Ogden • Since opening his wind tunnel here four years ago, Darko Technologies owner Layne Christensen has provided aerodynamic testing primarily for race car drivers headed to speed trials on the Bonneville Salt Flats.
He’s looking to expand that foundation to include more cyclists, an ambition furthered by his participation last week in a trade mission visit to Ogden by outdoor-recreation companies from four European countries — Belgium, France, The Netherlands and the Catalonia region of Spain.
“I talked quite a bit with a Belgian cycling company that has its own wind tunnel,” said Christensen, referring to Ridley, a bicycle-manufacturing company in Flanders that recently took over the brand “Eddy Merckx,” created by the five-time Tour of France champion.
“They work a lot with the big, major cycling teams in the world,” he added. “Europe is much bigger into cycling than the U.S. We hope to work with them and collaborate on some of the things they’re doing and some of the things we’re doing.”
Nothing is in writing yet, but to get to that point, it’s necessary to establish relationships and lines of communication. And that was the main goal of the EU4Sports Clusters Alliance, which spent three days touring companies and ski resorts around Ogden and meeting with city officials and business leaders before heading to the Interbike International Expo in Las Vegas.
The meetings culminated with Ogden Mayor Mike Caldwell signing a “charter of cooperation” with representatives from sports clusters in each of the four countries — Indescat in Catalonia, Cluster Montagne in France, Flanders‘ Bike Valley in Belgium and the Sports & Technology cluster from The Netherlands.
“We’ve had a great week of conversations with our soon-to-be partners in Europe,” Caldwell said, anticipating that somewhere down the line, connections made during the week will add to Ogden’s base of 40 outdoor-oriented companies that provide jobs for almost 3,000 people.
With companies such as Amer Sports in Ogden, “there’s a lot of back and forth already. They bring in groups from Europe all the time,” he added. “In a global marketplace, we’ve gotten closer in sharing information and business ideas. … We need to find ways to make each other successful. We have enough of an [outdoor recreation] ecosystem here that we can get all of these [European] guys in front of the right people.”
“You skate where the puck goes, and the puck still goes to the United States,” said Werner Couck, a Belgian who led the delegation from the EU4Sports Clusters Alliance. The alliance is partially financed by the European Commission to help companies develop opportunities outside the European Union.
“All of the companies have their ideas of the ‘American Dream.’ But because they’re small and medium-sized, they can’t do it alone. They need partners. We’ve already found one in the city of Ogden, so we’re in luck,” Couck added.
The Europeans, naturally, are looking for new markets to sell their products.
Indescat from Spain was promoting freestyle scooters, safety mats that could soften a fall for rock climbers and a region, Costa Brava, that has sports training camps. French companies were pushing their sunglasses, nutrition bars, climbing equipment and sit skis.
Calling The Netherlands the “smartest region of the world,” Florence Bonger-Rijinders was an advocate for technology companies that provide a range of services, from communications and monitoring equipment at stadiums to personal-cooling products such as vests, caps and wrist wraps.
“We’re focused totally on cycling,” said Bert Celis, CEO of Flanders’ Bike Valley, which represents 75 cycling-related companies in Belgium, including 30 small and medium-sized startups and a company with a wind tunnel. Smart bikes with computerized screens on the handlebars and aerodynamically advanced cycling suits are two of its companies’ many products.
Christensen from Darko Technologies was eager to help impress these visitors with what Ogden has to offer — and to pick up some ideas about attracting more business from the state’s cycling community, which he said numbers about 10,000 in northern Utah alone.
Wind tunnels can help cyclists be more aerodynamic, revealing nuances in the way they lean over their handlebars or hold their heads, little things that add up in long races. They also can be used to drive adjustments to bike frames or individual components to make them more efficient.
“Just in the last eight months, we developed the wind tunnel for use by cyclists. We weren’t really set up for that before,” he said. “But this winter is when a lot of cyclists will be developing their equipment and bodies for next year. These people tend to be upwards of middle age and they have money. They want to be strong and healthy and hold onto what they have. So there’s a real need for what we offer. The problem is, they just don’t know what we do.”
Jerry Ropelato from White Clouds 3D Color Printing in Ogden opened his shop to the visitors, showing them how his operation can create prototypes of desired products so that they can be replicated precisely.
And Christi Scow, a training director at Ogden-Weber Technical College, told the visitors that “if these companies decide to come to Weber County, we would be here if they needed training. We try to make sure employers coming here can get employees with the skill sets they need.”
When asked if President Donald Trump’s antipathy to other U.S. trade agreements might hinder connections between Ogden and the EU4Sports Clusters Alliance, the Europeans were hesitant to respond until Quinton van Loggerenberg of Belgium’s Bioracer spoke up.
“Your president is not doing America any great favors,” he said. “Most Europeans I know watch the political shenanigans with trepidation, but we keep hoping the nature of the [American] people will correct that situation. We’re looking to work with the people of America, who have been uniformly welcoming.
“I don’t think any of us mistake the political rage for what actually happens in America,” he added. “Most European companies are looking forward to dealing with Americans, regardless of the president.”