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by James Huang
August 4, 2017
Photography by James Huang
Some cyclists view having their first child as a major disruption in training schedules and a serious restriction on saddle time. For others, though, it’s a prime opportunity to not only share their passion with their pride and joy, but also an outstanding excuse to geek out on an entirely new category of gear.
Sam Johnson most certainly falls into the second category.
Johnson always knew that he wanted children, and the idea for creating an outlandish custom balance bike came to him well before his wife was pregnant — before they were married, in fact. A territory sales manager in Colorado for Shimano, Johnson had the connections to get the project going the way he wanted, too.
Local builder Mosaic Bespoke Bicycles was his first choice to construct his dream machine — Johnson had worked with them before on other bikes — but this particular project wasn’t an easy sell. Mosaic owner and founder Aaron Barcheck simply wasn’t interested in showcasing a one-off that other customers wouldn’t be able to buy.
According to Johnson, it “took a village” to get this project together, with lots of companies and local shops helping out in different ways.
“They didn’t want to make something that they can’t produce and deliver, and I think most small builders feel this way,” Johnson explained. “They didn’t want to show a bike that isn’t inline. They don’t have the time, and they don’t have the production capacity.”
Johnson persisted, however, and Barcheck eventually gave in — but only under the condition that Johnson and Aaron’s brother, Jackson, who also works at Mosaic, would work on the project at the shop after hours.
And so began the string of evenings of cutting, bending, mitering, and welding. All of the material was sourced out of Mosaic’s scrap bin of titanium, and the two built temporary jigs to hold everything in place as the joints were tacked and welded. By Johnson’s estimates, building the frame, fork, and custom one-piece bar-and-stem took about 15-20 hours.
The custom titanium fork was one of the most complicated pieces of the project.
“I was pretty much just bossing Jack around,” Johnson joked. “I was helping hold tubes in place while we were tacking things together, setting the jigs up. I got to do pretty much all of the finish work, which was super fun. This was all a learning process for me. I’m super interested in the art of building titanium frames, and I wanted to learn what it takes to start from raw tubing to get a finished product.”
Kids can’t ride a bare frameset, though, so Johnson still had quite a bit of work to do.
The aluminum rims were repurposed from a bike he found at a local community bike shop, and he laced those to two front Chris King hubs using spokes that were custom-cut at Vecchio’s Bicicletteria in downtown Boulder. The saddle came from another local shop, Green Guru, and he found the tires and skewers at yet another shop in town, University Bicycles. The matching Arundel Bicycle Company handlebar tape came from the parts bin of yours truly, and the PRO carbon seatpost from Johnson’s own stock.
“It took a village,” he said.
The aluminum rims were salvaged from a local community bicycle shop and repainted. The gold nipples are a tribute to Vermont-based wheel builder Zack Macik, a former co-worker of Johnson’s at local bicycle shop Sports Garage.
All told, the finished product came out exactly as Johnson had hoped — and Jackson Barcheck told him that he’d be willing to go through the whole process all over again if there was enough interest from customers to justify a small production run.
Nevertheless, one person isn’t quite convinced that this was the best way to go. Johnson put his daughter on her new bike the other day, and the reaction perhaps wasn’t quite what he was expecting.
“She started crying. She can stand over it, but she’s really not ready for it. She loves wearing her helmet.”
Patience is a virtue.
Johnson only just recently presented the bike to his daughter, Ewen. Unfortunately, it didn’t go as well as hoped. Photo: Sam Johnson.
Mosaic Bicycles initially didn’t want to build something like this, but Johnson persisted and was eventually able to win the company over.
The segmented chainstays were essentially built the same way as the fork.
The chainstays’ large diameter is ideal for, uh, power transfer?
Hooded dropouts and tidy tooled skewers keep sharp hardware safely out of the way.
Johnson has wrapped some grip tape around the delicately bent footrests for now, but plans on switching soon to a spray-on truck bedliner material instead.
As you can imagine, Mosaic Bicycles didn’t exactly have jigs pre-made to handle this job, so everything had to be done custom.
The one-piece titanum bar-and-stem was a custom creation as well.
Mosaic Bicycles may (or may not) do a limited run of similar balance bikes in the future.
This stack of spacers will eventually be pared down once Johnson determines where the bars need to be.
Are Chris King hubs overkill for a bike like this? Most certainly they are, but then again, that’s kind of the point.
Johnson decided early on that he wanted to build for his daughter a “plus” balance bike. While the 2.0″ width doesn’t technically qualify for the plus designation, the tires certainly look unusually big for the tiny 12″-diameter wheels.
The brown kid’s saddle was sourced from Green Guru in Boulder, Colorado.
The matching brown tape is made by Arundel Bicycle Company – with end caps by Shimano sister company PRO, of course.
Finishing off the build is a Thomson machined aluminum seatpost collar – because even toddlers shouldn’t have to deal with a slipping seatpost.