The $1,000 oversized pulley cage and its creator’s road to redemption
It’s one thing to consider yourself a tinkerer, perpetually driven by that inherent mechanical curiosity to tweak and improve, take apart and put back together. It’s another thing entirely to be a tinkerer and a maker, combining all of that with the skills, experience, and equipment to turn ideas into physical reality.
Josh Ogle is most certainly the latter.
His latest creation is a truly wild rear derailleur pulley cage. Similar to better-known offerings from brands like CeramicSpeed, SLF Motion, and Kogel, Ogle’s setup is built with oversized 14-tooth upper and 18-tooth lower pulleys and ceramic bearings to reduce drivetrain friction. But whereas all oversized pulley setups that I know of only apply the oversized element to the pulley wheels themselves, Ogle’s design upsizes the bearings, too — so much so that those standard bearings would fall right through the middle of the giant custom-machined hollow hardware that Ogle has also made to match.
“I had actually designed a cage about two years ago that looked a lot like the Kogel Kolossos cage,” Ogle told me. “I was going to machine it out of titanium, but then the Kogel cage came out while I was in design and I didn’t want to look like I was ripping them off. I don’t want to ride on someone’s coattails.”
The bearings are also full-ceramic ABEC-5 units, not hybrids, and despite the fact that the pulley wheels are made of CNC-machined titanium, Ogle says those bearings alone cost more than the rest of the assembly. Friction reduction is ostensibly the purpose of any oversized pulley wheel setup, but Ogle admits that he hasn’t actually has his design tested yet (which is perhaps just as well since those larger-diameter bearings will likely have more friction than smaller ones). That said, friction reduction wasn’t the primary goal here.
“The bike industry chases fads,” he told me. “As a machinist and watchmaker and science geek, I just love machinery, and the derailleur cage is the same as it’s been for a hundred years: you have two screws holding in the two pulleys with those tiny little bearings, and nobody’s changed that, even the aftermarket guys. Bearings have come a really long way in the last hundred years. You’re buying the cage for the bearings and pulleys — you’re buying the unit — and I saw this bearing online, and I was like, ‘that should go in a derailleur cage.’ I just had that moment and everything made sense.
“My goal was, A, to make something that would just blow people’s faces off, and B, you save a few watts. But it’s not enough to make a big difference. I’m not trying to lie to people about how many watts they’re going to save. It’s just a cool-ass product. It’s a little bit better, and it’s a whole lot cooler.”
Ogle claims that one tangible advantage of his design is the enhanced shifting performance that comes from the increased rigidity. Those huge pulley bearings have less lateral play at the teeth than other oversized pulleys he’s tested — 0.4 mm instead of 0.5-0.55 mm — and the girder-like CNC-machined 7075 aluminum cage plates are also stiffer than usual. Ogle didn’t provide a weight for his cage assembly, but it doesn’t look particularly light.
“It’s all anecdotal, and just feedback from my friends that have ridden it, but it shifts awesome,” he said. “It shifts appreciably better than even the stock Shimano Dura-Ace [Di2], which I know is hard to believe, but when you go back and forth [between otherwise identical bikes], mine absolutely shifts better. Initially that wasn’t a consideration. For the tension pulley, it doesn’t really matter, but for the guide pulley, clearly you have to have a level of accuracy there because clearly it’s going to affect your shifting.”
Apart from the bearings, Ogle is machining all of this himself at his workshop just outside of Los Angeles, California.
Ogle also designs and manufactures some smaller bits — like seatpost collars, stem parts, and dropouts — for renowned frame builder Firefly Bicycles, who plans to offer the cage as an upgrade on custom bikes.
The final asking price is still being finalized, but Ogle says it’ll likely end up at around US$1,000.
“It’s not going to be for everybody, but I’m not trying to be for everybody.”
A painful past
Some of you might actually recognize Josh Ogle’s name, or if you don’t, you might remember his mountain bike brand from the 1990s, Jericho. A talented fabricator, machinist, and welder with almost no formal training outside of a framebuilding class at the United Bicycle Institute, he offered a variety of high-end frames — mostly in steel and titanium — along with other bits like singlespeed chainrings. Jericho was hot and hip, with plenty of creative touches that helped set it apart from the explosion of other smaller brands that flooded the market in that era.
“My greatest regret in the bike industry is that Mark Norstad [of Paragon Machine Works] offered me a job, and I didn’t immediately take him up on it and say yes,” Ogle said. “I kick myself on a daily basis for not having the humility to work with somebody like him. At the time, I was young and stupid and full of myself. I was 25, I thought I could just own the world. I would give anything to just go back in time and punch myself in the mouth and be like, ‘Take the job; it’s Mark Norstad.'”
But then almost as fast as Jericho arrived on the scene years earlier, it was gone. This pulley cage is awfully neat in its own right, but its existence also marks the return of a fairly prominent figure who disappeared from the industry for a decade and a half.
Where’s he been all this time?
Ogle hinted a few times during our phone call that he’d wrestled with some demons in his past, and in the process of recounting his background to me, he eventually opened up fully (of his own accord).
“When I was running Jericho, I was going through some personal shit and burnt some bridges,” he said. “I wasn’t very good at paying my bills, I was young and egotistical, and I had a lot to learn about being a team player at the time. I didn’t make things easy back then.”
“I debated bringing this up, but I’m a recovered alcoholic. It’s a big part of getting right with myself because I could get right with the industry again. Then, it was so much about my ego. I was so craving attention. It was rough. It was actually more about cocaine. Apparently, it was way more common knowledge than I knew that people knew that I was abusing coke. Someone asked me at an Interbike party if I had any coke and I was like, ‘Oh, this is bad.’ And that was still four years before I was able to get my shit together. It destroyed me. The end of it was really dark.”
Ogle says he took a couple of years to make amends with various friends and business contacts, and also walked away from the the pointy end of the bike industry altogether. He moved south to Los Angeles and took a job at a local Performance Bicycle location.
“When I got sober, I moved to LA and ran away from all my problems,” he recounted. “I was done with the bike industry and was like, I just need to get a job with some humility because that was a big problem for me. I was selling $300 beach cruisers just to prove to myself that I could be a normal person and do a job.”
Ogle eventually got out of the bike industry altogether and transitioned into commercial photography, “so I could support myself so I didn’t have to live at my mom’s house anymore.”
Being at the right place at the right time later landed him a job working with metal again, as a fabricator for a local car tuner making things like custom exhausts and header pipes.
“One day, I’m at the place working on my car, and their fabricator quits,” Ogle said. “I’d been sober for about a year and a half at that point. I was there and watching this whole thing; he just freaked out and walks out. And I was like, ‘Hey, if you guys are looking for help, I used to build bicycles and I actually miss working with metal.’ They were like, ‘Bicycles, excuse me? You don’t possibly know what we can do.’ They just dismissed me out of hand. So I got on one of my Jerichos and went down there, and was like, ‘I built this. The tubing is 0.020″ and if your guys can weld 0.020″ steel then yeah, by all means, fuck me, what do I know?’”
Needless to say, Ogle’s work spoke for itself at that point, and as word got around, he quickly found himself in high demand — eventually running the fabrication department for an ultra-high-end shop that regularly did modifications on Lamborghinis and Bentleys. And on the side, Ogle started making high-end watches, not only machining the blocky titanium cases, but also most of the internal mechanism.
Things were good.
But as just about anyone reading this knows, there’s only so long that someone who’s been bitten by the bike bug can stay away.
“I’ve known [Firefly co-founder] Tyler Evans since 1999,” Ogle said. “I met him at Interbike and we were just a couple of creative weirdos. We just got to chatting, and we kept saying, ‘We have to figure out a project together.’ Twenty-two years later, here we are. They were having a supplier issue on one of their dropouts, and they knew that I was working on watches and doing a lot of titanium work, and they asked if I would interested in helping. They were on deadline, and they needed some dropouts. One of my customers had just gone bankrupt, and I was a little freaked out, anyway. It’s funny how the universe keeps leveling itself for me.
“I had also been making some of my own parts for fun on the side and posting them to Facebook, and Jamie [Medeiros, who does R&D at Firefly] was like, ‘Hey, you want to help us design a seat collar?’ And so I designed that new seat collar that they have, and it’s just been going from there. I’m so fortunate to have reconnected with those guys.”
“[Ogle] is someone I admire and look up to, but beyond that, he has such a rich history in the industry, a wealth of knowledge, and what seems to be unlimited energy and curiosity,” Evans said. “I am honored to call him a friend and co-conspirator on so many projects over the last few years.”
Contract work outside of the bike industry is what reliably keeps the lights on, Ogle said, but Firefly keeps him plenty busy on top of that, designing and/or machining the brand’s seatpost collars, stem parts, and dropouts — and now, this oversized derailleur pulley cage assembly. Plus, it’s fun. Ogle’s also done work for Curtis Inglis and Black Sheep.
“There’s a lot of shame there,” he said, thinking back. “I was good at what I did then, but I was such a shitty person outside of that. Now it’s like, what I remember in my head was being a shitty person, not the fact that I made cool parts. There’s a lot of fear in coming back, that people are going to remember that I’m a shitty person, but so far, everyone seems to remember that I made cool bike parts, and that makes me feel really good. I’m doing my best.”
Coming around full circle
Ogle is focusing on the pulley cages for now, but it’s actually just the start of his return to the bike industry in earnest with a new still-to-be-launched brand called Ogle Component Design — or OCD for short. It’s a moniker that Kevin Wolfson, one of the original Firefly trio, coined for him, but it’s also a personal acknowledgement of one of the personality traits he said contributed to his substance abuse back in the day.
“It’s not meant as a joke, but a way for me to take some power back over my own stigma around it.”
Ogle says he’ll be taking things slow this time around and he’s even setting aside his watch work for a year or two while he gets things off the ground, all in an effort to not make the same mistakes twice.
He’s also more than a little mindful of the fact that he’s getting a second chance in an industry he truly loves, and he has no interest in squandering the goodwill that’s been sent his way.
“Recovery is a big part of my story,” he said. “It’s allowed me to get to where I am, and it’s allowed me to do what I’ve done. Most people don’t get past that. I’m very grateful for my recovery. Derailleur cages are great, and mine is honestly the best in the business — if I’m being my old self — but I wouldn’t be able to do that without the other part of it. My life now is not at all what I wanted when I was younger, and it’s so much better.
“That’s why I’m trying to start this slowly, and not try to overcommit to what I’m trying to do. Literally, the derailleur cages, that’s my thing for right now. I’m not trying to be everything for everybody. I’m going to make parts that I know will be profitable and will allow me to make other cool parts, and that’s enough for a start. This is just the beginning. I have so many crazy ideas.”
On a personal note, I remember when Ogle was running Jericho. I was very much in the heat of the singlespeed moment when that movement and Jericho were at their peak. I remember the excitement around Jericho, and after spending more than an hour on the phone with Ogle for this article, I’ll admit to feeling a lot of that excitement again.
Best wishes for this second coming, Josh. It’s good to have you back.
To see more of Josh Ogle’s work, check out his Instagram page.