I made the drive up Saturday morning to Napa to drop off a few bikes, meet with builders, and check out the venue. Unfortunately, I can’t speak to the riding and camping (my body is too beat up from all the driving I have been doing), but the venue looked amazing. It was a chill, grassroots, lowkey event that is definitely worth checking out next year.
It was awesome to see all the handmade steel bikes still being ridden and raced
People love their custom bikes. You won’t see someone beaming with pride over their 10-year-old specialized bike.
The media tends to only show “Show bikes”, but I love seeing the “everyday driver” handmade bikes.
Thanks to the OG builders: Tony (Breadwinner), Falconer, Hunter, Curtis (Retrotec/Cruiser Daddy), and Sycip for showing up and being such characters
Bonus: Curtis = Cruiser Daddy
Those who have tried to build the iconic cruiser mountain bike know how hard it is to get the curves, shapes, and clearances while still maintaining the aesthetics. There is only one Cruiser King with, Curtis Ingles, the Cruiser Daddy. Since this forum often represents the new batch of frame builders, I think it’s fitting that we honor Curtis and his work with this nickname.
I feel like a part of my soul goes into each bike I make. Since I only build for friends and family, I take good care to create something that embodies me as a person and is an expression my creative self in that moment.
I love that framebuilding allows me to be creative as a mechanic (choosing parts, making recommendations, building wheels [I build the wheels for every bike I make]), as a suspension technician if I need to tune the fork, as an engineer for the design, as a metal sculptor during fabrication, and as a rider trying new lines or rides.
I think art requires a degree of intentionality, but that can come from either the creator (builder) or audience (rider). While Giant might not see one of their frames as a work of art, a rider who threw some sick pink pedals & bar tape on it may feel that it’s an artistic expression of themself. Likewise, I could pour my soul into artistic expression in a frame, but a rider could interpret it as an overly ornate tool for mobility.
This goes into the “craft vs art” debate which of course has no clear answer. I could see folks thinking that artisan bike frames fall into either category, perhaps with small batch work veering a little closer to “craft” and one-off customs falling more in the “art” category.
One thing I’ve been thinking about recently in this vein is the idea of building frames to intentionally engage in a dialogue with bike culture at large. This seems to be pretty solidly in the “art” school of thinking. Everything we design is necessarily in conversation with our predecessors and successors - it’s hard to build something without being referential. It’s interesting (and arguably artistic!) to see ways in which small builders choose to subvert hegemonic design principles or adhere to them. I was thinking about this with my latest track bike build - I wanted to give a nod to classic lugged track frames while also acknowledging influence of the late-00s fixie boom and mixing in some 90s mtb inspired paint.
There’s also the thought of designing frames to elicit a specific emotional response, something I’ve been mulling over a lot in my pursuit to make a “cute” mountain bike. I don’t know if this is going through many builders’ heads or if I’m alone in this, but I love asking customers what they want to feel when riding their custom frame. The free association from that prompt ends up being the most helpful input to my design work - it informs fit, paint, components, tubing, and so much more!
In conclusion, I have a lot of thoughts on this subject, what a great question and thank you for the reportage!
Agreed, most people will spec parts on their bike based on a creative vision that they have, or express some style of riding they identify with.
This is an interesting point. Falconer and Tony (breadwinner) mentioned “craft”. But honestly, I can’t tell the difference between craft and art. Is there one?
I totally agree with this! I view every “hand-built” frame as a counter-cultural statement against mainstream bikes. To push the analogy further, I feel that you can view mainstream bikes as the gentrification of custom bike culture: 29ers, disc brake road bikes, gravel bikes, bikepacking, bike touring, bike bags, etc…
Falconer strongly believed his bikes were not art. This is Cameron’s personal bike, which also happened to be my size
So… the paint choice, the graphic designs, the clean lines, the saddle, bar tape, stem, etc… is it art? .
If you asked the owners of his bikes, I bet they would say they were art. Who has the final say?
A craft or trade is traditionally a hobby or an occupation that requires skilled workers to produce an item. Crafts can include weaving, carving, pottery, embroidery, macrame, beading, sewing, quilting, and many other forms.
All metal frames are made by a craftsman. I could see a distinction between the production fabricator (craft) vs the custom frame builder (art). As with everything in life, nothing is ever binary, and all lie along some spectrum.
Tony, who has been in the game for a while had an interesting response. At first, he didn’t think his bikes were art. But after talking it through, he came to the conclusion that Breadwinner bikes were art.
Tony started off with Pereira Cycles, which made custom one-off frames. Certainly more art than not.
I was most impressed by Breadwinner’s finish. Tony said their painter smuggles frames and coffee beans around Oregon (don’t quote me on this).
This is fascinating to me, thank you for bringing it up. My work is art. It’s no Rubens, Obata, or Morrison, but it’s art. But I can see why those who do this professionally might think otherwise, or at least pause. For one, I don’t think it’s very practical to be an artist - or at least to have the self conception of being an artist. Better to be dependable. Instead, most professional builders I’ve interacted with are (rightfully) proud of the work they’ve put into the process of making frames as a career. To reduce that thought and work to art - a one off - I could see myself feeling like the point was in a way missed.
As for myself, I am a hobbyist and I (so far) only build for myself. I take a lot of time, act intentionally, and I draw inspiration from my experience in life. You couldn’t in good faith call what I do craft. Sure, I try focus on techniques and procedures, and sometimes I even practice a bit before the real deal. But craft? No. Not even remotely worthy of that title.
My frames are done when I say they are done and at no other time and under no other metric, which to me reeks of art. Just like the heavy clay pots holding plants on my parents’ deck that came home with me from elementary school.
But it’s not like they’re separate things, craft and art. I think they’re more complicated than being on the opposing ends of a continuum, but I think they are intimately coupled in more ways than one. I respect art, I do it after all, but I tend to have more respect for craft. It’s not always the case, but many true exemplars of craft in the handmade bike world (ATMO) are also exemplars of art. Art is necessary for craft, but perhaps not sufficient.
I like this thought too. The above is obviously what I think. But what does that matter?
I genuinely could not agree with these thoughts more (though I often prefer radians ;)). Life is a playground, not a battlefield. When you frame everything as a fight it’s corrosive to the human spirit. I consider myself fortunate in the extreme to be able to pour mind and body into creating a sculpture through which I can engage with the cultural world and explore the natural world and that, fundamentally, is why I make bikes.
Having started my career as an architect I have always found that the best design is part functionality, part engineering, part art. You can make something that is both functional and structurally sound, but that’s bland and doesn’t tickle the imagination. Which of course is fine for a lot of things (probably most…) but without the art bit every once in a while you end up in Soviet Russia. I feel that the custom bike thing is especially where the art might even overtake the engineering part sometimes, just because it is nice/cool/whatever. Do I make art? For me, yes. For the rest of world: It depends. I speak to people that really don’t get why my heavy steel frame costs as much as their complete Canyon bike, but on the other hand I have clients that get all emotional talking about their bike or their cycling experiences.
I was talking to my former (1 day a week) employer and supplier of tubing (biketubing.com) about a customer of him that needed XCR welding wire. Turned out this customer was an artist famous for building a bike that is in a real museum: Spanfiets - Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen
And my former boss was explaining to me how this artist was going to great lengths finding the right sort of leather for the seat, specific titanium wires, tubing etc. And to me this just sounded so much like the stuff we framebuilders here do. Apart from the fact that our bikes have to stay in one piece when thrown down a mountain, while his bike gets sold for 60.000,- to a Miami art collector that keeps it in a shiny box.
Made me think…
Agree. Hardly anyone does steel forks better than Rick!
Love the mid-tail too. Wish you could’ve ridden it too @Daniel_Y. I feel like so many people get bogged down in these 430 vs 440 vs 450 mm CS lenght debates when the real fun starts happing out beyond 500 haha.
Big thanks to Jeremy Sycip for getting the builders together for the show. This black and gold beauty is one of his customer’s bikes. She had no problem racing the beefy forks and tires on an “XC” course.
I had a very nice conversation with Tony @ BreadWinner, turns out we have similar (other) hobbies, that G-Road is stunning!
BlackCat is another builder who I talked to and immediately made my top-5 list and Hunter definitely made an impact with a vintage “Graziella” bike - it’s 20y since I saw/rode on one, so many nice memories and I took a good look at those seatstays as I am trying to do the same - feel better about my tube choice now.
I regret not trying to approach Robert @ Blue Collar, I think I saw a BC bike parked there but I was distracted.
As a tattooer I consider my self a craftsman, mostly because I “shop”for inspiration and ideas within the tattoo world. I sure make my own “unique “ designs , but nothing new.
Same counts for framebuilding. I do think I use the creative part of my brain to design and come up with solutions for problems to solve…
But than again I see artists do their thing and think, if he/she is an artist than I definitely I’m one too.
Maybe the object is art, but the maker isn’t necessarily an artist