Back in March, as part of the Kolektif Bike Fair in Berlin, the team behind Rad Race put on the 9th annual Last Wo/Man Standing fixed gear race at the winding indoor Mobikart go-kart circuit track. Additionally, the bike fair featured a handful of stunning custom builds on display from an array of framebuilders including Drust, Omnium, Rossman, Morassi, Trout, ten:07, and Vetra. Petor Georgallou was there for it all and shares a full report and massive image gallery below.
Quack quack quack! Quack quack quack! Quack quack qua… I always regret my choice of ringtone when I’m near real ducks.
“Hello? Oh hi 2005! What’s that you’re saying? You’d like your fixie scene back? Yeah sorry, Berlin’s using it right now and it’s a lot of fun, so maybe hit up Doc Brown to drop off in his Delorean after Rad Race. Nah, we’re all gravel dads with overly fancy commuter bikes pretending to do sports now. Okay, speak soon! Love you too!”
Boop boop boop.
In truth, the fixie scene in 2005 wishes it was Rad Race’s Last Wo/Man Standing. Located just a twenty-minute cycle further out of town than the accompanying bikeshow, Kolektif, the race was wilder than I imagined. We queued in the drizzle outside of a dilapidated indoor go-kart track, Mobikart, gently pulsating with techno, to show our wristbands to stereotypical-looking hairless bouncers in black bomber jackets named Ronnie. After a half-hearted shakedown, and token bag search, we breached the venue’s chain link perimeter fence. For some reason at that point, we locked all our bikes together in piles, like medieval haystacks before the advent of combine harvesters and bailing technology, as if it were actually 2005. I’m not sure why we did this because ample bike parking was provided, but something about it just felt right, even though I was riding my “klappy” (the generic East Berlin name given to all folding bikes, although mine bears the Brompton name) which is arguably the worst bike to lock in a pile.
We walked through a yard with food and beer trucks into the go-kart track; a generic industrial building that smelled like cigarettes, smoke machines and slightly sour spilled beer. It felt more like the beginnings of a rave than a race, with an eclectic crowd of serious racers, fixie crews smuggling six packs of Polish beer in “secret” pockets within messenger bags, cycling fans and übercool Berliners.
I feel like fixie crits in London devolved from the early days of the Smithfield Nocturne in 2007 – like a superfun melting pot for all the weird niche groups of cyclists rattling about – to something a bit too organized, and a bit dry. Rad Race wasn’t dry. There was an air of comfortable chaos, with spectators banging on the banner boards and clambering across the track mid-race to get a better viewpoint. At the same time, the race was being live streamed with cameras in all the corners as well as a huge broadcast camera strategically positioned on top of a container next to the track, and FPV drones wizzing around and following the racers. Members of staff were on hand at all the right corners to scoop racers up when they crashed and, while the racing ended at around midnight, the party continued in a smaller (warmer) side room till 3:00am. It was organized chaos and it felt like a real party.
I’m not sure which I enjoyed more: the racing or the disparate gaggles of weirdos circulating in patchy pockets throughout the evening. One minute I was chatting with some fixie kids that I recognized from London, the next minute to some fun Berlin goth kids, then a racing team from Poland who’d turned up in uniform. I even bumped into Alec Briggs from Tekkerz, who won the men’s race for the third year in a row, milling about in the crowd. I didn’t stick around for the party.
Once I’d got back to my “klappy,” the bike stack that had engulfed it had been eroded sufficiently to facilitate my escape. Berlin is an amazing city for enthusiasts. It’s sprawling and industrial, with wide roads and plenty of empty or squatted buildings. This facilitates the option of a relatively inexpensive way of life, necessary for people working independently in creative industries. It’s a place where niches find their footing, stretch out into the extremities of their own unbounded weirdness, and become perhaps the best, Berlin-ized, most extreme version of themselves.
The next morning we wandered through Kolektif, Rad Race’s accompanying bike show, saw a lot of normal stuff, “bike culture” stuff that felt nostalgic, and t-shirt sellers. There was a framebuilders corner, which definitely took center stage as my highlight of the show, but it was also great to catch up with old pals, make new friends, ride some silly fun bikes, and document some real gems.
Drust MTB and All-Road
One of my favorite parts of the show was spending some more time with Konstantine Drust, whose dog’s sofa I slept on during my stay. I wanted to do a shop visit while I was there but Konstantine was just about to move out of his modified containers to somewhere actually nice/suitable for humans, so I decided to wait until next time. Until then, here are two Drust bikes: one that was on display and another owned by a friend of Konstantine that I bumped into at the show, which I couldn’t leave without photographing.
The bike on display was a metallic green monster of a mountain bike—“a flat bar gravel adventure bikepacking ATB”—with a fluorescent yellow frame bag made by Berlin-based bag manufacturer, Bagface, whose sewn-on logo is appropriately a gimp mask with its own little working zip mouth. It was Konstantin’s most recent prototype for a “production model” that can be batch-produced. So, although it retained his eccentric-as-hell house style, compared to his usual builds it was relatively paired down. Konstantine’s version of “paired down” still includes a suspension-corrected truss fork with a tapered steerer, and a fun mismatched build kit with everything from SRAM xx1, and Whisky carbon riser bars, to Hope brakes and Ingrid cranks.
If this oddball build wasn’t quirky enough, I also spotted one of his “normal” full custom builds, a blue lacquered all-road/gravel grav build, built in a kind of trussed way around an open-ended central tube. The bike named ‘Dirtyderius’ was built for and in collaboration with designer and illustrator Ralph Berwanger.
The finish was made by riding the bike around with no paint for a year, and then selectively sanding the rust back before a coat of clear blue lacquer. I was excited to see the bike in the flesh; it was a rare and wonderful embodiment of two people who are excited about a thing, getting together to make an exciting thing.
Omnium Tall Bike
On my way back through the show, I couldn’t help but divert my route from the framebuilders’ corner to take in a factory-built Omnium tall bike. Once I’d taken the bike outside to photograph, I couldn’t not jump on and ride it around the block, and then the next block, and a couple more blocks, before reluctantly returning to the show. Even though it’s a factory bike, there was for sure plenty of shoddiness, with tubes joining in weird places, some suspect welding on the stays and a cut-off crankset used as an idler. In spite of the shoddiness, it might be the cargo bike of my dreams. A bike I’d love to own.
The rear end, having not been extended to accommodate the additional height, would ordinarily feel too short and wheelie-prone; however, because of the long front center and the additional weight of the cargo rack and steering linkage, it actually felt better to ride than a normal Omnium. It felt nippier and less boat-like with the weight centered a little further over the back wheel. I could get the front end up a little easier than a normal bike, an affliction of tall bikes in general, which would for sure feel sketchy riding uphill, BUT toss even just a messenger bag on the front, and I’m sure it would feel more nimble and more fun carving through traffic than the standard model. Somehow through sheer lack of regard for handling characteristics, Omnium nailed the “fun cargo bike” that I wish was a production model.
On the other end of the spectrum, rando-enthusiast Hahn Rossman’s bike was wonderfully considered and immaculately designed to the last detail, for absolute ride quality in different situations. Most notably, the removable touring bars make for a more supple, comfortable frame most of the time, with some additional stiffness when the bike is laden. I loved that it felt quite utilitarian for a rando bike; there were plenty of details but in a very genuinely French way, somehow those details don’t come off as unnecessarily fancy. I enjoyed the simplicity of the stem, headset and magnetic dynamo switch all machined in-house, as well as the way the reinforcing rings on the headtube disappear into neat filets.
I’ve been a massive fan of TIM TAS & REK bags for a while, and hidden in a whole bunch of them is a cute little nod to modernity I’ve not seen before, which gives the whole build both a sense of humor but also a sense of its place in the modern world. Stuck to the middle of the map pocket of a smart rando bag, is a printed magnetic mounting bracket for a Wahoo. It’s a small thing, but a thing I’ve never seen before that makes the bike a tool, accepting modernity in spite of its apparent drawbacks. While there is an air of francophile nostalgia about the build, all of the design choices Hahn made, in its construction and assembly, are centered around improving ride quality and the user experience. In this way Hahn’s builds have a comfortably self-aware quality, in their referencing a design philosophy over a design aesthetic, even if on the surface the two things present similarly. I loved this build for being a utilitarian bike built in the rando tradition rather than being a rando cosplay bike.
Another rando bike that stood out for me was this bonkers stainless build by Morassi. I feel like stainless is a good choice of material for this sort of build, where ride quality is everything. But the thing that stood out to me the most was the fork with blades bent in-house using a custom-made mandrill for extra comfy boing. Although the build looks super minimal at first glance, there are few bikes I’ve seen that employ more separate processes.
Stainless steel builds can be made lighter or stiffer than bikes made from even the fanciest steel tubes with the same dimensions because the mechanical properties of mar-aging stainless alloys used for bicycle tubes far exceed those of “regular” steel (we’re talking about not-stainless, high grade engineered tubes rather than generic stock) which means they can be thinner, and stiffer at smaller diameters. The tubing itself is very hard, so it’s a little trickier to cut or shape or bend, and it’s more temperature sensitive than “regular” steel, so it can’t be joined with brass or bronze filler rods, it has to either be joined with a silver-based filler like “filet pro” or be TIG welded… this is where this build gets fruity. Silver-based filler rods are not quite as strong as bronze rods normally used for filet brazing. Now while there is an argument that the strength of a join comes from the tightness of the miter, and that the filet just holds everything in place, Morassi wasn’t confident in the strength of silver as a joining material, so the frame was TIG welded.
To retain the aesthetic that the customer wanted, the TIG welds were overlaid with little silver filets, which will slowly age and become darker, contrasting with the stainless tubes. So that’s two processes, but wait there’s more! Silver is very soft and a bit grippier than brass, which makes it lovely to shape with a file after the filet has been laid down. Instead of carrying on with the decorative silver filets like on the rest of the frame, Morrasi has filed down the stainless steel TIG welds on the head tube junction to keep the profile the same while looking completely seamless. Filing down a stainless TIG weld is basically hell, and the skill (and patience) involved in creating such an aesthetic profile while not affecting it structurally—and not cutting into the tubes either side of the welds—is truly impressive. The build kit was also a pretty tasteful mashup of high quality old and new parts that work technically and aesthetically well together.
Trout Gravel Bike
Trout brought a pretty fun-looking gravgrav bike, which was as fun a looking combination of classic and modern parts as I’ve ever seen: Lugged construction, with a kind of classic geometry, built around modern standards with through axles and a T47 bottom bracket. Obviously, there are no T47 lugged BB shells in existence, so the paint mirrors the lugs used for the rest of the bike in a way that doesn’t look at all incongruous with the rest of the build. It’s the first time I’ve seen the new BEAST components drop bars for MTB shifters and levers on a bike.
They looked great and somehow not out of place. I also really liked the steel 1 1/8th lugged fork although my personal preference is for steel forks with curved blades. The tube set was a mix of Reynolds 853 and Columbus, which I expect may be partly to do with lug compatibility as well as dialing in the feel of the frame. The details were all so spot on, with an impressive headbadge by Jen Green, and super low profile anodized titanium bolts in all the bottle and rack bosses.
ten:07 Banana Unicorn Cargo
Daniel at ten:07 brought along the latest iteration of the award-winning Unicorn Cargo Bike designed to fit in narrow hallways that I’m sure are as common in most European cities as they are in London. The bike, made entirely within the EU, has a quick-release stem that can swing around 90 degrees, and a quick-release cargo rack that pops off with one screw to make it super narrow in seconds.
While it’s not a folding bike as such, these two quick releases make a meaningful impact on how much space you’d need to store it in a flat or a house, without any compromise to the bike’s longevity or ride quality. For that reason, I like this bike as a cargo bike that might be more appropriate for a lot of people depending on their living situation, which is a consideration that very few cargo bike manufacturers have addressed.
Last but not least, this Vetra was just effortlessly kool. With a tattoo flash-like roster of logo versions—which are all better than most, yet also change each year to stay relevant—it’s easy to get drawn into the seductively kool (embracing the “K”-kool because: Berlin) graphic design to the point of missing all the amazing little details.
The BMX style dropouts, the uncapped overhanging rack tubes, übercool and surprisingly ergonomic integrated cockpit, and some seriously stylish bridges, crown carving and brake mounts. I’m looking forward to a double shop visit, since Drust and Vetra will soon be under one roof but I’m also a bit terrified because our brief chat about brazing included: “is constantly breathing flux bad?”
Seeing the nuances of the approach towards being a small independent manufacturer of bicycles in different countries always feels like a cultural experience, because it’s easier to see what a different cultural landscape looks and feels like from your own separate standpoint. I’m super excited about the handmade bike scene in Germany at the moment, it feels energetic and varied, like a village infected with contagious enthusiasts. I can’t wait to head back to Berlin for the world’s biggest mixed polo tournament in July and to spend more time poking around and visiting some shops, including the new Drust/Vetra boric acid cancer den. I’ll make sure to bring my own respirator!
Verabschiedung for now, Berlin! We’ll be back soon.