Inside / Out at Black Cat Bicycles

Todd Ingermansen has been working in the cycling industry for a long time. Too long if you ask him. Since the age of 13 he’s had a presence in bike shops. What began as sweeping the shop floors eventually culminated into being a mechanic, riding bikes and living bikes. Yet, Todd wanted something more. Running parallel to his bike shop jobs was his art school education, where he realized his 2D and 3-dimension eye for details. In his early 20’s he chased his love of singlespeed MTB riding and racing to Oakland, California where cycling completely enveloped his life.

Back then, there weren’t any US manufacturers of singlespeed MTB frames. Or at least none that piqued Todd’s interest, so he began building his own. A few friends helped him out, some frames worked, some didn’t, yet every frame taught Todd something. Eventually he moved back down the California coast, to San Luis Obispo and began fillet brazing. He had built a dozen or so frames before landing a job with Rick Hunter of Hunter Cycles. Under Rick’s torch, Todd began to realize the importance of actually making a bicycle frame, something that stands true even today.

For the past 14 years, Todd’s been building a brand, and a modus operandi to how he believes bicycles should be made. Black Cat Bicycles are unique, arguably unlike anything else I’ve witnessed in my years of documenting framebuilders. Much like his mentor, Rick Hunter, Todd doesn’t just weld a mail order kit of parts together and paint it. He engineers his own dropouts, builds stems, machines metal into whatever he pleases, carves his own lugs and bends his tubing in very unique shapes. For instance, how do you make chainstays that are bent, yet have an ever-so-slight arc to them?

One of the latest production Black Cat road frames.

While the shape and stance of Black Cat Bicycles are unlike anything I’ve witnessed, to many, the paint is what draws them in. Todd’s intricate designs are actually done in-house, and by that, I mean literally in the garage of his home in Aptos, amidst his mills, tubing stock, complete bikes and drawings. First, he gets the frames powdercoated by a local company and then he goes to town masking and painting his frames in a work stand. Each design is different, while many might appear to be variations on a theme.

Then, when he’s had enough of building for the day, he kits up and pedals out his front door for a ride. That’s where the fun begins.

Inside Out at Black Cat Biycles-14

Todd’s bike geometries are informed by these bike rides. While he brings his own idea about how a bike should ride to the table, ultimately it’s his clients’ input that decides the final geometries. That’s where the tediousness of framebuilding comes into play: balancing the builder’s years of experience with the client’s pre-conceived notions of what angles or measurements mean what. For those lucky enough to ride with Todd, they’ll see how his preference in bicycle geometry works for the mountains of Santa Cruz as his bikes whip around underneath him.

Hobby

Last week, I spent an entire day with Todd, beginning with morning coffee and ending with a post-ride burger. We spent the time talking bikes, how it’s easy to get burned out and how it’s of the utmost importance to have other hobbies, outside of cycling. Oh and we rode some of Todd’s local trails, which really helped me as a photographer and as someone who has documented many of Todd’s bikes, gain insight into what makes Black Cat Bicycles tick…

Inside Out at Black Cat Biycles-35

Todd’s currently got his queue full enough for two year’s worth of work and isn’t taking any more orders. In the interim, he does run batches of frames from time to time, rounding out his 40-ish frames a year. Follow @BlackCatBicycles on Instagram to keep up to date on Todd’s progress and to be alerted when these batches take place. If by chance something pops up in your size, pounce! For when a Black Cat crosses your path, you’d better chase it!

  • That’s the dream right there, inspiring!

  • Ted Barbeau

    It’s easy to get hyperbolic whenever you feature these insanely talented builders, but Todd and Black Cat Bicycles represent the very pinnacle of handmade bicycles in my opinion. Beautiful frames, unique dropouts, killer stems, and lust-worthy paint jobs all from a one-man band? Check. Tested and perfected on some of the most fun trails on the west coast? Double-check. Needless to say, I hope to get on his waiting list some day.

    • black cat bicycles

      thanks to everybody for the hyperbole! john’s made my life seem better than i remember it being.
      man, maybe it is that good…

      i reckon i’m just lucky to be here.

      • DominicBruysPorter

        I think you are, but i think we’re all lucky to be able to share the fruits of your labours too, in different ways.

        Good job dave man

  • RNTRMP

    Great piece John. Boy, those dropouts are tasty looking.

  • pastafarian9

    That cafe racer though :)

    Its looks very similar to a royal enfield?

    • black cat bicycles

      thanks! it’s a triton!!! the archetypal cafe racer. pre unit t120 triumph motor in a norton wideline featherbed frame. it’s almost done getting built. i wish i could spend more time on it, but alas, i gotta job to do.

      • Will Hilgenberg

        Woo Triton! Race a 650 TriBSA for MX. Have to admit, I stared at the Triton for a while before I got back to the rest of the photos. Is that an original tank or a remake?

        • black cat bicycles

          yea! super stoked on it. i’ve had the frame and the norton dominator motor for 16 years, just waiting for the piles of time and money needed to get it rolling. i’ve wanted one of these since i saw one in “classic bike” what seems like a lifetime ago. it’s a uk made remake alloy tank. i don’t have the patience to wait for the geniune lyta/john tickle/dunstall stuff. i just wanna go ride it, not talk about how period correct it is. it’s got ducati dual disc brakes on it, for chrissakes! the purists will look down their noses at me, for sure. that’s ok. i’m used to it.

          you running a t110 motor in a b50?

          • Will Hilgenberg

            What else do you have left on that bike? Looks like some brackets, oil tank work, and maybe wiring harness? Shouldn’t take too long when you get the time. . . Of course that’s never how it works.

            It’s actually a Pre-Unit T100 Motor in an (I think) A65 frame. Also with a re-pop UK tank, because crashing a real tank is waaaay too expensive. And it’s going to happen. Working with my dad to build up a Unit 500 Rickman as well. Hopefully will be good to go for next race season. TBD. You know how that goes. You should make it out to the next vintage race at Hollister. It’s an easy 1 hour drive from our area.

            https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/0225f8d9bc742010dd0cc82802c55371ce1f382dd393e9407eecd24ce3207551.jpg

          • black cat bicycles

            a pic of the other side would reveal the primary i’m still fiddling with. got one of those newby belts. they are the jam, but still fiddling… “yes” on everything else you mentioned, as well as countless little bits here and there.

            that tribsa looks about as fun as it gets! i’d like to come out, but watching people ride around is not my cup of tea. maybe i’ll find something worthy in the swap though and get out there and clog up the tracks for you guys.

            dang! rickman!

          • Will Hilgenberg

            Ooooooohhh, belt primary. I can see how that could be a pain with all the alignment you need to do.

            I was thinking more for the swap meet/pits that usually goes on at those events because you’re right, why watch when you can ride?

            Hope your bike goes together smoothly!

      • pastafarian9

        Right on! It looked very similar to a royal enfield cafe-racer I saw a few months ago.

        Great work though! Would love to read more about it :D

  • Don Gouda

    cool stems!

  • Andrew Burton

    what’s up with the single eyelet on the dropouts of that white frame?

    • Andrew Burton

      nevermind just realized it was the brake caliper mount haha

  • adamrvaldez

    I’m wondering if the tape on the TT in #24 is to combat the lack of bar spin clearance. I’ve got the same issue on my Chromag Surface and no matter how I adjust my cockpit I can’t seem to clear the dang top tube. It just creeps me out for if/when I fall, I don’t want a nice ding in my frame.

    • black cat bicycles

      yep. my monkey-length arms like the bars low. low bars = top tube mishaps when i, er, dismount suddenly. a little bit of duct tape on your bike ride is never a bad thing too.

  • rick hunter

    Todd always flats…

    • black cat bicycles

      my level of riding requires constant air pressure management, probably because i pop more wheelies than what you’re used to.

      have you even tried tubeless? it’s a different world, dude.

  • ‘The only thing new is you finding out about it’.

    • Brian Rogers

      That whiteboard was my favorite part of the “shop tour”

  • Brian Rogers

    Todd is a fantastic human. His bikes are alright too.

  • Nealipo

    These are my favorite posts. Thank you for documenting these craftsmen.

  • Evan Robinson

    Been listening to Sunny Day Real Estate after seeing that poster.

    • Saw that poster as well…gave him a spiritual fist bump.

  • Jared

    Iconic frame builder for sure, those frames always get some deserved attention on the trails. Excellent article on a solid US brand.