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William 09-24-2012 08:36 AM

Winter Bicycles
Kirk Frameworks has been at the front of the Paceline for a while now but its time for him to pull off and let Oregon based Eric Estlund of Winter Bicycles take a pull. So, this week at the front of the Paceline: Winter Bicycles


My name is Eric Estlund. I am the designer, builder, email guy and official floor sweeper here at Winter.

I have worked and played in many areas of the cycling world. I recognized early on the freedom and excitement of riding, not just competitively but also recreationally. It became part of how I chose to explore my world. In my college years I started working as a bicycle advocate to help bring more people and bicycles together. I have led both road and off road tours for children and adults and continued to work as an advocate and teacher to promote safe, community minded sport and commuter cycling. Along the way I picked up an art degree with a focus on metal sculpture and function as well as 14 years of experiential based outdoor, art and environmental teaching experience. I have worked in fitting, retail and rental sales, and as a builder for a very busy custom bicycle manufacturer.

What does all that mean for you? It means that I have a wide variety experiences that help me understand a wide range of customer needs and rider expectations. I can work with you to help design your perfect daily driver city bike, your health conscious trainer or your event specific competition machine. I know how to listen, and my one goal is to put you on the best fitting and performing bicycle for your needs.

Thank you-
Eric Estlund
Eric was kind enough to answer a list of questions for us that are a mix of standards and member a few off-the-wall thrown into the mix. Our hope was to convey the builders love of their craft, hard details, and offer a few questions that bring out a bit of the human element that that helps them create the works that we love. Drew is also a member of the forum so if you have additional questions you would like to ask him about his craft, please do so.

Q&A with Eric Estlund:

How / why did you decide to become a frame builder?

I have been interested in frame building since I was a kid, but it took a long road to get there. In collage I pulled apart some older frames, and started to learn to braze and weld. I was an art major with a focus on metal sculpture. During that time I ran the campus bike co-op, and ordered up my first set of lugs (that sat unused for a number of years).

After college I went into shops to learn more about mechanics, product design as it existed in the market, fitting, and customer needs. That was a great foundation, not only in bikes, but in business and customer service.

I “took a break” for a couple of years when I moved to Salt Lake City. I was a high school art and experiential educator working with kids coming out of interventive programs and working on returning to main stream education. That was a very fun and challenging job. I worked with their cycling program, and volunteered as a board member and instructor at the Salt Lake Bicycle Collective- a community co-op. While there I also helped with bicycle advocacy, and as a League Cycling Instructor, teaching youth and adult safe cycling programs.

As a vacation I decided to bite the bullet and finally build a bike. I took a UBI class in Ashland, and my wife went on to visit her folks in Eugene. On a whim she applied for a job there, and landed it. Seeing a shift in our future I applied for a position at Bike Friday, and was hired on as a production brazer. Once I got into frame building I had a very liner fast tracked education!

I worked for Bike Friday for two years. During that time I started Winter Bicycles as a side business. Over my last year at BF it started to become more and more full time. With their support and encouragement I decided to pursue it as my only full time venture, and haven’t looked back since.

What influences the artistic side of your designs?

My art background definitely plays a role in my visual design. Bikes appeal to me as a streamlined balance. The bicycle is so well optimized for its function, and the relationship between the body, the machine and movement so well coordinated.

Visually I like my bikes to maintain a certain air of “simplicity”, even if that is somewhat deceptive. I like to layer visual details in the metal work, the accents, the paint, but in a cohesive manner. I want the bike to be more than the sum of its parts. I strive to make each embellishment something that can be enjoyed by itself, but also appreciated as part of a whole. My goal is for the owner to relish owning and exploring their bike, but to also have the ability to forget those details in use as the bike fits seamlessly into their riding needs.

What is your method to determine fit?

From my time in shops I started with the FitKit system. Over the course of hundreds of fits I started to adapt my methodology- the kit numbers are a great starting reference point, but I prefer a more holistic approach.

Winter fit now comprises of a basic body measurement system, and a very simple bike measurement system. These can be done in person or remotely. By knowing how a person is shaped and what their current fit looks like, it allows me to develop a specific common language with that client. We discuss their current situation, future needs, general health, etc. I use this “whole picture” approach to dial in a bike that fits them, but also allows a certain degree of flexibility in set up for future changes.

What is it that keeps you passionate and focused?

Two things- the clients, and my pursuit of my own version of perfection.

First the clients- each one is unique. I consider my specialty as being able to match to bikes function to the specific needs of the client. Many of the bikes I built are category splitters, and even the “straight forward” race bikes are optimized for the specific rider’s needs and tastes. This is a constant balance of variables. The customer interaction and working with them to best tailor my bikes into their bikes is a constant motivator.

Secondly, my own pursuit. It is a constant goal to build each bike better then the last. I brazed thousands of frames with BF- I’m a pretty good brazer. But one can always make it a little cleaner, or make each file stroke a bit more specific. At this point a lot of these types of improvements are academic in nature and, truth be told, vanity items. My goal is to make each bike better than it needs to be.

How many times have you burned yourself?

Fewer then when I was doing production work! That’s like asking how many days I’ve gone to work, or breaths in a day.

What's your favorite beer?

Root, or occasionally Birch.

I’m not a drinker (I know, in the bike industry, right?). I do love a good cup of coffee. Or even a bad one. If I have a vise outside of bikes, coffee is it.

Heard any cool music lately?

I’ve been trying to take more friends recommendations via the internet. I’ve been listening to more Americana and South African rap then I ever thought I would. At the end of the day I’m still a blues and traditional “pub folk” guy, with forays into punk and riot grrrl. I’m a product of my upbringing that way.

How did you meet your spouse or significant other?

Karen and I met my first day of collage (she was a sophomore). We lived in an outdoor “theme dorm” it’s first year- a sort of social living experiment with kids sharing a common outdoor recreation interest. We were best friends for a year or so, eventually started to date, and got married young shortly after my graduation. 10 years on, and I couldn’t be happier.

Do you put ketchup on your hotdog?

After a very productive year in my parent’s garden and way too many jars of stewed tomatoes, I try my best to avoid ketchup. I also haven’t had a hotdog in 18 years. No beer and no meat- who is this guy?

Who would you want to build a bike for you?

I have a lot of friends in the industry, and I’d be honored to have a bike by any of them. I know what it takes, and I appreciate how much of themselves every builder puts in.

That said, I’d be most interested in bikes that are built using different techniques then mine and to different ends. A Coconino cruiser would be cool. One of Vertigo’s ti creations would also be neat- I really appreciate guys that go their own way, and bikes that are clearly their vision.

What is it about your approach to building/designing bikes makes you unique, or separates you from the other builders out there?

Visually my version of bilaminate is a bit of a signature. Not to say it hasn’t been done, but my head tube variant is something I had not seen before I did one. How I integrate functional and visual details is also a bit of a signature- I think my bikes have a certain “flow”.

Beyond all of that though, the thing I pride myself most on it my ability to work with a client to help them best suit their needs with a functional, beautiful, individually tailored machine.

How long is your wait list?

I am quoting 8 months at the moment, but making real efforts to keep that as contained as possible. It depends a bit on the project; I maintain separate lists for full bikes and small parts.

How long have you been building frames.

I have been a professional builder since 2007, with Winter starting in 2008. Almost 6 years.

Do you have a favorite part of the building process?

All of the metal work taken as a whole is phenomenal. Still, my favorite part is when the bike ceases to be my bike and becomes the customer’s bike when I hand it over. Up until that point it is just potential- it really becomes a bike when the client becomes its rider.

What is the most unusual / unique bicycle you've ever built?

Every bike I build is unique, but they are not all “unusual” in the “weird” sense. I have developed a little bit of a niche building modern interpretations of historical bikes. Many of these are relatively straight forward- size appropriate changes, modern functionality on a 100 year old design, etc. My most unusual bike would probably be the knife grinding “arrotino” I completed last year. This bike was built for a commercial knife grinder to both functional use and commercial advertising. It is based on a WWII era Roman example he had a photo of. By far and away my single most challenging bike to date.

What is your favorite non-cycling obsession?

Alpine snowboarding. I’ve been obsessed since I was in high school where I raced for a few years. I don’t get out nearly as much as I would like, but it’s a passion.

En-ve-lope or On-ve-lope?

Uh-oh, accent time. En-ve-lope.

Just don’t ask me to say “parmesan”- my mother’s Massachusetts accent hits me in full effect, and it’s one of a very short list of words I try to not use out loud (love you, Mom!).

Many thanks to Eric for taking the time to answer our questions!


PS: In case you missed it, the previous Builder Spotlight can be found here...

Unless noted otherwise, all photos courtesy of Winter Bicycles

William 09-24-2012 08:39 AM

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