We met our maker – our bike’s maker, that is

By Gary J. Boulanger

Northern California has been the epicenter of bicycle innovation and manufacturing for decades, with the surrounding terrain and ideal climate providing a near-perfect fusion for saddle time with friends and strangers. As a result, Soulcraft Cycles owner Sean Walling organized the ‘Meet Your Maker’ Tour, a series of Saturday group rides designed to bring frame builders and parts makers together with friends, customers, and like-minded riders.

“Sometimes we lose sight of what our industry is all about,” Walling, pictured above, said. “Handbuilt bike shows are good, but sharing a ride with friends and customers brings it all together. The Meet Your Maker Tour is about providing access to the people who make great bikes and parts. This Tour makes it easy for riders to meet the NorCal builders who they hope to do business with locally. Our goal is to see as many local brands under riders as possible.”

The second MYM Tour was hosted and organized by Mark Norstad, owner of Paragon Machine Works in Richmond, Calif., on July 21. Paragon designs and manufactures dropouts, bottom bracket shells, seat stay caps and other components used by Walling and his manufacturing brethren.

The 26-mile ride route was designed as a historic tour of a region known for its World War II manufacturing output, with several stops planned by Norstad, including one at the Rosie the Riveter museum in Richmond, Calif.

By 9:15 a.m., 36 people had assembled in Paragon’s parking lot. Framebuilders joining Walling and Norstad included Steve Rex (Rex Cycles – Sacramento), Josh Muir (Frances Cycles – Santa Cruz), Mauricio Rebolledo (Rebolledo Cycles – Sonoma), Bruce Gordon (Bruce Gordon Cycles – Petaluma), and Robert Ives (Blue Collar Bikes – Sacramento). 

The sky was a crisp blue and the wind was minimal, with temperatures in the high 60s when we rolled out of the Paragon Machine Works parking lot. Riders came from Sacramento, Santa Cruz, Mountain View, Oakland, San Francisco, Sonoma, Petaluma, and San Bruno, and the collection of bikes included Soulcraft, Hunter, Retrotec, Rex, Bruce Gordon, Charlie Cunningham, Gianni Motta, Frances, Engin, Peugeot, Rivendell, Ibis, Bianchi, Pashley, Blue Collar, and Rebolledo. The tribe was almost equally split male and female, with Walling’s young daughter Lucy keeping us company in her dad’s Burley trailer.

Richmond is an industrial, gritty town of 93,000-plus, with brightly colored homes with low fences and cars galore lining the streets. Norstad designed a route using the Bay Trail and connector bike paths, linking us to Shimada Park, Vincent Park, and Marina Bay Park, home of the Rosie the Riveter memorial. Richmond’s ‘Rosies’ played a significant and nationally recognized part in the World War II home front. The four Richmond shipyards, with their combined 27 shipways, produced 747 ships, more than any other shipyard complex in the country. Richmond was home to 56 different war industries, more than any other city of its size in the United States.

From there, we pedaled to the former Ford Motor Company Assembly plant, a 500,000-square-foot architectural marvel of Albert Kahn’s ‘daylight factory’ design. President Franklin D. Roosevelt banned the production of civilian automobiles during World War II, so the Richmond Ford Assembly Plant switched to assembling jeeps and putting the finishing touches on tanks, half-tracked armored personnel carriers, armored cars, and other military vehicles destined for the Pacific Theater. By July of 1942, military combat vehicles began flowing into the Richmond Ford plant to get final processing before being transported out the deep-water channel to the war zones. The adjacent Craneway Pavilion hosts the Bay Area Derby Girls Championships on August 4.

Cruising through the port, we made our way to the S.S. Red Oak Victory shipyard, where Walling’s grandparents met decades ago.

We continued along Highway 580, then dropped onto Western Drive for nearly four miles, rising past a rifle range that paralleled the San Pablo Bay north of the San Rafael-Richmond Bridge before climbing the uber-steep Point San Pablo Marina Road, which Norstad referred to simply as a ‘grunt’. The more than 20-percent grade had several in the group grunting…

Norstad’s plan was the reward of ripe blackberries on the backside of the hill near the marina, which several in our posse enjoyed before we reversed course and returned to Paragon, passing brightly-painted graffiti and more industrial building along the bike path.

Highlights of the ride include:

  • Watching Josh Muir coast down a steep grade no-handed on his custom cargo bike as he made adjustments to his helmet, then climb the grunt while most of us walked.
  • Chatting with Bruce Gordon about his relaunch of the popular Rock ‘N’ Road tires.
  • Getting to know folks from the Bay Area who are relatively new to the area and are excited to talk bikes with professionals.
  • Drinking in the antics of Stevil Smith.
  • Listening to Sean Walling, Steve Rex, and Bruce Gordon talk casually about their craft – they have nearly 90 years combined experience.
  • Watching the guy with the full-face helmet pilot his 40-year-old Peugeot through dirt, gravel, and grass, with one cargo pant leg unzipped.
  • Sweating one-third my body weight on the grunt.
  • Watching Bruce Gordon patiently answer ‘no’ to a well-intentioned older woman in a car ask if we were part of a club, Meet Up, or race.
  • Riding down the bumpy backside of Point San Pablo Marina Road, the second worst road in the world after the one in front of Steve Jobs’ Palo Alto house, which looks like it came from the “Lord of the Rings” movie set.
  • Laughing with Stevil and his cohorts while Lanie Walling tried her best to calm a rather unhappy Lucy after Sean scarred her for life riding down Point San Pablo Marina Road.

Want to get in on the action? The 3rd Meet Your Maker Ride is scheduled for early October, hosted by Paul Components in Chico, CA.



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