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!
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