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.