Bill Davidson in the new Davidson-Kullaway shop. Photo by Josh Cohen.
A few months ago, custom bike builders Bill Davidson of Davidson Bicycles and Max Kullaway of 333 Fabrication officially joined forces after many years of quiet partnership. One of the cool features of the new Davidson-Kullaway custom frame shop in Seattle’s Fremont neighborhood is a picture window in the wall that separates the customer area up front from the workshop in the back. It allows customers to watch the pair at work building beautiful bikes. When I arrived at the shop last week, I did just that. Kullaway was behind a translucent screen welding up a frame. Davidson, looking like a blue collar scientist in his denim shop smock, was standing over a milling machine cutting tubes. Eventually, they noticed me standing there and Davidson joined me up front.
If you know anything about frame building, Davidson likely needs little introduction. He’s been in the business for over 40 years, which puts him in the company of just a handful of other American builders. When he got started in 1973 there barely was such a thing as a custom frame builder in the U.S. We sat down at his new shop to talk about his long career, learning to build bikes in the 70s, the evolution of the frame building business, his new venture with Kullaway, and more.
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Posted in Bike Industry, Frame Builders, History, Interviews, Racing
Tagged 333fabrication, bill davidson, custom frame builders, davidson custom bicycles, davidson-kullaway bikes, frame builder history, george gibbs, mark pringle, max kullaway, seattle frame builders
Lauren Trout of Saila Bicycles. Photo from Saila Bicycles’ Facebook.
There’s something appropriate about a relatively unknown frame builder working under the name Saila (that’s alias spelled backwards). But though she’s not a household name, Lauren Trout’s got nearly a decade of experience under her belt building some of the world’s nicest titanium bikes. Those years rival or surpass plenty of big name builders with even bigger “personal brands.” Trout learned to wield a torch after getting hired as an entry-level finisher at Seven Cycles. She worked her way up to the production welding department where she spent years honing her skills building thousands of bikes. Last year she left Boston for Austin, Texas and went full time with her one-woman shop, Saila Bicycles. I spoke to Trout about her experience at Seven, striking out on her own, her long history as a bike messenger, the faddish explosion of custom companies, and much more.
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Posted in Bike Industry, Frame Builders, Interviews, Messengers
Tagged austin cycling, austin texas frame builder, bike messengers, custom bicycles, lauren trout, new england frame builders, saila bicycles, seven cycles, women frame builders
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.
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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.
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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 Lâ€™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.
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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