I first learned of Six-Eleven and proprietor Aaron Dykstra in 2012 at the Sacramento NAHBS. If I’d seen his work before then, it escaped the gravity necessary to create a blip on my radar, and I accept that the fault might have been entirely mine, but I took notice in Sacramento. Since then, each Six-Eleven I’ve seen has been marked by a balance between uncomplicated function and attractive appearance.
This best-in-category track bike got our attention because it didn’t suffer from the identity crisis I’ve seen in many other track bikes submitted for awards. Is it a fixie masquerading as a proper track bike? Is it a track bike trying to be more? This bike was straightforward in construction and because he didn’t tuck the rear wheel as close to the curved seat tube as he could have, the result was a bike that enjoys more predictable handling and as a result is more versatile.
A bike so straightforward could have ended up as humdrum in appearance as a slab of asphalt. This bike featured a simple color palette, using an aircraft gray above a dark gray for most of the bike while using the metallic teal and silver as a border between the two and at accent points. A gray bike is a style free-fall, one that’s terribly hard to rescue and this bike was a surprising combination of function and style.
I really wish we could have seen this bike under a powerful rider in a flying 200. Those stripes on the deep-section wheels would look impressive.
As impressive as the bike looked, there wasn’t a single point on the bike, not what we could tell of the geometry, the fit, the construction or the build, that would have undermined our faith that the bike would perform reliably for a strong amateur racing the track, week in, out.
We were finishing up another category as the tandems were being rolled into the judging paddock. I caught a quick glance at a few of the entrants and initially saw some impressive work that I thought would ultimately take the award in a different direction. As I later learned, I wasn’t alone in this regard. We quickly narrowed this field to two bikes.
This Bosch-assisted tandem from Co-Motion got the nod for a few reasons. It’s easy to point to the superb construction. The welds weren’t smoothed with Bondo, nor were the hidden beneath miles of paint. It was easy to discern the consistent weld bead and while I didn’t inspect every centimeter of every weld, I couldn’t find a single spot where a weld concluded in a gloppy finish. Then there’s the fact that the folks at Co-Motion combined a Gates belt drive along with the Bosch system to create a nearly service-free and reliable electric-assist tandem. To do it, they needed to machine a whole new front cog due to the rigors of tandeming.
But let’s take a moment to consider what this bike is. One of our concerns in judging is how well a bike achieves it’s goal. This is a flat-bar tandem. It’s not meant for the high-performance crowd. The fact that it features both an internally geared hub and the Gates belt drive mean that the bike is ideally suited to people who don’t really want to mess with maintenance on any consistent basis, and are, perhaps, a bit frightened of bike work. Then there’s the electric assist, so it’s aimed at a couple where they need some help in going fast enough to make the tandem stable … and fun.
This is a pie grower. Dedicated tandem enthusiasts won’t buy this bike, but it is a chance to spread tandeming to a couple where either one or both cyclists aren’t particularly fit. Think about what happens if a couple who aren’t otherwise cyclists buy this bike. They begin to think of themselves as cyclists. This is a bike that can both grow cycling and increase regard for cyclists being on the road. This bike is political, though not overtly, intentionally so, but it does have the ability to present cycling in a fresh way, to grow the sport. That’s why this bike won.
Bread Winner Bicycles is the collaboration between Ira Ryan and Tony Pereira. Both are, at this point, veteran builders each with a brand name honed through countless burns and metal shavings in fingers. Together, these two are cycling’s equivalent of a super group. That said, the mountain bike category was no shoe-in for them. We saw several bikes that impressed us, including a dirt-jump bike from Capitol that turned the use of a dropper post on its head—get to the ride with a saddle high enough to allow you to pedal while seated, and then drop it and use the bike in its intended manner. Vaguely genius.
The bike from Bread Winner was notable because it aggregated a couple of growing trends as well as sticking with a couple of solid ideas. First and foremost, this is a straight-up steel hard tail. However, it’s built around a 160mm travel fork; this isn’t an ultra-common spec, but it is emerging. The bike is built around another feature that is becoming widely accepted as the way to go: 650B.
As you can see from these shots, the construction is ultra-clean and Pereira and Ryan paid great attention to the little details. Internal cable routing for the rear derailleur, rear hydraulic line and the dropper post give the bike a clean appearance while sacrificing zero functionality.
While this was built around a 1×10 XTR group, the replaceable dropout means that with a quick change someone can turn this bike into a one-speed. Finally, the two-tone blue paint accented with the gold-anodized parts gave the bike a look that was long on style without overdoing flash.
The white pinstripes framing the proud head tube badge spoke volumes about how these two builders know quality and don’t need smoke and mirrors to impress. Bikes are a commercial product, not decoration, so in the full-bike categories, we want to see an understanding of the market, and understanding of what people want to ride. If someone showed up with a bunch of cobbled-together parts from mid-90s Deore XT and STX, I’m going to have trouble trusting they know what they’re doing beneath the paint. A bike like the Bad Otis (killer name) happens because the builder(s) lives the life.
The Cyclocross category was arguably the most difficult category to judge—other than best in show. The paddock included a number of great bikes, though three really distinguished themselves in build, appearance, and intent. Ultimately, Curtis Inglis of Retrotec carried the day. You can see from the shot above that the bike’s look was classic Retrotec. The powder blue worked well with the dark orange, which was kind of a Molteni with a few drops of blood orange. Fresh choice to go dark like that rather than just rip the Gulf scheme.
Most of the submissions were straight-up race rigs, ready for a start line with Richard Fries’ voice ringing out over the PA. What we loved about Curtis’ bike was that it embraced the growing trend of real go-anywhere bikes. The 45mm-wide tire was enough to tell you that this bike is meant for more use than just when you’ve got a number pinned on. Again, this is a commercial consideration, but a builder won’t last two years if they don’t know how to tailor their creations for what riders really want to do.
This tapered head tube blew us away. Sure, this is an item that is commerically available, but Curtis had to go to a catalog for BMX parts to find it. It’s this sort of careful choice by a builder that show us he isn’t just ordering a box of True Temper tubes; rather, he made thoughtful choices that brought forth this frame.
Internal routing of Di2 cables is, at this point, as routine as mounting two sets of water bottle bosses. However, a great many builders aren’t that wise about their routing and we saw plenty of frames that simply had the rubber gromet covering an unreinforced hole in a tube. Here, Curtis used a modified water bottle boss as a reinforcement for the front derailleur lead’s exit port. Class.
The through-axle design was beautiful and made great sense with the choice of disc brakes.
A builder’s achievement can’t be summed up in pure technical prowess. It takes more than just great welds or brazing. Nor is it enough to know how to install a bunch of Red or XTR parts. Scroll back up and have another look at the line created by the top tube curving into the seatstays. That’s a multi-radius bend. In my years of looking at industrial design I’ve seen any number of things that included multi-radius bends. I’ve seen some awful stuff, lines the kinked and bent rather than flowed. And then there are lines like the hull of a great boat and this bike benefits from a similar eye. That top tube/seatstay line could have been a disaster rather than gorgeous. Had that bike fit me, I would have rolled it out of the show for a ride.