Moth Attack Moves to Tucson: A Shop Visit and Interview with Framebuilder Megan Dean

Longtime readers of this site are likely very familiar with Megan Dean and her frame building operation Moth Attack. Her builds span the typology gamut – track, ‘cross, road, mountain, etc. – and she’s been doing it for quite some time now. Check out John’s visit to her space in LA back in 2012! Over the years she’s sponsored a cyclocross team, taught frame building, and has assumed ownership of Handlebar Mustache apparel company with her partner Wade. After moving around the western US, Megan and Wade recently settled in Tuscon, AZ. While I was in town for some riding earlier this year, I caught up with Megan in her home studio while she brazed and formed tubes for the gravel/adventure frame she’s building for Wade. Continue reading for an interview with Megan and a detailed look at two bikes in her personal collection: a 90s Klein Attitude commuter and Team Moth Attack CX…

What’s the story behind the name “Moth Attack?” 

I was living in my favorite LA punk house with a bunch of bike friends and returned from being gone a few weeks to find grain moths had overrun the kitchen. I joked about naming a band Moth Attack, but I have less talent musically than most punks and cannot stand to hear my own voice amplified so it somehow morphed into frames when I was learning. I couldn’t have gone traditional and used Dean anyway with Dean Bikes being almost as old as I am, but it would have felt too boring and just furthered the mis-gendering early on I’m sure.

You’ve moved around a bit and built frames in a number of locations over the years. What brought you to Tucson to establish some roots?

I’ve had a tough time settling somewhere since leaving LA for sure. Vegas won out for a long time with my family living there and then I landed in Eagle, CO. It was a great move for a while and it even made me a mountain biker, but after 4 years of living in commercial space and being priced out of everything we decided we should choose our next home on our own terms before being forced to move. Bikes rule everything, but we were hoping to find a place we could afford without just working ourselves to death and find some like minded folks. We had been down to ride the 2020 Ruta Del Jefe, and fell in love with the area riding down in the Borderlands. I grew up in Vegas exploring around the desert in CA/AZ/UT/NV and it has always had a hold on me. It’s a tough climate, but it’s very special and hard to not love watching desert-adapted creatures and plants thriving on their own in it. It was very impulsive since we were pre-vaccine pandemic days moving, and we have been so happy, we took the leap.

Your Team Moth Attack CX bikes are beautiful. How did that project come to fruition?

I was already friends with a few members from frequent travel to messenger events, and had built a track bike for Erica. They already had a bit of a plan, and the expected frame sponsor had a change in availability so they came to me with the idea and a plan. I was already spending some time in the Bay Area so we all sat down and talked about what we would like to see with a team that was a mix of total beginners to strong racers. It was a good trial for me to see if I was capable of batch building bikes faster than one at a time. Repeating tasks on a short timeline was something I didn’t get early on, and it’s something I think benefits a small builder. In hand-mitering six bikes at one time, it was cool to see the progression of how quickly I could get a tight and perfect fit, but I’ll never need to do it again physically. It’s still one of my favorite bikes almost 7 years later despite maxing out at 38’s with mud clearances and far too many dings to the beautiful paint Rudi at Black Magic did.

You also operate Handlebar Mustache apparel company. How do you keep up with running multiple businesses?

It’s been a weird pandemic with a lot of evaluating life choices. Frame building will never go back to full-time for me. It physically beat my hands up a good bit, and I took a huge step back. It’s been a lot of time figuring out how to not give it up entirely because the thought of that just feels bad but the dog needs shelter and food also. HB felt like a good fit especially since I have backup from Wade. We started making plans to take over HB from our friends who were running it while I was recovering from a hip surgery, so the timing for sitting around and learning Adobe Illustrator was perfect. I wasn’t fully off crutches for almost 4 months – and that’s tough on someone who is used to full gas – so even learning on a computer was fun. Cost of living in Eagle, CO was so high I was building, making coffee, and coaching a girl’s mtb program, so adding one more thing seemed reasonable!

I did some screen printing when I was a young punk kid, so it was just diving back in and relearning and expanding something I had a base knowledge of. Frame building and screen printing have some similarities for me. It’s a lot of detail – part creativity, part technical skill, and rewarding when you get things right. They’re also different enough that it feels like a break swapping from one for the next. Our sock side is less technical, but very fun to keep up a loved brand our friends built. I shared shop space with them when I was living in Boulder (relatively brief move!) and my husband and I met working with them for Interbike 2016 so it’s had a special place for us. Now we get to print for friends and brands we love and donate to groups we believe in.

What has been your trajectory with frame building – how did you get started and where do you think you are now with it?

I was lucky enough to get to Yamaguchi’s class in 2006 after learning that it was even something I could consider doing for work. I was a courier who had done some wood working and dropped out of photography school but nothing was as fun as riding my bike all day. I was very lucky to have encouraging and talented friends to even get more than a couple frames done given how much space and money it takes to start up, particularly before the internet go so robust for information searches. The dream was all framebuilding all the time, but I couldn’t physically keep up while I was doing everything by hand. After a while, the damage was done by the time I was able to get my hands on a mill. It’s one bike at a time for me these days and probably will be until I hang up the torch entirely.

You have some great vintage mountain bikes in your home collection; when did you start accumulating them and are you done, or do you see your collection growing?

It actually started while I was in Johnstown for the CMA class in the fall. I was considering finding an older mountain bike for riding around Tucson, given that our streets are pretty rough, and I’m not trying to beat my body up riding 23c tires at 120psi anymore. I’ve also been trying to convince myself I need a hobby I can’t monetize and hustle at, but I think this was the wrong choice for casual shop fiddling. I had browsed Tucson Craigslist and BICAS, but didn’t find anything compelling. I dug around at Hope Cyclery and didn’t have a ton of room for the sorta-too-small Panasonic I fell in love with, but did connect with Jeff of Bike Jerks while there and then I returned home to a Breezer Storm frame waiting for parts. The search for parts has been part of the fun, and also led to acquiring the 1990 Klein Attitude (described in detail below) that was just waiting for a nerd. I’ve not done too much to it yet, but just a small stem and bar swap and tire swap means I’ve got a super fun bike. I have some things I’d like to do, but it was an amazing accidental find.

What music is typically playing in your shop?

I’m a big podcast listener while working. It’s a lot of Behind the Bastards and Popular Front adjacent shows because I’m just a big bummer who thinks a lot about what this world looks like in our near future. When I can’t take it anymore, I haven’t grown beyond being a vegan straightedge hardcore punk kid at heart, but it’s hard to beat Explosions In The Sky for brazing smooth jams.

What’s your approach to/style/method of framebuilding? Where do you draw inspiration?

A friend once called me utilitarian and visceral and I think that’s probably the best short version of where my head is at. I was quick to adopt oversized tubing to build super stiff track bikes and I’ve liked to keep a lot of the same look with a softer ride than a totally inflexible track bike. One of the best parts of framebuilding is the other builders. There are so many folks who do great work and make amazing things, it’s hard not to feel inspired to get in the shop if you’re scrolling through IG feeds or lucky enough to be in person these days.

What are your favorite types of bikes to build? 

These days it feels like it’s gotta touch dirt. I will always have a love for the track, but gravel and mountain bikes are the most utilized and have the most range going forward. I hate to make something that is just going to hang on a wall because folks are exhausted by tangling with cars trying to road ride and it feels more and more that happens to our friends.

The course you taught at the Center for Metal Arts in Johnstown PA looked awesome. What made you want to teach framebuilding?

I can blame that all on Jarrod Bunk! He connected me with the director from CMA who wanted to host a fillet brazing class and I had enough time to come up with a plan to get some confidence around the idea. We were able to pull together a very cohesive group and it was a little bit of a learning experience for all of us traveling in to the shop there. CMA is so unique and Johnstown was a great place to host us. I wouldn’t have considered teaching anything before 10 years in and even that felt too soon when folks would ask about wanting to be an apprentice or something. I might not have even considered myself capable of teaching if I hadn’t been spending so much time coaching with the kiddos and trying to get them to learn some mechanical skills from me. I think the long term future of small framebuilders will be a lot more diverse than it has been, but if I can help make a dent in that happening faster through being more approachable teaching it makes me happy.

When are you going to schedule a framebuilding course in Tucson (I’ll be one of the first to sign up!)

It’d be a one on one in the sunroom! I’m not sure how to replicate the CMA class anywhere else and it would be hard to do anything less after getting that experience. The entire building is buzzing with inspiration and having folks around who are forging and tig welding and want to share their experience was so incredibly unique. I’m also really fond of how isolated Johnstown felt. We had a good social aspect with Hope Cyclery being close to the workshop and housing, but there weren’t a lot of distractions to pull focus from the frame building part of it.

Klein Attitude

The Klein is still very stock from the day I found it on Craigslist around last Christmas. I swapped to a new stem and a Wald handlebar I found digging around at BICAS here in Tucson. It’s a threaded 1 ⅛” set up with an adapter from the original 1 ¼”.

I gave up on finding an original fork pretty quickly, so I’ll ride the Judy it has on it until I either build, or fint, a rigid 1 ⅛” threaded because I don’t want to give up its quill stem.

The front wheel isn’t original – someone/somewhere along it’s life build it around a White Industries hub and matched the nipples to the blue in the frame.

I’d like to match the rear since it’s never going to be a beater bike despite where it started. At the moment, it’s badass frame with weird cool things happening, even though not everything is super intentional.

Moth Attack CX

The Moth Attack CX is on it’s 3rd drivetrain iteration. I’m back to a 2x here after the first couple rides we did on a very flat Loop and the tires are just right at 38c for clearance (I never expected to go beyond a 32c).

I’m mostly riding my hardtail if it’s rougher stuff than I can ride on the 38’s because it means my hands will be hurting on skinnier tires anyway.

I do have paint-matched Enve bars on a Red Shift suspension stem. The dampers are set up pretty stiff for my weight, but it was the balance I found I preferred to not feel too soft but still have enough give to smooth out big washboard sections.

I have a trusty old set of Whisky Rims laced to Industry Nine hubs and I think it’s due for a caliper upgrade to Paul Klampers, since it’s a mechanical forever bike for me.

Thanks again, Megan, for opening up your home and shop for us!