Chris Washburn remembers a singular, clarifying moment that led to the birth of his company, Fezzari Bicycles. With degrees in both business and law from Brigham Young University, he seemed destined for corporate life, working in the newly-emerging electric bike industry with such giants as famed businessman Lee Iacocca and the U.S. military. But a decade into the drill, commuting to the east coast nearly every week, a niggling sense that life was passing him by crystallized as he boarded yet another plane.
“I was missing every soccer game, dance recital, birthday—I was missing life,” the father of five children and husband to wife, Nancy, says. “I remember this one particular day—I was in turmoil, wondering what to do. At the moment my feet crossed that divide from the jetway into the airplane, it was like a light turned on and I knew I was crossing a threshold in my own life.”
Washburn decided to quit his job, and in 2005, he went to work creating Fezzari Bicycles, a web-based company specializing in custom-designed, high-end bikes for both road and mountain riders.
“I’ve always loved biking. I’m not a former Tour de France rider or anything. I just have a passion for it,” he says. “I’m a bike junkie, and I’m always looking for a high-quality setup.” But walking into a bike shop to explore custom bike options sometimes felt like sneaking into the country club. “There can often be an elitist mentality and a take-it-as-it-is attitude. Sometimes I was made to feel like I should be content with what was in the showroom.”
“You don’t have to be a world-class runner to want a running shoe that fits. You can buy the nicest set of golf clubs but they don’t do you any good if they’re not the right size. So why is it that getting a bike built and fitted to your specifications seemed so outlandish—not to mention obscenely expensive?”
Washburn set about hiring a team of designers, mechanics and engineers. He then secured partnerships with top-of-the-line component manufacturers, and they began building high-end bikes with dozens of customizable options. “We won’t enter a category unless we can make the best-in-class in a product,” Washburn says. “We knew we were going to be competing against behemoths, so we decided we’d offer really good products that make that elite, custom experience accessible to even the weekend warrior.”
Fifteen years later, Utah’s biggest bike company still operates almost entirely online, but it does have a factory showroom in its brand new Lindon, Utah headquarters, allowing locals to test ride, get custom fittings and order a bike.
Washburn says Fezzari’s direct-to-consumer online model allows its bike builders to fit bikes, including frames, handlebars, forks, stems and seatposts to each rider’s measurements. A deeper dive can even amount to custom components from gear ratios to derailleurs all for about 40% less than similarly-specced competitor models. As a result, they have received three Bike of the Year awards and currently have a six-month backorder. Critics have likened Fezzari bikes to “a machine gun in a knife fight” and eager customers seem content to wait months for that big box delivered to their doorstep. “People are willing to wait. They see the value in getting it just how they want it,” he says.
Fezzari allows customers 30 days to test ride it and send it back for free if they’re not satisfied. “It was originally seen as a risky model, and what we’ve found is that the only way we can offer that guarantee is to be 100 percent confident in our product and believe customers will love it, too.”
Washburn says jumping from the mundanity of corporate life to a creative venture came with many questions and few easy answers. “I wondered if I’d made a mistake because the whole point was to be able to spend more time with my family and enjoy my passions,” he says. In reality, he didn’t even get on his bike during his first year creating a bike company. 16 years later, however, life has settled into a rhythm of not just calls to suppliers and meetings with designers, but family dinners, graduations and daily canyon rides with Nancy on bikes that represent a passion built from the ground up.
Available at fezzari.com
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