Inside/Out at Oddity Cycles: Mastering the Dark Arts of Framebuilding

Looking at an Oddity Cycles-designed frame, handlebar, or fork, you might think that it was welded in a circus sideshow tent by a depraved, frazzle-haired, torch-wielding, radical. That these wildly bent steel and titanium tubes, contorted and bonded into freakishly beautiful forms, could only have originated in the darkest corners of a PT Barnum exhibition. And that’s exactly what Sean Burns, founder, designer, and fabricator wants you to think. So, on this eve of All Hallows, let’s pull back the curtain on this iconic framebuilder, and his assistant “Spooky,” along with a close look at a couple of Sean’s personal two-wheeled creations…

Despite the sideshow tent undertones, Oddity Cycles is actually located on the shores of Horsetooth Reservoir, just west of Fort Collins, CO. It’s there that builder Sean Burns has been making custom frames and components out of steel and titanium for nearly ten years. His style is unlike any other and his bikes have achieved a mythical standing both for their distinctive aesthetics and superior ride quality. I consider myself fortunate to own an Oddity frame, multiple handlebars, and now a Squidfork, and can personally attest to their quality and performance. Earlier this summer, as part of a productive trip (see here and here) to the place I called home for fifteen years, I spent a few days at Oddity HQ to observe (and sort of participate in) the making of my fork. While there, I documented the build process and learned more about Sean, his background, and his ethos as a framebuilder.

You may have heard whisperings about the dark arts in reference to a certain type of bicycle fabrication but, at least for me, I didn’t fully grasp the meaning of the phrase until I watched Sean in action for a few days. This practice of developing unreplicable processes through experience and visual thinking combined with using few, if any, pre-made frame parts with only the assistance of simple machines is, even as I’m typing this, difficult to define but is at the core of Oddity Cycles.

Sean, or “Burnsey” as he’s known, shared a few anecdotes to help illustrate how he thinks about design and fabrication: During his time working as an architect, he recalls roaming hardware store aisles on lunch breaks looking at various parts and pondering creative and atypical uses for them.. In this past life as an architect, one of his roles was detailing how to build out complex aspects of structures his firm had designed so he had to know how each little fastener and bit functioned. And rather than going back to his desk to write it all down, he describes mapping it out in his mind to see if it would actually work. Moving into building bicycles, Sean carried over the visual thinking of his “art mind” t to dream up, and build, his unique designs.

Interns working in his shop will often be numbers people, while Sean’s default is more right-brained thinking. These folks will want to know exact measurements and see a design drawing before feeling confident in cutting a tube. But that’s not the way Sean’s brain works – he pictures what the design is supposed to look like and can hold a tube up to a frame, draw a few Sharpie lines, cut them on a mill, and 98% of the time the tube fits. Fabrication in the dark arts, then, is not merely an adopted method for Sean, but rather an innate way of having complete creative control.

Originally hailing from Kansas City, Sean grew up a skate/bmx punk and talented artist. When it came to learning from textbooks in school, he didn’t perform very well. He went on to work as an architect and tattoo artist, learning more through experience than books. Riding bikes and climbing rocks was how he enjoyed spending his free time, as he still does today. When he got into riding more, Sean and his friends started riding singlespeed mountain bikes as the simplicity of singlespeeds mirrored the purist ethos of traditional climbing. Both approaches seemed like the truest expression of each sport and, thus, the style he most aligned with. Sean and his crew raced a bit but became disenchanted with the rules associated with organized events, so started their own more open-minded underground alternatives known as Pirate Rides.



Always tinkering with bikes, either in the race environment or just for fun, Sean first officially dabbled in framebuilding in 2012 with a Metal Guru course taught by Carl Schlemowitz of Vicious Cycles. This was at the urging of his wife who thought the dual grinds of working in architecture and tattooing were wearing on him and encouraged him to figure out what he really wanted to do with his life. Sean’s boss at the architecture firm also supported his transition to building bikes and helped accumulate machines and tools to get up and running.

When Sean moved to Fort Collins in 2013, he met James Bleakley of Black Sheep Bikes through riding with mutual friends like Todd Heath and Ryan McKee. At the time, Todd, who would eventually go on to start Moonmen Bikes, was also working for James during a pivotal era in the evolution of the Black Sheep style.

Eager to learn from one of the best, Sean started helping out at Black Sheep a few days per week. When Todd moved out to work on Moonmen full-time, Sean began to share the space with James and developed a unique style of his own that would become the foundation for Oddity Cycles. James, as you might have heard, is one of the nicest people in the cycling industry and is very giving in sharing his experiences, time, and knowledge with upcoming and established builders alike. Sean definitely lucked out having James as a mentor. And, now that Sean’s established in the community, he’s become a mentor himself in both supporting interns in his shop and newer Northern Colorado builders like Will Bender with tools and advice.

Developing a strong brand and unified aesthetic was super important to Sean. With a family to support, making a living from building bikes and components had to work. Sean merged his experience building curvy-tubed frames at Black sheep with his love of vintage Schwinns and designs of established framebuilders like Curtis Inglis, along with a small dose of bmx/freestyle background, to make stylistically distinct modern mountain bikes. While the Oddity style is always evolving with each custom frame Sean makes, the brand has cemented its visual identity and Oddity-appreciators would know Sean’s work even if it was bare of any logos or branding. His style has become his brand and there’s nothing else on the market quite like it.

Adding custom handlebars and forks (and stems and seatposts, too) to his product lineup helped Sean solidify the Oddity brand identity while also increasing brand visibility and offering a cohesive design across complete builds. At the time he started, there were very few frame builders making components other than frames and, for handlebars, it was pretty much just the Black Sheep Mountain Moustache, Jones H-Bar, and Groovy Luv Handle.

In addition to adding even further creative cohesion to his finished builds, offering a custom handlebar sort of democratized his products. Being able to purchase select parts allowed folks who could never afford one of his frames to be able to have a piece of Oddity craftsmanship on their bike, and one that was still customizable. But it was important to first master frame fabrication before delving into handlebars and other parts. As Sean might say, based on his background in tattooing: you don’t get knuckle ink until you’ve gotten a full sleeve.

Your first Oddity purchase can act as a gateway drug—Sean’s craftmanship is addictive. At least, this was certainly my experience: I bought one titanium handlebar about seven years ago for my singlespeed, loved it so much that I just had to have another, and now I have three Oddity bars, one fork, and a frame. The Razorbar was his first handlebar foray and, from the beginning, was available in any backsweep and any rise up to 100mm. The OddMonē (my personal favorite) was next as part of a collaboratively built coaster-brake MTB between Oddity and Monē Bikes.

Bars were faster to produce and could be done while frames were being built. For a while, Oddity was the only one doing this at scale, with most Black Sheep bars being sold along with frames, Jones moving production overseas, and Groovy only offering a few at a time. Now, Oddity offers six handlebar variations, still with the option to request something fully custom. The last time Sean added up his production in 2019, he had churned out over 460 handlebars in that year alone! With other makers entering the handlebar game these days making strikingly similar designs, Oddity will always be the OG.

Next year, 2023, will be Oddity Cycles’ 10th anniversary. While some things have changed during that time, the core of the brand and operation remain largely the same. Each product that comes out of the Oddity shop starts there on the rack of straight tubing— steel or titanium—and everything that leaves is welded by Sean. He does all of his own media blasting and has started to experiment with in-house anodization.

Over the years, Sean has been fortunate to have a handful of friends and riding buddies either volunteer, intern, or work for hourly rates in the shop, mostly out of their appreciation for what Sean is doing and the scene that seems to exist around him. Right now, Chad spends a few days per week bending tubes for standard handlebar orders and will soon start learning to weld. With Chad doing more around the shop, Sean’s bandwidth will hopefully free up a bit as the frame and fork queues have been closed for a while with no foreseen openings. Spooky the cat had just joined the team when I was visiting and was already whipping them into shape with fancy project management software and TPS reports.

With Sean’s location west of Horsetooth Reservoir, the Pirate Rides live on with Oddity HQ as their home base and he’s just a few minutes’ pedal from the area’s best trails for product testing or an afternoon cool-down ride. Nearly every week, a revolving group of friends meet to enjoy the legendary trails of Lory State Park and Horsetooth Mountain Park.

As far as places to live, it doesn’t get much better than Sean’s location. He’s about a half mile from two popular trailheads that lead out to hundreds of miles of world-class single track. To the south, Blue Sky trail isn’t super technical but offers fun and flowy terrain that traverses down to the chunkier Devil’s Backbone Trail and, even further, to the city of Loveland where even more trails can be accessed. To the north, Soderberg Trail accesses both Lory State Park and Horsetooth Mountain Park, each featuring a mix of flow, elevation, and chunk. With a fairly lengthy riding season, it’s a perfect testing ground for mountain bikes.

Sean’s funny though. For a guy that can build anything he wants, he’s pretty modest. I’ve ridden with him a bunch and nearly every time I do, he shows up on his beat-up mountain cruiser. It’s been stolen, found, hacked, and repaired to the point that it’s just covered in character and patina. It’s a coaster brake-equipped singlespeed and he always looks to be having a blast riding it. I hear that it finally met its final demise shortly after we shot these photos, so RIP funky mountain cruiser. Regardless, let’s take a detailed look at it and one of Sean’s personal geared hardtails below…

Mountain Cruiser

This frame was born one night when Sean, Cjell Monē, Corbin Brady, and Chris Riechel were hanging in the shop drinking beers and decided they didn’t want to just sit around and drink beers, but would rather build a collaboration frame. So, that night Sean and Cjell sketched up a rough drawing, Corbin prepped tubes, and Chris documented the process (let’s see those photos, Chris!). Within a few hours, the frame was tacked and mostly welded. After having it painted, the frame hung on Sean’s wall for about six months, and then when he finally went to build it up, he realized there wasn’t enough chainring clearance to run a 29 x 3.0” tire as originally planned, so he chopped the rear end off and welded a new one.

The fork originated from heavy-gauge 4130 chromoly US-made dumpster-found Huffy frame. Sean cut the main tubes out, bent them into shape, and welded into a unicrown fork.

The handlebar was the first Oddity X-Bar, essentially an OddMonē with an X crossbar rather than a straight one. Other parts come from brands that Sean is friendly with, such as the White Industries crank and Paul Component seatpost and stem.

The rear hub is a Shimano coaster hub modified with an aftermarket axle and spaced out to 135mm with different bearings, heavier grease, and beefier brake arm. The Monē/Brady-designed coaster cooler is an integral part of the braking system as it dissipates heat from the hub, reducing repack intervals and preventing failure from overheating (in the same way I wrote about in this piece).

All Mountain Hardtail

Sean had this bike at Brave New Wheel for servicing and I was able to quickly pull it out of their storage for a few photos right before the shop closed. Otherwise, I would have preferred to photograph it in some dirt. Each time Sean builds himself a bike he incorporates a few new design elements, and this is no exception. Featuring the most “modern” geometry he’s used for a personal bike, it has a slack 66° headtube angle and relatively steep seat tube.

This was a prototype that he could ride every day but also strap bags to for multi-day tours like the Colorado Trail where the terrain is technical, but still requires lugging camping gear along. Normally, a frame like this would feature a lower standover, but Sean opened the frame a bit to accommodate luggage for touring.

Other experimental aspects of this frame are the mono/wishbone seatstay, ovalized top tube, and slightly flattened downtube at the bottom bracket intersection for increased lateral stiffness. These aren’t typical Oddity design elements but Sean wanted to test the look and performance of this bike before recommending the design aspects and ride qualities to customers.

Thank you Sean for opening your doors to us and sharing your story, for being a solid friend over the years, and for making really cool shit for all of us weirdo cyclists to enjoy. And, thanks to Taylor for the excellent video!

Stay tuned for more about my Oddity bike, as it deserves its own full feature.