Living in the Phoenix, AZ metro area, I get to connect with a variety of interesting folks who travel here during the winter months. Like Western Sandpipers, Sandhill Cranes, Golden Eagles, and other airborne travelers of North American migratory flyways, humans also flock to warmer climes in the Sonoran Desert’s overwintering sites. On a recent trip to my neighborhood caffeine dealer, Cartel Roasting Co, my jaw dropped when I saw Richard’s handmade cruiser parked out front. Visiting from Winnipeg, Manitoba with his wife Michelle, the couple snowbirds in Arizona to connect with friends and ride bikes. Before I knew it, Richard and I had talked for nearly an hour about his love of vintage bikes, cycling for physical and mental health, and his recent forays into building his own framesets. Let’s take a look at his most recent creation below!
Richard made his career by working with metal, primarily building 4×4 trucks. Tall 4×4 trucks (as he emphasized) typically used for off-road vehicle recovery or muddin’. Generally a creative and artistic guy, and a self-taught welder to boot, he designed and built the home he and his wife Michelle now live in, featured in Homes & Cottages magazine. He has made furniture, sculptures, trade show booths, and more.
About eight years ago, he got into cycling through Winnepeg’s fat bike scene after not throwing a leg over in 25 years. Not one to sit idle, especially in the early retirement years, Richard has paired his creativity and welding experience with a new-found appreciation for classic double-top tubed cruisers, klunkers, and handmade contemporary interpretations (from the likes of Moonmen, Monē, Oddity, Black Sheep, etc.).
He’s been staying busy building his two-wheeled creations, primarily relying on used components and cobbling together sections of discarded frames. It’s a classy-meets-franken aesthetic that feels perfectly fitting for these types of throwback-inspired bikes.
His fifth bicycle project is the trail cruiser he’s riding in Arizona this winter. As Richard says, his earlier frames were fun to ride and had some funky design elements—like integrated fenders and truss forks—but he still felt he’d been shy of the mark on the vintage look he was going for. This one, however, seems to have coalesced around his vision for a neo-classical upright and plush cruiser reminiscent of Schwinns and CCMs from the ’40s and ’50s.
A relative newcomer to cycling, Richard views the activity as integral to a healthy lifestyle averaging 30 miles per day, five days per week, with annual distances tallying around 5,000 miles. I’ve never been to Winnipeg, but Richard tells me it’s very flat. Dirt roads, gravel paths, and moderate singletrack are his preferred terrain, and, as such, his handmade bikes are designed more for comfort and distance rather than hard-charging technical singletrack. For the days when he does want to push it, he’ll opt for his fatbike.
This rig is Richard’s self-proclaimed best take yet on a 40s cruiser. Coincidentally, once the frame was completed, he received a vintage CCM frame as a gift from a friend. When comparing the profiles of each, Richard’s frame aligned nearly identically with the vintage model, give or take a degree or so of difference in the head angle.
Whenever I write about cruisers and klunkers, I feel it’s important to point out the distinctions in typology and features of each. Early mountain bikes were typically coaster brake-equipped beach cruisers, or “paperboy bikes,” stripped of non-essentials (fenders, chainguards, etc) for the sole purpose of bombing downhill as fast as possible.
Riders quickly adapted road bike or randonneuring derailleurs, cassettes, thumb shifters, motorcycle handbrakes, and added knobby tires to improve efficiency, handling, and ride quality on dirt roads and trails. These purpose-built creations were known as klunkers. While, in the past, I’ve been inclined to generalize all coaster brake mountain bikes as klunkers, I think a more appropriate appellation is cruiser for bikes that retain a coaster brake and eschew external derailleurs. And, in the case of Richard’s here – since he spends most of his time on flatter aspects rather than steep mountainous single track – I’ve dubbed this a trail cruiser.
When starting a new frame-building project, Richard uses the geometry of his Borealis Echo fat bike as the jumping-off point. Though, for this one, instead of relying on a setback seat post as he typically does on stock frame sizes, Richard used a slack seat tube angle to achieve a comfortable riding position.
Structurally speaking, this frame is an amalgamation of at least four different bikes. Richard prefers to reuse discarded frames in his builds, choosing various sections from each based on tubing diameters and angles. The most substantial chunk of another bike here is the headtube, downtube, bottom bracket, and about 4″ of seat tube from a scrapped frame. The chainstays and seat tube are from yet another frame and the fork was constructed using elements from two forks, one with a 1″ steerer. Top tubes were formed with sections of tubing Richard had laying around his shop.
The crankset and handlebars were donations from friends that Richard customized to fit the character of the build. The bars were originally black powder-coated Diety Highsides, which Richard wire brushed and had another friend TIG weld an aluminum crossbar. In keeping with the early klunker/cruiser vibe, Richard made the top-loader BMX-style stem from a few other disparate parts and linked it up with an integrated truss. After a little more wire brushing, the Shimano M6000 crankset fits right in with the rest of the bits.
Other key components pulling this simple yet inspired build together are the hubs, rims, and saddle. The Shimano Alfine hub handles double-duty shifting through eight gears and also stops via a coaster brake. And since this bike was destined to spend its winter in Arizona, tubeless compatible rims were a necessity, and the 36-hole Velocity Dually rims were a perfect match to the hubs while also serving as a platform for thiccc rubber courtesy of Teravail Coronados (Corndogs). The spring-railed Gyes saddle is icing on top of this cush cake.
During our conversations, Richard pointed out that his welding experience is founded in bigger projects for which he’d always use a wire-fed MIG welder. His other tooling is minimal, relying on a drill press, angle grinders, and cut-off saw. And, while he recognizes a TIG alternative would yield the finer and more intricate welds we’re used to seeing on most frames, he’s able to make his MIG methods work. IMO, the crude chunky clusters of material and hand-bent tubing create a delightfully unique aesthetic.
Thank you, Richard, for your time and for sharing your art with us! Shoutout to Richards’s friends at Natural Cycles for the wheel build, the folks at Olympic Cycles for their general knowledge and assistance with his wild projects, and White Pine Cycles’ expert wrenching.