ANT Bike’s Mike Flanigan with a Boston Roadster. Photo via ANT Bike flickr.
New England is a stronghold of American custom frame builders. Portland, OR may have more of them, but New Englanders have been at it longer. The U.S. custom frame building business traces its roots to the 1970s when Richard Sachs, Peter Weigle, and Ben Serotta learned the craft at Whitcomb Cycles in London. Of course, companies such as Schwinn and Huffy had been manufacturing bicycles in the U.S. for decades, but Sachs, Weigle and Serotta were among the first to bring the tailor-made style of bicycle building to the States. When they returned to New England in 1972, Weigle and Sachs started the short-lived Whitcomb USA. Serotta started Serotta Cycles. The three laid the foundation for many generations of builders to come in the region.
Flash forward to the late 80s, Fat City Cycles was in full swing and a young Mike Flanigan rolled into Boston from Texas and talked his way into a job in the paint department. Over his five years there he became a master painter and found the time to teach himself TIG welding. When Fat City was sold in the mid-90s, Flanigan and a few other Fat City refugees started Independent Fabrication. In the early 2000s, dissatisfied with the direction of his company, he left and launched his one-man, city and cargo bike-focused shop, Alternative Needs Transportation (ANT). Between Fat City, Independent Fabrication, and ANT, Flanigan has played an important role in shaping the modern frame building landscape. He also played a part in bringing city bikes to the American mainstream. I spoke to Flanigan about his deep history in the frame building world, Fat City’s major influence, the value and significant of custom bikes, and his recent closure of ANT bikes.
Posted in Bike Industry, Frame Builders, History, Interviews
Tagged alternative needs transportation, ant bikes, ben serotta, boston frame builders, chris chance, custom frame builders, fat city cycles, geekhouse bikes, iglehart, independent fabrication, mike flanigan, new england frame builders, peter weigle, richard sachs, seven cycles, whitcomb cycles
Glen Copus with a fleet of Elephants in Spokane. Photo by Ben Tobin via Elephant Bikes Facebook page.
For a man whose career has woven in and out of many major eras of bike history, Glen Copus has managed to fly under the mainstream radar remarkably well. He raced cyclocross in Santa Cruz in the late 70s and early 80s with American cross pioneers Laurence Malone and Dan Nall. He learned how to build bike frames from Keith Bontrager, one of the godfathers of mountain biking. Copus worked as a race mechanic in Europe for the US women’s road team in the 80s. He did production building for Serotta, Bontrager, and Rocky Mountain Bikes. He was in it and has the stories to tell. But one doesn’t get the impression that Copus ever wanted to be a bike industry “name” so much as he wanted to just go to the workshop, put his head down, and build amazing bicycles. When he launched his own bike company Elephant after an 18 year stint in metal fabrication, he chose the name in part to keep his own off the downtube. Today, Copus continues to build Elephant bikes out of his garage workshop in Spokane, WA–a mix of custom frame orders and small-batch production runs. In this interview, Copus discusses his long history in the bike world from shop rat to professional builder, life as a race mechanic, bike art versus commonsense craft, the business side of frame building, and more.
Posted in Bike Industry, Cyclocross, Frame Builders, Interviews, Mechanics
Tagged bill woodul, custom bike builders, custom frame builder, dan nall, elephant bikes, glen copus, jeannie longo, keith bontrager, laurence malone, rocky mountain bikes, santa cruz cyclocross, serotta
Colin Stevens outside Equinox Studios. Photo by Josh Cohen.
I don’t need to check the address to know I’m at the right place. Tucked away off the main drag in one of Seattle’s increasingly-rare industrial zones, the bright blue Equinox Studios stands out among its neighbors of weathered, post-war manufacturing buildings. It was once home to Mastermark Printing and Engraving. During World War II, Norton Bomb Sights built crosshairs for bombardiers in the building. As I walk down the hall, I catch glimpses into a few of the 36 shops and art studios the building now houses. Sparks fly in one room as a sculptor puts grinder to metal. In another, a woman pulls colorful wires from an array of spools, prepping for an espresso machine repair job. Inside studio 109 I find Colin Stevens fiddling around with some tools behind a small, but well stocked work bench. One room of their shop is filled with bikes, trailers mopeds and tools. The other with huge lathes and other similarly impressive machinery.
Stevens first made a name for himself with his Haulin’ Colin cargo trailers along with wild creations such as an 8-person, pedal-powered parade float. And though he still builds the custom trailers, his work has evolved far beyond. Today Stevens–along with friends Garth L’Esperance and Michael Nazaroff–is co-owner of CycleFab, LLC and does everything from repairing bike frames to building cargo trailers to metal fabrication and parts manufacturing. I sat down with him at his shop to talk about his path from computer science to industrial manufacturing, the recent rise of cargo biking, the difficulties of a niche bike business, the creative satisfaction of hands-on work, and much more.
Posted in Bike Industry, Frame Builders, Interviews
Tagged cargo bikes, colin stevens, custom frame builders, cyclefabllc, family biking, freak bikes, haulin colin, seattle frame builder, washington frame builder
Austin Horse. Photo via redbull.com
Bike messengers have a hard-earned image as punks, rebels, thrill-seekers, and outlaws. And deservedly so. They risk their own safety to bomb through cities between cars and pedestrians delivering packages for very low pay. It’s an image and lifestyle that captivated the mainstream cycling world for the better part of the previous decade, spurring on massive sales of fixed gear bikes and messenger bags large enough to hold a body. For some enterprising couriers, the popularity presented an opportunity to align with sponsors and escape the check-to-check lifestyle of full time delivery work.
Austin Horse partnered with big companies such as Red Bull and Oakley and bike companies such as Brooklyn Machine Works, All City, and Lazer and carved out a “wild and unpredictable” life for himself. He travels the world riding and racing in unique bike events, organizes his own races, and even worked as Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s stunt double for the 2012 messenger movie Premium Rush. When he’s at home, Horse still works part time as a courier and as an advocate with his mobile bike co-op Bike Yard. I spoke to him while he waited in the airport for a flight to the Middle East about messenger life in New York, sanctioned vs unsanctioned racing, his bike adventures around the world, the evolution of biking in New York, and much more.
Posted in Adventure, Advocacy, Bike Industry, Interviews
Tagged austin horse, bike messenger, couriers, cycle courier world championships, cycling in new york city, darien gap, iris weinshall, janette sadik kahn, lucas brunelle, messenger stage race, red bull, times up
PeopleForBikes President Tim Blumenthal. Photo courtesy PeopleForBikes
Bike advocacy is a sweeping term that captures a huge array of work. Fighting for better bike infrastructure on neighborhood streets, building new mountain bike trails, organizing charity rides, lobbying elected officials and many other things fit under that rather large umbrella of advocacy. Some might see that diversity of advocacy issues as a problem–that lots of sub-interests competing for limited funding and public attention will curb success for all. PeopleForBikes sees that variety as a boon to bicycling in America. The national advocacy organization helps fund everything from protected bike lanes to mountain bike parks; lobbies government agencies and elected officials; partners with professional cycling teams; provides grant funding; organizes their own charity ride; and much more. They’re guided by the basic principle that the more people ride, the better bicycling will be for everyone, regardless of what type of riding they do.
With over three decades of work in advocacy and bike racing, PeopleForBikes President Tim Blumenthal is a fitting leader. He got his start as a cycling journalist for publications such as VeloNews and Bicycling, worked with NBC on cycling coverage for seven Olympics, and spent 11 years at the helm of the International Mountain Bike Association before joining PeopleForBikes. I spoke to Blumenthal about PeopleForBikes’ work, his career in the cycling world, the value of combining cycling-as-sport and cycling-as-transportation in advocacy work, the strengths and shortcomings of American bike advocacy, and more.
Posted in Advocacy, Bike Industry, Interviews
Tagged american bike advocacy, bike advocacy, greelane project, IMBA, people for bikes, peopleforbikes, protected bike lanes, tim blumenthal, tim johnson