The art of the hand-built bicycle

There's a revival in town, and it's all on two wheels.

Interest in commuter and sports bicycles — especially hand-built bikes — is surging, builders say. A customized frame can create better handling, comfort and efficiency, whether it's for mountain and racing bikes or stylish street models with whistles, bells and flashy paint jobs.

"There's really kind of a boom going on," says John Baxter, administrator of the United Bicycle Institute in Ashland. "According to trade journals in the industry such as the National Bicycle Dealers Association that keep track of bicycle sales, there's been a big increase, especially in the Northwest."

With environmental awareness and the costs of energy on the rise, more people are considering the bicycle as an alternative mode of transportation for simple trips back and forth to work and to the grocery store, he says.

"We've seen an increase of interest in our programs at our institute as well," Baxter says.

UBI offers classes and seminars in bicycle frame building and mechanics. It was founded in 1981 and draws about 450 to 500 students per year.

For the first time, UBI and the Oregon Bicycle Constructors Association have teamed up to present the Southern Oregon Custom Bicycle Show. The show will be held from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 13, at UBI, 401 Williamson Way, Ashland.

Custom bike shows throughout the Northwest — including the annual Oregon Handmade Bike Show and this year's North American Handmade Bicycle Show, both held in Portland — inspired the folks at UBI to try something on the local front. Raising awareness of the institute at the same time provided another impetus.

"People just don't know about us," Baxter says. "A number of our students come from outside the local area. We want to use this opportunity to promote bicycle culture and let folks know about UBI's programs."

Many members of UBI's alumni have gone on to become independent business people with successful careers in bicycle construction all over the world, Baxter says.

"American Cycling magazine recently featured a story about one of our students who is working as a frame builder in Italy," he says.

Some UBI alumni members have frame building shops in the Rogue Valley.

Fred Bergschneider, who operates Goodtimes Bicycles in Talent, is one. At age 36, he's been fabricating custom bikes for about two years and has seen the industry grow.

"I think the interest in custom bikes is more sports driven in our area," Bergschneider says. "But I'm also comfortable building commuter bikes. The bicycle is still a great way to get from point A to point B, especially in a small town."

Fred Cuthbert of Wolfhound Cycles in Talent agrees. He attended UBI in 2001.

"I got into hand-built bikes because of my love for mountain biking," Cuthbert says. "But some of the bikes I build double as commuters."

Orders for commuter bikes and light-duty touring bikes at Goodtimes Bicycles are pretty steady, Bergschneider says, along with orders for custom bags and racks. Each bike can be customized to fit the body and practical needs of its buyer.

"A bike is a reflection of the buyer's personality and lifestyle," Bergschneider says.

While many people are taking sustainable lifestyles more seriously, there are those who want to do it in style, and there are many in the customized bicycle industry who are benefitting from the idea.

"There's a youthful, positive energy to riding a bike," Bergschneider says. "And a bike is an extension of a cyclist's personality."

Bergschneider, Cuthbert and several other frame builders in Jackson County will display hand-built bikes at the show. They include John Slawta of Land Shark, Jeff Jones, Mike DeSalvo of DeSalvo Custom Cycles — who holds welding seminars at UBI — and others.

"We're expecting about 20 frame builders from Oregon and California to show bikes," Baxter says. "We're going to build a frame during the show so that people can watch the process. At the end of the day, we will raffle the frame off."

Typically, a hand-built steel or titanium frame would cost anywhere from $1,500 to $2,500.

Admission to the show is free. Raffle tickets will cost $5 each or three for $10, and proceeds will go toward bicycle education programs in local schools. Basic bicycle mechanics, such as changing tires and bike washes, will be demonstrated at the show, and the Rogue Valley Transportation District will present tips on safe cycling for adults.

Call 488-1121.

Share This Story