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Old 01-28-2013, 07:51 PM
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William William is offline
Join Date: Jun 2004
Location: Herding nomads won't
Posts: 29,981
Alliance Bicycles

Tyler and the gang at Firefly have been at the front of the Paceline for a while now but its time for them to pull off and let Idaho based builder Erik Rolf take a pull. Erik is now at the front of the Paceline so take a look at Alliance Bicycles while we've got his wheel!

You will notice that I do not classify the type of bike that I build. I don’t just build “road” bikes or “mountain” bikes. Further more, I don’t believe that a “road” bike is only good for riding on the road. For example, I’m amazed at what a set of fender and rack mounts can do for the versatility of a cyclocross bike. My frames include all the bosses, eyelets, fender mounts, and cabling stops that you want. Brake style doesn’t increase the price either.

When we begin to talk about your new bike and how you will be using it, that’s when it will become clear what the bike’s purpose is. I’m just as happy to build you a flat bar city bike as I am building you a straight forward criterium bike. There are some things I won’t do, especially concerning design, but I’m open to hear your thoughts....

If you have any questions or want to know more about my brand or myself, I would love to answer them. If you find yourself surfing around the web please stop by my website, flickr, or facebook.

Erik 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. Erik 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 Alliance Bicycles:

How / why did you decide to become a frame builder?
While I was attending school at Montana State University in Bozeman, I decided on a custom frame to replace my Lemond Poprad as a graduation gift to myself. Carl Strong and Dave Kirk where the hometown heroes, and I remember meeting Carl at his bike shop, Stark Raven Cycles, in 2002. First I called Dave and chatted with him about a lugged cross frame and fork. After a couple of weeks, I decided I didn’t need a new bike and my current cross bike was just fine.

Well, my cross bike had a long winter (it doubled as a daily driver commuter) and one of the water bottle bolts seized in the frame. I contacted Carl to see if he could fix it. While I was in the shop, I made the mistake of inquiring about a replacement for my Lemond. One thing led to another, and my name was placed on the board.

After my bike was built, I would visit the shop from time to time. Carl mentioned that he wished I would of come by when I was still in college. He thought I would make a great apprentice, but he couldn’t pay me so it wouldn’t be practical for a college graduate. I told him I was in no hurry for the real world and would be interested, if only a couple of hours a week. Carl then decided that he was too busy to take on an apprentice at the time.

Looking for a change of pace, I moved to Bend, OR. I had visited Bend a couple of times and thought it would be cool to live there. I only moved to Bend to ride my mountain bike as much as I could. I was successful at that, but it was time to make something happen.

I asked Carl for a couple days a week. It was right around the time of the shop remodel and the place had doubled in size. (He has since sold that shop and built his new one.) Carl said it was a good time, so I loaded up the U-haul. I worked as an apprentice at Strong Frames for two years. I work two days a week with Carl and Loretta. The rest of the week I work at Montana State as an accounting analyst. After the two years was up, I moved back to Hailey, ID and set up my shop in Ketchum.

What influences the artistic side of your designs?
A bike that looks well organized when it’s built. We’ve all seen those bikes that look good as a frame, but once built, the parts appear as an after thought. Some bikes appear as though the fit was put aside for the paint scheme (custom bike with 40mm of spacers under the stem). Nice proportions, classic colors, and a bike that looks fun or fast is what I shoot for.

Also, Fender style guitars influence me. When I first started playing, I was always attracted to the Les Paul style instruments. They had the flame Maple tops, the Sun Burst colors, bound fretboards, shiny hardware, and set neck. The Fenders looked so basic at first glance. The plastic pickguard taking up half the real estate of the top, solid colors, the maple necks looked so out of place (where’s the pretty rosewood or ebony), the bolt on neck, and that god awful telecaster headstock that’s shaped like a babies foot.

But as I started to play more I realized that the fender style guitar and amp are more my style. Particularly a Telecaster and Tweed Deluxe amp. I really jive with the blue collar feel too. It’s almost sort of comforting in it’s simpleness. All the stuff that I thought made Fenders so basic, is what drives me to them now.

What is your method to determine fit?
I have a few methods for this depending on where the client is located. If the rider is local, I have them come in with their bike and I take detailed notes/measurements of their body and bike dimensions. If the rider is not local, I have them take these same measurements and send them to me. I then begin a discussion to see what they do or don’t like about their current fit. I will also ask them if they have any previous injuries or inquire about their flexibility and pedaling style. I like to get the customers own personal take on what’s going on with their bike before I start to interject my own theories. For instance, one persons “stretched out” is another person’s “cramped”. Another example would be to ask somebody how they turn over the pedals (heels up or down, etc.) before I offer advice on saddle height. It’s also nice if a customer sends me a picture of themselves on their bike. I’ve even had people send me a video of him/herself riding a trainer or rollers. Stuff like that can really clear the waters when the numbers are not matching up.

I think it’s important for both the client and myself to have a good understanding of what they currently have and what they want me to build. I need there to be a baseline from which I can work in a specific direction that we both agree on.

I’m also willing to accept a fit sheet if the numbers don’t look off to me. I don’t accept geometry advice from fitters though. I would rather use my interpretation of where to put the wheels.

What is it that keeps you passionate and focused?
I’m focused because it’s my job and I have bills to pay, but I’m passionate because I’m a total bike geek. I obsess fairly hard over new tubesets, combining or changing tube diameters to alter the ride, tweaking geometry numbers by a millimeter or two in order to improve the overall bike. You know, basically the stuff most of the people buying the bikes never think about. Sometimes, I do get people that really dig on that stuff too. It seems to me, that they end up having a lot of fun with the process, because it is involved and they have a say in what they are getting. I try not to be overly dogmatic in my process. I remind myself that 90% of my customers I’ve never met and I’ve never ridden with them. I can’t possible know what is good for everybody. Sometimes it’s best to just listen to what the customer has to say. If what they are telling me isn’t totally out there, then I can be willing to put some of my beliefs aside. I find that it allows me to be more dynamic as a builder.

I just want to build people really nice bikes that they can enjoy. I remember getting so excited and really doing the research when I was going to get a new bike. Now that I build my own bikes, it sort of takes the fun of it out. Getting a new bike for myself means I have to build it in my free time and it’s way more labor intensive then calling a company and ordering it up. However, I’m proud to be riding on a bike that I built myself. I’ve had to switch my excitement from getting a new bike to being able ride a bike I built. Some days I miss that new bike buzz and I rely on my customers to let me share in that fun to stay passionate.

How many times have you burned yourself?
I don’t burn myself very often actually. I’ve never burnt myself bad enough to even cause a blister. I guess I’m not that legit

What's your favorite beer?
I like almost any IPA and I’m always down for a blue label Chimay or a Boulevard Long Strange Tripel. Those two are my celebration beers. This is hard for me to admit, but I’ve just being drinking Coors light lately. Seltzer waters or sports drinks as we like to call them.

Heard any cool music lately?
Music is a big part of my shop. Everyday in my shop it’s me, bikes, and tunes. Sometimes it gets loud. I listen mostly to guitar based music. I cross over here and there, but if it’s got guitars, drums, and bass, I’m usually in.

How did you meet your spouse or significant other?
I met her at Montana State as we were both getting accounting degrees. She was that smart pretty girl that sat in the front row and I was the guy in the very back. She’s a CPA and I build bikes, go figure.

What's there to do for fun in your town?
Lot’s of outdoors stuff, it’s a major tourist town. Skiing and biking are the most popular. If anybody ever comes to visit in the winter or summer, bring your skis/bike and I’ll take you out.

Do you put ketchup on your _Hot Dog_?
I like to mix it up. Sometimes I’ll do some ketchup, but not every time.

What type of bicycle is requested the most for you to build? Road,
cross, track, fixed...?

29er hardtails and allroad/dirtroad/all arounder type road bikes are hands down what I do the most of.

Who would you want to build a bike for you?
If I didn’t build bikes and I had a lot of dough to burn this is what I would get. There’s a lot of builders I like, but off the top of my head……

Hardtail 29er: Bystickle (steel) Vertigo (titanium) everybody needs two hardtails, right?

Full Suspension MTB: Lenz Sport Mammoth (140mm travel) and a Ventana El Rey (100mm travel)

Road: Steelman tig with a lugged straight blade fork and a Tigged Max Zank with an Enve 2.0

Allroad: Titanium Strong with an Enve Cross fork and disc’s and a stainless Anderson with long reach brakes

Town bike: Lugged Weigle with all the fix’ins

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

I probably don’t have any one thing that nobody else does. I strive to do everything well and have the process run smoothly. My gig is doing what we agreed upon, and by when we agreed upon it. Honestly, I don’t think that is as common in the business world as it should be.

How long is your wait list?
12-14 weeks

How long have you been building frames.
Four and a half years

Do you have a favorite part of the building process?
Welding because it just has that feeling like “let’s make something happen here” when it goes from a pile of tubes to a frame. Finish work and Reaming/facing titanium earn least favorite

What is the most unusual / unique bicycle you've ever built?
I haven’t built anything crazy yet, but I’ll keep you posted.

What is your favorite non-cycling obsession?
Alpine skiing and Listening to music/playing guitar.

"kai-yoh-tee" or "kai-yohts"?

Many thanks to Erik for taking the time to answer our questions! Please feel free to ask him any questions that you would like to ask.


PS: In case you missed it, the previous Builder Spotlight can be found here...
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Last edited by William; 01-28-2013 at 08:42 PM.
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