elevated chainstay and Y-frame frame designs, plus a 2.1 pound titanium and aluminum suspension fork.

And while there are certainly others at work building frames and producing cycling-related products in Texas, perhaps no other typifies the Texas tech scene better than George Banke of Ft. Worth. George has no brochures, runs no advertisements, and probably doesn't even have a business card. But where his PR department may be lacking, his R&D department is working triple overtime. George is a custom frame builder and his steel creations weigh in from 3 pounds, 10 ounces, on down to an astonishing 3 pounds even. "And those are real weights for real-sized frames," George is quick to point out.

Continuing, George adds "We don't know of anybody in the world who builds like we do. We just flat guarantee our bikes to outride anything else you can buy. Period." And before you can question the rigidity of such light frames, George will explain how bottom bracket stiffness and lack of sway are primary design characteristics. From anyone but George Banke, this would sound like a tall tale.

And despite the lack of a marketing plan, George is selling everything he can make. "We put them out like clockwork, three a week, year round. Because of the huge demand, we do plan to increase output, but never to more than 250-300 a year because I insist on a level of quality that bigger numbers won't allow."

And if building one of the most sought out frames isn't enough for George to boast of, he's also the father of 14 year old Natalie Banke of Team TGI Friday's, the reigning National Champion in the time trial and road race. More than holding her own with the big girls, Natalie's justly proud father describes her as "bad to the bone and getting worse this year." Considering her track record and George's penchant for stating it like it is, that's certainly no tall tale.