It had to happen.
Not that the 2013 Boston Marathon had to be ruined by the acts of one or more sociopaths who do qualify for George W. Bush’s term “evildoers,” but an act of this genus and species was inevitable. Attacking a sporting event in the United States was—to use a cliche—bound to happen sometime. Let’s be honest, the idea had been out there since 1977 when the Robert Shaw and Bruce Dern thriller “Black Sunday” opened in theaters. In the film, Dern, a blimp pilot aids a terrorist group (back when they were disaffected Europeans) by constructing an explosive device that attaches to the bottom of his blimp, which is scheduled for camera work at the Super Bowl.
For aspiring terrorists with a short memory, the idea got a reboot in 1991 with the Tom Clancy novel “The Sum of All Fears” in which a dirty bomb—a nuclear weapon that doesn’t go critical and instead sprays radioactive material over a few square miles—is detonated at (you guessed it) the Super Bowl.
The business of terrorism has been something like a game of chess. Someone attacks a Federal building in Oklahoma City. We surround all Federal buildings with bollards. Several someones fly planes into buildings. We up security at airports. Someone sets their shoe on fire on a plane. We all take our shoes off at the security checkpoint in the airport. They move a pawn, we move a pawn. The important lesson is, they never move the same pawn to the same square twice.
What it suggests is that whoever these people are, what they don’t lack (we can debate why they lack a moral compass and empathy until the next election) is creativity. That’s what makes them so dangerous.
When I was in high school I worked as a concessioner, selling hot dogs from an aluminum box with Sterno in it. I did this at the Liberty Bowl, the football stadium in Memphis, Tennessee. One night, as a game drew to a close, I found myself standing just outside the press box, next to a paramedic who was on duty for the football game. One of the sportswriters heading out got to talking with him and when the paramedic told him there’d been two heart attacks and one knife fight, the journalist responded with surprise. That’s when the paramedic said something I’ll never forget. He said, “Think about it; you put 60,000 people together and these things are bound to happen.”
I think the Super Bowl has never been attacked because at this point fights at lesser events have been too prevalent. The Super Bowl is too obvious a target; security is too high to be worth the trouble.
But what of events that are run over open roads?
The Boston Marathon is arguably the closest thing the U.S. has to the Tour de France. Even so, it’s broadcast to a fraction of the households that the Tour de France or even Paris-Roubaix is.
To be sure, France’s national pastime has seen its share of disruptions. From farmers protesting to Basque bombs—hell, the riders themselves!—the Tour has seen a variety of pissed-off people use its spectacle to garner attention for their causes. And that’s the important distinction—those people wanted to be heard, they wanted a place at the table, had something to negotiate. However, those behind the biggest acts of terrorism here in the U.S. weren’t looking for a dialog. They were simply acts to hurt others and inspire fear. Because initially we didn’t know who was responsible for any of the incidents and as a result didn’t know either if they were more acts to come or what the motivation was, the acts—the explosions, the murders, the families torn apart, the destruction—accomplished boatloads of both hurt and fear.
I can’t help but think about Lance Armstrong and the force field of body guards he used to travel with when he was King of le Tour. He claimed to have received threats. Because Armstrong’s life has been built on so many fictions, we can’t know if that was true or just part of the myth that was constructed. However, it doesn’t matter. Would I have been disappointed had religious extremists made Armstrong the target of an attack? Of course. Would I have been surprised? Given the way he embodies a particular image of America, not in the least.
It may be that the Tour and other races have so far escaped these most random of terrorist acts for the simple reason that it is not an American event. But that doesn’t mean that we should expect it will always escape the gaze of those who look to disrupt our lives. At a certain point the ease of access, the size of the crowds and the TV viewership make the Tour de France a more than obvious target. I’m reminded of that Far Side cartoon that goes “Bummer of a birthmark, Hal.” This is no laughing matter, of course. As much as I’m concerned for the welfare of the riders, my greater concern is for those who wish to witness the spectacle. I’ve been to a great many sporting events in my life, but I’ve not witnessed anything that left me feeling as simultaneously breathless and alive as the Tour de France. It’s something every cyclist should see, the absolute #1 bucket-list item for anyone who has ever been inspired by anyone who went fast on two wheels.
Now, I have to be concerned about taking my boys to the Tour. Well doesn’t that just suck large-scale ass.
Boston is a city that has seen share of dark days. It has all the ills of any big city and while only one war was ever fought in its streets, the sons of Boston have fought in every war Americans have waged: 1812, Civil, WWI, WWII, Korea, Viet Nam, Iraq, Iraq again and Afghanistan.
But Boston has never been a symbol loss or the problems of society. When we utter the word Boston, what comes to mind for most people is the birthplace of democracy, a place where I new idea about what freedom really meant, how society could be re-imagined. Name another place on earth where a notion of hope did more to rebut tyranny than in Boston. It has a history marked by attracting greatness, as exemplified by serving as the home to one of the greatest centers of learning, Harvard University. And because Merlin Metalworks, Fat City Cycles, Independent Fabrication, Seven Cycles (just to name a few) have all called Boston home, it is the de facto spiritual center of cycling not just for New England, but all of the East Coast.
Boston will heal.
But where will they strike next?
This is my favorite shot from the show. This is Mark DiNucci, a true god of frame building giving a pat to his heir-apparent, Chris Bishop. The thrill on Bishop’s face is more than apparent and the esteem which DiNucci offered was truly sincere. Bishop didn’t just get a nod from DiNucci, Peter Johnson, the greatest frame builder you’ve never heard of, said he plans to mentor the upstart.
When I think of the many consumer events that have been organized for cyclists, I mostly think of events that failed after, at most, three years. It’s not that they weren’t good events, that they didn’t bring together interesting people. It’s that they didn’t bring together the dedicated cyclists who will make or break an event. Don Walker, I’m here to tell you, is an unheralded genius. The seventh edition of the North American Handmade Bicycle Show hosted more than 8000 attendees, a record for NAHBS and, I suspect, any U.S.-based consumer bike show. Had you seen the line out the door of people waiting to buy tickets on Saturday you could be forgiven for thinking Don Walker was selling kisses with Taylor Swift.
Okay, that said, I’m going to keep this real. Very real. Don gets criticized for a great many things. He has a very specific view of what the show ought to be. Some folks think he needs to loosen up, take a chill pill. What people need to keep in mind is that NAHBS is what it is because it wasn’t designed by committee. It’s the brainchild of one very particular guy. That’s how entrepreneurs work. They dream stuff up and make them happen. Inventions are not the products of focus groups. So Don needs to be credited with making happen a bunch of people just talked about for years.
Let’s say that again: Don actually made this happen.
Yep, there are people who want the event to be different than it is. They want it to be friendlier, have more drinking, have more riding, have clearer criteria for the awards judging, have more volunteers so the builders don’t have to leave their booths to deliver a bike to judges, and have other, non-Don-organized events be a part of the official, sanctioned buffet of events that are part of the weekend. The dissonance is because well-meaning folks want Don’s brainchild to be even better, but their suggestions sound to Don like bashing. Constructive criticism is hard to deliver. And when the intended listener isn’t accustomed to hearing it from ham-fisted delivery boys, the experience isn’t much fun. Don is like a great many sensitive artistic types, and a bit thin-skinned—not that I’ve ever rented from that suite. I’m aware that people have trashed the event from time to time, including one popular blogger. How anyone can dislike the event is beyond my ken. If you step back and look at the bigger picture, it’s easy to see that the event brings together many of the best frame builders practicing the craft. To collect that many passionate craftsmen in a single location is no small achievement and the opportunity for cycling enthusiasts to speak with some of the best out there is an opportunity rarer than a blue moon.
Following two years at less-than-exciting venues (Indiana and Virginia), Don has hit two consecutive home runs with Austin and Sacremento. It may be that his awareness of the need to draw cyclists from nearby metro areas may be contributing to the show’s increased success. Next year’s venue—Denver—would seem to reinforce that view.
The only criticism I could possibly level at the show is that he has suffered some erosion of previous top-tier exhibitors. While I did see a Vanilla, Sacha White wasn’t there, nor were Peter Weigle or Hampsten. What’s significant in this is that Sacha was one of the “original six.” Don may need to hire a salesman trained in customer retention.
Everyone’s favorite question of the show was, “Are you having a good time?” It’s a bit like asking the president of the United States if he feels powerful. He better. I had a terrific time and didn’t hesitate to tell people there was no place I’d rather be. To put my enthusiasm in perspective, I used my experience at Interbike in the mid-1990s as an example. Back then, tubing suppliers Reynolds and Nova Cycle Supply bought significantly large booths; if memory servers, they were on the order of 10×30. And beyond displays of their tubing, they would have racks displaying the work of their frame builder customers.
I spent way too much time in their booths. I mean, I was sometimes late to appointments because I spent so much time hanging out there geeking out over the frames shown by acknowledged masters like Weigle and Carl Strong.
But here’s the thing: The quality of the worst work at this year’s NAHBS was better than most of the work I saw in those displays. The overall quality of work by frame builders displaying at NAHBS is extraordinary. Don’s enduring legacy in the bike industry will not be as a frame builder; it will be for his work in uniting the community of frame builders with an event that helped to elevate their craft and make these guys rock stars, even if only for a weekend. His work to help promote the work of these guys has resulted in countless orders that would otherwise have been sales to Trek, Specialized or Giant. Those guys will be fine, but an extra 10 sales per year for one of these news guys can make or break a year. A career.
The seat cluster from a fillet-brazed frame by Dave Kirk.
I was asked to be a judge for the awards this year. It was a request I accepted with some honor and an acute sense of responsibility. The experience was challenging while ultimately leaving me feeling rewarded. That said, there were frustrations when there were simply more bikes than could be recognized. The naked, fillet-brazed frame submitted by Dave Kirk was one of those bikes that deserved even greater recognition than it received. A “naked” bike, such as this really gives you the opportunity to see just how symmetrical the brazing is; there’s no hiding bad or even mediocre work. I felt badly that this bike escaped without a nod. Similarly, there was a gorgeous mountain bike submitted by Independent Fabrication that would have been an instant winner in most other circumstances but when pitted against the hand-pinstripped work on a Vendetta track bike, it went home empty-handed. Ouch.
If you’ve never attended NAHBS and have any sort of affinity for hand made frames, you owe it to yourself to go, even if just once, and see the quality of this work. And, if you have a significant other who doesn’t get your love of bicycles, take them. Really. I caught a great many scraps of conversations between bike geeks and their wives and girlfriends who appreciated the artistry of the bikes on display. Witnessing non-bikies digging bikes gave me a huge smile.
The North American Handmade Bicycle Show (NAHBS) is upon us once again. Men and women with dirty fingernails, weld burns and ornately carved lug work will descend upon Sacramento with all manner of lovingly crafted bicycle objects.
Sachs, Sycip, Cyfac. Indy Fab, Eriksen, Ira Ryan. Hunter, Ellis, Cielo.
Many of the names are familiar, and this is their showcase event, the day all the shiniest bits and pieces exit the workshop and glimmer in the hot sun of mass spectacle. It’s called a show, but it’s more like an exhibition. No, an exhibit. When museums display art, they call it an exhibit.
And the builders at NAHBS are showing art, the fine point at the tip of bike building craft. An industry awash in production bikes, built in massive factories in big batches, still has room for the builders of NAHBS, some of them one-man bands, others mid-size companies, all simply taking a one-at-a-time approach.
This week’s Group Ride asks a couple of questions with NAHBS as backdrop. First, is there a future for handmade bikes? What was once the standard business model has been shoved aside in favor of mass production. That’s not a lament. It’s a statement. Time stands still for no one. The question is, can the craftspeople of the industry continue holding back the tide? It’s not a matter of building beautiful bicycles. It’s a matter of being able to build them, make a living, and grow a business.
And for those of you (us) who watch this segment closely. Whose bikes are you most looking forward to seeing? Who are the all-stars? Who are the up-and-comers? Despite the massive marketing disadvantage hand builders have against the big bike companies, it is now possible to go to frame-building school and learn this craft in a school setting, not just at the heel of a master craftsperson. As a result, the craft brands are actually multiplying. Who is pushing the state of the art?
I recently completed a feature that will run in Issue 6 of peloton magazine about New England. While I could have devoted a good 2000 words to all the great racers who cut their teeth there or on all the cycling writers who came from the region—there was a time when most bike magazine editors either hailed from or lived in Vermont or Massachusetts—I focused on the bike companies based there.
It had been a while since I’d visited the subject, more than 10 years if the truth is told, and as I dug down I realized there was more going on than I realized. It became so complicated that I decided to create a little family tree to remind me the begat, begat, begat sequence of the companies.
Some, like Pedro’s and Parlee didn’t have their genesis in other companies. Others, such as Serotta and 333Fab aren’t New England companies, but their relationship to the patriarch of the industry couldn’t be denied. This family tree isn’t particularly scientific, and certainly not to scale, but it speaks to what I most like about the region.
My time there left a mark. To the degree that I’ve got any entrepreneurial spirit, I think it was incubated while working for a number of small companies. From Richard Fries’ Ride Magazine to an upstart Apple retailer, I saw people go out on their own time and again. For me, it rubbed off from just being around them. There are those figures who cultivate that individuality; Rob Vandermark seems to be doing a lot of that at Seven Cycles, whether intentionally or not.
Part of the story this doesn’t tell, though, is the way that Richard Sachs has mentored dozens of new builders. Some of it has been indirect, as through his prolific writing about his brand and the craft of building. Some has been direct, in the form of offering concrete advice to up-and-comers.
The tragedy in this story is the demise of Fat City Cycles; it was Chris Chance who really began the scene from which all this grew.
There have been plenty of rounds of musical chairs. Parlee and Pedro’s have even picked up people who have done stints at other area bike companies. In that regard, the bike biz in New England is different from we see in California, where bigger players dominate and after a few years in the biz you stop being surprised to see an old friend in a jersey. And maybe that’s the difference, those smaller companies give employees a real window into what entrepreneurship is.
The handmade bicycle is enjoying a resurgence in popularity. The last time high-end hand-built frames were this popular … they were all that was available.
Don Walker’s North American Handmade Bicycle Show is the grand daddy of the growing number of shows. It’s still the biggest and best of them, and this year will be the biggest yet. Just today Don announced that the 2011 show, which will be held from February 25-27 in Austin, Texas, boasts an incredible 160 exhibitors, and there’s still some space left. It probably helped that Don selected a city to hold the event that resonates with cyclists.
With the fall-off in A-list exhibitors at Interbike (a trend that frustrates me but that I sincerely hope the organizers turn around), NAHBS this year will be the show I most anticipate attending.
I’ll be posting daily at the event, but much of the work I’ll be doing while there will be on behalf of peloton magazine. There will a bigger announcement on that coming soon.
As of this post, the following companies and builders will be displaying at NAHBS.
- ALCHEMY BICYCLE CO.
- ALLIANCE BICYCLES, LLC
- ANDERSON CUSTOM BICYCLES
- ANT BICYCLES
- ANVIL BIKEWORKS
- APRES VELO
- ARUNDEL BICYCLE COMPANY
- BAILEY WORKS
- BICYCLE FABRICATIONS
- BICYCLE FOREST
- BICYCLE TIMES MAGAZINE
- BILENKY CYCLE WORKS
- BISHOP BIKES
- BLACK CAT BICYCLES
- BLACK SHEEP FABRICATION, INC
- BOO BICYCLES
- BROAKLAND BIKES
- BROMPTON BICYCLE
- BRONTO MTB CO
- BURRO BAGS
- CALETTI CYCLES
- CALFEE DESIGN
- CANTITOE ROAD
- CHERUBIM BY SHIN-ICHI KONNO
- CHRIS KING PRECISION COMPONENTS
- CO-MOTION CYCLES
- CRUMPTON CYCLES
- CURT GOODRICH BICYCLES
- CYCLE DESIGN
- CYCLE MONKEY
- CYFAC INTERNATIONAL
- DALTEX HANDMADE BICYCLES
- DARIO PEGORETTI
- DEAN TITANIUM BIKES
- DEFEET INTERNATIONAL
- DELLA SANTA CYCLES
- DESALVO CUSTOM CYCLES
- DINUCCI CYCLES
- DIRT RAG MAGAZINE
- DOMINGUEZ CYCLES
- DON WALKER CYCLES
- ELLIS CYCLES
- ENGIN CYCLES
- ENVE COMPOSITES
- FIXED GEAR GALLERY/HELL-YES CLOTHING
- FORM CYCLES
- FULL SPEED AHEAD
- FUNK CYCLES
- GALLUS CYCLES
- GAULZETTI CICLI
- GEEKHOUSE BIKES
- GJERTSEN TECHNOLOGIES
- GROOVY CYCLEWORKS
- GURU CYCLES
- HAMPSTEN CYCLES
- HED WHEELS
- HELM CYCLES
- HENRY JAMES BICYCLES & TRUE TEMPER SPORTS
- IGLEHEART CUSTOM FRAMES & FORKS
- INDEPENDENT FABRICATION
- IRA RYAN CYCLES
- KENT ERIKSEN CYCLES
- KIMORI CO, LTD
- KIRK FRAMEWORKS
- KIRKLEE BICYCLES
- KISH FABRICATION
- KVA STAINLESS
- LEGOR CICLI
- MAIETTA HANDBUILT BICYCLES
- MOMENTUM MAGAZINE
- MOSAIC CYCLES
- MOUNTAIN FLYER MAGAZINE
- NAKED BICYCLES
- NOVA CYCLES SUPPLY INC
- PAC DESIGNS
- PARAGON MACHINE WORKS
- PARLEE CYCLES
- PAUL COMPONENT ENGINEERING
- PEACOCK GROOVE
- PELOTON MAGAZINE
- PHILOSOPHY BAG CO.
- PRIORITY CYCLES
- QUIRING CYCLES, LLC
- RETROTEC & INGLIS CYCLES
- REYNOLDS TECHNOLOGY LTD
- RICHARD SACHS CYCLES
- RITCHEY DESIGN
- ROLF PRIMA
- ROULEUR MAGAZINE
- RPS NIPC
- SAMURAI CYCLE WORKS
- SCREEN SPECIALTY SHOP, INC
- SCRUB COMPONENTS
- SELLE ITALIA
- SEROTTA BICYCLES
- SHAMROCK CYCLES
- SHEILA MOON ATHLETIC APPAREL
- SIGNAL CYCLES
- SIX-ELEVEN BICYCLE CO.
- SOTHERLAND CUSTOM BICYCLES
- SPEEDHOUND BIKES
- SPUTNIK TOOL
- STRONG FRAMES
- SUNRACE STURMEY ARCHER
- SYCIP DESIGNS
- SYLVAN CYCLES
- TERRA NOVA CYCLES, LLC
- TI CYCLES FABRICATION
- TOMMASINI BICYCLES
- TRUE FABRICATION BICYCLES
- TWIN SIX
- UNITED BICYCLE INSTITUTE
- VANILLA WORKSHOP
- VENDETTA CYCLES
- VERTIGO CYCLES
- VICTORIA CYCLES
- VP COMPONENTS
- VULTURE CYCLES
- WATSON CYCLES
- WHEEL FANATYK
- WHITE BROTHERS SUSPENSION
- WHITE INDUSTRIES
- WINTER BICYCLES
- WOUND UP COMPOSITE CYCLES
- YIPSAN BICYCLES
- ZANCONATO CUSTOM CYCLES
- 2011 NEW BUILDER TABLE EXHIBITORS:
- APPLEMAN BICYCLES
- DEMON FRAMEWORKS
- DORNBOX PERFORMANCE BICYCLES
- FORESTA FRAMES
- LITTLEFORD BICYCLES
- MAGNOLIA CYCLES
- MILLS BROTHERS BICYCLE COMPANY
- RICH PHILLIPS CYCLES
- ROSENE HANDBUILT BICYCLES
- VANLOOZEN BROTHERS BICYCLES
- VIOLET CROWN CYCLES
Freedom, fit, road feel, miles covered, inspiration, dependability. Quite how two triangles, welded together and strapped to a pair of gyroscopes, become a machine of such majestic grace is beyond my powers of calculation. There are hints of the alchemical. The Star Trek transport has nothing on the bicycle. Beam me up, Fat Chance!
I find it interesting that only a few writers picked a carbon fiber bicycle as their all-time favorite. Other factors than frame material seemed to be at the top of the list for picking a favorite, though, perhaps by coincidence or perhaps as a simple matter of timing, a lot of loved steel bikes best. For many of us, where the machine took us was as important as what the machine looked like or what components it had hung on it.
When George brought up department store bikes, a cord struck somewhere deep within me. I inherited a Panasonic Villager from my brother when I was a teenager. It was too big for me, but I humped it around town anyway. That bike took me to visit girlfriends where I discovered things that have little to do with cycling, but everything to do with joy.
Padraig and Dan O brought up Fat Chance and the bikes they made, here in my hometown. For a Bostonian that chain of Fat Chance to Independent Fabrication provokes nothing but velocipedic pride, our contribution to legend of American bike making.
Many of us have a lot of bikes hanging in our garages/basements/barns/living rooms. Picking a favorite is hard. In many ways, my next bike is always my favorite. Better start saving my pennies.
Image courtesy the Mombat Museum
In Part II of my interview with Steve Hampsten I get Steve to talk about several of his big loves in equipment: 650B wheels, the constructeur movement and Columbus MAX tubing. His perspective isn’t what I’d call mainstream, but his rationale is so clear that the alternative he offers is truly compelling.
PB—You’ve been at ground zero for the constructeur movement and 650B wheels. What is it about those that interests you and what practical value do you think they offer the average cyclist?
SH—Constructeur bikes—which I’ll define as a made-to-order frame and fork designed to work with dedicated lights, fenders, and (usually) a front bag and rack—have become pretty popular of late. I think they’re an attempt at creating a bicycle that will work well in the real world in terms of being usable in varying types of weather and lighting conditions, and when carrying more than just a spare tube and a gel. As a designer with a hands-on approach, I find integrating the racks, lights, tires, and fenders of these bikes to be both challenging and rewarding—each one is just a little different.
650B wheels are interesting and becoming more so each year. A 650B x 38mm tire offers roughly the same outside diameter as a 700c x 23mm tire—so it’s essentially the same wheel size that most of us are used to but with a much larger volume of air. They’re nice when riding on really rough roads, when carrying a heavy load, when you want that certain Frenchy je ne sais quois—or when you want all three. Currently I have three 650B flat-bar bikes in the works: all three designed as shopping bikes but each is taking a different approach in one form or another.
We should see at least two new 650B x 38mm tires this year—the size many feel is ideal for this wheel—and I think they’ll be better quality than anything we’ve seen previously. It’s maybe not the ideal go-fast tire size but it is comfortable, grippy, and elegantly classic-looking.
PB—How would you compare/contrast the use of 650B wheels to the newish road bike category of endurance bikes like the Specialized Roubaix, Trek Pilot and Felt Z-series which share a longer wheelbase, slacker head tube angle, more fork rake and longer head tube resulting in a higher bar position?
SH—I wouldn’t really compare them at all. The three you mention are closer to our own Strada Bianca and to the Moots Mootour/IF Club Racer/ Co-Mo Nor’wester than they are to a 650B bike like the Rivendell Saluki or Tournesol Pavé. I think most 700C bikes are good for moving a rider and (maybe) a small load over a variety of road surfaces but as the load increases—or the surface becomes less smooth—then smaller wheels with bigger tires start to make more sense. But I like that bigger companies are offering bikes that aren’t simply dumbed-down Pro Tour race bikes, that they’re entertaining the idea there might be more riding experiences to be had than simply hammering along a road in mad pursuit of … what?
PB—Let’s talk a practical consideration: For better or worse, most riders on most group rides are running a 23mm tire at 8 bar (and some guys are running pressure much higher than that). Rolling resistance is much lower than running a 28mm tire at 7 bar or less. That’s some noticeable extra wattage you have to put out to maintain pace with the ride. Do you maintain that these bikes are appropriate for most roadies?
SH—Well Patrick, I’ll have to disagree here with you here: I don’t think that skinny tires pumped hard roll much faster than fatter tires run slightly softer. I agree they FEEL faster because you’re getting more feedback from the road surface and you’re bouncing over all the little bumps and most folks think that feels like speed. I like my skinny tires for some riding and I like the fatties for other rides. I do notice the larger tires seem a little more sluggish to accelerate, which they should as it’s more weight to get moving. But on gravel or on a bumpy road, I’ll take the bigger tire as they feel smoother when rolling and more planted in corners. Horses for courses, as they say.
PB—If you could only ride one bike, a bike that needed to be versatile enough to do your favorite group rides and more, what would that bike be? What size wheels would it have? What would the geo be? What frame material? And heck, what parts would you put on it?
SH—It’d be a welded steel frame from light tubing, probably with a steel fork and for 57mm-reach calipers, same as our Classic model. 700c x 25 or 28mm tires for the day-to-day stuff, maybe 24mm Vittoria Pavé with fenders for the six damp months a year up here, 33.3mm tires for the epic rides. 73 X 72.8, 46mm rake, 70mm BB drop, chainstays at 420mm. I like handbuilt wheels, anything from the Chris King catalog, and SRAM Force is my current favorite kit. Thomson, Fi’zi:k, Deda Zero100 bars, King Cages … bliss.
PB—How many people actually work for Hampsten? Tell us a bit more, if you would, about Max and Martin.
SH—Hampsten is me as the only full-time employee. I have a part-time mechanic, Chris Boedecker, who helps with assembly, repairs, and wheelbuilding as needed. Max does the in-house welded frames and has been building our custom racks, Martin does all of our lugged frames/forks and makes our extra brazed forks as needed.
Max Kullaway started at Rhygin, then moved over to Merlin where he learned to weld – this was back in their days in MA – then worked at Seven until moving out here a couple of years ago. He’s working at a local metal fabrication outfit and also welding titanium frames for Davidson. He and fellow ex-Sevenite, Bernard Georges, have started their own framebuilding gig called 333fab—say “triple-three-fab”—building steel and ti frames for both road and cyclocross. In his spare time Max welds some frames for me, here at my shop – he’s a busy lad!
Martin Tweedy took the framebuilding class at UBI back in 1996 or so then became the first employee at Match Bicycle Company where he brazed several hundred lugged frames for Schwinn Paramount, Beckman, and Rivendell. When Match closed up he worked for Dave Levy at Ti Cycles doing Dave’s brazed frames as well as helping with the Hampsten frames then coming out of Dave’s shop. He had his own line of “Palmares”-badged lugged frames and he has built almost all of the lugged Hampsten frames since 2001. Martin is credited with creating the Hampsten Gran Paradiso/Race geometry back when we worked together at Match; Dave Levy gets most of the credit for the Strada Bianca geometry.
PB—How important is frame material to you? Do you have a preferred frame material?
SH—I like materials that can be welded or brazed. Currently I’m loving my steel frames for their springy resilience but I’m also looking forward to putting some miles in on my aluminum winter bike—I think having a light, stiff bike makes me go a little harder on the hills and maybe slows the fitness degeneration as the days get colder and darker. Titanium feels good too but I just haven’t been grabbing my ti bike as much this year. But overall I’ll take frame fit and design over material choice—I think a good frame can be built from any of the materials out there. (As a footnote: I sure liked all my carbon bikes from Parlee and I can’t imagine that anyone could do carbon better. But Parlee’s pricing moved to a point where I didn’t feel comfortable offering their frames and we parted ways amicably.)
PB—You’ve been getting into building with Columbus MAX. If there’s a stiffer ferrous tubeset on the market, I haven’t ridden it. It’s stiffer than almost every aluminum frame I’ve ridden. Is MAX strictly the domain of the big man, or does it have other applications?
SH—It’s not the tubeset that’s overly stiff, it’s what you do with it that determines how the frame will ride. We’re talking about a top tube that is 31.8mm, bi-axially ovalized, butts are .7/.4/.7mm, and the down tube is 35mm with .8/.5/.8, also ovalized on opposing axes. The seat tube is pretty standard, we don’t use the MAX seatstays, and the chainstays are tall but not crazy heavy. Overall I’d say the wall thicknesses are what we would typically use on many of our steel frames but the MAX diameters are increased by almost 10% which should give an increase in stiffness of about 20%. We don’t use the MAX forks and we save some weight by welding rather than using the MAX lugs and BB shell.
So I could take that tubing and build you a really stiff, short wheel-based race bike and we could pair it with some tall rims and skinny tires pumped hard and we could make it ride like crap—stiff enough to rattle your fillings.
Or we could lengthen the wheelbase, slacken the angles, and orient the top tube so that the oval section was flexing at the head tube, and combine with a carbon or light steel fork. I’d use some lighter seat stays, possibly replace the chainstays with something smaller, put you on some hand-built 3-cross wheels with 28mm tires pumped to 85-90psi and make sure there was enough dirt, cobbles, and/or gravel on the ride to get your attention – then you would see the beauty of the MAX tubeset.
I think it helps to be at or above 180 pounds and to not be too hung up on the weight of the bike but I think MAX is a good example of older technology that still works great today. More on MAX here.
The Hampsten name is associated with a lot in the world of bicycles. Sure, there was Andy’s career as a racer; there’s the tour company Cinghiale Cycling Tours; an olive oil company, Extra Virgin Olive Oil; and perhaps best known these days is the bike company, Hampsten. If it’s Andy’s reputation that brings people in, it’s dealing with Steve that seals the deal. He’s a warm and thoughtful guy whose desire to combine proven technology and affordability has made him a voice of reason to many who can’t rationalize a $10,000 bicycle.
I shot these photos during a Cinghiale Cycling Tours training camp in Los Alamos, Calif. The days were spent riding through Santa Barbara County and the evenings spent eating gourmet meals prepared in part by Steve and accompanied by local Pinots and Chardonnays.
PB—Let’s start with the most basic question about you and Hampsten Cycles. Where does Andy stop and you start? Specifically, how do you two dovetail your roles in the company?
SH—Andy sells bikes—mostly to his Cinghiale Cycling Tours customers—and he works with his customers in choosing the right size, model, and equipment. He helps with the fine-tuning of new models and provides feedback as we move along; he also has the unerring ability to shoot down my crappy ideas: “No, we don’t need a Hampsten mountain bike.” I’d say his customers account for a third of our bike sales.
Two of Andy’s big contributions to the company have been the Strada Bianca and what we now call our Travelissimo—our S & S-coupled travel bike. They are two of our biggest sellers and it’s a bonus that they’re bikes Andy rides himself and feels passionate about.
He’s involved with clothing design and special projects and he helped drive the recent Rich Roat/House Industries-produced Gavia poster. He has good ideas and strong instincts and he has the sense to leave the day-to-day stuff to me – I think we make a good team.
PB—How’d you get into what you’re doing and what’s your background?
SH—Well, Patrick, I started working in bike shops in 1976 and continued off-and-on for about ten years, was even part owner of famed J. Stone and Sons Cycles (I was a “Son”) in Grand Forks, ND, for a while. About 1982 I started cooking in restaurants in Madison and Seattle, focusing on French, Italian, and American food. In 1997 I started welding and working with steel and most of 1998 was spent building frames and forks at Match Bicycle Company. When Match closed down I continued welding, blacksmithing, and fabricating part-time until about 2005, but 1999 was when Andy and I had the idea that putting our name on the downtube might be a fun thing to do.
So I had been involved in batch-building lugged frames and forks and I spent some time at Ti Cycles with Dave Levy and I have a good idea of how carbon and titanium frames are built. I can braze steel and I can weld steel and aluminum but I don’t do any of it well enough or efficiently enough for it to make sense for me to be the principal builder. I could learn, I suppose, but I really enjoy what I’m doing now. Maybe someday, start brazing some lugs….
PB—Hampsten Cycles is different from some operations in that you don’t build too many frames in house. Who are your current suppliers?
SH—This year we’ll build about fifty frames, most of which become whole bicycles. Of those, about 25%, or 12.5 frames, will be built in-house by Max and Martin. Of the rest, I’m getting aluminum frames from Co-Motion, welded steel and stainless frames from Independent Fabrication, and titanium frames come from both Kent Eriksen and Moots Cycles. We’ve done some one-off titanium and stainless frames in our Seattle shop but my preference is that we stick with steel here.
I’d like to see the overall numbers creep up and I’d like to see us do more frames in-house. I love the Colorado-built ti frames because they don’t have to be painted: order the frame and—boom—six weeks later it’s ready. Ditto with the frames from IF and Co-Mo; they have excellent welders and great paint departments and they make the whole process so painless.
But there is also a beauty in designing a frame for a customer and working out the details with Max or Martin and seeing this lovely creature birthed in my own shop, then sending it off to paint and having it come back perfect. The in-house stuff we do may not be quantifiably “better” than what we get from our suppliers but the welding, brazing, and painting is every bit as good. And given the little touches we can do to each frame in terms of tube selection, dropout and casting choices, and in the details – all this makes it more of a one-off.
PB—What draws you to a particular builder—what makes you want to work with someone?
SH—I think there is a look I go for when evaluating a builder as a possible supplier: simple lines, round tubes, perfect welds/brazing/bonding, and I’ve got to feel comfortable talking with them. Some of the people who supply us are friends of ours going in but with others it’s simply a case of dumb luck. As an example: I approached Independent Fabrication at a time when we were having trouble getting steel frames. I had always been a big fan of theirs but I didn’t really know anyone there—I had ordered a fork or two but that was it. Despite seeing plenty of examples of their work it never occurred to me that I might ask them to build for us—but once I did it just seemed like the most natural thing in the world.
PB—Is each of your suppliers building both stock sizing and custom frames?
SH—Nope, everything we do right now is custom, made for a particular customer. However, I am working on a line of non-custom, less expensive frames, name as-yet undecided, and our plan is to build all of them in-house—we should see these early 2010.
PB—What differentiates a Hampsten from an Ericksen or Co-Motion?
SH—I spend a good amount of time talking to and/or emailing my customers, after which I create a drawing in BikeCAD for that customer’s frame. I spec all dimensions, angles, tube diameters, etc, then I send the drawing to Kent [Ericksen] or Co-Mo or whomever for fabrication. Occasionally, I’ll have some discussion with Kent, Dwan [Shepard of Co-Motion], et al, on tube selection or other detailed aspect of the frame—and I gain a lot from talking with these guys—but I never get the sense that our bikes really look like theirs. I have the numbers I like to work with, they have their own—it’s not like any of us are doing anything radical in terms of fit or handling but I do feel that there are certain signatures one can look for from most builders or designers.
PB—Bill McGann of Torelli once told me he relished the opportunity to hire framebuilders to build particular bikes to his spec, rather than braze the frames himself because not building allowed him time to focus on big picture issues. He could spend more time balancing the quality of tubing, build and price for a model or thinking through the geometry of a particular model relative to its use. What requires the biggest investment of energy for you on a daily basis if it’s not the act of building?
SH—My day probably looks like that of many people who run a small business: I spend a good portion of time talking with and emailing customers, both potential and those with bikes or frames on order, tidying up details and answering questions. I’m responsible for all the ordering, paying taxes/bills/contractors, making sure my insurance and licenses are in order, keeping the shop and office clean—and I do most of the new bike assembly and repairs. In my “spare” time I try to work on new models and ideas for the months ahead, things that I want to present on the website and/or blog. I write all the text for the website, answer a surprisingly large amount of emails, and have occasional writing projects like this interview right here. I’m currently working on a new website and on the new “brand.” It’s almost a relief that I’m not the guy with the welding or brazing torch or half that stuff wouldn’t happen.
By the time I walked out of the Interbike show last Friday I was threadbare. My feet hurt like they never did when I went on long hikes in the Boy Scouts, but then, I was 30 years younger and the trails a good deal softer than the polished concrete floor of the Sands Convention Center.
Each year at the end of the show I have this nasty habit of walking through the parking structure on my way to my car during which time I will suddenly flash on all the companies I never met with. This year was a bit of a switch in that the flashes I experienced were of the companies that I realized hadn’t had a booth at the show.
I was shocked when I couldn’t find Ochsner Imports on the map. I was embarrassed when I thought back on having seen Rudy Reimer, my contact there, in the Italian Pavilion and told him I’d meant to make an appointment to see him, but that I’d drop by later. His response: “Yeah sure.” It seemed a little brusque at the time, but then my statement had probably seemed ingenuine. What a gaff.
I had expected to see Red Rose Imports, the distributor for Carrera, Olmo, and Nalini’s custom clothing line. I had expected to see custom clothing manufacturers Verge, Pactimo and VO Max at the show. It’s not uncommon to see a line like Serotta or Independent Fabrication be at the show for a year or two and then drop out, only to return the following year, but again there was no Indy Fab. Serotta was at the show but sharing booth space with Ford, to what purpose I’m still not sure, but when I did my initial search of exhibitors online, they didn’t turn up. I must have flubbed the search or just couldn’t read at the time.
Cervelo put on a very nice reception/party Thursday night, and while I had several fascinating conversations, I didn’t have any interesting/substantive conversations about the Cervelo line of bikes, which was, after all, my bigger mission at Interbike.
Cross Vegas was a great race and a wonderful event with more than double the turnout of the first year I attended, but I was tired enough by the time the men’s event got underway I would have been happier back at the hotel, getting ready for the next day. Each day I heard people tell stories about being out drinking and carousing until 3, 4 even 6 o’clock in the morning. Those who can pull it off have my admiration (and a fair dollop of envy). I try not to be a spoilsport, but even having the opportunity to write about such a fun industry is something I regard with gratitude and I don’t want to be falling asleep as I load photos, or am trying to string together subject and predicate to form comprehensible sentences. Writing good (well? decently?) stuff is a great enough challenge even when firing on all cylinders.
Most of the manufacturers I spoke with said they weren’t writing orders at the show. Their reps had done that already. Most retailers confirmed that practice and said their only reason to be at the show was to actually see their lines in person for the first time, or to check out other lines they were considering picking up. A few told me that they probably wouldn’t be back next year.
Interbike says numbers were up this year, despite the down economy. That might be true from an objective perspective. However, from my little crow’s nest, this was the weakest Interbike show since I last went to the Philly show back in 1995.
A great many manufacturers I spoke with refused to speak on the record about their challenges with Interbike. The two biggest complaints were: too little return on investment and too little time with the dealers. More and more companies are focusing their efforts on marketing directly to the consumer in print, online and sometimes TV advertising. And rather than constantly searching for new dealers, most manufacturers are working to strengthen their relationship with the dealers they have. A dealer even gives them a captive audience for days, not an hour.
The good news is that dealers are a savvier bunch than they used to be. Interbike used to be the perfect place to sell a line based on the parts spec of a bike. Most dealers I spoke with told me the questions they ask now aren’t about parts spec and frame material but about support. What kind of support will they get; what will the dating be?
For manufacturers, Interbike is most useful for selling a new dealer on your line. Existing dealers can be addressed in large dealer events like those Trek, Specialized, Giant and Cannondale have or they can be reached out to with on-site visits with a demo fleet the way Specialized, Cannondale and Felt already do. Everyone seemed to agree that Interbike wasn’t a good atmosphere for education.
One aspect of Interbike I haven’t heard addressed elsewhere is how Outdoor Demo has changed the nature of conversations between shop staff. It used to be you’d hear retailers ask each other, “Have you seen the X?” Today, the question is, “Have you ridden the X?” Cycling ought to be a meritocracy and word of mouth between the people in the trenches can cause a powerful stir.
I like Interbike. I loathe Las Vegas, but I’ll go wherever the event is held. I like seeing the people, the new products, and watching how the industry trends. That said, I came away from this year’s show convinced that Interbike isn’t meeting the needs of manufacturers or retailers. Many people I spoke to go because they don’t have a better alternative, not because it meets their needs. There’s no one to blame for this; it’s not a matter of the folks at Interbike being asleep at the switch. Rather, the market is evolving and while people seem to agree that there is a need for a trade show, to be considered a success (not just passable), Interbike needs to meet the needs of a changing industry.
So here are my suggestions to the folks at Nielsen Business Media, the owners of Interbike:
1) Why not focus on a solely Outdoor Demo format? It’ll cut costs dramatically for manufacturers and give many companies an added incentive to offer more bikes to ride at the demo, thereby cutting down on the amount of time waiting to get bikes to ride, which would give riders more time to ride each day. Getting through more than eight bikes in a day was tough for most riders.
2) Were Outdoor Demo held in a space large enough, booths could be arranged in a large oval to keep those walking between booths on the inside of the oval and those leaving for rides on the outside of it. Think LAX—cars on the inner loop, planes outside the loop of terminals. This would cut down on the crush of bikes and walkers weaving between the 10×10 tents.
3) Leave Bootleg Canyon. Given the number of facial lacerations I’ve seen at the show the last two years, some of the trails are way beyond the skill level of at least some of the riders, but the blowing dust is hell on bikes, contact lenses and cameras. Were Outdoor Demo held somewhere a trifle more pleasant, say Marin County, equipment wouldn’t suffer so and there might be fewer injuries and a bit less sunburn. I know that Las Vegas is king because of the low airfares and plentiful and cheap hotel rooms, but if the show better met the needs of all attendees, I bet you’d sell space to Trek, Specialized, Giant and Cannondale. And if you were selling space to them, you’d be selling it to Cervelo, Felt, Seven, Lynskey, etc. And if all those companies were present, retailers wouldn’t pass it up, even if it were noticeably more expensive than this year’s trip to Vegas.
One of the great tragedies of the bicycle industry is that most of the best work being done in bicycles is presented to readers on crap paper. So, when I heard that someone was finally going to publish a coffee-table book on handbuilt bicycles I couldn’t wait to see a copy. The book is published by images Publishing, which is known for its books on design and architecture and written by Australian cyclists Christine Elliott and David Jablonka.
Amazingly, Elliott and Jablonka uncovered builders I’ve never heard of, very fine builders who certainly deserved to be presented alongside the likes of Richard Sachs and Dario Pegroretti. Those discoveries are perhaps the book’s greatest treat. But those discoveries come at a price. The authors profiled 39 builders, a mere fraction of the builders who appear annually at the North American Handmade Bicycle Show, but given the realities of paper cost and the amount of time writers are typically afforded to work on a nonfiction title and you are quickly forced to make some hard decisions. The representation is refreshingly international. Represented are builders from the United States, Canada, Australia, the United Kingdom, France, Germany and Italy.
Those choices—whom to include and whom to leave out—seem almost random. Many of the builders included are must haves: Richard Sachs, Dario Pegoretti, Bruce Gordon and Alex Singer. No book on handmade frames would be complete without them. Pleasantly, there are some lesser known veterans who could have been easily overlooked but no less deserving of the attention; I’m thinking specifically of Andy Newlands of Strawberry and Dave Bohm of Bohemian. However, there are some glaring omissions. No Brian Baylis, no Peter Weigle. Independent Fabrication is included but no Seven or Serotta.
At 240 pages, the profiles range between four and eight pages depending on the number of photos used. And the text, though brief, does a serviceable job of giving an overview of the operation while leaving the majority of the space devoted to a builder for photography.
The photography is, unfortunately the most hit-or-miss aspect of the book, which I find utterly baffling. Hard bound coffee table books are about nothing such much as gorgeous photography. For a book like this, the author isn’t so much the writer as it is the photographer. However, most of the photography is supplied by the builders, sometimes shot by the builders themselves, sometimes shot by a pro hired by the builder. That lack of continuity is frustrating and ultimately it gives some builders a much better presentation than others. In some cases—such as the lifestyle shots provided by Signal Cycles—the builder-supplied shots add a dimension to the portrait giving depth that might otherwise have taken, well, another 1000 words. Some builders included lots of shop shots, some none. The result is a quirky patchwork, but it does give each portrait a surprising individuality as a result.
That I find points to criticize in this book shouldn’t lead you to think I don’t like it. I love this book. I’m critical because this is a topic to which I’ve devoted great thought. And because some of the work contained within is very good, it’s reasonable to hope for the same level of work throughout.
Simply put, for the fanatics, this is a must-have. Because it is hard bound the press-run was likely fairly short; if you want it, don’t wait around to pick it up. And if this one sells well, maybe the publisher will decide to do a second volume and hit another 40 builders; lord knows there are plenty just as deserving.
The builders included:
Anderson Custom Bicycles
Bilenky Cycle Works
Black Sheep Bikes
Bob Brown Cycles
Bruce Gordon Cycles
Columbine Cycle Works
Cycles Alex Singer
Davidson Handbuilt Bicycles
Don Walker cycles
Ira Ryan Cycles
Jeff Jones Custom Bicycles
Keith Anderson Cycles
Llewellyn Custom Bicycles
Naked Bicycles and Design
Richard Sachs Cycles
Roark Custom Titanium Bicycles
Steve Potts Bicycles