Nov 15, 2023 - News

The Shift: Slow Southern Steel

Jesse Turner shows off one of his steel bikes. Photo: Worth Sparkman/Axios

In the back of a warehouse in south Fayetteville, Jesse Turner is carving out a niche business building custom steel bicycles.

Why it matters: Slow Southern Steel is an example of the many bike-centric businesses driving NWA's shift to a diversified economy. It leans into the outdoor recreation industry β€” a logical next step for many in the state.

The big picture: Most of the 15-20 million bikes sold in the U.S. each year are imported. But a cottage industry of custom-built bikes for discerning and occasionally persnickety riders has existed for years.

How it works: Once Turner and a prospective customer decide on a bike's specs, he collects a $1,000 deposit. An average bike will price out around $2,500, depending on the build.

  • It takes Turner about a week to fabricate the frame, but material delivery, custom paint and a wait list could push the delivery date out a month or more.

Backstory: Turner studied sculpture at the U of A but is self-taught on bike frames. He took an eight-month welding class at Northwest Technical Institute in 2020 and works part time at different fabrication shops to hone his craft.

  • Slow Southern Steel launched in January, and Turner has built 15 bikes. The waiting list is "two or three" deep now, he told Worth.
  • The company's name is a nod to a documentary about southern heavy metal music.
Turner's signature head badge for his Slow Southern Steel bikes. Photo: Worth Sparkman/Axios

What they're saying: "His skill set is fantastic; his welds are amazing," said Johnny Brazil, owner of Jackalope Cycling in Russellville. Brazil has two of Turner's bikes.

  • One of those bikes had only 17 miles on when Brazil loaned it to Xavier Chiriboga for the recent Arkansas High Country Race, a 1,000-mile endurance competition.
  • Chiriboga came in third.

The bottom line: Turner is bootstrapping the business, buying equipment as he can afford it and not looking for investment, yet.

  • He plans to take advantage of the likely winter lull to sharpen his marketing and business skills.

🚲The Shift is a regular feature to catch up quick on what's happening in Arkansas' economy and entrepreneurial ecosystem.


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