Category Archives: Shop Visit
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. (more…)
I wasn’t really sure what I was going to do with these photos after processing them last night, post-party. Then I realized something: this was such an undertaking for Sean and the whole team at the Cub House. When they first opened their small shop in South Pasadena, they had no idea how long it’d be up. The landlords told Sean they wanted to demolish the building, giving him 6 months in a tentative rental lease. It felt like they had only been open for a few months when they received their 30-day notice to vacate the premises, sending Sean on the look-out for a new space.
That’s when the old nursery in San Marino popped onto Sean’s radar. It was a huge space, but needed lots of work. I can’t emphasize that enough. It smelled of fertilizer and mildew, with all kinds of issues to fix, yet in a few months time, everyone at the Cub House turned it into a massive, open-air retail space, with lots of character and even more product lining the walls.
Last night was the soft opening, filled with food, drinks, and two DJs welcoming cyclists from all over LA county to visit their new space. This is meant to be a short introduction to the new Cub House. There will be much more to come, once the space’s buildout is finalized.
Til then, go by and see for yourself.
The Cub House
2510 Mission St
San Marino, CA 91108
“Today, under smoky skies, in 90-degree heat, I rode (alone) counterclockwise around the Nicasio reservoir. Eighteen years ago today (Saturday of Labor Day weekend) a habitually drunken driver killed Cece Krone. And I won’t forget how the judge dealt with it all (very low bail). The ‘murderist’ (whose ten-year-old boy was with her) was sloppily overtaking the weekly hammer ride, and in so doing rode up the stone embankment, crushing Cece and her bike. She’d been standing by her bike inside the white line, waiting for the group.” – Jacquie Phelan
Last weekend, on the anniversary weekend of Cece Krone’s death, we met up with Jacquie Phelan just outside of her hometown of Fairfax, California. We had just pedaled our way out of Samuel P Taylor, on a busier-than-average day in terms of traffic. Jacquie crested the hill wearing a tie-dye shirt and camel colored shorts. She rode a custom-decaled Specialized Ruby, with matching shoes and began riding next to each member of our touring posse, introducing herself and making small talk. (more…)
There are bike shops and there are bike show rooms, with the latter focusing on merchandising and the former on service. While there are permutations on the two, I really enjoy walking through the doors of a service shop. It’s something about the aromatic experience of chain lube and tires that makes me feel at ease, especially when it’s not my local shop. All it takes is a smiling face to make the environment welcoming. Luckily, at Black Mountain Cycles, that’s exactly what they’re selling: a welcoming and service-minded environment. In a place like Point Reyes, with a population of around 400, there are very few actual locals, so the owner of Black Mountain Cycles, Mike Varley prides himself in making everyone feel at home. (more…)
Inside / Out at Outer Shell in San Francisco
Words and photos by Spencer Harding
When we set out on the DFL the Divide trip earlier this year I noticed a bunch of my bay area friends were rocking bits and pieces by Outer Shell. Kyle’s work continued to pop up in my world and one day I noticed that he had pretty much made my dream camera strap, I emailed him as quick as I could to get in on the next batch. Kyle has been putting his own very thoughtful twist on many now classic bike packing bags for a few years. With a background in engineering and a focus on versatility and durability, Kyle started Outer Shell. (more…)
Monkey Wrench Cycles: “There are some places so beautiful they can make a grown man break down and weep.”
Words and Photos by Kyle Kelley
The quote above is a pretty famous quote from a little book by Edward Abbey called The Monkey Wrench Gang and I think it even better describes my experience at Monkey Wrench Cycles in Lincoln, Nebraska.
Until Instagram, stories of Monkey Wrench Cycles only came to me via people visiting California from the Midwest or friends who’d moved from the Midwest out to California. I’d never seen the interior of the shop, I’d never seen the exterior of the shop. My relationship with the shop was very much like the relationship to your favorite book. Yes, my imagination was piecing together a floor plan, and characters, but nothing could compare me for the moment I walked into that shop. (more…)
Everyone’s welcome at Ponderosa Cycle + Tour!
Words and Photos by Kyle Kelley
Ponderosa Cyclery + Tour was the first stop on my most recent Bike Shop Tour through middle America. Ponderosa is a relatively new shop compared to the two other shops I’d be stopping at on my way back to California, but it sure didn’t feel that way when I got there. Maybe that was because of Vince’s 14 years of experience in bike shops, or it could be Vince’s love of bicycle tourism and many of the amazing products once produced for the bicycle tourist around the time of the Bikecentennial. Or just maybe it has something to do with the build out of the shop. As I looked around I was astonished by many of the antique fixtures and reclaimed shelving in the store, when I asked about them, before Vince could even get a word in, Jessica, his partner, and co-worker at the shop told us all about Vince’s addiction to Craigslist. (more…)
Squid Bikes: Taking Over the World One Rattlecan at a Time!
Photos and words by Kyle Kelley
Ever since meeting Emily at numerous bike races all over California, and following along with Squid Bikes on Instagram, I must say I’ve become somewhat of a super fan of the brand. First, they’re making bikes in the US, and of course, everyone knows that’s my jam and it’s been my jam since I started jamming! Second, they’re awesome! Third, they have given the world the ability and the confidence to turn any bicycle into a blank canvas! If you aren’t already a super fan too then hopefully these photos and words will change your mind, because these two are going to be bigger than the Beatles! (more…)
Knowledge is best passed, like a torch, through experience. There are many institutions which educate hopeful framebuilders in the art of design, construction, and finishing of a bicycle frame. They each take their own approach to this process and many of our favorite builders have learned in this hands-on, classroom environment.
Nestled in an industrial building, within the town of Frome in Somerset, the Bicycle Academy threw their towel into the framebuilding education ring a few years back and in that time, have grown their curriculum into an impressive institution. All this could not have been possible if it were not for the successful crowdfunding operation and the 183 people who donated money and 23 individuals who donated their skills to jumpstart the Bicycle Academy. (more…)
This cycling world we all live in is very small, or at least smaller thanks to the reach of social media. As soon as we posted up in St. George, Utah, a few local riders reached out to us, offering to show-off their local trails. We eventually met up with Dan, a dude who lives out of his pickup and rambles around the Southwest as a guide and climbing instructor. He finds himself back in St. George this time of year and just so happened to have a few minutes to meet up with us. Dan told Kyle and I about Sabrosa Cycles, a local frame builder who isn’t really actively seeking to boost his queue, but builds a few bikes in his spare time for his friends. After some exchanges over text and Instagram, we set up a time to meet Jon from Sabrosa Cycles at his home shop.
With meet-ups like this, you never know what you’re getting yourself into. You could have some dude with gas cannister and a torch, repairing Schwinn cruisers, or a full-on framebuilding operation. I had heard the name Sabrosa before, but wasn’t aware of Jon or his operation. I think I speak for the entire group who rolled over to Jon’s shop when I say we were all surprised and impressed.
Jon’s not just a builder. He teaches geological classes at the local university, owns a fleet of VWs and is an avid fabricator. When you step into his shop, the bikes are low-hanging fruit, but the equipment and tooling he’s compiled over the years is where the real candy is. His experience with framebuilding came in 2002 when he needed a new cyclocross fork. The stock one had broke and Jon wanted to find a replacement. When he reached out to a friend, he offered to show Jon how to make a fork, not just buy a new one.
From there, he was hooked and began making forks, stems and eventually frames. While he doesn’t really take orders from the internet, he does work with a few locals on their dream builds for the roads and trails of Southern Utah. I’m including a mixte Jon made for his wife, as well as the tricycle he made for his daughter. We’ll take a look at Jon’s personal dirty roadie in more detail later… Follow Jon on Instagram and check out more of his work at Sabrosa Cycles!