by Janet Bressler-Bilenky
For a story about new exhibitor Twofish Unlimited, I asked inventor and founder Robert Studdiford a bunch of questions- first- “How did you come up with the name?” I had a hunch about the two fish part- (because I happen to be a Pisces, myself)- and I was right! Robert said that he and his wife Lauren are both Pisces. I then went on to ask how he came to create the patented Lockblock- an innovative solution to the problem of mounting water bottles, locks, lights and pumps on any bicycle- and about the joys and challenges of operating a small made-in-USA business. Here are his answers:
“My wife had a problem, her brand new 16” Rock Hopper frame couldn’t hold a lock, pump and water bottle at the same time because the frame was so small. So we were limited where we could go and she’d just “lost” a couple of bikes to the “locals in need”. That led to me inventing the Lockblocks lock holder that let her carry her lock on the stem and handle bars. At that time, I was an unemployed electrician and she was pregnant with our first son. We did a patent search on the idea with good friend (and to this day business partner) Mike Dunn. When the search came back clean, Mike and I took the big leap and filed our application to the US patent office. We were gonna be rich!
At that point, we decided to go into business. We were sitting in our kitchen, Mike, Lauren and I. We were like… well, what are we gonna call ourselves? I looked at Lauren and said, ‘Twofish'. She had a problem and I fixed it. It took two fish to do it. Then I said, ‘We should be ‘Unlimited’, because one should never limit oneself.’ We all agreed. I asked Lauren to draw us up a logo of two silly fish swimming around a bicycle wheel. Lauren sat down and drew it out in one take. Here we are, 23 years later. Both the name and logo have served us very well.
One of the difficult things about being a small company making things in the USA is being able to get your products in front of the right purchasers. Our products work on any bicycle, yet it takes a lot to inform them, the cyclist that is. And there are a lot of them! Also, you can buy a cheap Chinese water bottle cage for five bucks. My cages cost more. What does the consumer really want? Something made well or something cheap? Twofish did make our cages overseas several years ago. We got to a point where we could not control quality and realized it was cheaper and the quality was far better to make them here in the USA, so all cage production came home. All of our other products have been made in the US since we started in 1993.
Clearly the most satisfying thing for me is seeing someone use any one of my products ‘in the wild’. It takes me to a very vulnerable time in my life with a pregnant wife and no income, baby on the way, and just an idea in hand… I can see our kitchen and see the leap of faith it took to bring us here today. I now have two sons that have grown up in the bicycle industry and are new college graduates. They will always have a bicycle in their life When I beam up, I bet there’ll be some serious rock, paper, scissors action over a couple of my magic flying ponies. I could not think of a better life for myself. I’ve never had a time in my life without a bicycle. I never thought I would own a bicycle company though. It just happened.”