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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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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First Impression: Ritchey Break-Away Ascent

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Looking for the perfect bike that provides the freedom to roam aimlessly regardless of the terrain ahead? Look no further, the Ritchey Break-Away Ascent may be your answer. It’s exactly what a bike should be, a do-all, go anywhere means for adventure. This steel-framed beauty relegates both one trick ponies and niche categories.

The heart and soul to the Break-Away Ascent is the custom, lightweight Ritchey Logic TIG-welded tubing paired with a relaxed geometry and ability to run up 700×40 mm or 27.5×2.1 inch tires.

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Add the travel-friendly break-away compression system and you have yourself a versatile bike that’s capable of traveling the world with you as your checked luggage.

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The Ritchey Break-Away Ascent is available to the masses only as a frameset, with an included soft-sided travel bag for $1,650. For testing purposes, ours arrived loaded with Ritchey WCS bits including the new VentureMax adventure drop bar, 27.5×2.1 Shield tires mounted on Vantage II wheels, a SRAM Force 2×11 drivetrain, and BB7 mechanical disc brakes.

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The frame utilizes simple technology such as the highly-praised, threaded 68 mm bottom bracket, 27.2 mm seatpost and a post-mount disc brake mount. All of these should be easily sourced in any bike shop, letting you to get back on your journey quickly and with ease should any mechanicals derail you.

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Sounds too good to be true, right? Check out our full review of this steel framed travel companion in the upcoming issue of Bicycle Times #46. Subscribe now so that you don’t miss out on an issue!

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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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Gallery: 25 years of Ti Cycles

The shop is high, high up in the hills above Portland. There is no sign marking the gravel driveway—I missed it quite a few times—and the garage isn’t visible from the road. Beneath a cathedral of Douglas fir, amidst sea of ferns, it recalls a land before time.

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It seems a fitting location to built titanium bicycles, the material having come and gone in and out of fashion countless times over the years. Here Dave Levy builds Ti Cycles, an eclectic brand of stock, custom and absolutely wild show bikes (mostly) all made from titanium. Cargo bikes, tandem, mini-velos, full-suspension fat bikes… if you can think of it chances are Levy has built one. He’s also now the co-owner of REN Cycles, a sister brand of stock-size titanium bikes.

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This year Ti Cycles celebrates its 25th anniversary so I paid a visit to the shop to see some of the more unique creations at hand.

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Click on the magnifying glass to see full-size images.

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Field Tested: Rivendell Hunqapillar

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Rivendell Bicycle Works has been keeping steel real since 1994. It’s not about nostalgia or retrogrouchiness, but a true belief in the benefits and beauty of lugged steel and quality, sustainable component choices. This comes not just from appreciating the fine lugs and paint, but in knowing that your frame—and its components—will remain serviceable and repairable for many years.

Rivendell is also about fit, comfortable fit; with a more upright position than your average racer-shaped bike, but also with varying wheel sizes to better fit the full variety of humans.

Rivendell’s range starts with the road-only Roadeo and progresses through the line—each bike with a bit stronger tubing, more tire clearance and thus becoming more dirt-worthy, until you arrive at the Hunqapillar, the strongest and most fat-tire worthy of the gang. All Rivendells include braze-ons for maximum versatility, and the Hunq has three bottle mounts, front and rear rack, fender and fork low-rider braze-ons. There’s even a pump peg under the top tube, plus a kickstand plate on the chainstays for extra stability when parked.

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My interest in this bike sprung from over a decade of riding my Rivendell Atlantis, a bike that has seen many a week-long tour and quite a bit of dirt. But I have become interested in something even more robust. That thought process pointed me to the Hunqapillar with its Diagatube, that extra tube you see in the photos. It adds strength and stiffness to the 58 and 62cm frames. Plus, for lug counters there are two more than any bike without a Diagatube. That’s two more lugs that Rivendell had to invest in castings for, and two more you get to look at.

Parts

The stock Rivendell component kit is based on functionality, serviceability, and longevity, with less emphasis on gram-counting. Highlighting this is a selection of parts from Nitto of Japan. Granted, handlebars, stems and seatposts are not usually singled out like this, but Nitto offers many bar and stems that provide a wide range of fit with top-notch finish, a pleasure to behold for many years.

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For drivetrain, Rivendell prefers mid-range Shimano stuff. Deore rear derailleur, Claris front, and Dura-Ace for the bar-end shifters. Let’s not spend too much time and money whittling the gram count, but instead pay attention to functional, long-lasting stuff. The cranks are from Sugino of Japan, another forged beauty fitting right in with the Nitto stuff.

Wheel-wise, Rivendell has been working with with Velocity USA and is now offering their 36-hole Sport hubs laced three cross to Dyad or (Rivendell designed) Atlas rims, topped with Schwalbe’s Marathon 700×50 tires, although I got the 50mm Big Bens as an upgrade.

For handlebars, I selected the Nitto Bullmoose Bosco with cork grips. The bullmoose style has been around since the early 1980s, and I was ripe to try them. I chose Paul Thumbies for old-school mountain bike-style shifting. 

Riding shakedown

Two thoughts came to mind on my first shakedown ride. First, “finally a bike that fits”. My 60 cm Atlantis was purchased a decade ago when I was only a mountain biker. I had thought the bike would be easier to handle on trails. True, but getting on this 62 cm Hunq has been a real eye-opener, giving me more space and opening my chest up for better breathing, especially when climbing.

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But while totally in love with the Bosco handlebars we had originally picked, I took the liberty of switching them out for Albatross bars from my Atlantis to get my position a little more forward. For touring the Albatross bars can’t be beat, as they provide a wide range of hand positions. Most of the time I ride pretty upright, but it’s easy to slide the hands forward for stand-up climbing. If only they had a little less sweep, but Nitto is unable to bend their bars in the way I’d ultimately want them.

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My first voyage was a weekend camping trip, so I installed a Pass and Stow platform rack on the front and a Bruce Gordon on the rear. Both are made in California: one in Oakland, the other in Petaluma. Two great locally made racks, baby.

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My first major ride was down a local San Francisco Bay path for a weekend of camping, which was mostly flat so I didn’t concern myself with how much I was carrying: four panniers, plus a bag on top of the Pass and Stow, due to large amounts of beverages and musical instruments. And a kite. The Hunq handled this well as I pushed it to its limits. Super solid, but not quite as stiff as a Surly Karate Monkey with its much larger down tube and smaller triangle.

In daily use with varying loads the Hunq was bulletproof. I would sneer at railroad ballast, curbs, drops, and most everything else. Its versatility is enhanced by the many positions of the Albatross bar, from weight-forward climbing to upright cruising.

My final test ride was on Groundhog Day, a 14-hour day including 40 miles of pave and 20 miles of dirt, some of the rutty, fire road variety found in the Marin headlands. This is where the touring and mountain bike personalities of the bike came to fruition. I had plenty of gears and traction on the way up the hills, and strength and stability and fat tires to conquer the ruts at speed on the way down. I did hanker for disk brakes on a couple of steep technical occasions, but I’m happy with the Shimano cantilevers 90 percent of the time.

The $2,000 frameset is made in Wisconsin, and includes frame, fork and FSA headset. You can get a standard build kit for an additional $1,350, sans pedals, seatpost and saddle. Mix and match as you wish from Rivendell component choices; look to spend between $3,600 and $4,600 on a complete Hunqapillar. Lead time is typically four months, but at any given time Rivendell may have your bike in stock. A huge bonus is that your bike will be lovingly built by the folks at the home office in Walnut Creek, California (well worth a visit if you’re in the ‘hood).

Carrying things has become very important to me, as well as a solid ride. And I want to run as fat a tire as possible, with or with out fenders. I want to hit the dirt. I want to tour. The Hunqapillar does it all quite well. It looks great while doing it. It attracts attention as well. And yes it is more of an investment than your average bike. But you wouldn’t be reading this if you wanted an average bike.

Key stats

  • Price: $2,000 (frame, fork, headset); $3,600 and up (complete)
  • Sizes: 48, 51, 54, 58, 62cm (tested)

Editor’s note: This review originally appeared in Issue #34 of Bicycle Times. To make sure you never miss a product review, order a subscription and you’ll be ready for the everyday cycling adventure.

 

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First Impression: Raleigh Clubman Disc

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Editor’s note: Here at Bicycle Times we are as mindful of price as you are. So we gathered together a group of six very diverse bikes to showcase what you can find right now at the $1,000 price point. See our introduction here.


Way back in issue #2, I reviewed the Raleigh Clubman (with rim brakes). I said “The Clubman departs from the go-fast focus with some well thought out details intended for users with practical leanings.” For 2015 Raleigh takes the Clubman to the next level with disc brakes.

In our group of $1,000 bikes, The Clubman Disc stands out with a steel frame, classic looks, and the excellent 10 speed Shimano Tiagra group, a mid-level drivetrain that continues to impress me.

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The steel frame uses a modern sloping top tube and hooded dropouts. These “Wright” or “Breezer” style dropouts minimize the amount of flat metal plate at the highly stressed axle clamping zones, and maximize the strong, stiff and light tubing. This is a good things for frame stiffness, strength and longevity, at least that’s what Joe Breeze told me a few years ago, and I think Joe Breeze is a trustworthy place to get my frame building technology knowledge.

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The saddle pictured is not the stock seat. That is actually the fourth saddle that has been on this bike; the stock microsuede saddle, a WTB Vigo, a Selle Anatomica, and this Fyxation leather saddle. The WTB didn’t match the aesthetic at all, but it was a wise choice for my break in ride. That ride started at 11 P.M., ended the next evening around 8 P.M., and included about 175 miles of rain, dark, sleet, muddy rail trail,  brand new pavement and gastrointestinal issues. It was quite an introduction.

A ride like that is a solid way to get a feel for a bike, and so far, the Clubman could be best described and friendly, competent and quiet. The micro-knobby Kenda Karvs were ideal for the mix of pavement and crushed limestone, and the steel frame and upright position kept me rolling along through bad weather and rough roads.

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Stay tuned for the full review in our next issue, Bicycle Times #33, due in early February. Subscribe now to get it delivered to your mailbox or favorite electronic device.

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First Impression: Rivendell Hunqapillar

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What am I looking for in my next bike? I’m sticking with steel. May as well be beautiful lugged steel. Carrying things has become very important to me, as well as a solid ride. And I want to run as fat a tire as possible, with or with out fenders. I want to hit the dirt. And trails. And I want to tour. I’m a big one and I want a bike that fits. This Rivendell Hunqapillar could be the next big thing for me.

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Check out the head badge. Formidable, like the Wooley Mammouth represented on it.

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A Bullmoose Bosco bar. I’ve wanted a bullmoose bar since Nineteen-Eighty-Something, and now I am riding one. Yes it is overbuilt.

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The Hunqapillar is big. And the 58 and 62cm sizes have an extra “Diagatube” tube for strength and stiffness and gawk factor. And it is made in America.

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I will not be afraid of dirt with clearance for 58mm tires. Plenty of braze-ons, too.

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Did I say it was a wooley mammoth of a bicycle?

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Here’s a view of the Bullmoose Bosco Bar. Plenty of places to mount lights and stuff. But the rise might be too much for even me. We shall see after I establish where the shift levers are going to go. I might move them lower or flip them right-side-up so I can get a hand position choices.

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You like lugs? The Hunqapillar has more lugs. Bonus lugs! And gorgeous paint! Plus Shimano cantilevers and 2-inch Schwalbe Big Ben tires and a sweet fork crown.

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Beautiful.

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A Hunqapillar frame will set you back $2,000. Given steel’s longevity and repairability, this bike should be around a long time. The Standard build kit runs $1,340.

Here’s a standard build includes. All stuff that will function a long time.

  • Cromo Albatross Handlebar
  • Nitto Tallux 11cm Stem
  • Shimano MTB brake levers
  • Miesha’s Portuguese Cork Grips
  • Shimano Dura-Ace 9-speed bar end shifters
  • Tektro CR720 Cantis
  • Sugino XD2 172.5mm Crank
  • Velocity made 36h Wheelset
  • Schwalbe Marathon 700×50 Tires (x2)
  • Tubes (x2)
  • Shimano Claris Triple Front Derailer
  • Shimano Deore Rear Derailer
  • Tange or Shimano cartridge bottom bracket
  • Tange or FSA headset (our choice depending on availability)
  • 9sp 11-34 cassette
  • 9sp Chain

Not included in the kit, so you choose your own:

  • Saddle
  • Seat post (Recommended: Nitto Crystal Fellow)
  • Pedals
  • Racks
  • Fenders
  • Fender Installation Labor (if applicable)

 

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