NAHBS Preview Part 2: The students of Cal Poly Frame Builders

While each of the new builders we’re covering in our NAHBS new builders preview series has been unique in some form, the Cal Poly Frame Builders certainly stand out in the fact that it’s not just one builder, or two, or even a few. Rather, it’s an entire club of frame builders, out of California Polytechnic University in San Luis Obispo, California.

The Cal Poly Frame Builders club was formed in 2011, but before that, designing and building bicycle frames was a part of Cal Poly’s longstanding tradition of learning-by-doing. In a class called “Singletrack Vehicle Design,” students learn the characteristics of bikes, such as geometry, braking, suspension, ergonomics, strength and stiffness, and how all these factors effect handling and ride quality. At the end of the class, students have the option to design and build their own bike. Some students enjoyed it so much that they wanted to pursue framebuilding further, and thus the club was born.

Now, the club has no affiliation with the course, and any student can join and learn how to build a bike. The club itself offers classes by fellow students and club members, as well as industry professionals. Members get plenty of time at the campus machine shop to work hands-on and learn the processes that go into building a bike frame, from design and use of software to actual fabrication. Each member of the club brings a unique skill set to the table, so it’s a team effort to make sure that everyone has the opportunity to walk away with a handmade bicycle.

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“I think what makes our bikes unique and interesting is that every bike is essentially a prototype,” says Chris Fedor, President of Cal Poly Frame Builders. “Students can come into the club with no shop experience and still come out with a rad bike. As the students go through the design process, they get to learn every little detail that makes a bike unique. It is usually an interesting experience for many of us, because most of us are engineering students, so we get to apply the lessons we learn in class to a real life situation.”

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Students can build any type of bike they want, with whatever materials they choose. Most stick with steel, because it’s easy to braze and weld. Some use aluminum, but Cal Poly doesn’t have a way of heat-treating the frames after they’re complete, so most of those don’t last very long with actual use. Eventually, they’d like to start making carbon fiber frames.

“We have the machining ability to do it,” says Fedor, “but since we are all also full time students (most of us engineering majors), time is an issue.” 

Last year, the club finally realized its long-time goal of showing a bike at NAHBS, and this year, they’re excited about the track bike they’re producing using some of the latest technology in welding. Fedor’s next goal for the club is to graduate from the New Builders Table and have a full booth of bikes designed and built by students.

“While there are several other schools going to NAHBS, we are a little bit different in that all of our knowledge has been gained through our own research and experience, not a textbook, class, or professor,” says Fedor.

The Cal Poly Frame Builders at NAHBS 2016.

The Cal Poly Frame Builders at NAHBS 2016.

If you’re headed to NAHBS this year, be sure to stop by the New Builders Tables and show your support for the student framebuilders from Cal Poly!

Check out bikes, stories, and photos from past years of NAHBS, and read the rest of our preview articles here.

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