Saturday, June 23, 2007

Frame Builder's Questionnaire: Soulcraft

The third installment of the FBQ is talking with Soulcraft.

1. How'd you first get interested in bicycles in general?

I always loved riding when I was a really young... kid and when I saw a magazine called "BMX Plus" it opened up a whole new world. I started racing BMX and thought about opening a BMX oriented bike shop when I was in high school. At that time I also got into hot rods and got a job at Marin Speed and Machine, tearing apart motors and doing some machining. After high school I wanted to combine my love of bikes with my growing interest in working with machines and after seeing a Bicycle Guide Magazine with AlbertEisentraut on the cover I realized that being a framebuilder would make it happen.

2. At what point did you begin building bikes?

I worked for Bruce Gordon from the fall of 1988 to the spring of 1990 and did a little of everything: powder coating, alignment, machining, sales, etc. In 1990 I went to work for Salsa as the powder coater. From there I got into brazing and welding and eventually became the head framebuilder toward the end in 1999.

3. What were some of the challenges you faced when you first started out building bikes for people?

When Matt Nyiri and I started Soulcraft in 1999, we had absolutely no money. Just some machines and a lot of drive and passion and the biggest challenge was how to make enough money. We had a lot of orders but we were selling them all at wholesale so the profit was meager. Eventually we decided to go consumer direct and if asked, I tell any builder today that they shouldn't sell any bikes through shops. You are the one putting your heart and soul into these things and you don't owe anyone a slice of your pie.

4. How is your approach to build a cyclocross bike different than say in building a mountain or road bike?

A cross bike is a very specific breed. A true cross bike shouldn't be designed to use as a touring bike or anything but a cross bike. For me, it's fairly tight geometry with enough clearance for a 32c tire and just enough bottom bracket height to keep you from banging your pedals. No fender mounts or extra braze ons. Of course, if a customer wants that stuff I'm not going to stand in their way. I like them to handle quick and if you try to make some sort of "all purpose" bike you end up watering down the strengths of the basic cross machine.

5. Whats your favorite bike that you own or have owned? What made it special?

Actually, my current cross bike is one of my all time favorites. I have Michelin 32c Jets on it and do some pretty cool 50/50 rides in Marin on it. I haven't owned a road bike in about 4 years now and just use my cross bike. I roll out the door and decide where I want to go as the ride develops.

6. Do you race cyclocross?

Nope. Never have.

7. In your opinion, why are custom steel cyclocross bikes still so popular?

I think it's a lot of customers who rode steel all along or are coming back to it after being lured away by the intrigue of other materials. Cross is still a pretty niche/hardcore sport and because of that I think the "core" people have always held steel in high regard for many reasons: it lends itself to the rough terrain in cross, it represents the "classic/old world" identity that cross holds, and, especially in Northern California, there are a lot of builders here to work with.

8. Whats your current wait time for a custom cyclocross frame?

4-6 months

9. Is there anything else you think readers would want to know about your approach to bikes, cycling and building frames?

I'm pretty down to earth about framebuilding. It's not rocket science but I've honed my approach and skills over many years and feel a responsibility to raise the bar and carry the torch to keep Northern California on the map as an epicenter for framebuilding.

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