For a two-man operation, Nick Neuhaus and Daniel Yang have their systems dialed. Or, maybe the manpower limitations of being a small team have been the motivating force behind the duo’s streamlined Marin-based, framebuilding operation, Neuhaus Metalworks. Hailey Moore and John Watson spent some time talking shop with Nick and Daniel on their innovative 3D printed components and how these parts lead to higher efficiency in their US-made frames. Read on for a closer look at Neuhaus’ exciting approach to making steel and titanium mountain bikes.
Mechanical + Engineering
Before starting his namesake framebuilding label, Nick Neuhaus had a long resume of chopping metal and making things. Born and raised in Northern California, Nick cut his teeth riding BMX and gravity-focused dirt, while also experimenting with moto-cross until injuries forced him to take engine-driven sports out of the equation. The son of auto-repair shop owners, he learned his way around a workshop early as he and his brothers “always had rock crawlers and track cars” and weekends and after school were “[spent] in the shop working on our own stuff, working on my cars, building roll cages.”
Mods and swaps that might seem absurdly involved for the hobbyist tinkerer were family projects, and learning experiences, for Nick and his dad: “One of my fondest memories is he didn’t have space for me in the shop to do a solid axle swap on a pickup truck that I bought when I was in highschool so we ended up going down [to the shop] in the pickup, got all the tools we needed, cut everything off the frame rail in a completely not-flat driveway and somehow welded everything back together straighter than when it was stock. So, I’ve always just been exposed to that world and it’s always fascinated me; I’ve always liked to make things.”
Before bicycles, Nick’s mechanical curiosities led him to work for a motorcycle race team where he did suspension and chassis design work. Today, Nick sees parallels in that back-and-forth builder to engineer feedback loop and the processes he and Daniel employ at Neuhaus; “I’d go to the race track and help tune the bikes, get back to the engineers and tell them what needed to be made. Not all that different from the setup we’ve established here: taking notes from the real world and passing it off to Daniel (in this case), and the engineering team previously, and in a couple weeks be handed some more parts with the instructions to let them know how it goes.”
Daniel got into the full-range of cycling experiences in college and graduate school—riding road, track, and mountain bikes—while studying mechanical engineering. He worked as an engineer in additive manufacturing before he got caught up in tech layoffs, which allowed him to channel his passion into building bikes full time. He was actually a Neuhaus customer before becoming half of the operation, and asked Nick to build him a bike that closely resembles the Solstice model they offer today. It’s easy to see how Daniel’s unbridled enthusiasm for engineering and model-driven design would have sparked early conversations between him and Nick. Regarding how he sees the connection between bikes and engineering, Daniel says, “I eat and breath engineering —for me, one of the joys of cycling is the connection between the human body, the machine that you’re riding, and the terrain that you’re riding on. Being able to design frames is cool because you can visualize the feelings that you want to have while riding and then design a bike to suit that.”
The two make a complementary co-working pair; Nick’s views are well-considered, he is polished in speech, and delivers sound bytes with a marketer’s precision while Daniel’s effervescent, nerdy fervor around all things data, modeling, and 3D printing brings big start-up energy to the operation. The two’s tag-team approach to our shop tour brought out the best in both their personalities and firmly illustrated their knowledge of their craft.
Around the Shop
“[There’s] just enough room to do enough laps when it rains to drive you crazy,” is how Nick describes Neuhaus’ modest workspace. But like the best makers’ spaces, everything feels purposeful; everything has a story.
Gesturing towards the tubing backstock, Nick explains how they keep extra inventory to a minimum, “Everything we use is 4130 chromoly; front triangles are generally a combination of normal 4130 chromoly butted tubes and heat-treated tubes, depending on the size, location, etc… We partner with Bike Fab Supply (Andrew Cooper) and generally he’ll sell the tubes we design and he’ll also house the overstock. So, instead of [us] having to find a place to put 200 tubes, he’ll sit on them, sell them as people need them, and we can [also] buy them from him as needed.”
The shop has two frame fixtures (“Todd Farr built one of these,”) setup so that Nick can have two projects going at once and the space also houses two mills. Nick bought the Bridgeport (“1970-something?”) off a machine shop that actually used to make parts for Fox Factory; it didn’t make bike suspension parts but it did make truck suspension parts. At Neuhaus, it’s responsible for gravel bike chainstays and it holds a tubing bender that Nick uses for some bridges. That’s about it, currently, but Nick added a hint of things to come, “that will change in the near future as we start introducing some additional models.” At the time of our visit, their All-Road Proto had yet to be unveiled, but you can find photos of this newly-announced work in progress in our recent Sea Otter coverage!
“This machine probably does the majority of the work in the shop,” said Nick, pointing to the mitering machine, “ [it’s] set up for all the main tube mitering; it does the chainstay mitering; we do the seat stays on it.” And, of course, he continued with the story behind it, “It is also probably the most unique machine in the shop: this actually came from Ibis when Ibis was located in Sonoma County so in the very, early beginning days of Ibis and Scot Nicol, this made thousands of those steel and titanium Ibis frames….I can set a stop a stand here for hours doing the same thing over and over and aggravate the carpal tunnel that I didn’t used to have. This machine was built in 1909 and I can say with absolute confidence that it is the most accurate machine in this shop—it is also the heaviest. The published weight without the electric motor conversion which was done in the 1950s was about 4,700lbs, so we figure with the motor it’s close to 5,000lbs.”
Next, Nick pointed out the lathe (“very similar to the one they’ve got over there at Dean”) which mostly gets used for cleaning tubes. The second mill, “is the most boring machine in the shop,” according to Nick “but is also probably the second-most used. It’s a knock-off of a Bridgeport step-pulley mill, I use it as a glorified drill press (vent holes in BB shells and seat tubes).” The welder—an inverter machine—is, fittingly, his favorite. As Nick admits, “It was a splurge purchase—it’s more than I’ll ever need, it maxes out at 400 amps which I think is good for welding a half-inch plate, which is 50x over the thickest part of a bicycle frame.”
The best for last was saved in the shop tour as Nick and Daniel revealed their 3D components cookie jar. “I can confidently say that we stock more than anyone else in 3D printed parts,” said Nick as he and Daniel showed me their collection of micro components: chain stay yoke, Y yoke (seat stay/seat tube/top tube junction), bottle bracket, internal routing port, and internal routing port seal. “I’m the secret 3D printing guy in the bike industry right now,” said Daniel, more than happy to shed his anonymity, “We have a contract manufacturer in Shanghai who prints these stainless steel parts and, then, for titanium parts we get them printed from Silca.”
Efficiency, replicability, and faster frame turnover are all afforded to Neuhaus by these seemingly simple 3D pieces. “These are all Daniel’s designs,” explains Nick, “and part of what makes the bikes so manufacturable at a quick rate. Being able to turn a handmade bike around as quickly as we can is somewhat unique.”
A special XXS Hummingbird
Made for the Trail: Neuhaus Frame Offerings
While Nick alone wears the welder’s hood, and Daniel’s specialized skillset gives him reign over the 3D printing realm, the most collaborative aspect of Neuhaus is certainly in their designs. They currently offer two mountain bike models: the Solstice 29 hardtail is positioned as an “all-arounder that’s lively on the climbs and stable on the chunk” designed around 130mm of travel (120mm for size small), while the Hummingbird is “our progressive XC/Trail mountain bike. Lightweight, responsive, and efficient for your all-day adventures.”
While the Solstice is available in an impressive 13-step size range (simply listing the sizing steps as S to XL doesn’t give credit to their half-sizes), the Hummingbird truly embodies Neuhaus’ commitment to full spectrum sizing and comes in a startling 16 frame options. Better still, Daniel and Nick are committed to giving riders the same experience in handling and compliance across the size range, from those on XL frames to XS. They hope to achieve this by tackling the hard, outlying geometry problems first.
Daniel explains, “I feel like the bike industry designs around a M/L size—for the average male height of 5’10”. We like to tackle the extreme cases first m, the really tall and small people. Once we’ve solved those design challenges, we can fit a line to interpolate sizes that are in between. Designing for sizes that are typically neglected allows us to design better bikes for everybody.”
Rider experience is certainly the top priority but Nick points to the logistical benefits as well “[Our method] also lets us solve material challenges. The reason a lot of the stock bikes are [made] the way they are is based on what’s commercially available and what’s manufacturable for these larger operations. Because we keep things small and we keep things made here, we can have a wider variety of material on hand for various use cases and we can scale that accordingly to, again, make sure that XL rider has the same experience as that XS rider.”
A lot of this rider experience can be attributed to tubing spec and, as always, Daniel points to the data when explaining their approach to dialing in compliance, “For a lighter rider on a smaller frame (where the frame is inherently stiffer), we use FEA modeling to help is choose the diameter and thickness of the tubes to achieve a target torsional stiffness for that frame.
This is all modeling based, so it’s not perfect, but at least we have a guideline for determining the tube spec. We don’t try to maintain a constant stiffness across frame sizes because [generally] the rider will get heavier as the frames get bigger.” To augment the numbers that the model spits out, Daniel and Nick also provide prototypes in exchange for feedback to local rider friends who ride bikes at the extreme ends of their size offerings.
Daniel and Nick, Neuhaus Metalworks
To show this point in practice, Nick contrasted the 44mm-diameter downtube that’s used for XXL Hummingbird versus the 35mm diameter downtube seen on the Medium and down (e.g.S, XS, XXS) sizes, and followed up by adding, “If somebody who rides an XL tells somebody who rides a S [frame] that it’s the best-riding bike they’ve ever ridden, we want that story to be true. [Whereas] With a lot of off-the-shelf, showroom floor bikes are built around that M to L size, then the XL riders feel like the bike is very flexy underneath them and the rider on a S/XS feels like the bike is exceptionally stiff.”
John’s First Ride Look at the Hummingbird 29er
While we won’t be able to test Neuhaus’ consistency claims at the smallest end of the sizing spectrum, we did think it would be an insightful experiment to have two members of The Radavist team throw a leg over the Hummingbird. Hailey is working on a longer-term review of the Hummingbird (size M, stay tuned!), and John got out for a ride with Nick and Daniel on a recent trip to Marin. Read on for his first ride thoughts on how it flies!
The size XL Hummingbird I rode weighs 31lbs
I don’t want to take too much thunder away from Hailey’s upcoming review, but I want to acknowledge the bike Daniel and Nick built up for me to ride while I was in Marin shooting with them.
The Hummingbird is within the wheelhouse of the Chumba Senduro, Esker Japhy, and other 120mm hardtails I’ve reviewed over the years. However, as Hailey outlines above, it features several 3D-printed components in key frame junctions. The seat tube cluster and chainstay yoke are the fingerprints that identify it as a Neuhaus when compared to other bikes on the market. Little details stand out like how slammed the head tube is to the fork, the raised seat tube bottle boss bridge that allows for the use of a Voile cargo strap, and perhaps my favorite: the dropper port nipple.
In terms of riding characteristics, like many builders, Neuhaus is inspired by its local trails and the sorts of rides Daniel and Nick partake on. Steep, punchy tech climbs, swooping, narrow bench-cut trails, and lots of high-speed flow have physically shaped these frames to be efficient, responsive, and lightweight.
The Steel Hummingbird had just the right amount of flex to make chunky stuff smooth out while not losing power transfer efficiency when climbing the steep stuff. My only ride included me carrying a 15lb camera bag that tends to shift unexpectedly around while I’m riding, so the bike was doing double duty maintaining a sure footing under my body.
Overall, steel hardtails are incredibly efficient and versatile bikes. Perhaps moreso than a gravel bike. A swapping of tires from fast-rolling 2.3″ to big n chunky 2.6″ can drastically alter the bike’s capabilities, and the Hummingbird’s geo (plus the proper XL stack height!) made it a familiar and comfortable first ride–even if I was pinned, chasing Nick down the whole time!
Be on the lookout for Hailey’s in-depth review next week!
We’d like to thank Neuhaus Metalworks for the open doors both physically and digitally. Thanks Nick and Daniel!
Questions? Comments? The team at Neuhaus would love to hear from you. Drop them a line.