By Doug Hare EBS Staff
BIG SKY – Chris Boyd founded Terranaut Adventure Vans in 2016 in a Bozeman studio, but starting his latest company has been the culmination of passions and skills he has cultivated over a lifetime. The 45-year-old Missouri native grew up backpacking, camping, climbing, and spelunking at an early age. But it’s bicycles and bike shops that have shaped Boyd’s trajectory in life and landed him squarely in southwest Montana building the ultimate accessories for outdoors enthusiasts.
He can recall his first bike, an orange Schwinn from a shop called Bikes Unlimited in St. Louis. “I still remember how those ‘70s motocross grips felt in my dirty, callused, 7-year-old hands. And I remember the proprietor of the bike shop, a leathery, kind person in a denim apron, tuning my new steed before delivery.”
Boyd also remembers when he first fell in love with the beauty and precision of technical gear just as vividly: “My first foray into The Alpine Shop, a quintessential outdoor shop in Webster Groves, Missouri, provided my first taste of [that] and it will forever taint my life.”
He has been an entrepreneur from the beginning. After cutting grass for one summer, he saved enough money to buy a used race bicycle he found in the newspaper. “A guy named Rocky was selling a blue bike sporting a Japanese frame with a front triangle made of Chromoly steel, a house brand from a local bike shop that read: “Terranaut”.
The sense of freedom that riding around St. Louis gave him was the same feeling he was after when he bought his first Mercedes sprinter van. With his new race bike, he would ride to the library to borrow books to learn about bicycle repair. “Maplewood Bicycle was a half hour ride from my house. I purchased new cables, chains, tires, chainrings, and bearings,” Boyd recalls. “The shop manager, Carl Becker, a St. Louis-based Velodrome racer with watermelon-size quadriceps, offered me a job as a bike mechanic.”
Barely a teenager, Boyd got first-hand experience as a mechanic and his older coworkers also taught the teenager about racing and good times. “One Saturday morning, they had an epiphany, yelling that I belonged in Montana—Missoula, Montana, nonetheless,” Boyd said when asked how he ended up in Montana.
Becker also told the impressionable kid that he would only be a true badass if he was a bicycle messenger like the older racer had been his early days. So, Boyd decided to be a courier in St. Louis and Chicago before moving on to become a professional bike mechanic for the SRAM Corporation, a major manufacturing company, in the mid-90s. While that job took him around the country, he also built out two of the company’s first race support vehicles, including a Volvo semi-truck.
In the past 20 years, Boyd’s work ethic, mechanical prowess, entrepreneurial spirit, and intimate knowledge of high-end building and high-end materials have paid dividends. He started two companies, Montana Paint and Montana Prefinish, both of which experienced rapid growth, allowing him to settle down, first in Missoula, and then in Bozeman in 2004.
Boyd bought his first Sprinter van in 2016 when Mercedes came out with their first 4×4 model. After a trip to the desert in his rig, to ride bikes with a friend, he decided he wanted to start building out sprinter vans for clients.
A typical build-out process for Terranaut usually takes between eight and 12 weeks, while the initial design process can take longer. Boyd stresses that the process is more akin to building a ship or yacht than a home or car. Reveals, movement, weight, and space parameters all come into play during the elaborate design process with 3-D renditions to achieve what he calls a “Spartan luxury.”
Upholstery, cabinetry, laser cutting, powder coating, wood and metal fabrication, marine-grade wiring, custom sewing—every alteration is done in-house by Boyd or one of his six employees. Business is brisk. Boyd looks forward to ramping up production in the future working with the forthcoming Mercedes models, as well as Ford and Dodge vans.
“Every Terranaut van is unique, because it is designed with us by our customers. It takes a while for a new employee to understand the level of quality we demand at Terranaut,” Boyd said. “The last 10 percent of perfection takes 90 percent of the time.”