Custom bike builders are the artisans and small-business entrepreneurs of the bicycle industry.
We visited the MADE.bike show in Portland to meet the Washington state builders who are creating beautiful works of functional art on wheels.
Welding custom bicycle frames is a culmination of Henrietta Watts' interests as a sculptor, metalworker, "and deeply devoted bike nerd."
The owner of Watts Frameworks, pictured above, was among the Washington state framebuilders who exhibited at the recent MADE.bike handmade bike show in Portland, which attracted custom bike makers from across North America and the world.
Custom bikes are a niche product with a devoted following. They can be designed to fit your specific body dimensions, styled to your tastes, and accessorized with components not offered by mainstream brands. "Not only are you helping an artisan when you buy a custom bike," says Watts, whose fabrication studio is located in Seattle's Central District, "you also develop a relationship with the person who made your bike."
In the spirit of supporting local artisans, we urge you to peruse our photo gallery below of the Washington state builders and brands at MADE.bike, which was held in a warehouse in Portland's Zidell Yards.
Rodriguez Custom Bikes
Founded in 1973, R+E Cycles is celebrating 50 years of building bicycles in Seattle's University District. R+E makes bikes under the Rodriguez and Erickson names. New owners Alder Threlkeld (below, holding a 13-pound road bike) and Max Hitch recently acquired R+E from its longtime owners. R+E specializes in touring and travel bikes made from lightweight steel tubing.
The Rodriguez "Six Pack" travel bike (above) disassembles and fits into that pink suitcase. It has a Rohloff hub instead of a derailleur, 20-inch wheels, and S&S couplers.
R+E is one of the nation's leading sellers of bikes with S&S couplers (shown above) which enable a frame to be separated into segments and reassembled--ideal for people who fly with their bike.
R+E paints all of its bikes on-site in the U District. Check out the finish on the road bike below.
The Rodriguez headtube badge (below) is recognizable to their many Seattle-area customers.
Will Hilgenberg recently moved Albatross Bikes to Bothell from Santa Cruz, Calif. "We build road frames, mountain bike frames, and now full-suspension frames," he says. "We love Bothell because it's a nice quiet town that's close to Lake Washington and the mountains, and you've got all the amenities there." Including shop space more affordable than in Seattle.
Hilgenberg exhibited his personal Albatross road bike.
The glitter green finish sparkles in the light. The seat stays extend to the top tube for a nice aesthetic.
Albatross also makes its own super-light bottle cages that have an elastic O-ring closure to fit many water bottle sizes.
Greg Heath founded Donkelope Bikes in 2002 while building BMX frames in Wisconsin. He relocated to Bellingham in recent years. "I build lots of commuter and all-road bikes, mostly steel," he says.
Heath shows off his hard tail mountain bike (below).
Donkelope makes custom mud guards (above) with fuzzy "merkins" for a bit of silly flare.
After a decade in Seattle, Eva Kloiber of Liberation Fabrication recently relocated to Pittsburgh due to Seattle's sky high real estate prices. Kloiber, who started building frames as a side gig while working in Seattle's tech industry, says that moving to Pittsburgh allows them to build bikes full-time.
"Liberation encapsulates what I feel when cycling. I feel liberated while riding, and I believe bikes can help us achieve liberation," Kloiber says. "My North Star is using bikes as mobility tools. I want Liberation to serve all people and all bodies." Amen.
"We make super-versatile stock steel frames at a reasonable pricepoint, with ultra versatile dropouts that allow you to convert between rim and disc brakes, plus three wheel sizes," says Kevin McClelland, co-founder of Seattle's Pine Cycles.
The Pine Cycles headbadge is simple yet elegant.
Born on Whidbey Island, Smith Levi founded Ratking Frames at age 17 while living in the San Francisco Bay Area. He relocated to Seattle six years ago and now shares a large work space with other builders in the International District. His bike philosophy is "utility first."
Levi was among the custom builders who started making large-tire road bikes and gravel bikes long before the mainstream bike industry jumped on these trends. The custom bike market is where many trends are born, and we spotted some representatives from larger bike brands in attendance at MADE to scout ideas.
In addition to frames, Levi makes the RIP Rack, below, that creates a stable platform for popular Wald bike baskets. He also sells the Ratking Cradle, which enables bikepackers to neatly strap on a dry bag or handlebar bag.
In addition to frames, some Washington exhibitors displayed bike accessories and components--including the Cable Cherries from Port Townsend's Forager Cycles.
Cable ends are sharp. The typical solution is to squeeze on a cheap "cable crimp" with pliers. Cable Cherries, by contrast, are colorful anodized aluminum orbs that screw onto cable ends with a 1.5 millimeter allen wrench. Simple but ingenious.
Dan Stranahan founded Forager during the pandemic when he lost his job as a bike guide and mechanic in Alaska. "I had the idea while putting cables on my cargo bike, and I thought, 'This little thing will look so good compared to a typical crimp." He sold out the first manufacturing run and has since expanded his product line to include mountain bike handlebars.
Seattle's Back Alley and Good Weather bike shops sell his products, and while at MADE Stranahan booked a big sale with a Japanese bike brand in attendance.
Seattle's Swift Industries is a big supporter of Cascade that donated a bunch of handlebar bags to our Major Taylor Project for use by MTP youth. Co-founder Martina Brimmer was nice enough to model some Swift bags. Swift offers a 20 percent discount to Cascade members.
Cascade celebrates the ingenuity, artistry, and entrepreneurial spirit of custom bike makers. They are the soul of bike manufacturing, and many live the lives of starving artists to pursue their passion. Remember to support your local bike shops, and your local bike builders.
See you at MADE.bike next year!
Share this post