It isn’t often that I have a chance to stop by a custom frame-building shop in places where I typically like to tour, but upon arriving in Colombia, it was clear that cycling culture in this country is on another level. During weekends in Bogotá, it was not uncommon to see large herds of spandex-clad riders hanging out at coffee shops with fancy gravel bikes or amongst a sea of other riders, dancing on the pedals up to “Patios”, the local roadie hotspot.
Walk into a random bakery in any town throughout the country and it would be no shock to see some obscure (to me) bike race on TV, with a group of abuelas keenly following the action as they enjoy an almojabana and hot chocolate. Catch yourself cruising down one of the many cycle paths in Bogotá and you might just get dropped by a dude in jeans with a backpack heading to work. When it comes to cycling, Colombians are built differently. Read on for a behind the scenes look at my visit to the Colombian builder Scarab Cycles.
I’d seen some of Scarab Cycles’ work pop up on this site over the years and was always intrigued by their creative paint schemes, proudly displaying their heritage as bikes handmade in the heart of the Andes Mountains. So, when I realized that their shop was only a few dozen kilometers off of my intended route, I knew that I had to make a detour to stop by.
The roots of Scarab’s story started growing when Santiago Toro teamed up with famed Colombian frame-builder Agustín Hincapie to create Tino Cycles, before the duo split in 2018, with Santiago branching out to create what is known today as Scarab Cycles.
Santiago wanted to offer handmade bikes with that signature Colombian flare and individualized attention to detail at prices that compete with big brand carbon bikes. He hoped that the venture would also open up career opportunities for people inside of his small community of El Retiro, in the hills outside of the sprawling metropolis of Medellín.
While it would have been tempting to create a team by simply importing established veterans of the industry to fill roles in an assembly-line type of fashion, Santiago wanted to take a different path. Instead, he decided to recruit young locals and give them a chance to learn the tools of the trade. Having a team where nearly every member can step in at any point in the process of building a frame keeps the group flexible, from the first measurement on a piece of Colombus steel to the final touches on a custom paint job, and everything in between.
While its humble beginnings started in a glorified horse stable nearby, today Scarab has grown to a team of twelve, and their lineup of bike models has reached six. From the classic (rim brake only) road machine, the Línea, all the way up to their latest addition, the Páramo Ultra, which can squeeze beefy 27.5×2.6” tires, perfect for tackling the notoriously rugged roads of Colombia’s high mountains.
Step one foot out of the door at Scarab’s shop and you can easily see where the inspiration came from. Not only the rich tradition of cycling that is embedded within Colombia’s culture but more immediately with the tangled web of roads snaking throughout the surrounding hills and the wide variety of road surfaces. A quick spin through these mountains will give the impression that this is where bikes were made to be ridden, so it only makes sense that they should be made here, too.
Beyond the practical and performance considerations that go into making the perfect bike frame—tailor-made to its rider’s specifications—aesthetics are a huge consideration at Scarab, and an aspect that sets them apart from the crowd.
The paint design that struck me immediately was the “Chiva,” which takes strong cues from the elaborately adorned Chiva buses that I’d already seen while touring rural parts of the country. They are an icon of Colombian culture. As the artists obsessed over the hand-painted details on a recently finished frame, I could imagine the similar attention and pride that was put into the buses designed to transport locals throughout the most rugged roads in these mountains. Each is totally unique, with a slice of the artist’s personality in every brush stroke.
Scarab Designer, Alejandro Bustamante, who creates the concepts for their signature paint schemes, loves to incorporate pieces of Colombian culture in every design. From the kaleidoscope of colors on the Chiva to the fine details of Colombia’s iconic Magalenda river, or the textures of the jungle, every design is evinces Colombian pride.
While I was visiting Scarab, I also got a chance to catch up with my buddy Roy Liu and check out a couple of his Scarab builds. You may remember Roy as the legend who came to the rescue by bringing down replacement gear from the US for me after I got robbed at the very beginning of my first trip to Colombia. Check out his custom Scarab road and gravel bikes below…
Roy’s Custom Scarab Paramo Gravel Bike
Frame Scarab Paramo Custom Geometry
Fork Columbus Futura Gravel
Drivetrain Shimano GRX 1x, 38T chainring, 11-46 XT cassette
Brakes Shimano GRX Calipers, XT 160mm Rotors
Bars Enve Road Compact
Bar Tape Fizik Tempo Microtex Bondcush
Saddle Fizik Tundra M3
Crankset Shimano GRX
Pedals Shimano XT
Bottom Bracket Shimano
Headset Wolftooth Components
Wheels Mason x Hunt 4 Season
Tires Panaracer Gravel King SK
When it came to a paint scheme, in Roy’s words “I wanted to go with something simple because a gravel bike (and its paint) will be taking a beating, and gravel riding should be simple. I chose matte gray because it’s the color of concrete, to evoke toughness and at the same time stand out among the greenery of the mountainous scenery I pictured the bike riding through. The green-dotted race panels break the monotony of the otherwise bland scheme and make you think about sporadic vegetation found in the paramo, where the bike model takes its name.”
The Paramo is Scarab’s gravel steel bike, made of round Columbus Spirit tubing.
Roy’s Scarab Santa Rosa Road Bike
Frame Scarab Santa Rosa Custom Geometry
Fork Parlee Road Fork
Drivetrain Shimano Ultegra R8000 mechanical
Brakes Shimano Ultegra R8000 Calipers, 140mm Rotors
Bars Enve Road Compact
Bar Tape Rapha Classic
Saddle Fizik Arione R3
Crankset Shimano Ultegra R8000 2x
Pedals Look Keo 2 Max
Bottom Bracket Shimano
Headset Wolftooth Components
Wheels DT Swiss PRC 1450 Spline Disc Carbon Tubeless
Tires Panaracer Race EVO 4 D
For the paint on the roadie, Roy wanted to take the opposite direction from the matte gray gravel bike. “I wanted to go with something bold, that took inspiration from Miami-esque colors.” an ode to the city he calls home when he’s not cruising around Latin America on two wheels. “The original palette I chose was pink, teal, and purple, but had the logos and accents in navy blue. Something didn’t feel right. I wanted those elements to pop and that’s how I ended up choosing chartreuse for those. I call it ‘La Miamera’ or the one from Miami.” The bike also features a nod to Colombia, where the bike was crafted, and Costa Rica, Roy’s homeland, on the seat stays.
The Santa Rosa is a custom geometry steel bike, made of oversized, oval Columbus Spirit tubing. A steeper head tube angle, tapered steering tube, and short trail make it highly reactive and rigid to optimize the torsional stress handling of the bike.
The culture of cycling in El Retiro doesn’t stop with Scarab as they share a building with fellow cycling junkies turned brewers of fine Belgian beer (and damn good tacos), Torrealta Cervecería. With an artisanal bakery sandwiched in between, it’s like the place was created in a lab to attract cyclists and I’m not mad at it. If you’re in the area, I would highly recommend stopping by. Big thanks to the folks at Scarab and Torrealta for the warm Colombian hospitality.