John Koutrouba is a “refugee from the corporate world.” Before he became a framebuilder, he managed a company that had grown from 40 to 400 employees. He left that gig, moved to Salt Lake City with his family, and took a long, hard look at himself and what he wanted to do. As he searched for a new job, he asked himself what it is he would do if he could do anything he wanted. He realized that the answer was building bicycles.
“Getting into framebuilding is shockingly easy,” Koutrouba says. “It’s having the conversation with your wife that starts with ‘I’d like to try something a little different this time’ that is hard.” He found a local framebuilder and picked his brain, enrolled in the United Bicycle Institute (UBI) and learned the basics, and now builds bikes with a passion that came across even through email.
“Every bike seems like the result of magic,” he says. “How many people get to go to work and do actual magic every day?”
At Sixth Law Cycles, Koutrouba’s goal is to solve problems for people. “From my perspective, everyone should ride a bike every day,” he states. “However, something keeps most of us from doing that.” He specializes in finding solutions to the common problems and excuses that stop people from cycling, such as fit and sizing, fitness level, or the idea that cycling is too much of a hassle.
“My value is not in creating a thing, but in moving you through the process of figuring out what it is you need, and then providing something that meets that need,” says Koutrouba. He tries to listen closely to his customers, and throws an unexpected, personal touch into every bike. “On my last bike, it was as simple as some really huge, wide handlebars,” he mentions. “When my customer saw the bike, he knew I had been listening.”
It’s this connection that sets Sixth Law apart from mass market companies, and makes small framebuilders like Koutrouba so special.
He mainly builds in steel, because it’s forgiving, easy to work with, and he can fix almost any mistake he makes along the way. If that doesn’t work out, at least steel is cheap, so it is an affordable material for experimentation and trying new things. “And so far at least,” says Koutrouba, “I haven’t run into a problem that I can’t solve with it. I suppose I haven’t run into anyone who doesn’t ride his bike because it isn’t light enough yet.”
I asked him if he has a favorite bike that he’s built, and he told me it’s always his most recent. “The feeling of amazement is always freshest on the last bike out the door. And frankly, I’m getting better with each new bike. My last bike is quite literally the best I’ve ever done at this point.”
This eagerness to learn and grow has allowed Koutrouba to add many new skills to his talent stack along with framebuilding. In addition to bicycles, he also works with people on a variety of different custom fabrication projects, such as outdoor furniture, bike racks, and even a sidecar for a motorized wheelchair to allow an aging dog to cruise around with its owner.
Eventually, his dream is to hire employees and put more people to work building bicycles. While it’s a far-off ambition at the moment, he might be closer than he thinks. While his bikes certainly use plenty of mass-produced parts, he uses local talent whenever possible. His bike for NAHBS, for instance, is a collaboration involving no fewer than six people he knows personally. “I can’t think of anything I own that involves me that deeply in a real community,” he says.
Yeah, bikes tend to do that.
If you’re headed to NAHBS this year, be sure to check out Sixth Law Cycles at the New Builder Table!
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
The North American Handmade Bicycle Show (NAHBS) is coming up next weekend, March 10-12. We’ve been taking a look at some of the new up-and-coming builders that will be at the event this year in a series of preview articles. In Part 1, we saw bikes from Australia and Russia, and in Part 2, we learned about the students of the Cal Poly Frame Builders club. In this NAHBS preview edition, we focus on a couple of the builders who are local to the Salt Lake City area, home of this years show.
Salt Air Cycles, based out of Salt Lake City, Utah, was founded in 2014 by Matthew Nelson. His background is in architecture, but he caught the framebuilding bug about 7 years ago as an avid mountain biker and bike commuter. In 2011, he took a course at the United Bicycle Institute (UBI), and walked away with his first creation, a fillet-brazed steel cyclocross frame, and the motivation to build more.
While becoming involved in the local racing scene, he honed his framebuilding craft, producing handmade bikes for his friends and family. He was still working full-time as an architect when he started Salt Air Cycles, but his brand quickly gained a small, loyal following. Soon after, he was able to leave his architecture job and pursue framebuilding full-time. He also sponsored a local cyclocross team that rides his lugged steel bikes.
Nelson builds almost any type of bike, except tandems and full suspension. “I take a lot of pride in being a versatile builder. As long as it’s steel, I’ll make it,” he says. Most of the bikes he currently makes are fillet-brazed, while the remainder are lugged construction. They’re “new world bikes, made the traditional way,” each cut by a saw and file, and assembled with a torch. He puts a lot of attention and detail into each frame, so that when it leaves his shop, it not only meets his standards, but also every expectation of the customer.
“My favorite bike is whichever one I happen to be working on in the present,” says Nelson. “Thus far, it’s been an incredible ride, with enough inspiration and gratification to fuel further growth of the brand.”
Until 2013, Ken “KC” Cerreta was enlisted in the United States Air Force as an aircraft machinist and welder for nine years. In 2013, he transitioned from the enlisted corps to the officer corps and is now a program manager who leads large scale Air Force acquisitions and manages development projects. It didn’t take long before he missed working with his hands. An avid cyclist, KC began his start as a frame builder in 2014 after he attended the North American Handmade Bicycle Show as a spectator. Having a background in machining and welding he researched what it would take to build a bicycle frame and by the end of 2014, his first frame was complete.
Now a Captain in the Air Force currently working on the F-16 aircraft and sole owner of Cerreta Cycles, KC continues to build wherever he is stationed, which is currently at Hill Air Force Base, just north of Salt Lake City. He specializes in fillet brazed steel frames and hopes to grow Cerreta Cycles to the point where it can become a full time profession.
“One aspect of why I feel builds distinguish myself from other builders is the attention to detail each frame receives,” says KC. “With a history of fabricating aircraft parts where the tolerances are very small, my frames are looked at the same way. To me, there is no room for error and that is how I approach each build.”
If you’re headed to NAHBS, be sure to stop by the New Builders Tables and give these guys some love. Also be sure to check out the rest of our NAHBS preview content, or take a look back in time to our coverage of the event from previous years.Tweet Print
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.
“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.”
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.
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.Tweet Print
The North American Handmade Bicycle Show is an annual gathering of handmade bicycle frame builders that was started in 2005. Each year, the show changes location in order to give different builders who might not have the opportunity or resources to travel far a chance to exhibit their work.
This year’s event will take place in Salt Lake City, Utah March 10-12.
While Maurice was taking a look back to NAHBS 2008, I took a look ahead, gathering information on some of the newer up-and-coming builders that will be at the show.
This year, there is a stronger international contingent of exhibitors than ever before. Here, I take a brief look at two framebuilders from outside of North America who will be showing their work at New Builders Tables this year—Cio Bikes out of Australia and TORESVELO out of Russia, an up-and-coming place for handmade bicycle making.
Cio Bikes, out of Brisbane, Australia, was formed just last year, but their story begins in 2010. At the time, Nick Flutter, designer and one of three owners of Cio, was visiting Barcelona and worrying about climate change and the environment. During his travels, he became interested in bicycles as an efficient, sustainable, and environmentally-friendly method of transportation.
Upon return to Australia, he built his first prototype, and it ended up being “a great bike to ride.” He built a couple more prototypes in 2011, which have been extensively used as daily commuter bikes ever since.
Nick is an architect by trade, and has experience working on large building projects, including carbon fiber boats, as well as digital design and rapid prototyping. His material of choice for bike frames is a unique blend of carbon and wood, resulting in an aesthetically-pleasing and functional layup of two complementary materials. The carbon provides stiffness and strength, while the wood offers vibration-dampening properties.
Each frame consists of an outer shell, cut from a CNC router out of White Ash, and a thin carbon skin that is laminated to the inside of the wood. A clear coating protects the frame while displaying the timber’s natural grains.
In 2015, two partners joined him in the venture to create production model of the frame, and now, two different models are available for purchase. The Pass is a road frameset and the Loop is designed for track. He’s also working on a cruiser bike called the Park. While standard sizing is offered online, he also offers custom framebuilding services.
Anton Gorbunov of Astrakhan, Russia, fell in love with mountain biking about ten years ago, and then with road riding a few years later. In 2011, he decided that he wanted to build a bicycle. While he lacked the knowledge, tools, and resources, he didn’t let those obstacles stop him. He began experimenting in his garage with a welding machine, vice, and a few metal files. His first aluminum frame “was ugly and heavy,” so over the course of the next few months, he built 5 more frames just for practice and eventually a fixed gear bike that he actually rode.
“It was a great feeling to ride on bikes that I built by hand,” Anton says.
In an effort to gain more knowledge, he turned to YouTube and the Internet, spending hours after his day job researching techniques and trying them out in his workshop. He saved up money to buy a jig, and he learned how to work with steel, his preferred framebuilding material. His first big project was his personal road bike, featuring bi-laminate fillet brazing construction and full internal cable routing.
The TORESVELO name was born in 2014, and in the years since, he’s been growing his custom frame building business. While building bicycles still isn’t his full time job, he’s moving in that direction, and it’s looking promising. He is open to building any kind of bike, and wants to eventually create some production models in addition to his custom projects.
Anton is especially proud of the small details that go into every frame he makes, and the passion behind his craft.
Both of these builders can be found in person at NAHBS at New Builder Table #7.
Stay tuned for more preview coverage in the coming weeks, and live coverage at the show the weekend of March 10-12. Check out coverage from previous years here. #NAHBSstokeTweet 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.
Bum bags. Fanny packs. Enduro fashion. Call it what you want, but a hip pack is actually a pretty useful piece of kit. What goes around comes around, and now that it’s safe to be seen in public with one again, options are flooding the market.
Seagull has been sewing its bags by hand in Columbus, Ohio, since 2003, and they sent us their new Trail Buddy to try, and so so far I’ve been using it on all kinds of rides. I’ll do anything to get a backpack off my back and not content with the sweat mess it leaves behind. The Trail Buddy holds the basics for short rides or keeps the essentials close at hand while touring.
Built from 1000d Cordura, it’s super thick and tough. I have no doubt this thing will outlive the cockroaches at the Apocalypse. While not 100-percent waterproof, the YKK zippers are water resistant and it kept the contents clean through a generous dousing of mud. The zipper pulls are huge and easy to grab with gloves on. The main pocket has a double zipper to make it easier to get into.
There is a U-lock sleeve in the back, but I actually preferred attaching it to the daisy chain loops on the front so it wasn’t touching my back. There is a secondary exterior pocket behind them with room for small items like keys or a phone.
The main compartment is big enough for a thin jacket, bike tools, a book, a beer (or two), or whatever you need to keep within reach. It can also attach to your handlebars with two Velcro straps, but there’s no way to tuck the waist strap in so it kind of gets in the way.
The waist strap is thickly padded and has cinch straps at either end that can help keep the bag snug against your hips even when it’s not full. The main buckle is BIG, but luckily it is adjustable on both sides, and I found it most comfortable wearing it slightly off-center.
There really aren’t any downsides to this pack except there were a few times I wish it were a tiny bit bigger. It won’t fit my Amazon Kindle, for example, or an external water bottle.
The Trail Buddy is available in black, olive, rust (pictured), plus two more Spring 2016 special colorways.
Measurements: 11.75 inches wide, 5.5 inches high and 2.75 inches deep.
More info: seagullbags.com
What’s your take? Do you ride with a hip pack? Why or why not? Let us know in the comments below.
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.
We were somewhere over Iowa when the bourbon kicked in. Dammit, AAmerican, is Jack Daniels the best you’ve got? Wait, that’s not even bourbon. I’ll assume Louaville has better. But then I started to see the patterns on the ground as the sun set over the vast midwest. Is it just the whiskey or is something else kicking in?
Loueeeville here I come. Bikes and good Kentucky bourbon. After a good nights rest I managed to negotiate my borrowed Tern folding bike over the frozen, rutted trail to the convention center. It would have flown completely free but my “Silver” status with what used to be my airline had been removed. Still, the Tern flew in the samsonite for a mere $25.
Wandering in, I found myself drawn magneticly and immediately to the judging area. I had judged before, enjoying the company of people like Patrick Brady, Nick Legan, and Jeff Archer, No one had asked me to judge in advance, this year or any other, but I stopped by to say hi and see what was up. It’s a TRAP!
“Wanna help with the mountain bike judging?” Patrick says, as he reeeeels in another fish in the name of Maurice J Tierney. Ummm, ahhhh, ok. Trapped. I had promised myself not to get involved, yet another addiction kicks in and I start going off right away, injecting what I can into the proceedings.
Thing is, I really like to get into people’s heads sometimes. Only days earlier I had volunteered to review my friend Zo’s photographic portfolio. I got me a four-year degree in fine art photography and if there’s one thing I learned it is how to expose the weakness in a batch of photos and bring out the best of the bunch. This talent is useful for bikes as well.
So How does one judge a bicycle show? I already have enough people mad at me for speaking my mind-truth in public. Maybe it is the bourbon, or maybe I just don’t give a shit. Or maybe it’s just the battle to keep it real.
So let me share a bit of my personal criteria, which should not to be cornfused with anyone else’s idea of judging, or any actual written rule book. First of all, builders, you’ve got to have your craft down. No mistakes. Perfect construction, paint and build. Then you can pursue the art of the handcrafted bicycle. So unless you’re in a bare-frame category you better bring a complete bike.
If the pedals are missing that is one thing but everything else better be there. And make sure the pedals are all the way screwed in and the headset is not loose or you will see me motioning with a neck-slicing hand across the throat indicating you are out of the running (No you don’t get a pass for bad weather). You’re product better be tight. One really amazing favorite builder lost points for a missing cable. Although the bike’s owner never bothered with it, I felt it needed to be there for show purposes to complete the deal.
After all that weeded out I get to look at the art. What has the builder done to rise above and really create something I’ve never seen before? Some judges are more interested in the bike they’d like to take home and ride. My winner needs to be that and more. There’s where I find my winner.
Bottom line? One guy in the aisle stated that you can’t judge personal preference. True, it is a beauty contest. But I can assure you of one thing, we judges work real hard to honor the best of the best, and they deserve it.
2015 NAHBS award winners
- Best TIG-welded frame: Eriksen Cycles (Honorable Mention: Holland Cycles)
- Best Cyclocross bike: No. 22
- Best Mountain bike: Retrotec Fat Bike (Honorable Mentions: Mooman and Funk)
- Best Road bike: Repete
- Best Tandem: Black Sheep
- Best City bike: Brodie
- Best Experimental bike: Sycip
- Best Finish: Shamrock Cycles (Honorable Mention: Peacock Groove)
- Best Artisan: Cykelmageren
- Best Lugs: DiNucci
- Best Carbon Lay-up: Alchemy
- Best Campagnolo equipped bike: Sarto
- People’s Choice: Mars Cycles
- Best New Builder: Love Baum
- President’s Choice: Ron Sutphin
- Best in Show: Groovy Cycleworks