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by James Huang
March 22, 2017
Photography by James Huang
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.
David Kirk took home the prize for “Best Fillet Frame” from the 2017 North American Handmade Bicycle Show.
It’s almost a shame to cover David Kirk’s craftmanship underneath paint.
The sculpting on this David Kirk frame isn’t structurally necessary, but it looks fantastic.
The matching fillet brazed stem is gorgeous, too.
Why are handbuilt frames so expensive? This is why.
There’s nothing like a good old fashioned metal head tube badge, eh?
Kent Eriksen, founder of Moots, is a legend in titanium frame building.
The huge chainstays counter the notion that titanium can’t make for a stiff chassis.
Kent Eriksen machines his own crankset spiders to produce what he feels is a more correct chainline for some wheel options.
The machined-to-match titanium headset spacers cap things off perfectly.
This stem isn’t cheap, but then again, if you’re buying a Kent Eriksen titanium frame, the additional cost of a custom titanium stem welded by the same craftsman probably won’t break you.
The dropout uses a tough sandwich-style setup for the replaceable thru-axle threads and rear derailleur hanger.
Welding flat-mount caliper tabs onto a chainstay is anything but straightforward.
The Pro’s Closet brought an array of bikes to NAHBS from its massive vintage collection.
This lugged aluminum bike was made back in 1974.
Now that’s direct cable routing.
The rear brake cable routing is quite clever.
These finned Mathauser brake pads prove that once again, not all ideas are as new as they seem.
Tom Ritchey is best known in the mountain bike world, but he got started building steel road bikes.
Reeb Bicycles is an offshoot of Colorado brewery Oskar Blues (“Reeb” is “beer” spelled backwards). Recently, the company expanded from mountain bikes on to the road.
This new REEB looks like quite a bit of fun.
Retrotec is the curved-tube sister label to Inglis Cycles, both made by California builder Curtis Inglis.
The curved, cruiser-type frame is the hallmark of Retrotec.
The tapered shape removes a lot of the visual bulk from this long head tube.
This carbon fiber cargo bike was built for NAHBS by the folks at Rock West, a Utah-based supplier of carbon fiber tubesets.
Rock West could almost sell this bike as a flat-packed, DIY kit – were it not for the enormous liability that would be associated with it.
The front end uses a neat linkage setup for steering.
Yep, it’s all carbon fiber, with the exception of the aluminum nodes.
Steve Potts must feel like it’s groundhog day. This adventure bike is thoroughly modern, but it’s also remarkably similar to the bike in the background that he made decades ago.
This is quite the cherished head badge to own.
Steve Potts’ latest fork features straight legs, a welded box-section crown, and chunky hooded dropouts.
The crown construction is amazing.
By distributing the loads from the disc brake, the fork leg can be made thinner and lighter.
Stinner hails from Santa Barbara, California. This Refugio gravel bike was stunning.
There was no shortage of incredible paint jobs at this year’s NAHBS.
Carl Strong is best known for his titanium frames, but he’ll soon be branching out into carbon fiber with a new venture called Pursuit Cycles.
Enve was the most popular fork option at NAHBS, but this Columbus fork looks quite nice, too, and arguably offered better cable routing.
One of the best logos in the business.
Sycip Designs is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year, kicking things off with limited-edition paint jobs.
The flowers harken back to the early days of Sycip. The flowers are hand-painted by Jay Sycip, who recently moved from the family framebuilding business over to Chris King.
Want one of these limited-edition Sycips? Better act fast.
Jeremy Sycip roped brother Jeremy back into the family for one last run of hand-painted flowers.
Toronto-based custom painter VeloColour offered up a feast for the eyes at NAHBS. The finish on this Bishop costs less than you might think.
Seriously, pictures do not do this paint job justice.
You’d be forgiven for suddenly feeling like your bike looks a little bland as compared to this.
VeloColour had a pile of rags on hand to wipe off the drool left by onlookers.
This stunning Seven belongs to VeloColour painter Noah Rosen.
The masking work on this Seven is amazing.
Even with a computer-cut mask, intricate details like this demand an ultra-steady hand.
Note the matching frame pump.
The finishing touch.
The paint scheme on this Ellis frame was more classic, but no less stunning.
Look closely at how edges of the paint mate with the chromed lugs. It’s incredible work.
VeloColour also offers a range of soft goods.
This tool roll by VeloColour is both classic and functional.