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One of the great ironies of custom bikes is that the true mark of an artisan’s skill is often hidden beneath a thick coating of paint, hidden away, perhaps never to be seen again. Often, it’s a matter of necessity. For example, builder David Kirk works exclusively in steel, which, aside from a few select alloys, needs to be protected from corrosion. Unfortunately, that also means few get to see in person his remarkable fillet brazing work — even those who buy one of his amazing frames for themselves.
Though frames can be left raw, the industrial look isn’t to everyone’s liking, and to do so means the builder assumes an enormous amount of risk. Without the mask of paint, there’s no escaping an uneven weld, a wrinkled outer layer of carbon, or a sloppy fillet. But get it right, and the details by which a frame was melded together arguably becomes just as significant aesthetically as the frame as a whole. Some might even consider hiding the welds on a Kent Eriksen titanium frame to be borderline criminal.
Alternatively, the main appeal for some bikes is the shape they take on when their various tubes are interconnected: the gentle curves of Curtis Inglis’s Retrotec cruiser-inspired frames, for example, or Steve Potts’ latest welded titanium fork with its incredible box-section crown.
For others, the paint is the point of it all. Toronto-based painter VéloColour’s work is arguably second-to-none, and it doesn’t take long after looking at some of the company’s work to somehow justify spending just as much on a frame’s finish as you would on the frame itself. Meanwhile, California builder SyCip is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year, and brothers Jay and Jeremy Sycip are celebrating with a limited-edition run of frames that harken back to the first days of the business.
Jay moved on to Chris King in 2008, but Jeremy has temporarily pulled him back into the fray to hand-paint flowers on these silver-anniversary framesets — just as he did 25 years ago.
Also featured in this final round of bikes from the 2017 North American Handmade Bicycle Show are machines from Stinner Frameworks, Strong Frames, and Reeb Cycles, plus a look back at some vintage machines from The Pros Closet, and a look forward at a trick raw carbon fiber DIY-style cargo bike from composites manufacturer Rock West.