Framebuilders flock to sunny San Diego

By Jeff Thrasher

The sun was out and the temperature was perfect yet again for the annual San Diego Custom Bicycle Show the weekend of April 8-10. The three-year-old show, now in a new venue in the heart of downtown attracted a varied exhibitor list and equally varied crowd of bicycle enthusiasts. California in and of itself is fairly rich with framebuilders, and the show is a convenient and inexpensive option for the smaller shop looking to display their work without dealing with the cost and logistics of interstate travel to shows such as the roaming North American Handmade Bicycle Show. However the show also sees builders such as Pennsylvania’s Bilenky Cycle Works and builders from surrounding states like Arizona and Oregon.

If you haven’t yet attended a handmade bicycle show, the biggest difference that you’ll notice immediately compared to say, shopping for a production bike at your local bike shop, is that you are talking directly to the framebuilder, the torch-wielder, the man or woman who possesses the vision and skills to make your next dream bicycle a reality. At the bike shop you will be speaking to a salesperson who will be guiding you into one of the bicycle lines that they have chosen to carry. Which is fine. Handmade bike frames aren’t for everyone, but for the select few who have the budget and knowledge of what they like and dislike after years in the saddle, it can be a very special experience.

You will also be witness to some ideas that are fresh off the workbench and possibly being shown to the public for the first time. One such bike was on display from designer Lou Tortola. The steel ‘Round Tail’ bicycle will no doubt catch your eye in person and draw you in for a closer look. The designer claims the frame will offer increased vertical compliance, or "suspension" on the rear end. Also guaranteed are plenty of looks and questions when this bike is taken out on group rides.

Show founder and local San Diego builder David Ybarrola was present, exhibiting his beautifully crafted steel road and track frames. Together with fellow framebuilders Brian Baylis and Chuck Schlesinger, David brought the San Diego show into existence in 2009. Now run exclusively by Baylis, David is free to take the time to chat with prospective buyers.

Alternate materials like wood and bamboo continue to grow in the custom frame world. Representing in San Diego were Portland’s Renovo machined wood frames and Bamboosero. Creative design work and engineering are bringing frame weights down into the same class as high-performance steel frames without any risk of rust or corrosion.

Covering the carbon fiber frameset showcase was Calfee Design from Santa Cruz, CA. Craig Calfee and crew have been building custom carbon fiber frames for 25 years and they are continuously redefining what is possible with some carbon tubes and resin. While they may appear to be production bikes at first glance, a closer look reveals the level of detail and craftsmanship that goes into each frame. Calfee also exhibited one of the first carbon fiber frames to be fitted with S&S couplers, enabling the frame to be separated into two halves for ease of travel. Calfee produces most any type of frame that a customer may desire; road, track, cyclocross, tandem or mountain.

Inevitably at any show there will be the wild card. The mad scientist tinkerer who thinks so far outside the box that he can’t even see the box anymore. This particular show had Jeff Tiedeken as that mad scientist. At a mere 23 years old, Jeff and his company Monkey Likes Shiny fabricate some truly innovative bicycles, mostly from an experimental frame of mind, or "what would happen if?" approach. Jeff was showing his mammoth eight-foot-tall penny-farthing bike that has been seen in booths at the Interbike bicycle trade show in Las Vegas as well as numerous bike shops in SoCal as a show-piece. Jeff also had his "speed-bike" on hand. A strictly downhill bike built for one purpose only: going as fast as possible. The entire drivetrain has been removed and replaced with foot pegs to brace yourself on when hitting speeds upwards of 70mph. The striking design features a single-sided fork and framework on the right side, leaving the left side of the bike bare and unencumbered.

Whichever style of bike catches your eye and starts the daydreaming process, you owe it to yourself to attend a handmade bicycle show such as this one. You may be perfectly content with the bikes that are sitting in the garage or spare bedroom right now, but there’s always room for one more, isn’t there?


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