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