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.
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.
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 them. The 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.
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.
This year at the North American Handmade Bicycle Show, I noticed a few different builders using bamboo as their material of choice for creating bicycle frames. While I was aware of the use of bamboo in bike building prior to going to the show, I was definitely surprised the testimonies to its strength and durability that I heard after talking to several people at NAHBS. It turns out that bamboo is actually a well-suited material for bikes due to its natural strength and vibration-dampening properties. And, best of all, it’s cheap and sustainable.
Here are some of the bamboo bike builders I came across at NAHBS 2017:
Craig Calfee has been in the bicycle building business for a while, specializing first in carbon frames, delving into producing bamboo bikes in 2005, and making history every step of the way. As one of the pioneers of bamboo frames, he took his operations oversees, bringing bamboo bikes to Ghana after noticing a need for them during a trip to Africa. People used bikes a lot, but there weren’t enough of them to go around, and bamboo was plentiful. He taught the locals how to build bamboo bikes so that they could provide themselves with means of transportation, but also sell their work and boost local economies. You can find out more about this ongoing project on the Calfee Design website.
Calfee’s latest project is the DIY bamboo frame kit. Anyone can order one of these kits, which includes the tubing, metal parts such as the head and seat tube inserts, rear dropouts, and bottom bracket, casting tape, tools, and instructions. Kits are available for almost any type of bike, from BMX to mountain to road models, and a plethora of different frame sizes and wheel size options.
“Build your yoga practice or build a bike,” states the Container Collective website. This might sound like an unlikely marriage of activities, but maybe it’s actually perfect. After all, I’d probably need some yoga to calm the frustrations I might encounter while trying to build my own bike!
The Container Collective is located in Lakewood, Colorado, on the outskirts of Denver. Russ Hopkins, whom I met and got to play bike polo with at NAHBS, is head of the bicycle end of things, and he hosts bamboo bike building workshops several times a year. Each weekend-long workshop includes instruction and materials to build either a frame-only or a complete cruiser, singlespeed, 5-speed, or 9-speed bike.
If you’re not feeling the DIY aspect, you can also order a custom bike from the Collective. And, if you’re in the area, they offer bike maintenance and service as well.
The bike pictured below, which was one of several of Container Collective’s bikes on display at NAHBS, features a Sturmey-Archer kick shift coaster brake rear hub. I got to ride it around briefly, which was the first time I’d experienced a hub like this. To shift between the two gears, you simply kick the pedals backwards and then pedal forward again. The bars on this cruiser encouraged a very upright and fun-ready ride position and the blue accents appeal to the eyes. I’ll take one, please.
Indeed, these bamboo bikes, as well as many of the bikes seen at NAHBS, are true works of art (no pun intended).
Barret Werk is an avid cyclist and woodworker from Hawaii. He builds everything from furniture and home goods to bicycles. Bamboo is prevalent on the island, so he started working with it in both his domestic projects and bike builds.
He also teaches courses on working with bamboo, including bike building classes at the Honolulu Museum of Art. He said he was shocked when he first started teaching, how quickly the classes filled. It’s much more expensive than any of the other courses the Museum offers, so he figured no one would sign up. It turns out that a lot of people want to learn how to build a bamboo bike.
Right now, bikes are a side project for Werk as part of his woodworking business, but he hopes to grow this side of operations in the future.
Those are just a few of the bamboo bikes that I got to check out at NAHBS. You can find more NAHBS content from this year and previous years here.
I’d first heard about this bike following the Philly Bike Expo, where it won the People’s Choice award despite not even being on the official list for the award. Then I hung out with Anna Schwinn in Minneapolis about a month ago and got to meet its builder, Erik Noren of Peacock Groove. I snuck a peek at the bike in the back of his workshop, where it was undergoing changes and additions for the North American Handmade Bicycle Show.
I’d heard the excitement in Anna voice when she talked about what she called “the most beautiful bike in the world.” I’d gotten to hang out with its builder, who’s intensity and passion for creating bikes was clear from the first minute of our conversation. And so, I felt a special sense of pride for everyone who made this bike happen when it won not one, but two awards at NAHBS this year.
Erik and Anna were first called on stage to accept the Best Theme Bike award, which was a no-brainer. It was such an obvious winner that this is the last year they will be judging this particular category at NAHBS, because it is believed that no one can top this bike. The way every single piece of this build ties in to the Prince theme is almost unreal—carved-out logos and the words “Much Too Fast” from his song “Little Red Corvette” on the disc brakes, white dove bar tape and a white custom saddle by Leh, lyrics to “Purple Rain” around the rims, one of Prince’s actual picks on the stem, and the matching Paul components that tie it all together. Behind the pretty exterior of the bike, there’s the fact that Prince was from Minneapolis, where Anna lives and Erik runs Peacock Groove, and the collaboration and communication between these two to make this deep custom bike happen was highly apparent.
After winning Best Theme Bike, we all thought that was that for Peacock Groove and the Prince bike. The team disappeared somewhere to take pictures as a couple more awards were announced. And then, the Best in Show trophy came out, and Erik Noren was called back onstage as Anna shrieked with excitement.
I don’t know Erik that well, but from what I do know, he deserves every bit of that award. Congrats Erik, and go enjoy that bike, Anna. Oh, and happy birthday.Tweet Print
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!
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
NAHBS lucky #13 is coming soon! March 10th to 12th in beautiful Salt Lake City. As usual, Bicycle Times will be there enjoying some of the best company there is to be enjoyed. And looking at bikes.
Which got me reminiscing about all the NAHBS shows I have been to (8 out of the last 9 years, having missed Charlotte)
My first was Portland. The fourth NAHBS ever, growing rapidly, people starting to catch on. I had already seem all the bikeporn galleries on all the websites and wanted to shoot for something else. So I took photos of many of the people I appreciate around the show that year. And come to think of it the gallery was not that popular. People really do just want to look at bikes.
Or do They? Let’s see if anyone clicks here.
Anyhoo, here’s my photos from 2008 NAHBS Portland. We sure had a great time that year.
I’ve got mugs, mostly old white guys, but some formerly new women builders for sure! Well, one anyway.
And I’m happy to say that most of these peeps still look pretty good after 9 years. That’s what riding bikes will get you. Enjoy, if you’re into that sort of thing.
Best Road Frame: Bruce Gordon
Best Off-Road Frame: Engin
Best Track Frame: RetroTech
Best Tandem Frame: Craig Calfee
Best Titanium Frame: Black Sheep
Best Carbon Fiber Frame: Nick Crumpton
Best Lugged Frame: Bruce Gordon
Best TIG Welded Frame: Mike DeSalvo
Best Fillet Brazed Frame: Dave Kirk
Best City Bike: James Ahearne
Best New Builder: Courage
Best Paint: Brian Baylis
Best of Show: Naked
People’s Choice: Naked
President’s Award for Excellence: Naked
All of the handmade, drool-worthy bicycles are back for another year when the North American Handmade Bicycle Show drops the curtain at the Salt Palace Convention Center in Salt Lake City March 10th through the 12th. In its 13th year, NAHBS is the show to attend if you want to look at (and maybe even touch) some of the finest, most painstakingly-crafted bicycles and components. Road bikes, fixies, mountain bikes, cruisers, grocery-getters, track bikes and gravel rigs…they’re all on display.
“With a rich history dating back to 1829, NAHBS aims to be a meeting point for frame builders and anyone who has a curiosity for rich culture and exquisite attention to detail. Think of it as a community of bike brands and cycling enthusiasts coming together to swap ideas and showcase their talent.
Whether you know the ins and outs of the handmade bike community or you just like to be immersed in sharing of ideas and artwork, NAHBS is truly a one-of-a-kind experience.”
Public tickets just went on sale, and you and grab yours by hitting this link.
But before you do that, you might want to check out the official NAHBS teaser video. It’s a super-quick clip, but it’ll definitely get you anxious for some handmade goodness.
We’ve got plenty of past NAHBS coverage here on the site. Click here for a big list of all of our articles, galleries and more from over the years.
Will you be attending NAHBS this year? Let us know in the comments section!Tweet Print