Category Archives: portraits
Rust Never Sleeps on Sofia’s AWOL Touring Bike
Words by Erik Nohlin, photos by John Watson
TRUST ME, I’M A DESIGNER
As a designer of bicycles I try to stay on top of things like material development, new alloys, paint pigment, flakes, pearls, platings and whatnot. It’s in my interest to stay updated in an ever-changing world. What you see on the floor in a bike shop is not just a bicycle with a random color: it’s the result of hundreds or thousands of hours of trial and error behind the scenes at any one man bike shop or huge bike brand with a fleet of designers.
That one color started out as 666 other potential colors and in the end, only one made it. For the one man operation or smaller brand in a well-defined niche it might be easier to do cool and crazy shit to please that one customer with that weird request of a thermochromatic dead matte black that fades to metallic peach with a pride parade pearl to top it off. I design bicycles for a global brand and need to create a bike that pleases a global rider and as you all know, trends and cultural differences around the globe vary, fluctuate and make my day pretty complicated.
I’ll be honest with you: it’s frustrating to rarely ever be able to bring the raddest and weirdest stuff to you. One example is the one off Full Nuke Rainbow AWOL I created for the Transcontinental Race, a bike that almost blew up the internet when John posted it. So much stoke and love was thrown on that bike but the reality is that it would be impossible to produce it, guarantee the surface quality, get a decent price and distribute it to you. Doing rad stuff is easy but mass producing it is a completely different story. So, I try a lot of surface treatments and materials but most often these tryouts, experiments never leave the design studio as more than dirt on my hands, stains on my jeans and once in a while, a painted one off bicycle that I can tell you about.
The Rust AWOL is my wife Sofia’s bike and it used to look quite different. A super glittery rainbow flakey touring bike that was left in the hands of Garrett Chow on a journey to the heart of Death Valley early last winter. The washboard and dirt in Death Valley eat bikes for breakfast and the beat up bike that was returned to her had a couple of scars too many so I promised to bring it back to its “old glory”. The frame is one of the first nickel plated frame samples for the Transcontinental Edition AWOL we did and a perfect canvas to be creative on since the nickel makes it completely sealed for corrosion – ironic isn’t it? Rust is corrosion and in this case impossible to achieve without some chemical magic from a UK paint company called Rustique.
My colleague Barry Gibb had previously used it to create a fantastic surface on a carbon bike and I wanted to try it to, on steel this time. We ordered some paint and decided that Sofia’s nickel plated bike would be the victim for this experiment. The month of June is usually pretty mellow at work (read: not as completely fucking crazy as July and August) and I spent some afternoons in the workshop and paint booth to finish off this creative experiment in an effort to bring real organic life back to a surface that’s dead. In a step by step series on Instagram, I told a transparent story about the process of the #rustawol and here it is and for the first time, a somewhat finished bike. The project was crowned with a Brooks Cambium rust saddle and bar tape where the fabric matches the bike and the vulcanized rubber matches the tan wall tires nicely.
As a last step I gave the Supernova headlamp and the Tubus rack a kiss of iron oxide. The humid and cold San Francisco summer will continue to corrode and oxidize the surface even though it’s been sealed with a clear coat as I surprisingly discovered after picking up the bike today. I learned a ton on this project, got my hands dirty and created a bike that Sofia really seems to like. I love that I sometimes can show you the hands-on process of being a designer at a big brand when 90% of my work never leaves the design studio. Confidentiality keeps us all from sharing what I know a lot of you like seeing and know more about.
Personally, the making-of-dvd in the Indiana Jones DVD box is far superior to the movies themselves and getting dirty is the only way to learn something new.
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While LOW Bicycles might be known best for their made in San Francisco track bikes, for the past year or so, they’ve begun to develop road and ‘cross frames. Debuted at NAHBS, the MKI road is Low’s first geared bike offering, selling in small production runs and starting as a collaboration with Cadence, a longtime supporter of the brand.
A lot has changed at LOW since my last visit. Andrew hired Michael full-time, who aids in everything from prep to production and finishing. This enables Andrew to focus on welding and keeping up with the ever-increasing demand for frames.
When I was at the shop, Michael was working on one of the LOW MKI ‘cross frames in their new color: safety orange. These frames are being raced by TCB Courier and should be available soon for purchase.
When visiting a longtime friend like Andrew, more time is spend chatting and catching up, but I did get a few photos of the shop, the new frames and his dog, Manny. Enjoy!
If you’d like to pick up a LOW, head to their web shop or email Andrew for availability of their new MKI road and MKI cross frames.
“I don’t have a studio, I have a workshop. I’m not an artist, I’m a fabricator…”
We were talking about the mystique surrounding custom frames and the public’s perception, or in many cases the perpetuation of preciousness associated with “bespoke” frames. Cameron Falconer isn’t an artist, he makes straight forward, utilitarian machines meant to shred. Sure, they’re tailored to fit and Cam’s years of racing and riding influence a lot of their nuances (water bottle cage placement for example) but these are bicycles, not art…
The more I see the work of Cameron Falconer in person, the more I love his bicycles, especially his rigid 29’r model. Designed for everything from trail riding to multi-day bikepacking, these bikes have multiple layers of functional details. From the multiple water bottle braze-ons, to the segmented forks and custom racks, these bikes can be outrigged to take on anything you throw at them.
Gabe‘s bike in particular is a prime example. I first saw it in person when we went on our little camping trip Saturday night. The British Racing Green disappears in the low-laying shrubbery lining the hills outside of San Francisco, perfect for stealth camping and the no-hassle component build is easily serviceable from any number of spare parts bins you might find at shops while on the road during a trip.
While much of the drivetrain is no-nonsense, Gabe splurged a bit on the Thomson parts, the Jones H-bar, Paul thumbies and Spurcycle bell. Maxxis ardents provide ample puncture protection and trail bite while loaded and the Brooks saddle will continue to ripen with age. Yep. This is about as good as it gets in my opinion.
My favorite detail? The size small Revelate frame pack, cleverly hooked on the cable boss and bottle cage and the front derailleur mounting under the seat tube bottle cage…
$600. That’s how much Jacob paid for his Team Fat Chance frame on eBay. It was in pristine condition with the original Yo Eddy! fork and a brand new paint job. Here’s when the collector would begin to scrounge up all the NOS parts to restore it to its original glory, yet all Jacob wanted was a bike he could ride Austin’s Greenbelt trails on. Even with the rebirth of a Fat Chance brand, there’s something to be said about 20-year steel frames. Especially with a legacy like Fat City.
While most of the build is straight forward, the Bullmoose bars and Velocity Cliffhanger rims, laced to Deore hubs are the standout details. Now his Onza tires are tubeless, which means he can run lower pressure and not worry about snakebikes on limestone ledges and the Deore hubs will be easily serviceable after the rain brings creek crossings.
His 1x setup was made possible by a clutch Deore derailleur and a Wolf Tooth ring, mounted to vintage Shimano cranks and braking is being taken care of by Chico’s finest, Paul Components.
For around $1,500, Jacob built up a vintage mountain bike with style and while it might not tackle a rock garden as fast as a modern full sus bike, sometimes the ride isn’t about being timed.
Cole and Jonathan at Mellow Johnny’s did a great job on the build and this bike looks so good covered in limestone dust. Shred on, buddy.
What do you do with that old racing frame you had for over a decade after you decide racing just isn’t for you? Or those gaudy old wheels kicking around the bike shop you’ve worked at for just as long? For Peter, one of Mellow Johnny’s longest running employees, he got crafty.
Peter has had this frame since 2003, when it was fit with an actual road group. At the time, the titanium and carbon Serotta Legend was a rocket. Stiff rear triangle, compliant front end, or so they say. Whatever the marketing behind this bike was, within its design lay a beautiful possibility.
Those bolts, holding the seat stays to the dropouts can be serviced. If they can be serviced, they can be removed so Peter took the initiative to put a Gates Carbon Belt Drive system they had at Mellow’s to the test by installing the belt through that split in the stays.
There he was, with a decade-old, balleur commuter rendered in green and gold. What else could he do to this bike to put it over the top? How about a set of gold Campagnolo wheels from 2008? Voila. Personally, I think this bike is so wacky that it works and it’s been Peter’s go-to ride for years… Run what you brung.
This Tannenwald Luchs 29 was hanging at the Tune Factory and I just had to shoot it. From what I gather, Tannenwald is a local favorite. Honestly, I didn’t know much about the brand besides the frames being built in Germany. I reached out to to them and got a little bit of information about the company.
Tannenwald is Rüdiger (Rudi) Kupper and Stefan Lichtner. The frames are all handcrafted by Stefan in Palatinate, Germany. “Back to the roots” refers to their “commitment to the finest steel construction and craftsmanship”. The LUCHS 29 was inspired by a 42km long MTB trail near the builder’s house. This LUCHS is built with Tune components and has the Schwarzwald-themed paint scheme.
I love how much this bike represents the region, all the way down to the Tune Componentry. She looks like quite the ripper if you ask me.
Fairwheel Bikes in the US stocks all of Tune’s componentry. If you see something you like, they probably have it in stock. If they don’t, they can order it for ya!
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Austin has a certain gravity. It attracts cyclists of all wheel types and for Matt, he wasn’t drawn here for the road cycling, or mountain biking. Matt began his experience with the bicycle on a BMX. He’s from Australia and Austin has always been the mecca for BMXing in the US. His friends here range from pros to companies like T-1, where he stays while in town.
It wasn’t until a surf trip in Mexico a while back where he finally got a bicycle. If you’d call it that. A clapped-out rig took him for hundreds of miles to visit a friend before he finally realized what he wanted in a bike. Later, a custom Bilenky allowed him to tow his surfboard on trips and the touring hook was set.
Fast forward a few years and Matt wanted to do something on his own. Since he’s not a framebuilder, he met up with a friend who’s dad was. They began talking about cycling and what it meant to Matt before drafting up a CAD drawing and getting a few prototypes made overseas. Crust Bikes was born. Sort of. Still incubating, this company right now spreads the stoke over Instagram, where Matt shares his travels and sells small items like patches, bottles and trucker caps.
Matt hopes to be building frames here in the States, under the welder of an experienced builder up in the North East. His first model would be this Evasion touring bike. Built for 26+ (Knard 3″), 650b or 700c wheels, the Evasion has the clearance and the confidence for everything from a sub 24 hour camping trip to full on excursion style riding.
I caught up with Matt last week and shot some photos of this unique rig. Built with a Rohloff, it’s virtually maintenance free. The Swift Industries bags, Brooks Saddle and other companents tell a tale through their patina. One that you too can follow along at @AFewSketchyMoments and @Crustbikes on Instagram
There’s nothing like taking a brand new bike and throwing it into the proverbial fire.
Bikes like this are not meant to be babied, nurtured, wiped down with a micro-fiber cloth and sprayed with chemicals to make them look shiny. They’re meant to be abused, smashed, shredded and put to the test, straight out of the gate. Especially bikes specifically designed for arguably one of the most intense endurance races in the Continental United States.
The Salsa Cutthroat is what I would call a first for the company. In the sense that it’s a bike designed for a specific event: the Tour Divide Race.
Over the next few days, I’ll be rolling out coverage from what we all began to call the “Tour Divide Simulation Ride” but first, I’d like to begin with a quick gallery from the Grand Depart in Banff, Alberta.
Traditionally, the race begins in the YWCA parking lot, just across the river from the main tourist thoroughfares in Banff. This year’s turnout was the biggest yet, with around 150 people registering for the race. A quick headcount revealed around 130 at the start, with a handful of people beginning a day early or later that morning.
Still, to see a Grand Depart this size for a race like the Tour Divide was more than I expected and quite the scene. Men, women, old, young and even a canine left Banff with aspirations of finishing this grueling challenge. Over the next few weeks their mind, body, bike and soul will be put to the test…
Our trip was a bit easier but even after three days on the road, I have a new found respect for anyone willing to tackle such a feat. Best of luck to all the racers and riders still out there on the TDR.