By Robert Annis
Veins are popping out of Tim O’Donnell’s forehead, and the dreamy brown eyes that once melted the hearts of many a Cincinnati teenager in his youth now narrow into a frustrated squint. After spending hours trying to wire the two small LED lights into the split top tube of a customer’s city bike, the Shamrock Cycles owner couldn’t take any more. Snatching the light, he angrily winged it toward the wall of his 600-square-foot workshop. But instead of splintering into shards against the wall, O’Donnell heard an unsettling “tink!”.
The bike’s fork, freshly returned from the painter, sat in a vice more than 12 feet away. The tiny LED bulb chipped off a small piece of paint. For the perfectionist O’Donnell, that small flaw might as well as been a flashing neon sign.
It was a one-in-a-million toss, O’Donnell said, laughing about it over a can of Hopslam in that same garage a few hours later. For many bikes, it wouldn’t be a problem, but this bike was earmarked for this year’s North American Handmade Bicycle Show, and it needed to be absolutely perfect.
While most NAHBS builders were starting to worry about finishing bikes before the March 10 show start, O’Donnell was in an even bigger pickle. His annual pre-show at Triton Brewing Company in his adopted hometown of Indianapolis was just two weeks away and a full two weeks before NAHBS, meaning he was being squeezed twice as hard. O’Donnell’s normally tidy garage had boxes of components lying around, and the show bikes in various states of completion are scattered throughout. While the last steel tube of this year’s bikes had long since been brazed, O’Donnell was now at the mercy of forces beyond his control.
Luckily some bikes were finished relatively quickly. O’Donnell’s S&S Coupler- and SRAM eTap-equipped travel road bike was wrapped early on, with local artist Kate Oberreich hand-painting paper airplanes over the frame, and Indy painter Rocky Thomas spraying on the clear coat.
Customer Greg Dyas’ stainless steel gravel road bike was the second to be completely finished, and both O’Donnell and Iverson took a few moments afterward to look it over with a sense of well-earned accomplishment. The polished stainless contrasts nicely with the burgundy paint accents, custom leather bar tape and Brooks Cambium saddle. It’s a perfect microcosm of all the things O’Donnell does well and is renowned for in the craft-builder world.
Cooper Ambjorn had been pestering O’Donnell for a glimpse of the gravel road bike she commissioned, so he took photos of the bike under several layers of foam wrapping as a joke. Nearly completed, the bike was just waiting for components, namely the new Rotor hydraulic groupset that was supposed to arrive in January. It was now the middle of February, and still no parts.
The week before the Triton party the parts finally arrived from Spain, allegedly diverted from a European continental team. It was then up to O’Donnell and his trusty lieutenant Fred Iverson to install the groupset. Only there was a problem—neither they nor anyone they knew had ever done it before.
“During the unboxing, there’s this big mass of hoses for the shifter and brakes that’s a bit overwhelming,” Iverson said. “Call it fear of the unknown really. But once we took time to read over the directions and understand what was asked of us we were able to settle down and figure out how this system liked to be installed. SRAM Hyrdro prefers that you set the shifters and then cut out the slack of hose at the caliper; Rotor does the reverse.
“When you install any drivetrain on a custom steel bike, the most difficult part is trying to route it the way I want to. There was a pucker moment with the crank and the internal routing of the rear hose for the shifter. Rotor uses a BB30 spindle coupled with a BSA-threaded Bottom Bracket, and we weren’t sure was it was going to fit with the rear hose. Luckily it all fit with little room to spare.”
It’s believed Ambjorn is the only non-professional rider in the U.S. to have the Rotor drivetrain at the moment.
But it’s the city bike that’s monopolized O’Donnell’s days and haunted his nights, with the builder estimating he’s spent double the time on that bike than any other NAHBS bike this year. The urban camo paint scheme might be a bit of a fright for the traditionalist O’Donnell, but he was proud of the innovation he managed to fit into customer Rob Simon’s 56-cm frame: a Schmidt front hub laced to a H plus Son rim, Shimano Alfine Di2 with custom shifter, a Sinewave Revolution power converter, Antigravity 12v charger pack wired to the LED bullet lights and a USB power port.
“(Simon) asked for a really cool city bike and gave me carte blanche to make it happen,” O’Donnell said. “I did about two months of brainstorming before I even started physical work on the bike. It turned out to be a bit of a beast. Doing all the wiring so that it was both reliable and as discrete as possible forced me to do it over and over again. I had to think five moves ahead of time. Hopefully (Simon) loves it.”
Unlike previous NAHBS when O’Donnell had to invite a significant portion of the contacts from his iPhone, the run-up to this year’s show was significantly more low-key. After installing the Rotor drivetrain and doing a run-through on Simon’s city bike, O’Donnell and Iverson were finished with a week to spare.
The Triton Brewing preview party was a massive hit, with more than 200 of Indianapolis’ most frenzied bike fans ogling his latest bikes and a few favorites from previous shows. As he and his crew packed up the bikes to be prepped for shipping to Salt Lake City, O’Donnell also picked up something else—a deposit check from a new customer.Tweet Print
With more than 50 combined years of framebuilding experience, there isn’t much new under the sun for Christopher Igleheart and Joseph Ahearne. But like many builders I’ve met or talked to over the years, one of their greatest challenges is the limited number of bikes they can make in a year. Time doesn’t grow on trees, you know.
Everything in this workshop is done by hand.
So after sharing a workshop for a few years in Portland, Oregon, the pair did find something new to try: a new brand that combines their talents to produce custom bikes faster than ever before, allowing them to reach a new price point and new customers. Named for the street their workshop sits on, Page Street Cycles combine the skills of both Igleheart and Ahearne, with a few new features to boot.
Both Igleheart and Ahearne are still building bikes under their own brands, as well as under contract for a few others.
The bikes are entirely custom built for each customer, but are based on designs as a starting point. The first model, the Outback is a go-anywhere drop bar adventure touring rig, with a TIG-welded frame and hand-made steel racks. The basics are established to allow the customer to work with the builders and outfit it as they please.
Each Page Street Cycles product gets plenty of teamwork from both builders.
The bikes still are cheap, but are highly competitive with other custom builders and unlike the years-long waiting lists some folks grudgingly accept, these can be had in a matter of weeks.
Learn more at pagestreetcycles.com.
Velo Cult bike shop, now located in Portland, Oregon, is more than just a place to buy bikes and accessories. It’s also a popular tavern, repair service (featuring guaranteed 24-hour turnaround on tune-ups), music venue, and de facto meeting place in town for many bike-related events and meetings. Now, it’s adding it’s own line of custom bikes to the showroom floor, with two options for anyone seeking a very special ride of their own.
The Velo Cult Randonneur is a traditional long-distance road bike designed with input from the shop and built by Mark Nobilette in Longmont, Colorado. The lugged steel construction can be mated to all sorts of build options, with new or old components. Each bike is made to order, with full custom geometry, paint and detailing. Built around 650b wheels and 42 mm tires with fenders, the bike is designed to deliver a comfortable ride over any surface.
VC Mosaic Custom
Velo Cult has also partnered with Mosaic Cycles in Boulder, Colorado, to build custom steel and titanium frames with special touches unique to the shop bikes. Starting with a blank slate, customers will be able to build their own made-to-measure dream bike from scratch.
If you’re interested in ordering either bike, give a shout to Velo Cult to get the process started. Pricing and turnaround time will vary greatly depending on the customer’s desires and specifications.
The shop is high, high up in the hills above Portland. There is no sign marking the gravel driveway—I missed it quite a few times—and the garage isn’t visible from the road. Beneath a cathedral of Douglas fir, amidst sea of ferns, it recalls a land before time.
It seems a fitting location to built titanium bicycles, the material having come and gone in and out of fashion countless times over the years. Here Dave Levy builds Ti Cycles, an eclectic brand of stock, custom and absolutely wild show bikes (mostly) all made from titanium. Cargo bikes, tandem, mini-velos, full-suspension fat bikes… if you can think of it chances are Levy has built one. He’s also now the co-owner of REN Cycles, a sister brand of stock-size titanium bikes.
This year Ti Cycles celebrates its 25th anniversary so I paid a visit to the shop to see some of the more unique creations at hand.
Click on the magnifying glass to see full-size images.
Firefly designs and builds some of the most dazzling titanium and stainless steel bikes in the business, and for its latest project they’ve collaborated with artist Eric Bones for a new line of limited edition bikes dubbed The Bones Project.
The welders at Firefly have built thousands of steel bikes in their careers, so for this project they chose “the most high tech steel bicycle tubing the world has ever seen: custom-designed, niobium-doped, progressively-butted Columbus Spirit HSS Tubing.” They will be then hand-painted by Eric Bones and finished by Jay Nutini of Circle A Cycles.
There will be only 22 of these bikes built in 2014—each one custom designed for its rider. Want one? Better hurry, I don’t expect them to last long.