Wabi-sabi for mechanics

The Professional Bicycle Mechanic Association’s Mechanics Minute newsletter has been crossing our virtual desks and it’s pretty awesome. So we thought we’d share the most recent edition with you. Check it out!

By Ric Hjertberg

Wabi-sabi is a traditional Japanese aesthetic that’s become well known in the West. Roughly defined as the beauty of imperfection, it is regularly invoked in architecture, fashion, and lifestyle discussions. Even without it, western culture has always seen beauty in imperfection—an abandoned gas station, archeological ruins, a quietly bleaching bone in the desert. However, in Japan, it’s more than just one way to see things. It is key to the fundamental nature of beauty and authenticity, as much as the Greek concept of perfection in the West.

Wabi-sabi’s three underlying principles: nothing lasts, nothing is finished, and nothing is perfect. Few mechanical scenes are as much in tune with these concepts like bicycle mechanics. We work on bikes to slow down their wearing out, all the time knowing that the goal is a machine turned to dust through valuable and enjoyable riding.

We regularly adjust our repair strategies to fit the use, the costs of replacement, and the time available. Beauty comes from work appropriate to the bike. Few vehicle mechanics are challenged with the extremes we enjoy: from high tech ornamentation to rusting dumpster salvage.

More than most trades, bicycle mechanics is informed by riding itself. It’s very rare that a bicycle mechanic is not intimately connected to cycling, riding and reflecting on the machine’s function. Our work is infused with this awareness. It’s journey, not destination, oriented.

The real reason I’m reflecting this way relates to tools, those wonderful extensions of our hands that make the work possible. While we all admire and envy a perfectly formed and balanced tool that is nearly new, there is great satisfaction to one that shows wear and even less-than-perfect function. It might come from a relative or be a survivor of a tool kit you’ve largely re-equipped as your career grows. These unique, imperfect, and worn items are part of the way each of us embraces this work. Here are a few of my own favorites, tools that embody wabi-sabi for me. They keep us grounded, give our boxes character, and help make the workshop feel like home.

What’s your favorite wabi-sabi tool?

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This piece was originally published in the Professional Bicycle Mechanic Association‘s Mechanics Minute newsletter.

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NAHBS Preview: Chapman Cycles

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I met Brian Chapman of Chapman Cycles a few years back circumstantially through mutual friends. We were both staying at their house for our own bicycle related reasons. Brian was displaying his bikes at that years Philly Bike Expo and I was headed off to some empty field to pretend that I was a bike racer. Throughout the weekend, we shared beers, conversation, and cheap Chinese takeout from around the corner. Brian’s background in frame building is rich with the history of the New England scene and it shows in his work. His classically unique builds and stand out paint tones have had several of my friends order frames from Brian and has me wondering why I haven’t yet. I recently got to catch up with Brian at a safe distance from his pint-sized attack dog to see what he’s been up to and how his prep for NAHBS is going.

I think the last time we saw each other your dog had some beef with me. How have you been? What’s been going on in Providence?

Oh man, I’m sorry about Polly. She’s cute but she can totally be a jerk. For future reference, if you have a stick, she’ll be your best friend but you’ll be playing fetch for days.

I know Rhode Island is the “Biggest Little State in the Union” but I’m actually located in Pawtuxet Village in Cranston, a whopping three miles south of the city. I’ve just been building and riding for the most part. It’s not bike related but my partner Hilary and I have a two year old son who is pretty much the greatest.

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All-terrain drop bar bike with the ability to fit mtb tires for exploring the Pacific North West.

When did you first get started building custom frames?

The long version starts with me working at Union Cycle in Attleboro in 1987. I remember seeing an article about Glenn Erickson and his insanely ornate lugs and thought that was what all custom bikes were about. I never thought that was something I could do but I knew I did want to design and build bikes. I went to school for Mechanical Engineering at UMass Dartmouth with the hopes of getting a job at Cannondale in Connecticut after graduation. Cannondale was not Witcomb USA and they weren’t hiring in 1997. So I got a job doing IT at Brown University, as I had a bunch of experience having worked in IT through school.

In 2001, I learned that Chris Bull was building frames as Circle A Cycles in Providence and it turned out that it was literally a half mile from my apartment. I walked in and knew I wanted to work there. But instead of working, I ordered a frame. Over the next couple years, I became good friends with Chris and eventually started apprenticing there in 2004. After many repairs and paint jobs, I built my first frameset from start to finish under the Circle A Cycles name in 2005. There you have it.

Chapman Cycles began at the end of Circle A? What did you take away from that experience when you decided to go out on your own?

Well, there were two years of overlap from 2011 to 2013 before being totally on my own. I wouldn’t be a viable frame builder if I hadn’t worked there. Circle A was definitely a unique shop. You’d think that an anarchist collective of frame builders with no business plan wouldn’t last more than a couple months but the shop lasted for over 15 years. Chris, Emily, and I were the three builders doing the process from start to finish. It was like three builders renting the same space, using the same tools and materials, making different frames that suited our specialty, all under the Circle A brand. It was the best job I ever had but also super stressful. Money was always tight and expenses never just seemed to disappear. I knew nothing about running a business but slowly gleaned how it could possibly be done. Basically, do everything yourself and have the lowest overhead.

What I learned most from Circle A was how to listen to customers to figure out what they wanted out of their bike. Having gone from Circle A customer to Circle A builder, I felt I had a unique perspective on where customers were coming from most of the time.

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A stylish daily ride.

Your bikes have a very classic, almost timeless style to them, do you ever feel pressure to build around current trends? ( oversized bb, headtube, etc.)

Ha, of course! It can’t be avoided. I will build with new technologies if they make sense in steel which is my material of choice. Some “new” technologies I’ve built with include thru axles, disc brakes, and T47 bottom brackets. That stuff that makes sense to me on the right bike. Tapered oversize steel head tubes, not so much.

I noticed you recently built up a complete with Di2 and what looks to be a custom crank, is that purely for an aesthetic reason?

I think you’re talking about the bike that was reviewed in Bicycle Quarterly. That was actually a René Herse crankset anodized black. I do make my own cranksets though and will have a couple bikes with them on display at NAHBS.

Are there current trends in frame building that you wish would go away?

No. It can all stay. The trends are fun to watch. Even steel tapered head tubes.

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Are there specific builders’ work that you are looking forward to seeing this year at NAHBS?

I always look forward to seeing what Chris Bishop, Peter Weigle and Bryan Hollingsworth (Royal H) are working on. I’m excited to see the new builders too.

Do you try to create special bikes for events like NAHBS or is it more about engaging customers?

I go to shows mostly to engage with people. I spend all my days in a dusty 16×20 foot shop alone. It’s fun to get out and see other humans.

I’m not building any bikes specifically for the show. They’re all customers’ bikes or my personal bikes.

What do think it is about the New England area that it is home to so many custom frame builders?

This area is great for manufacturing but it probably was a perfect storm with Sachs, Weigle, and Chance doing Witcomb USA in the 70s to spawn/inspire a whole slew of New England builders in the 80s and 90s and beyond. The New England builders are also very supportive of each other which makes it a great community to be a part of.

Mixte head turner.

What is the style of bike you get the most orders for these days?

Lugged 650b randonneur with fenders, connectorless dynamo hub, integrated lighting, pump, bell, custom stem, and custom racks. Lots of those and not enough mixtes and tandems.

Last but not least, do you have favorite paint color that you have been using lately?

I have this old Acme lacquer chip book from the 60’s that I like to use for choosing colors. It was one of my best flea market finds. If a customer is having difficulty picking a color, this book always comes through! On the 700c light randonneur I’m bringing to the show, I used a pukey green from that book with a modern yellow candy over it to get a beautiful chartreuse. That’s my new favorite color.

Keep an eye out for Chapman Cycles February 16-18 at this year’s North American Handmade Bicycle Show in Hartford, Connecticut!

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NAHBS 2018 Preview: McGovern Cycles

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I met Chris McGovern like I do most people these days, in the parking lot of a bike race. Casual hellos extended to short conversations and before long, Chris became another friend I would see at bike races on the weekends. Our mutual love for punk rock and skateboarding made conversation easy and a welcome distraction from all the bike racing going on around us. A former bike racer himself, McGovern knows what it takes to be at the top of the sport and uses that knowledge to coach some of the United States’ top talent. Most notably, McGovern has been coaching cyclocross phenom Tobin Ortenblad from Santa Cruz, California, a former U23 National Champion and currently ranked 20th in the world amongst the elite men. When McGovern is not busy jetting all over the country during cyclocross season, he spends his time building custom frames. We caught up with him as he gets ready for this years North American Handmade Bicycle Show in Hartford, Connecticut. 

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For those who are not familiar with McGovern Cycles, where are you based out of and when did you get your start in the frame building business?

I am based out of Nevada City, California. It’s in between Sacramento, California and Reno, Nevada. I started building in 2010 but got a business card about 4 years ago.

What was your attraction to the frame building business? Money, fame, power?

I wanted sharks with frickin’ laser beams!  I guess I got sick of riding bikes I didn’t like at the end of my racing career. I dreamt of riding bikes like I had before I turned professional, like my Della Santa LeMond. So I started having bikes made for me by respected builders. I found that most didn’t like my enthusiasm, but there was one dude, Paul Sadoff of Rock Lobster, who built me several bikes and he said to me, “You need to build a bike!” This was either to get me out of his hair or he truly enjoyed my enthusiasm over BB drop and the like. So I did. Paul told me to take the Ti course at UBI and I did.

Are you self-taught or did you have a mentor?

Well, I had never mitered a tube or welded when I went to UBI, so I learned a metric shit ton there. I hacked away at it after the course on my own and bugged the shit out of Paul Sadoff and Mike DeSalvo for a while. But no one was remotely interested in my bikes. I wasn’t on the hype pipeline I guess or I sucked. Building bikes was too expensive for a hobby so I considered stopping. Then I thought, what if I did carbon? Hardly anyone does that. I quickly found David Bohm who was teaching a tube to tube carbon class; I think I was his first or second student in that material. I came home from that course, built 2 more bikes right away and that was that. My current mentor is a young man named Cody Leuck; he is an engineer and he gets as excited as I do about ideas, but keeps me from doing really stupid things. 

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What does NAHBS mean to you? How has it changed since you have started attending?

NAHBS is just a fun way to see all the cool bikes and cool people that build themThe show seems to have gotten much bigger with more non-builder people “exhibiting.”

Besides building frames you also do a fair amount of coaching – how do balance the time between focusing on athletes and completing frame orders from customers?

It’s pretty easy. With the coaching, I am just “ON” 24/7 and when something comes up I just have to deal with it right away – take a call, answer a text, explain a workout, whatever, it just has to happen. Building is more task-oriented, so I can just tackle a bike build step by step. The one exception to that is during cross season. The last 2 seasons I have basically been out of the shop from September until Nationals (or Worlds last year). I just try t0 not take in too much work during this time and hit it hard once I am back in the shop. No rest for the wicked.

How has your time involved in cyclocross influenced the way you build bikes or don’t build bikes? Is there any particular framebuilding trends that influenced the way you look at the bike?

I learn a lot from what I see out there or what I am working on as a mechanic. I honestly only think there are about 2 production cross bikes even worth buying.  

With the rise in popularity of cross over the last 15 years and now gravel, I set my design parameters around clearance. The bike must fit 45cc tires with room for mud and 2 chainrings.  I have had to make a lot of parts to make this possible. But it’s worth it. Cross/gravel are 1 bike in my opinion. Gravel/adventure is another bike. There are some odd geometry choices in production cross bikes, and it has been fun nailing down what I think works really well.

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Are there any builders that you are looking forward to seeing at NAHBS this year in Hartford?

Olivetti. I met him by chance in Boulder last Summer and really enjoyed talking with him. Now I stalk his social media and can’t wait to see what he is bringing.

When you are not hustling to fulfill frame orders and molding the next generation of cycling talent, what do you like to do for fun?

Anything in the mountains. Mostly I run these days, but also ride, backpack, travel, hang with the wife and our dogs.  

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Look for Chris at this years NAHBS in Hartford, CT and if you would like to find out more give McGovern Cycles a visit.

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PBE 2017: Pedalino Bicycles

Julie Ann Pedalino’s bikes are beautiful. Vibrantly-colored, with intricate detail work. When you learn her story, it’s no surprise. With a background of over ten years in the fine arts and graphic design business, she carries her creativity and love for panache over to her latest endeavor, bicycle framebuilding.

After developing a love for cycling and wrenching on bikes, and then spending considerable time mentoring under framebuilders Vincent Rodriguez and Doug Fattic, Julie began building her own frames three years ago. She does it on a part-time basis (while working as a graphic designer the rest of the time), and has built about 20 frames so far, all of which are fillet brazed steel.

Julie enjoys working with steel for a number of reasons. “First, and perhaps most importantly,” she says, ” I think the ride quality and buttery road feel of steel is unmatched!” The material also lends itself to creativity, is readily available and relatively inexpensive, and is fairly easy to machine.

Photo: Brett Rothmeyer

Photo: Brett Rothmeyer

Photo: Brett Rothmeyer

Photo: Brett Rothmeyer

She builds fit-focused bikes for all types of riders, but especially loves building for small people because she understands that it can be very hard to find a bike that fits if you’re under 5’3″ and a lot of bike companies make “undesirable design compromises in order to manufacture frames for the typical range of average riders.” She also loves working with proportional wheels sizes – so smaller wheels for smaller bikes. She’s made a number of road and cross bikes designed around 650 rather than 700c wheelsets.

“I really love working with clients to create a bike that they have a personal connection with and are inspired by,” Julie says. “I’m an artist, and it’s important to me to not only create beautiful things, but to create things that have an impact on my audience. While I love the traditional art media, it’s amazing to me that a bicycle has the possibility to become a truly transformative factor in a person’s life in a way that a drawing or painting is unlikely to do.”

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One of Julie’s favorite bikes she’s ever built was one of her early works – a 650c road bike that was her first fancy lug bilaminate frame, built while still under the apprenticeship of Doug Fattic. “The process of building it really opened my eyes to the possibilities for creativity within frame building,” she says. She cut all the lugs by hand, so it was extremely time and labor intensive, and it’s a bike that fits her and she loves to ride, solidifying her connection with the work.

So what does the future hold for Julie Pedalino? She’d like to continue to explore the possibilities of CAD based design and CNC machining. She would also love to grow her business so that she can not only support herself, but also allow her to bring in talent and build an amazing team. “It’s always been my dream to create space, opportunity, and exposure for as many creative folks as possible!,” she says.

“Finally,” she concludes, “I want to make an impact and be an inspiration for other women who (like I was not too long ago) aren’t aware of or exposed to the fact that they can do this sort of thing, too! The more noise we make, the easier it to be to get the message out there that girls and women can not only participate in, but excel at engineering, machining, and metal fabrication.”

Photo: Brett Rothmeyer

Photo: Brett Rothmeyer

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Find out more at www.pedalinobicycles.com.

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PBE 2017: Groovy Cycleworks

One of my favorite encounters at the 2017 Philly Bike Expo was with Rody Walter of Groovy Cycleworks, both because of the fact that he makes cool bikes and because we share a special central Pennsylvania connection – I grew up in and still live in the area and it’s where Walter decided to become a custom framebuilder.

Walter fell in love with the concept of framebuilding when he commissioned his own custom bike from Bill Grove of Grove Innovations in the early 1990’s.

Disenchanted with the tandem options out there for himself and his wife, Walter decided that they would need to create their own machine capable of exploring the rough roads and trails the pair found themselves on. He contacted several custom framebuilders, finally landing on Grove. After months of phone calls and prototypes, Walter finally went to the Grove Innovations shop in Centre Hall, Pennsylvania to watch the final steps of the build process, and it changed his life. He became enamored with the idea of building his own bikes, so he asked Bill Grove if he could do an apprenticeship. After initial hesitation, Grove agreed.

Walter spent two years at Grove Innovations learning frame layout, mechanical engineering and design, tube mitering, Tig welding, brazing and painting. In 1994, Walter took these skills back to Ohio and started Groovy Cycleworks.

Today, Walter works in steel, aluminum and titanium and makes any and all types of bikes. Every bike is made to order, and he builds somewhere between 12 and 20 bikes a year, depending on the complexity of the projects. He doesn’t only build frames – he also makes custom stems, cranks and other accessories and components to tie each bike together perfectly. He loves doing intricate paint jobs and as he says, “a touch of whimsy.”

While he enjoys working on every bike he makes, his favorite projects are usually mountain bikes due to the challenge they present. Building a bike that is lightweight and aesthetically pleasing while also being strong enough to withstand the forces of riding rough terrain is not an easy endeavor. Walter gains a sense of satisfaction by working directly with each and every customer to assess his or her needs and building a bike that will meet them.

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Rody’s personal bike, which he brought along to ride while at the Philly Bike Expo:

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This bike was built for a customer to match his Volkswagon Bug, from the paint job to the curved lines to the intricate details:

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And this custom all road bike is just beautiful:

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Good times at the Philly Bike Expo 2017

This past weekend, thousands of bike enthusiasts converged on the PA Convention Center in downtown Philadelphia, PA for the 2017 Philly Bike Expo, a gathering of bike companies, framebuilders, artists, organizations and other exhibitors representing over 150 brands. In addition to the expo, the event also features seminars and group rides for a full weekend of fun.

In the expo, it was great to see a strong presence of local framebuilders and artisans. As a Pennsylvania native, the east coast is near and dear to my heart and underrepresented at a lot of bigger shows. Some favorites included Engin Cycles, as native as native gets out of Philadelphia; Weaver Cycle Works from New Jersey; Groovy Cycleworks, now based in Ohio but with Pennsylvania roots; and Winter Bicycles, a transplant from Oregon to good ol’ central Pennsylvania. Stay tuned for more in-depth coverage of some of these builders and more this upcoming week.

Weaver Cycle Works was just one of over 150 exhibitors at the Philly Bike Expo this past weekend. Photo by Brett Rothmeyer.

Weaver Cycle Works was just one of over 150 exhibitors at the Philly Bike Expo this past weekend. Photo by Brett Rothmeyer.

The expo was hopping both Saturday and Sunday with people of all ages and from all walks of life – middle-aged and older couples who had obviously ridden there, still clad in clipless shoes; families with kids; groups of cyclists of all styles, from racers to messengers to weekend warriors. Several local youth cycling programs were represented, including Cadence Youth Cycling (who recently published a post about the Youth Bike Summit on our site) and Neighborhood Bike Works, who provided a free bike valet indoor parking service all weekend for attendees of the Philly Bike Expo.

Bike parking. Photo by Brad Quartuccio via Philly Bike Expo.

Bike parking. Photo by Brad Quartuccio via Philly Bike Expo.

Seminars provided opportunities to learn about topics ranging from bike fitting and yoga to local trail projects and non-profits to bikepacking and how to use the bicycle as a tool for simplification. I attended the latter, a highly informative yet hilarious talk presented by Benedict Wheeler, better known as @ultraromance on the interwebs. He spoke about his own experiences with the bicycle, from exploring as a kid to racing to using it as a tool for transportation and then falling in love with exploration and going slow again. He then opened up the floor for discussion and questions about absolutely anything, from what hair products he uses (joke) to what he takes on long bike tours and how to find a good spot to camp along the side of the road.

Multiple organized group rides a day offered opportunities to get out an explore the city and its parks. There was a Brompton breakfast ride, a ride with the Bicycle Coalition Youth Cycling Program, historical and art tours via bicycle, a cross ride and a morning “Coffee in the Woods” ride – something for everyone, no matter what type of riding you prefer.

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This year, the Philly Bike Expo had a record year for vendors and attendees, and from what I saw, it only stands to grow. It’s a can’t-miss event for bicycle enthusiasts. You can find more general show info at www.phillybikeexpo.com and stay tuned for builder profiles and bicycle eye candy on our site later this week!

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Join us this weekend at the Philly Bike Expo!

We’re headed to the Philly Bike Expo this coming weekend!

The 2017 Philly Bike Expo is taking place November 4-5 at the PA Convention Center in Philadelphia, PA. Come by the show and check out over 150 exhibitors, including Bicycle Times/Dirt Rag.

We’ll have swag and merchandise for sale at our booth, including a selection of t-shirts, stainless pints, mugs, socks and of course stickers.

Can’t make the show? Stay tuned for our favorite findings and eye candy right here on our website throughout the weekend and next week, and follow @bicycletimes on Instagram for all the fun!

Check out the full exhibitor list and schedule, and we hope to see you there!

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New England Builders’ Ball heads to Boston

The 7th annual New England Builders’ Ball, New England’s only annual handbuilt bicycle show, will host many of the world’s best bicycle framebuilders at the Boston Design Center in Boston’s historic Innovation and Design Building on September 23, 2017 from 2 to 10 pm. Sponsors are Superpedestrian (makers of the Copenhagen Wheel), Shimano and Harpoon Brewery.

The Ball has played host to a who’s-who of American bicycle framebuilders, from world-renowned like Richard Sachs, Peter Weigle and Parlee to the new vanguard such as Firefly, Chapman Cycles and 44 Bikes. Exhibitors include framebuilders, makers of bicycle components, accessories, and garments, and artists showing original bike-themed pieces. The Builders’ Ball is a unique bike show in that it eschews traditional expo settings in lieu of unique rooms and intriguing music, creating a gala mood much like a gallery opening.

New England has brought much bicycle innovation to North America. Pierre Lallement patented the bicycle while in Connecticut in 1866. Albert Pope started the American bicycle industry with Columbia in Hartford in 1878. Titanium frames were pioneered by Merlin in Massachusetts (in 1986), and that same year, the world’s first carbon monocoque frames were made by Aegis, in Maine. Builders in the Northeastern United States continue to turn out some of the world’s best and most beautiful bikes, in steel, titanium, aluminum, carbon fiber and wood.

Richard Sachs, one of the undisputed deans of framebuilding worldwide, is a returning exhibitor. “This will be my fifth Builders’ Ball,” said Richard. “I return each year for a few reasons: to show support for my fellow framebuilders, to catch up with old friends, and because the show is always a good time.”

Kristofer Henry, of 44 Bikes, makes a range of mountain and road bikes in Lyndeboro, New Hampshire. “New England has a rich cycling history and it’s fitting that the Ball is in Boston this year,” said Kris. “It’s my 6th year as an exhibitor and I’m just as honored as if it were my first to share space with so many talented builders of the Northeast. It’s a great day to share the gift of cycling, talk bike-speak, and be with friends.”

“I’ve been wanting to be part of the Ball for a few years now, and finally pulled the pin,” said Johnny Coast, one of five Brooklyn-based builders exhibiting this year. “I’m looking forward to a great party, checking out what my fellow builders are showing, and showing off my latest of course!”

In addition to ogling all the bikes and associated products at the Ball, attendees can sign up to test-ride a Copenhagen Wheel on the streets of Boston’s Seaport district.

For more information, including a full list of exhibitors, and for registration visit www.newenglandbuildersball.com. The event raises funds for the East Coast Greenway Alliance, MassBike, and the Boston Cyclists Union.

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NAHBS Preview Part 4: Solving Problems with Sixth Law Cycles

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?”

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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.”

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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.

Many times, the obstacle people (especially small people) run into is sizing. This is a mountain bike that John Koutrouba made for a 4'10" rider.

Many times, the obstacle people (especially small people) run into is sizing. This is a mountain bike that John Koutrouba made for a 4’10” rider.

If you’re headed to NAHBS this year, be sure to check out Sixth Law Cycles at the New Builder Table!


Read the rest of our NAHBS preview content here, or take a gander at photos and stories from past shows. Follow us on Facebook and Instagram for coverage of this year’s event this weekend!

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A Shamrock sprouts, just in time

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.

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“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.

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NAHBS Preview Part 3: Salt Lake Locals

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 

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.”

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Cerreta Cycles

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.”

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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.

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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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NAHBS Preview Part 1: New Builders From Around the World

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

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.

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TORESVELO

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.

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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. #NAHBSstoke

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Shop Visit: Page Street Cycles

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Review: Seagull Bags Trail Buddy

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Price: $65
Measurements: 11.75 inches wide, 5.5 inches high and 2.75 inches deep.
More info: seagullbags.com

Feedback

What’s your take? Do you ride with a hip pack? Why or why not? Let us know in the comments below.

 

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Velo Cult bike shop announces new custom series bikes

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.

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VC Randonneur

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.

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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.

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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.

 

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What it’s like to be a judge at NAHBS

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?

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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.

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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!

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“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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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
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