A Custom Bike Journey with Caletti Cycles: Crafting the Ultimate Ride

In the heart of Santa Cruz, California, John Caletti has spent over two decades honing his craft as a master frame builder at Caletti Cycles. From his early days of building steel frames to his current reputation for creating exceptional custom titanium bicycles, John’s journey is a testament to his dedication to the art and science of frame building.

A visit to Caletti Cycles reveals not just a workshop, but also a place where passion and precision intersect, where each bike reflects John’s commitment to quality and innovation. Join us below as we explore the inception of a unique builder/photographer relationship between John Caletti and Chris Corona, delving into John’s background, his perspectives on the cycling industry, and the vibrant community of makers that defines Caletti Cycles.

Discovering a Master Craftsman

Let’s rewind to 2012 when my buddy Arsenio came to me seeking advice on small frame builders in Northern California. Back then, getting a custom build meant a year-long wait or more. After tapping into my network, Matt Potter at Spokesman Bicycles in Santa Cruz threw John Caletti’s name into the ring, labeling him a ‘perfectionist.’ Intrigued, I passed along the tip, and before long, a few of us found ourselves in Caletti’s garage shop off Emeline in Santa Cruz. Despite his shy demeanor, John wowed us with his fit process and the array of options for a complete build. While I didn’t get to know John well at that point, one thing was crystal clear from the get-go: his attentive and genuine approach to helping my friend find the perfect bike was the way to go.

A Growing Partnership

Fast forward to 2018. After years of extensive cycling and a growing interest in photography, I was eager to enhance both my riding experience and artistic pursuits. On our frequent rides together, my best friend Covey often suggested that John and I collaborate. Eventually, Covey made the connection, and we embarked on our first bike/photo project together.

Over the past six years, John has crafted five bikes for me, each a testament to his meticulous attention to detail and focus on fit, strength, and industry longevity. These builds included a road bike, a cross bike, a mountain bike, an adventure road bike, and the latest addition, a flat bar gravel bike affectionately known as “the Scrambler”.

Crafting the Ultimate Ride

Now, you might be wondering, why a sixth bike? Well, this time around, I was looking to create the ultimate ride, incorporating the latest Shimano components and re-optimizing my ideal road riding tire width to 38c tires. I wanted a bike that could continue to do it all, perfectly tailored to my evolving riding style and needs. I requested a slight tweak in the geometry to strike a balance between the road and cross bikes John had previously built for me. Industry standards continually move forward without regard to the small fortunes we invest in our bikes; this time I wanted to stay at the forefront and get the most up-to-date, future-proof setup in wireless tech. This led us down the path of clean lines, maximum comfort, and chill vibes.

The Fit

We kicked off the project by revising my fit. John and I dove into discussions about lengthening the cockpit and creating a more stable wheelbase. We decided to kick out the fork rake slightly, which not only added to the downhill stability but also eliminated any toe overlap issues. For the most part, John relied on data from my previous builds and explained how the tweaks would enhance the overall feel. It was akin to visiting a barber for a trim and a shave – familiar, comforting, and refreshing.

The Build

Entering into the intricacies of the build process felt like stepping into a world of magic and mystery. If only I could grasp all the technical jargon and scientific details behind John’s craft, I might spin an even more enchanting tale. John’s first move was to select a tube set that would not only optimize the ride feel but also handle my hearty 220-pound dad bod that I sport year-round now.

John approached each tube with the precision of a surgeon, cutting and mitering them with meticulous care. Every measurement underwent triple scrutiny to ensure a perfect fit before being positioned in the jig for tack welding. A final precision check was the last step before the welding torch ignited, ensuring that everything was aligned to perfection.

Watching John weld was like observing a maestro compose a symphony. His focus was intense, movements deliberate. He spared no effort in ensuring clean welds, carefully running each bead in a sterile environment with high-end welding equipment. His welding wasn’t just welding; it was artistry in motion, a testament to his commitment to excellence.

John concluded the build with another trip to the surface plate, carefully checking for accuracy. Satisfied with the precision, he then hung the frame, ready for its next phase.

The Finish

Returning the next morning, I was eager for another round of photos and to witness the finishing touches of the build process: the finish. John’s expertise in finishes is unparalleled, offering a variety of techniques to suit any preference. However, my personal inclination is towards showcasing the raw titanium, accentuated by subtle anodized highlights.

Observing John working with anodization was captivating. Using an electrolyte solution and current, he anodized different sections of the frame to achieve the perfect color balance. After masking off specific areas, the frame underwent media blasting.

Media blasting is where the transformation truly takes place. Utilizing various media, John can achieve a range of sheens on the metal, from matte to glossy. I have a particular fondness for a matte titanium finish, and John delivered flawlessly. To complete the build, John added a striking blue ano logo package before hanging the frame to await its final assembly.

The Ride

So often, we take the construction of our frame builds for granted, always seeking perfection while lamenting the high prices. However, watching a builder create what we will ride for a long period of time really puts things into perspective. The thought they put into crafting a machine that will endure miles of abuse, from weather to trail conditions, is truly admirable. John’s bikes are especially remarkable. They seem to emanate from his soul and are a genuine reflection of his personality.

I took my new steed out for a few rides, exploring Swanton, Davenport, and Seabright over several choice days. These locations often serve as a proving ground for my riding style. I’ve written about riding through the Santa Cruz mountains to the coast before, and there’s no denying that this area is one of the most beautiful places to ride a bike in the world. Caletti Cycles feels like the perfect pairing for this region. John has a knack for building bikes that are not only suited to this terrain but are also versatile tools that excel in just about any location.

Reflecting on my journey with Caletti, it’s clear that our collaboration has been about more than just building bikes. What began as a recommendation in 2012 has blossomed into an awesome friendship, forged through a shared passion for cycling, craftsmanship and photography. From the early days of fitting and designing my friend’s bike to our latest creation, our partnership has been marked by John’s unwavering dedication to his craft and his genuine, down-to-earth approach. Riding a Caletti bike isn’t just about the quality of the ride; it’s about the bond between rider and builder, the countless conversations and shared experiences that have enriched my life. As I look forward to many more miles on my bikes, I do so with gratitude for the friendship that began with a simple recommendation.

57 cm-ish Titanium “Speed Gravel” Caletti Cycles Build

Frame: Caletti Cycles gravel platform (custom geo/fit)
Fork: ENVE Gravel custom paint by Dark Matter Finishing
Groupset: Shimano Ultegra DI2 R8100
Headset: Chris King Matte Midnight
Bottom Bracket: Chris King Matte Midnight
Wheels: Caletti Fast Forty carbon rims laced to Chris King R45 Matte Midnight hubs
Stem: Easton EA90 0 degree rise 100mm
Seatpost: Easton EA90
Handlebar: Easton EA70 AX 46cm
Tires: Schwalbe G-One RS 700 x 38c
Bags: Outer Shell (shout out to Kyle and Jim for matching the Ti perfectly)
Bottles: Ornot 10-year bottle (shout out to Matt and Tyler for keeping me kitted)
Cages: King Cage Ti cages media blasted by Caletti