Inside / Out at Oakland’s Rat King Frames – Spencer Harding

Inside / Out at Oakland’s Rat King Frames
Words and photos by Spencer Harding

Approaching one of Oakland’s industrial area warehouses I am stoked to take note of the impressive lineup of old Toyota pickups and a VW bus. Smith meets me at the gate and I am unsurprised that he is another very tall frame-builder. I have a sneaking suspicion many tall riders got sick of finding frames that fit them so they just started making their own. Anywho, Smith gives me a tour of the large building that is split into smaller studios for painting, ceramics, and glass work. The main area has many kilns and people working various glass projects. The yard is filled with pups lounging and a family gutting some old camping trailers to make them home.

Smith’s shop, Rat King, is quite humble, just enough room for a few tables to weld on, some shelving, and a mill. He keeps detailed notes of time spent on each frame to track his efficiency and still has many hand-drawn frame layouts up on the walls. Smith started pulling out some of his first frames and laying them next to a current batch of thru axel touring machines. If one thing sticks out on most of his frames it seems to be an affinity for very large head tubes, in diameter and length. Those massive 44mm head tubes lead to some really amazing custom fork work as well. The progression appears to have been quick from the first-built-but-never-ridden track frame to his current small lineup of custom frames. My first trip to his shop I caught a few frames in progress and pre-paint and was stoked to return a few weeks later to see the finished product.

After a few years of working at Montano Velo and watching the in-house brand Broakland, Smith decided to start making his own frames. He spent some time touring around apprenticing under frame builders on the east coast and then came back to establish his small operation in the east bay. We banter about other local frame builders and Smith remarks at how open and helpful many veteran northern California framebuilders have been in fielding his questions as a young framebuilder.

While all of his bikes up until this point have been traditional on-road or gravel machines, he is about to take his first foray into a small batch of hardtail mountain bikes that will be ready in February (Large and Medium frames still available!). Keep your eye out for more from this wonderful human.

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Follow Spencer on Instagram and Rat King on Instagram.

  • kndl

    can anyone advice me on the type of font on for example the the last frame? also, is it just me, or is it really rare to see tapered steel steerers?

    • MANG

      Not sure about the font, but tapered steerers aren’t uncommon on custom frames these days. Paragon Machine Works makes them for frame builders, their shop isn’t too far from Rat King.

      • MANG

        Thinking about it, I have no idea how uncommon they are, because I’m not taking the forks out of people’s custom bikes…. But Paragon still makes them!

        • kndl

          thank y’all

    • Brian Richard Walbergh

      I believe that is a custom font/lettering which is part of Ratking’s idenity designed by Dustin Klein of Cadence.

  • Jason Stanford

    black mountain cycles monstercross frame semi hiding in pic #29. Makes me wonder what frame design influences newer builders.

    • Mike Varley

      I think we all inspire each other – not that I include myself as a builder. I know what I like and I like what all these NorCal builders are doing. I wish I could justify buying a frame from each of them.

  • Marco E.

    Smith is a solid dude!!! Met him when he was working at Montano Velo, I still regret not buying his first road frame from him.

  • Mrk Dvs

    I’ve got a custom RatKing Polo Bike (affectionately dubbed the Midas), and I really can’t give Smith a high enough recommendation. He’s professional, funny, clever, and has a lot of talent. I put my bikes through hell, and I’ve never ridden something so dope on the court. 10/10, would get another bike from him.

  • Ryan Koger

    Is there any clearcoat on that cross bike or is it just str8 raw??