For Part I, go here.
PB: When fitting a customer for a bike, how do you usually work? How often is it in person?
RS: The interaction I have with a client always includes a dialogue as well as a completed order form containing the conventional anatomical measurements and the contact points assimilated on the bicycle or bicycles used. I usually give all of this (that is, the information I have at hand) about 30 quick seconds before an image is conceived for the design which will become the client’s frame. No formulas. No stationary bicycles. No don’t touch me there stuff. I’d say it’s all intuitive. Some cats see dead people. I see riders on bicycles. It’s just that simple. PS: This all occurs in person less than 10 times per year and has never been any other way. Since my first week in the trade, nearly all of my orders were filled for clients who were anything but local to me.
PB: Let’s talk about geometry: Would you say all your bikes have a consistent ride that is your signature, or do you vary your geometry based on the customer’s preferences and needs?
RS: I make road bicycles. Since my background is from the sport, I know what has to go where so that the bicycle I make 1) fits the rider superbly well, and 2) handles the way it should, atmo. It has nothing to do with whether the cats rides on the road or pins on a number to enter a race, nor would it matter if the race is an industrial park criterium or a Battenkill or similar. I make road bicycles and they work on a road. Period.
PB: Who does your paint?
RS: JB Custom Paint (Joe Bell).
PB: How long have you been working with Joe?
RS: JB has painted all of my frames since 1986.
PB: How long is the wait for new customers?
RS: It’s less of a wait and more of an ordeal, atmo. But another two Obamas at this point and I might be near that last order currently in the queue.
PB: Do you ever anticipate taking new orders again?
RS: I do take orders. There’s some ambiguity surrounding what I do and don’t do and I will try to arrange that disorder here. In late 2008 I stopped taking orders for Richard Sachs Signature road frames from new clients. There was a window of about 4 weeks left open until all of this went into effect. All along, I have still accepted orders from 1) repeat clients, and 2) for other types (‘cross, for example) of frames. Also, while I didn’t put this in the fine print, I never turned down an order from someone stationed in the military, or from a teacher, or from a member of the clergy. In my mind, folks who fall into these categories are beyond my ever saying no to. If they wanted to get in the queue and be part of the ordeal, so be it, atmo. So, yeah – with the current demand lined up, the delivery is about 7-8 years or so. Data point: I work at a 4-6 frame a month pace, have left spaces open each year for some repair and emergency work, and anticipate continuing to run a ‘cross team whose frames will also need to be made during seasons years from today. I’ve done my best to map it all out and keep it from owning me. It’s my business, but it’s also my life. I don’t want to have or invite stress, atmo.
PB: What’s your pricing like?
RS: The 2010 frame base price is $4000. Most of my frames are sold as assembled bicycles.
PB: What keeps the work fresh for you and gets you up in the morning (or out in the evening) and excited to build?
RS: To quote myself paraphrasing a quote from the sculptor Louis Bourgeois about whom I read an article in an in-flight magazine some twenty years ago, “I continue to work in order to redeem myself for all my past mistakes.” Or some shit like that….
PB: You’re part of The Framebuilders’ Collective. What was the motivation to help start an association devoted to what can be a pretty solitary craft?
RS: TFC is a group born from a connection several of us made with each other early on in the framebuilding message board and listserv era. Those involved felt a kinship and synergy with the others and wanted to cement a bond. While it took several years of backroom chats and decision making, the collective was created. We made the concept public at the NAHBS show in Indianapolis. It’s a peer group. I don’t think it exists to legitimize us, or what we do, but it would be incorrect to assume we don’t have long term goals. The website’s two short pages should answer every question folks would have about the organization.
PB: You sponsor a pretty dynamite cyclocross team. How did this season go?
RS: It was a great season. They all are. My personal results were less than they were in 2009, but I can still live with them.
PB: Since you started the ‘cross team you’ve had some stunning successes. Would you recount a few high points for us?
RS: The ‘cross team began as a stepchild to the road team(s) I had been supporting and managing going all the way back to 1982. By 1998 I decided to focus all of my marketing efforts and sponsorship dollars on ‘cross. Members of the team have won 10 National Championships over the years and have represented at the Worlds on at least 6 occasions. At the core, the team has always been comprised of pals, or pals of pals. We’ve never recruited, poached a rider from another organization, or rested our hat on one particular cat or kitten. It’s always been a group effort and I have found myself using the word family with some regularity. We get along, we travel well, we live for autumn, and then we disband in January. Rinse, lather, repeat, atmo.
The single highest point I can articulate with regard to the RS ‘Cross Team is that it has become a brand onto itself and, by dint of that, is a trustworthy financial and emotional investment for all the sponsors, industry suppliers, and supporters it’s had over its history.
PB: What’s your life away from building like?
RS: It’s one in transition, atmo. Since I left for Vermont that fateful day in the early 1970s and my life took one turn after another, followed by more of them, I rarely looked back to assess the direction or to help shape it. That’s why I use the word serendipity to the point of overuse or even abuse. But as I approach my 40th year at the bench and answer questions like yours, I do reflect on all of it as a body of work. Because of that, and owing to my age (57 as of this writing), I can’t ignore that I have lived more than half of my life. I’d like to find a way to take what’s left and make it as enriching as possible. To date, my focus has consumed me and I am beyond being one-dimensional. As a matter of fact, I could be the poster boy for the one-dimensional life. The transition is, or will be, about what else out there might call for me. For years I have described myself as a racer who makes bicycles (not the other way around), and that the job I have stayed with was just a way to spend the days sandwiched between race starts. As my own racing interests wane, I now think about what else is out there. Okay – I have to get back to earth now, atmo….
PB: Do you have outside interests beyond bicycles?
RS: My family and my home life are my life, much less my life away from bicycles.
PB: When people talk about the A-list of frame builders, your name is at or near the top of everyone’s list. To what do you attribute that?
RS: There’s this saying, sooner or later we all become our parents, or words to that effect. I think the A-list stuff is just fodder. Or gossip. There will always be a pecking order, or a list of folks who are new, or new with a bullet, or firmly established and part of the mainstream. Having been part of the niche from the 1970s, and living through an era or three when there was no niche left to speak of, and to still be attached to it all in the internet years when framebuilding is cool again, I’ve become a point of reference. My frames are not better, and I don’t know that much more than others, but I am still here working daily and part of the crowd. Writers see this and it becomes a story. Other writers see it and also see the story, and more stories are written. The public ends up reading what’s served up, attaching its own emotion to it, and that energy contributes to the talk you speak of. It’s just that simple.
PB: Who do you consider your peers from a standpoint of work quality?
RS: I know many the players but not their processes. There are lots of craftsmen who are capable of making a frame of high quality, one which fits well, and also exhibits the personal touch and beautiful flourishes that the niche is known for.
PB: You’ve got an awfully high profile for a one-man shop. What are some of the things you offer for sale aside from frames and T-shirts?
RS: There are the aforementioned framebuilding parts and supplies, of course. I also have RS ‘Cross Team apparel, the Imperfection Is Perfection DVD, several posters, and a variety of atmo and CFRA (‘Cross Fucking Rules Atmo) stuff. The site has the mother lode listed on one of the pages.
PB: How important is self-promotion for a builder?
RS: It’s a business, atmo. You have to be both accessible and approachable. It helps to also know what goes where.
PB: You’ve just done a big overhaul of your look. How did the collaboration with House Industries come about?
RS: About 22 months ago I asked Rich Roat and House Industries to take a look at my identity program, deconstruct it, and create something for me with what was left. Before that, maybe a half year earlier, I woke up, looked at what I had (the 30+ years of essentially red and white) and concluded I was done with it.
PB: How much freedom and/or direction did you give them?
RS: My desire was change, either wholesale, or minimal the choice, the direction, the entire range of concepts (and there may have been just the one—I never asked) was in their hands. I made the decision to change, asked Rich and House Industries if they would take on the project, and waited until it was complete before I saw anything. This is all their work. And I couldn’t be happier. And I wouldn’t change a single thing they did.
PB: So what happens if someone wants the old red and white, the old decals?
RS: This is what I do now—dot period. And it’s not a new policy at all. I have had quite a few art file revisions through years. Decal scales change. Ink colors get bolder or more opaque.The frame reliefs get trimmed with different shades of paint. Font borderline weights have evolved. Even the reds and whites we have used all along since 1981 have had more variations than I can remember. When any single line in the sand was crossed, we never went back to what came earlier. It’s no different this time.The graphic details that House Industries created for me are now the default art that comes on my bicycles. The red and white scheme that so many are familiar with is now part of my past.
PB: Anything else on the horizon we should know about?
RS: You know the line, and I know you know the movie. So I’ll just add the quote: ”Never tell anybody outside the family what you’re thinking again.” That has been my policy for at least as long as the film has been in rotation on cable television.
PB: Don’t forget the contact info:
RS: TBC …
Cycling is a pursuit with almost limitless expression. It is efficiency itself, a way to remake cities in the 21st century. It is a magnification of sport, a chance to see competition as the ultimate mastery over chaos (how many other sports may see 20 teams on the field?), as well as a chance to magnify athleticism through the microscope of the time trial. There’s the devotion to routine and ritual that comes in daily training, giving us a chance to consider the more spiritual side of the sport. What of the shop wrenches who keep us on the road? They are the doctors of the sport, the GPs who make sure that our society continues to function. Finally, there are the high priests and artists—the frame builders—all consideration of cycling as a craft emanate from them. It is in the exploration of craft, breaking it down, finding those inner drives and how they manifest in someone’s work that we learn about artistry and how it’s possible to make an individual statement even when working with a set of components that anyone else in the world can purchase.
All the most interesting conversations I’ve had in cycling have shared a detail in common. Somewhere at the root of that conversation the driver was the creative urge. That urge to create, to find out what is possible has been behind conversations I’ve had with entrepreneurs like Mike Sinyard, some of the top engineers in cycling, a few of the more insightful pros I’ve encountered, and of course, most every frame builder I’ve ever met.
Something RKP hasn’t done to my satisfaction is shine a spotlight on great builders. Interviewing frame builders is something I’ve done since even before my time at Bicycle Guide, where I was one of the editors responsible for the Hot Tubes column. Reader polls told us that Hot Tubes was the single most popular feature in the magazine, so later, when I launched Asphalt, I doubled-down on that, taking a one-page department and turning it into a four-page feature called Torchbearers. Though we didn’t take any polls, I can tell you that what I learned from readers was it was wildly popular. For a while, I was responsible for an online column at Peloton called Artisans which traveled much the same territory, though it used a straight Q&A format. Eventually it came to an end, mostly because of my inability to herd cats; delivering a weekly interview with a frame builder can involve a degree of chasing befitting a bounty hunter. Unless you’re standing in front of the builder, it can be hard to get some of them to talk. The irony here is that no one ever says no; they just prove to be Higgs-Boson elusive.
The pieces I did for Artisans are still live and can be found here. I’m pleased that they are still up; so many things get deleted off the web with a simple click. However, because RKP fundamentally serves as my calling card, I’m going to reprint the interviews here and begin adding to them with new ones, though without the strain of a weekly deadline. I’ll also be pulling in one of our contributors, Irene Bond, to help with the cat herding.
Our first installment is a guy that some have accused of being overexposed, almost too well known. I submit that even though Richard Sachs didn’t invent the craft, he’s the guy that drew the blueprint from which most other builders have planned their career. In a sense, Sachs is the prototype, the ur-builder. He’s also significant in that he has risen beyond just being a frame builder. He is truly a brand. And while his notoriety has rankled some, I submit that he is the model for how to create a real business. There’s more to being a frame builder than building frames. It’s invoicing, getting someone to design your logo, decals and T-shirts. It’s invoicing and paying. It’s responding to clients. I’ve had a number of conversations with builders in which they revealed that they didn’t want to do all that stuff. They just wanted to build. Sometimes I’d ask if they’d considered calling Richard Schwinn or Ben Serotta. After all, that’s the difference between a craftsman and a frame builder. A frame builder is a whole business.
There is, however, a more compelling reason to start such a series with Sachs. It is because of the many builders I’ve spoken to over the years, he is the one that understands best what craft is about, that an apprenticeship must take place before once gains mastery. He and I share a love for the dailiness of exercising a craft, him with the torch, me with sentences. He once sent me an interview with Thomas Keller, the chef behind what is arguably the greatest restaurant in the U.S., the French Laundry. In it, Keller talked about craft and how a certain understanding comes once you’ve scrambled a few thousand eggs. No one in frame building has been as thoughtful about craft as Sachs, no one has been as articulate. This is the best place to start.
PB: Tell us where you’re based.
RS: I live in a western Massachusetts hill town of 710 people on a dead end dirt road.
PB: What caused you to move there?
RS: Chester, Connecticut became my home when I arrived back from my frame building training in London. I turned 19 years old there. One day several years ago, we (my wife and I) decided this village of 3,000 was too crowded and made a plan to leave.
PB: What’s the riding like there (where you live now)?
RS: The riding here is extraordinary, atmo (according to my opinion). An amazing ride that takes in some of the region’s dirt roads, called D2R2, starts about 30 miles from my door. This area’s landscape and solitude were major reasons why we chose Franklin County as a landing spot.
PB: How long were you in Connecticut?
RS: 37 years or so.
PB: Where did you grow up?
RS: I am from New Jersey but that hardly speaks to your question.
PB: Why not?
RS: Spending a lifetime riding a bicycle, and racing almost every available weekend, as well as working alone at what is more a creative endeavor than a routine job, and having no children of my own – all of this is a recipe for arrested development. I live within these very margins.
PB: How long have you been building?
RS: My brand began in 1975.
PB: How did you get your start?
RS: It all began serendipitously. I planned to attend Goddard College to pursue my interest in creative writing. This took a turn when admission was granted several months after the usual September semester start. Since I had the summer vacation and some extra months to kill, I took a menial job in Manhattan. One day, I saw an ad in the Village Voice for a bicycle mechanic’s position in Vermont. Within a week I was on a Greyhound bus with a one way ticket to Burlington. Sadly, when I walked in to get my job I learned that it had been filled weeks earlier despite that the newspaper was still circulating the classified. Worse yet, in the layers of conversation I had with the staff, they made it clear I was not qualified. I took this personally and was very disappointed. By that point in my young life I was riding quality bicycles, doing all my own repairs, and had already a mild interest in the handmade stuff, being (then) a client in waiting for my first of what would ultimately be three W.B.Hurlow frames. So, rejection in hand, I deliberated on what was next. I had no backup plan to tide me over until my April admission to Goddard. I decided the only way to avenge what happened was to prove how wrong they were for not hiring me. In my mind, the only thing cooler than fixing bicycles would be making them, though I cannot for the life of me recall where that sentiment came from. I grabbed an issue of International Cycle Sport, a spiral bound notepad, some pens, and spent an afternoon at the library at UVM. All in all, I collected some thirty names and addresses of firms that appeared to make bicycle frames on the premises. These became my targets. I wrote letters to each of them explaining my desire to come to England and work for free in return for their teaching me to build frames. Thirty letters were mailed. Three replies were received. Two said no. These were from Bob Jackson Cycles and Ellis Briggs Cycles. The one yes came from Ernie Witcomb, whose eponymous family business was in southeast London. To England I flew.
PB: Who else worked with you at Witcomb?
RS: Well the Witcombs: Ernie, his wife, Lil, and son, Barry, were there. A man named Jim Collier was making frames and so was David Cotton. There was also Charles Barrett and a boy named Rob whose last name escapes me. I was there for about a month when Peter Weigle arrived. In the course of my 10 months in Deptford, another two or three Americans came and went, all chasing dreams similar to mine, or one would assume.
When my stint in Deptford ended, I came back to the states and hung out in New Jersey for a month or so deciding what to do next. I had postponed the Goddard April admission. The Witcomb family had liaisons with a New England firm called Sports East, Limited. They were in the outdoor sports and recreation business but on the agency and sales side. This company, based in East Haddam, Connecticut, proposed to the Witcomb family to represent them and all they could supply to the North American market. This was at the height of the 1970s fitness craze-slash-bike boom-slash-oil embargo and it was a good time to be in the ten speed bicycle business at any level, atmo. I decided that the pull towards staying in bicycles vis-à-vis a job offer at Witcomb USA (the division created at Sports East to market the English bicycles) was stronger than my then fading urge to write or attend college. I took the train to Old Saybrook and began work in East Haddam.
The job description was actually pretty lame and I knew that going in. My position at Witcomb USA was more as a gopher than anything else because, in reality, the division existed primarily as an importer and distributor. My place there was secured mostly because my 10 months in London gave them some much needed insight and credibility when it came to the bicycles they were an agency for.
Everything in Connecticut was going swimmingly well for a year or so until it was clear that the Witcombs (in London) were incapable of supplying frames to meet the demand the sales force in East Haddam had created. The long and short of this is: Ed (the owner) told us (me and Peter Weigle, who had also been there all this time) that we were now going to make the frames that London couldn’t. Peter and I hadn’t held a torch since we left Deptford almost a year earlier. And when we left, we were not framebuilders, just two cats who worked at a framebuilding shop long enough to see it done. This didn’t matter to Ed at all. He had an investment to protect and the salesmen had orders to fill. Peter and I were going to make the frames no matter how much money it would take in tooling and trial and error for us to get up to speed.
Before long, Peter and I got a process dialed in and it was enough to make frames on the premises so that Ed and the crew could ship them to all points nationwide. By some fluke and many thousands of dollars invested, Ed created the Witcomb USA bicycle brand and we were off to the races.
My stay at the company lasted only a year more. In the interim we had hired Gary Sinkus to do set up work and we also trained Chris Chance to do prep as well as paint work. Before my departure, I recall we were making many frames and were very efficient too. There was no standing back and admiring lug edges or celebrating that we were taking part in some creative process. Ed and the salesmen gave us stacks of frame orders, and Peter and I took care of filling them.
Ultimately I left because I felt whatever enthusiasm I was holding to as a young framebuilder in an exciting era was too often neutralized by Ed’s all-business approach to what we had become a part of. In hindsight, the reality was that I was too young to have all the responsibility that came with being that important a part of his commercial plan. I wanted to make the frames, but without the routine and impersonal connections that became the norm. Well, that’s the short answer.
PB: Have you held other positions in the industry?
RS: No. Actually, I have never done anything else (for pay) since I left The Peddie School in 1971.
PB: When did you strike out on your own?
PB: Do you ever work in a material other than steel??
RS: In the last 10 years or so I have also worked heavily in opinions, atmo. I kept a tight lid on my thoughts through about 1997. One day, I was asked to speak about the framebuilding industry, such as it was, and I found myself having a watershed moment. It was like, after 25 years at the bench it was finally okay for me to have a point of view. I haven’t relented since.
PB: Who makes the tubing and lugs you like to use?
RS: I am a dedicated Columbus client. About 6-7 years ago they began to supply a tube set that resulted from collaboration between Dario Pegoretti and me. The two of us felt the need for components which would 1) be made specifically for framebuilders who were using lugs, 2) have all the characteristics of the material so that the makers (us) and the users (clients) had a steady supply, and 3) could be 21st-century sized and shaped, and with a weight that would appeal to the present market rather than the retro one. Spirit for lugs (SFL) was born, though I prefer to call it PegoRichie. Columbus manufactures it and it’s already several iterations updated since it all began. I also import and distribute PegoRichie tubing to other framebuilders.
Regarding lugs and parts: I have designed 4 different styles. Richie-Issimo, Newvex, Nuovo Richie, and Rene Singer are the model names. Each set began as a white sheet of paper with the goal of bringing high style, precision cast components to the market so that I would have my own supply and not be dependent upon the ever shrinking inventories that then existed. Along with the tubing I also sell these lugs. There are also 2 fork crowns, a bottom bracket shell, and a front changer braze-on that are part of the menu. By mid winter I will also have an over-oversized version of the Richie-Issimo lugs and shell ready for the market.
PB: Tell us about the jig you use.
RS: I use a Bike Machinery Hydra. It’s made in Italy and I have used it since the early 1980s. The first seven hundred or so frames I made predate its arrival and I’d wager that it took 2-3 years before I was comfortable and facile using it. In London, we did things, eh – they did things the old way; there was a forge, town gas, a torch that put out a flame some 20” long, no tools, no power equipment, and no fixtures. The frames I made through 1982 were all assembled using procedures mined or refined from my time abroad.
PB: What sort of cutting and shaping of lugs do you like to perform? Does it vary from bike to bike or are there stylistic elements people can find running through all your bikes?
RS: Oh I don’t know. This is one of those button issues for me. To separate out the lug, or any single component or dimension from the whole is to miss the point. I make frames, not stylistic elements, atmo.
For Part II, click here.
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
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