Christian Bagg has always been an outdoor adventurist. When an accident left him paralyzed, his passion for the outdoors did not wane. As he took to the slopes on adaptive ski equipment, he found himself constantly trying to compensate and counterbalance to avoid tipping over. His desire for a more natural and free-flowing skiing experience led the Calgary-born machinist to create the equipment needed to meet his needs. His breakthrough was the invention of an articulating axle that allows one ski to drop and the other to rise when traversing over a slope, keeping the skier upright and stable. Christian, along with his business partner Dean Miller, were soon inspired to expand the application of their articulating frame and established Bowhead Corp. Today, Bowhead has become an industry leader in adaptive adventure cycles and equipment and is known for its team's drive to empower people around the world to access and experience the great outdoors.
The early days for Bowhead were focused on refining Christian's invention and building the first prototype adaptive mountain bike. The success of the initial prototype drew interest within the industry and Bowhead was soon asked to create a fully powered version, which became their flagship product, the Bowhead Reach Adventure bike. The Reach became popular as it allowed users to safely maneuver off-road trails and off-camber terrain.
The Bowhead team then thought of creating a hybrid cycle that would allow for traditional hand-powered cycling, while also allowing riders to independently climb back up steep hills with the assistance of an electric motor. Developing an e-assisted hand cycle proved to be complicated. The problem was operating the drive train with the articulating front end. Now, the team would have to find a way to get a signal from the crank through the steering column and to the motor without the risk of chain derailment. To help figure it out, the firm connected with the National Research Council of Canada Industrial Research Assistance Program (NRC IRAP) and the expertise of Industrial Technology Advisor (ITA) Scott Montgomery.
Throughout the development process, Scott guided the firm to document and work through their design process. In addition, to aid with the engineering processes and design, a mechanical engineer was hired with support from NRC IRAP's Youth Employment program. The grad student worked on simulation, analysis and redesign of the articulated steering and suspension, so it could function both manually and with the electric motor. Working through and defining the design process alongside the build took time, but in the end, it equipped Bowhead with a solid design process to pursue future R&D projects.
Scott recognized that the success of Bowhead's project was reliant on the firm's ability to meet the anticipated demand for this new product. "It became important at this stage to ensure they were managing their current space efficiently to support their product development plans and to identify and address any production issues ahead of launching their new bike," recalls Scott. Seeing the opportunity to improve manufacturing, he brought in the expertise of a fellow ITA, Peter Basnak, who specializes in lean manufacturing. Together Scott and Peter were able to help Bowhead move towards advanced manufacturing and adopt lean manufacturing principles, which greatly improved production efficiencies.
As a result of NRC IRAP advisory services and support, Bowhead was able to build a new standard of product for their market. The company introduced the RX Adventure Bike, a ground-breaking addition to the adaptive adventure market providing accessibility to a safer off-roading experience than ever before.
With the technical success of these models, Bowhead began to invest in marketing and business development. In support of this, the NRC IRAP Youth Employment program was leveraged again to hire a marketing graduate to conduct market research and manage the firm's stakeholder and client media engagement. She not only brought greater visibility to Bowhead products, her efforts also resulted in an increase in sales through digital channels. With this increase in sales, came the realization that there was both interest and demand from the U.S. market, which led Bowhead to establish a manufacturing and distribution centre in Michigan.
In the last few years, Bowhead has gone from strength to strength, growing their in-house engineering expertise, refining their design processes, establishing and expanding their advanced manufacturing capabilities, developing a strong digital media presence and increasing their global distribution network to include more than a dozen countries. Sales have increased year-over-year, with total annual revenue exceeding $1.8M in 2021.
From one man building a bike in his basement, to a team of 15 with a manufacturing presence, Bowhead has succeeded in bringing their innovative adaptive line of bikes to international markets. Committed to serving the adaptive sports and recreation community, the Bowhead team is currently working to modify their articulated suspension system once more, this time to adapt it to 4-wheeled power chairs and scooters. Knowing this would require additional R&D, a bigger team and a larger production facility, Bowhead looked again to NRC IRAP for advice and support. ITA Scott Montgomery continues to work closely with the firm and pulls in the knowledge of his fellow NRC IRAP colleagues to ensure that Bowhead is positioned to grow and to deliver their innovations to an ever-evolving market.
"With guidance and support from NRC IRAP, we have been able to take our dreams and turn them into reality, creating leading-edge products that deliver greater freedom and independence to people around the world living with mobility challenges."