Blackwell Research on the brink

Bicycle wheel and component company Blackwell Research is poised to cease operations, according to key employees in the company. The high-tech firm headlined by longtime triathlon product designer and retailer John Cobb, who gained notoriety as Lance Armstrong's fitter and aerodynamics expert, will shutter its doors unless it finds a new buyer or investor.

Blackwell's owner is cardiovascular surgeon and avid triathlete Dr. Stephen Greer. Blackwell Research is the one thematic disconnect among his various businesses, according to Cobb. Blackwell always appeared as much a hobby as a business to Dr. Greer and, like all labors of love, the love may ebb and flow but the labor is constant. Dr. Greer's four-year affair as a bike industry manufacturer appears at an end.

Blackwell found getting floor space in retail stores difficult. It commenced business in 2004 at the same time Hed, Zipp, Oval Concepts, Easton and others significantly expanded business in an aerobar category almost exclusively the domain of Profile Design and Visiontech. Blackwell's aero wheel business likewise had little room to maneuver, with the plethora of 60mm and 90mm deep carbon wheels, and discs, on the market.

Not that Cobb's designs were me-too. His deep wheels, forks and aerobars were atypical of products on showroom floors. These designs gained Blackwell a cult following. But the growth of triathlon was, in a way, Blackwell's enemy. As the sport grew, those firms aforementioned took notice, and in an industry where financial terms of sale and expensive advertising elbow out the smaller brands, Blackwell found it hard to generate enough sales in a mass production environment.

Blackwell Research will keep its warehouse open for weeks and perhaps some months, according to Cobb, as it turns sub-assemblies into finished products. It will not make an '09 showing at Interbike, however, and, unless a buyer comes along to take the baton from the current team, Blackwell Research will be a casualty of business.