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    Default 44 Bikes

    I would like to thank Richard Sachs and Velocipede Salon for the opportunity to be Smoked Out. Those previously Smoked Out I have long admired from afar. To be included in this list is quite the honor. So from myself to all: a sincere thank you.

    I spent my youth in my home town of East Greenville, Pennsylvania. A curiosity to draw and build were fueled by my mother and fathers encouragement. Bicycles have been part of my life for as long as I can recall. From the first pedal stroke to the first full trip around the block left me with that all too addictive taste of freedom. To strike out on your own path, choose your direction and throw caution to the wind made a lasting impression on me that I have carried throughout my life.

    My mothers father passed away when I was quite young. I have discovered we shared many similarities and skill-sets. He was a union welder and later opened his own fabrication business: “Superior Welding” in Emmaus, PA. The connected garage of my Grandmom’s home was really his tool storage. Big wrenches, arc welding machines, tig welding machines, industrial drills, strong boxes, air compressors, die grinders, files. I’d sneak in there during family get togethers and just pour over these well used tools as a kid and teen (some of which are now in my own shop). I’d put on his gloves and welding helmets and practice flipping the lid up and down. My only physical connection to the grandfather I had lost, but come to know and understand through shared work.

    I was confused coming out of high school as to what that next step should be and settled on the Pennsylvania State University as it offered a wide array of disciplines. That first week was an eye opener. The question of: “what in the hell am I doing here” popped into my head on a daily basis. Luck would have it, PSU had an arts department. On a whim I signed up for “Introductory to Light Metals”. That first day of watching my professor work his skill with a torch, explain the importance of methodology, and watch the craft take shape instantly set a deep hook.

    I discovered that the metal/machine shop across from our studio’s connected with the sculpture department had TIG welding machines with free instruction if you asked the tech nicely. I was taken through the steps of Arc and Mig but insisted that the goal was to be shown Tig. A turning point and discovery. Brazing and soldering are one thing, but making two materials one was something all together different and appealing to my sensibilities. Watching the molten pool, feeling the heat, hearing the arc. The process demanded my full attention and focus. I was engaged with the work fully. Hands, feet, body, mind.

    I also noticed they had a small tool room lathe. Again, I inquired with the tech for permission and some lessons and he kindly obliged. This set off a frenzy of turning 6061 aluminum into bicycle hubs. This also set me off to the Aerospace Research Lab just off campus to inquire with the Mechanical Engineering Dept. regarding their machine shops. They did a lot of government research work (torpedos) and I had access to master machinists who did not mind answering any and all questions. They showed me how to grind my own tool bits, gave me tips and tricks and let me pick through their scrap bins. This resource was amazing.

    Which brings me to a turning point: While researching construction techniques, I came upon a jeweler, Peter Skubic, with a series of pins and broaches entirely crafted of stainless steel and held together in tension with watch pins. Very industrial but very detailed and intricate. Beside his name it stated “Jeweler / Industrial Designer”. Turning the pages sketches emerged that were not jewelery but all sorts of design sketches and renderings. I turned that campus upside down trying to figure out what “Industrial Design” was. With my access to the Aerospace Research Lab as well as the Mechanical Engineering Dept., they kindly sat down with me and told me about the profession which was completely unknown to me. When I inquired with my professor (Leslie Leupp) where I may find out more or get said training, he instantly answered: RISD. A transfer and a whole new degree was not in my chips but that 4 letter acronym stuck with me the rest of my junior and senior year. All this while, I was riding my mountain bike to a near religious pitch.

    My junior and senior year I was an apprentice at a local jewelery shop down town in State College (Aurum Goldsmiths). My senior summer was spent in State College and I sent out over 250 resume’s to anyone and everyone who had industrial design jobs listed. The best response was from Fox Racing Shox that went something to the tune of: “You have one of the most interesting backgrounds we have seen to date, but we wouldn’t know what to do with you.” With the apprenticeship ending, and no remaining irons in the fire I returned home for the fall to regroup, get a job in a bike shop as a wrench and perhaps go see what this Rhode Island School of Design was all about.

    Returning home was a shock to the system and that is a bit of an understatement. I went from holding a torch in one hand and building and anodizing my own bicycle hubs in another to a 9am-9pm bike wrench job. There had to be more. Throwing caution to the wind, I ventured to Rhode Island for an orientation weekend to visit the Industrial Design Department. I was blown away. This was where someone could get some work done and make personal discoveries. I put my portfolio together, was accepted and that fall attended a transfer program that then led to 3 years of undergraduate work.

    Let’s take a step backward for a minute: The whole time this “other” adventure was happening, I ran into the graphic designer for Bicycling Magazine while out for a ride on my day off from the bike shop. We got to talking and he offered to set up an interview. I got a job as his intern and helped out with the graphic design (which discovered I had a knack for) but right around this same time I am accepted to go back to school to get the degree and possibly the job I was looking for. The dilemma: bike magazine job on one end, with schwag, helping out with photo shoots, graphic design, rides over lunch and a possible career, or more school, intensive studies, debt and to get the training I wanted to just maybe become a product designer. Thankfully, everyone at Rodale Press and Bicycling Magazine were super supportive. I recall my boss Chris taking me aside stating: “get out of here.”

    To be continued -
    Kristofer Henry : 44 BIKES : Made to Shred™
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    Default Re: 44 Bikes

    Continuing on...

    Three years of intensive studies and full immersion in the industrial design field were truly life altering. The skills, methodology, process honing and sheer dedication of all involved was amazing. To put it lightly: I worked my ass off. A chance meeting my senior year put me in touch with one of the designers at Reebok who was visiting. A few interviews later and I was offered a position designing shoes. From Reebok I joined the team at Converse. The doldrums of the daily grind took their toll and the sheer shock of building what you designed and discovering through the process solutions to your design problems did not translate to the professional design job. I went from sketch, design, refine, build, rebuild, Bridgeports, tig welders and table saws to sitting in front of a computer all day long getting to know Adobe Illustrator better than the back side of my hand and eye strain overnight. That’s when I knew I needed a change and without a plan, tendered my resignation to start my own design studio. That first day of crossing 95 to go for a ride while watching all the “suckers” stuck in traffic put an instant smile on my face.

    In those first weeks I called anyone and everyone I ever knew to see if they needed help. One did and I was off and running. Work never just ‘showed up’. It was a constant beating of the drums, pounding the pavement and being creative to get clients large and small to trust me as their product or graphic designer. 10 years later, a whole host of clients large and small, product design, graphic design, branding, packaging, and all things in between, I never lost sight of a long standing goal: Build bicycles. While in school and out as a professional, I have had a long standing side project: 44 Bikes. A designer once told me: “Tell me what you want, and I’ll give you what you need”. When I quit my job at Converse, I asked myself what I wanted. My answer was I wanted to build bicycles. Plain and simple. What I needed was for it to be on my own terms. So I put together a plan that involved time, patience and some ingenuity: Start a design studio and use those profits to slowly put together and build a second brand: 44 Bikes. Things happened slowly. First the name, then the brand identity, registering those with the USPTO, a website, honing designs all with the purpose of eventually having a place where I can build my own bicycles. It all just came down to timing and a lot of patience. The remaining piece of the puzzle was a space to create.

    Opportunity kind of struck when my wife's twin sister got a new job in New Hampshire (when you marry a twin it’s a bit of a package deal as they are very close). So it was only a matter of time before my wife Lynn would seek out teaching positions in NH and we too would make the move. Fast forward and within 2 years I found myself in “scenic” Lyndeborough, NH. My clients stretched far and wide but did not mind the move as most of the work was done via virtual means and occasional meetings with travel in between. At this time, I had an Eastern Woods Research Original Woods I wanted to have converted for disk brakes and recalled that Ted Wojcik was in NH. He was my introduction to custom bicycles while in State College. Eddie’s Bike Shop had a blue Ted Wojcik on the wall and I recall the lust and wonderment of it’s clean, purpose built lines. I called, Ted answered and we agreed to meet. A few meetings later we had developed a friendship and a trade: he’d let me look over his shoulder every Friday and I’d help him redesign his logo, website, provide catalog support and all things graphic design.

    Ted’s kindness, friendship and willingness to share his knowledge has left me forever grateful and a better craftsman for it. Tips, tricks and methodology were freely passed along. Those first few weeks I just stood and watched him work. I came to the table with a skill set that he honed. This relationship came to an end in late 2010 when Ted took me aside and in so many words said it was time. This was just the kick in the tuchus I needed. It was time to realize the dream that was just now in sharp focus. That summer I dug the line for power to be run out to the shop and prep the inside of the shop for the build out. (You can read a detailed entry here and see more images here. Many giving individuals helped me with this process with lent machine time, shop access, free materials and expertise. I spent the better part of my free time that spring, summer and fall of 2011 building out the shop and designing/building all my own tooling.

    It has been quite a journey and there’s still a lot of road to go. I feel I’ve only really just scratched the surface of discoveries, knowledge and skills. I have much to learn and much I’d like to give back for all those who have helped me along the way. Each day I go out to the shop, I can’t believe I’m standing where I am. A dream realized is something to behold. It just took time, patience, focus, dedication and hard work. And a heck of a lot of discipline. All this while one constant has remained: Riding my bicycle. It still remains as a way for me to get lost, free my mind of the daily rituals and regenerate creatively. This is me and this is what I hope 44 Bikes to become.

    Thank you for this opportunity to share my passion for design and bicycles with all of you.
    Kristofer Henry : 44 BIKES : Made to Shred™
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    Default Re: 44 Bikes

    Great read, thanks for taking the time to write it up.

    I'm a fan of the bikes, you do some neat stuff. Tell us more about the bikes! When did you build your first frame? How long have you been seriously building? Do you only build MTBs? What's your take on geometry and handling?

    Most of your rigs don't appear to be XC speed machines/long distance cruisers to my eye, they look more like BMX inspired bikes that are made to ride tight technical terrain, and ride it hard.

    Oh yeah, and where does the name (44 Bikes) come from?
    Dustin Gaddis
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    Default Re: 44 Bikes

    That's really awesome stuff. Thanks for sharing.
    Jonathan Greene
    Kindness is contagious, infect somebody today.
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    Default Re: 44 Bikes

    Kristofer,

    Great to see you have been "smoked"!!

    It's obvious to see your strong background of graphic design in all your work. You have some really great stuff.

    I can't wait to see the finished pics of the Huntsmen.....do you have any plans in the future to build more skinny tired bikes?

    Darrel

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    Matthew J is offline VSalonistas
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    Default Re: 44 Bikes

    Thanks for taking the time to introduce yourself and your approach to your craft.

    I really respect how strong your design vision is. Your bikes have excellent visual balance. Not had the chance to ride one, but expect that the clarity comes through in the ride.

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    Default Re: 44 Bikes

    Thanks Dustin for the kind words on the bikes/work. The very first bike frame I built was around the end of 2000. I had attempted one in and around 1996 or 1997 with no guidance and was completely over my head. I have been building off and on since 2000 but seriously making a go of it the last 2 years.

    An admission: I am a mountain biker at heart. That is what makes me tick and where I can completely clear my head and find that zone. Riding has become very much a part of me and to not pedal would be akin to not breath. So I would say my specialty is mountain bikes but I really just love bicycles. I just finished up a crossish/gravel type bike that will be at the New England Builders Ball and I'm starting a fixed gear this next week. I've had a bunch of individuals inquire about road and cross bikes. So to answer your question I do build it all but feel most at home anything that will touch some sort of dirt.

    Geo/handling wise of mtn. bikes I prefer a bit more upright position, tighter cockpit, bottom bracket only as low as it needs to be... you're "in" the bike. I will say there's a bit of voodoo with each rider to distribute his/her weight between the wheels and properly balance all the variables. That just comes from making one, riding it, tweaking it,. Building another, riding it, tweaking, adjusting, honing, repeat, repeat, repeat. So knowing how you want the bike to handle, what kind of experience you want that given rider to have (and understanding what kind of experience that rider has requested), what their terrain is, what their style of riding is and funnel all of that into the build. It's a balancing act.

    The story behind the name "44 Bikes" is such: Football played a pretty large part of my early years in the Perkiomen Valley of my home state of PA. I was raised on stories of the old "BucksMont League", looking at pictures of my grandpop with no facemask, leather helmets and stories before he enlisted in the Navy for WWII. My father had played on the same field that his father did. My Middle School was the old High School that they both had attended (I attended the new Upper Perkiomen High School - same school just different location). There was a rich family history there for me and left an impression. Stories surrounded "who wore what number" and so on. My grandfather was #27, my uncle Kurt had worn #14, my father #44. My Dad and I would go down the street to a large grass lot in front of a church and throw ball till the sun went down. We'd always end it with some sort of scenario with the clock running down, no time outs, deep in our own territory with some sort of hail mary thrown in for good measure. Naturally if I dropped the ball, there would be an endless list of penalties my Dad would make up until I caught one to end the game. Being impressionable and wanting to emulate my own father (and very much looking up to him), when it was my turn I chose that number too. The game taught me a lot about mental and physical limits, discipline, patience, the worth of practice makes perfect, and team work. The number 44 also seemed to be a lucky number for me throughout my years popping up when the chips were down and reminding me to work hard and "earn it" no matter what. Nostalgia, good luck and the duality of the number seemed to have a lot of weight in my book. It only felt fitting to use that as my frame businesses name/logo. The logo also has a lot of meaning to it. I'll have to make up a little "pictograph" explaining what all of the symbols mean and what the story is. There's a lot of thought that went into it.

    Hope that answers your questions thoroughly and perhaps prompts more!
    Kristofer Henry : 44 BIKES : Made to Shred™
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    Default Re: 44 Bikes

    @DeeDub76: Thanks for the kind words on the work. I do have plans on skinny tires. First come first serve! I love bicycles and would love to build anything with 2 wheels. Oddly I went to school for ID but most of the work that seems to have seen the light of day happens to be Graphic Design. I've got a lot of product out there too but it has been nice from a design perspective to have full control of one project that embodies all of my skillsets and the end result is actually Product Design. I wouldn't have it any other way. It certainly is refreshing to be calling the shots and making decisions rather than designing, presenting and then refining those designs based on client feedback. There is a refreshing challenge in the later though as well because as a designer you have to put yourself in your clients shoes and see things from their perspective all the while balancing your own vision for them as well. It's a bit of push and pull and I see that with frame building as well.
    Kristofer Henry : 44 BIKES : Made to Shred™
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    Default Re: 44 Bikes

    @Matthew J: Thanks for the kind words. The doors are always open here at 44 HQ. Trails, dirt roads and steep as "F" paved roads right from the shop. A test loop is in the works so feel free to stop by and ride one of the bikes I have on hand.
    Kristofer Henry : 44 BIKES : Made to Shred™
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    Default Re: 44 Bikes

    Quote Originally Posted by fortyfour View Post
    Hope that answers your questions thoroughly...
    Yes indeed, thanks!
    Dustin Gaddis
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    Default Re: 44 Bikes

    Great read. I stumbled across your Garage Journal thread before you started posting over here. As a recent home owner that now has a garage your build out is great inspiration. I have no lofty goals to build for sale, just personal and family bikes.

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    Default Re: 44 Bikes

    I stumbled upon Garage Journal just by chance when I was doing research on insulation actually. I figured since I learned so much, I should give back in some way and share the build out. Still a bunch to do but it's great to look back at some of the shots of before/after the shop and realize just how much it's come...

    Before:



    During:



    Done (...and yes that's snow in October last year):

    Kristofer Henry : 44 BIKES : Made to Shred™
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    Default Re: 44 Bikes

    Kristofer, it's been fun watching you build that shop from afar. I like the whole package, good luck to you!
    Craig

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    Default Re: 44 Bikes

    Thanks Craig. It was great to build it out but even sweeter to finally have a place to build bikes. A level of accomplishment I had never felt which feels great. Now it's time to make it all work.
    Kristofer Henry : 44 BIKES : Made to Shred™
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    Default Re: 44 Bikes

    At the Hampshire 100, I had a chance to meet Kristopher, and see his work first hand. He spent a good amount time with me answering questions, as i picked his brain. He does really really nice work.

    Kristofer, you have a really nice eye. I'm looking fwd to watching you and your brand grow.
    Randy Larrison
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  16. #16
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    Default Re: 44 Bikes

    Kris,
    This gets me warm around the collar: 70.5 deg HT / 73 deg ST, 16.5" chainstay Those are numbers from your Big Boy bike. How did that work out? After I quit work at the coal mines and returned home with ruined knees my rehab consisted of mtn. biking. My first race bike was from C.Chance and it was THAT stable. Love seeing what you do and your designs reflect a style that speaks to me. Currently I have a 29' rigid from Drew that's pretty great for trails and am hoping to get something very light and nimble for "play" on the terrain that I used to ride many yrs. ago. Hairstyles and attitudes come and go but one thing that makes a ton of sense for having maximum fun on Eastern trails might be a really light 29'r single speed with a low top tube.
    Are you seeing more people riding singlespeed these days? Thoughts?

    PS - nice work >


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    Default Re: 44 Bikes

    Thanks for doing this. I find myself looking at your FNL posts and asking myself "who the hell is this guy and where did he come from"?

    PSU engineering. Rodale. RISD. Eastern Woods Research and Ted MF'ing Wojcik.

    Now I get it.

  18. #18
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    Default Re: 44 Bikes

    @Shoogs: Thanks for the kind words on the builds/work and any time you fellas are up in these neck of the woods give me a shout! The Hampshire 100 unfortunately does not show the discerning mountain biker the "finer" details of the areas trails. So much sweet singletrack packed in this area. I'd be happy to give
    Kristofer Henry : 44 BIKES : Made to Shred™
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  19. #19
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    Default Re: 44 Bikes

    @Too Tall: You asked for it... :) You are correct about the "Big Boy" build's numbers. Ironically each time I'd step away from that build it would START snowing... Then when I'd start, the snow would melt. I kept thinking "Watch this, I'll build a fat bike and it won't snow. IN NH." Naturally that is just what happened. I've had to sit on that thing waiting for snow. Not to mention it will be at the New England Builders Ball with full packs - so I can't risk the paint. Before it was painted, I had a chance to take it out on a lot of different local singletrack with a lot of different terrain. The 4" tires add gobs of traction, and the relatively short stays make that bike pick up effortlessly. There was some voodoo going on with the radius seat tube, all that tire clearance and making room for the guide, chainring/cranks etc. so everything worked. It uses a Phil Wood Square Taper BB, which reminded me of just how cool and "unbroken" that standard truly is with the ability to adjust chainline, spindle length and such. Here's a short vid of it in action:



    The tires really soak up the trail nasties and having the low slung frame allows for a lot of body english through the tech. Now to contrast it with this bike:



    The numbers are similar: 70.5 HT, 73 ST, 16-16.8" chainstay adjustment (Paragon Machine Works hooded sliders with Post Mount option). One thing that is different is the bottom bracket height. The fat bike has a bb height of 12.5" vs 12.25" on the hard tail above. Over time, it's become clear that small changes make large results on trail for me (My previous hardtail had a 12.375" bb height). Personally, what I have found with lowering the bottom bracket height, it quickens steering as the riders center of gravity is lowered getting you more "in" the bike. This is of course a balancing act of how low is too low and how high is too high given the terrain here on the east coast. Like I stated earlier, I prefer a more upright stance on a mountain bike. Couple this with the above HT angle, and bottom bracket height and things seem to work well on trail and act as an extension of the rider. The mountain bikes that clients have requested I build for them are very akin to what I would ride and the trails I prefer which are techy, combination of fast/slow riding mixed with plenty of descending and climbing. I really try to make the bikes excel in all conditions so it's an all around great mountain bike. Naturally they're more east coast oriented.

    I built the bike above as a test platform for myself so if a client came and asked what 16" stays felt like compared to say 16.25, 16.5, or 16.75, I could honestly give them an answer based on real time input. What I have noticed is with the bike setup rigid, with 16" stays, it feels more like a 26" in terms of being able to loft the front / bike effortlessly. That was the first thing that struck me on trail. At 16" and with a rigid fork, it does tend to chatter/skip a bit in really tight tech at speed. Some of this I believe is due to the rigid fork. But if I were to pick the lesser of two evils, I'd still personally opt for the extremely playful nature of that chainstay length. I believe some of that chatter would quiet down with a susp. fork (which I'm about to make the switch just for the sake of experiments). If I was going to pick a great all around stay length for someone who wants easy lofting, bunny hops and long days in the saddle, I'd say 16.5" is where it's at right now for me on 29" wheels. With the ability to radius a 1.25" seat tube with .035" wall thickness, it really enables me to make room for the wheel size and afford space for everything to jive with a 29" wheel.

    Personally, I switch between SS and gears a lot. They're easy to maintain and a ton of fun. Actually the next 29er in the quo is Arizona bound and is a SS. Hope that answers some of your questions!
    Kristofer Henry : 44 BIKES : Made to Shred™
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    Default Re: 44 Bikes

    @nahtnoj: You're welcome. I've been "running silent, running deep" for too long. Looking forward to sharing more.
    Kristofer Henry : 44 BIKES : Made to Shred™
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