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Thread: Hampsten Cycles

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    hampco's Avatar
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    Default Hampsten Cycles

    On Me

    Very well - where do I begin? I blame the 1970s: my love for bicycles - and this is when they looked like something, not like the modern Asia-built amorphous-shaped multi-colored blobs - and my love for riding. A desire to be my own boss, an interest in martial arts, the appreciation for working with my hands, my appetites for food and drink.

    Born in 1960, the mid-to-late-seventies were filled with jobs in bike shops in North Dakota; a summer racing in Cambridge, England; friends, long hair, the usual mischief. I was offered an apprenticeship by Peter Massen of Frankfurt in 1977, framebuilder to Didi Thureau; I declined, my German sucked. Part owner of J. Stone and Sons, Quality Bicycle Repair, from a friend’s one-car garage (I was a “ and Son”).

    The 1980s brought Madison, WI, and Yellow Jersey, learning to cook classic French food, a Gios Torino and great rides in southern Wisconsin, more cold winters, some taekwondo. No racing on my part but having fun following my brother’s exploits as he jumped head-first into the Euro racing scene. I applied for a job building frames at Trek (under Tim Isaac) and also with Mike Appel. Neither went anywhere but the interest was obviously there.

    In 1988 Brother Andy’s victory in the Giro d’Italia was huge, followed by a move to Seattle where I still live. More cooking in the 90s, better restaurants, Okinawan karate, some new bicycles (Land Shark, Merckx), a brief stint racing on the velodrome, and great rides in Washington state. The turning point was realizing that I was getting bored cooking and meeting with a career counselor:

    CC: “According to our tests and survey, you should be building bicycle frames.”

    Me: “Well, I’d like to, but...”

    CC: “Uh huh.”

    Thanks to a generous employer who was herself welding and sculpting in metal as a hobby, I started learning to weld and to work with metal. Later came blacksmithing, brazing, building furniture, and, in 1998, match bicycle company (lower case) with Martin Tweedy, Curt Goodrich, Kirk Pacenti, Mark Bulgier, Alistair Spence - all under Tim Isaac. Match didn’t last long but it was a great introduction to How Sausages are Made. It was production work by craftsmen (and me): we had mad talent there but none of it really added up to profitably building questionably-designed lugged frames in batches of 25. Someday there may be a book but in the meantime read “No Hands: The Rise and Fall of the Schwinn Bicycle Company.” You’ll get the general idea: great folks, goofy decisions from Corporate, copious amounts of peanut M & M’s.

    1999 is when the coin dropped: Andy and I decided to put our name on some downtubes, he threw money at the project, and I learned about running a business: web sites, blogs, cell phones, and message boards. Martin was willing to build the lugged frames (and help with drawings and geometries) as long as the sales numbers didn’t get too out of hand and the lead times too long so I started buying Anvil frame tools. I always had this idea in the back of my head that I could do the welded frames but as we went along I could see that A) I wasn’t nearly good enough as a welder to do this, and B) my production skills suck. But we had great builders who were willing to help: Dave Levy, Kent Eriksen, Carl Strong, Dwan at Co-Motion, Bob Parlee, Indy Fab - there was no need for me to waste time ruining customer frames when we could have it done right by others. But I was usually good at talking to the customers and helping them figure out which frame to get and what parts to hang on it; I kept the bills paid and filed all the gum’mint shit, took out the trash, made trips to the bank. Happy days.

    From pretty early on the question was: if I/we are not building all of our own frames, but are outsourcing to others, wherein lies the added value, if any? As with many things in life, the answer was a multi-parter: we could supply Andy’s Cinghiale Tours guests with custom bikes after their being fitted by The Man. We could take a stock frame - like the Moots VaMoots - and tweak it to fit a given customer while using the longer/lower geometry that we preferred. We could mine the Internets for new sales, bolstered by our participation on cycling forums and a great website. We could show customers in Seattle the lovely bikes we were making and even see them for a fitting. Our Best Idea, however, had to be the Strada Bianca: born from Andy’s desires to explore gravel roads in Tuscany and Boulder, CO, this bike is longer and lower than our typical road bike but will easily take tires up to 35mm. It’s not a cyclocross bike, or a touring bike, or “sport-tourer” - it’s a gravel-road bike that works fine with skinny tires and as a commuter. And we could build it in steel, titanium, aluminum, carbon. And with Cycles Tournesol we could take the Strada Bianca idea in more directions, some of theses directions seeming to need a separate marque to differentiate from Hampsten.

    Ultimately, our steel and titanium iterations became both our best-sellers and the materials we now prefer to work in. Recently we added Max Kullaway to our little family and the majority of production is happening in-house with minimal out-sourcing. Steel tubes keep getting better, butted titanium is now on our menu, and (my favorite) Columbus MAX tubing is having a mild revival. Andy’s career gives us plenty to play with and next year we should see some 25th anniversary La Vie Claire accoutrements while the Gavia/Giro d’Italia/Rapha fuss from 2008 was fun and left us looking ahead for more.

    If there’s a philosophy at work here, it probably looks something like this: we’re not wedded to the material - they all work fine, some better in certain applications than others. Joining method: lugs, welds, bonding, genetic splicing - whatever, as long as it holds, just make it pretty. Paint? Ok, but nothing too fancy. What matters is how the bike fits the customer and how it handles the riding that person does.

    Reading over all this I see some repetition: bikes, building, design, karate, cooking. To me, this is how they relate to each other: there is a box and we do not “think outside of the box”. We bundle our cooking skills, or our karate skills, or our bicycle designing skills and we bring them with us into this box. And we combine them in the box and what we show others is our Penne al’Arrabiata, or kata Seisan, or a brand-new Hampsten bicycle. We bring all our years of experience and knowledge and love and we create the best that we can.
    Steve Hampsten
    www.hampsten.blogspot.com
    "hey, we got grenades!"

  2. #2
    Tom Kellogg's Avatar
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    Default re: Hampsten Cycles

    Excellent! There are almost as many business models in our community as there are builders, maybe more. I'm just glad you joined up when it made sense and felt right. Now, get back to work.
    Tom Kellogg
    Rides bikes, makes 'em too.
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    Steel Piste, D-A Piste, PD-7400, Concour lite, Zipp 404
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    Dave Kirk's Avatar
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    Default re: Hampsten Cycles

    Welcome! Thanks for the fun read.

    dave
    D. Kirk
    Kirk Frameworks Co.
    www.kirkframeworks.com


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    robin3mj is offline VSalonistas
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    Default re: Hampsten Cycles

    Quote Originally Posted by hampco View Post
    next year we should see some 25th anniversary La Vie Claire accoutrements
    Sign. Me. Up.

    Mondrian color schemes aside…I’ve been following your website/blogs since I found the Vsalon, I guess about 2 years ago. In that time, it seems like you have made a lot of changes to your model lineup, most noticeably that one Tournesol being discontinued and now brought back as a city bike. What has been the process to determine what to market, what to discontinue, and do you see anything new coming down the pike?

    How is the Crema selling so far? As someone who admires the whole ethos and aesthetic of the custom frame market, but is also a pretty proportionally built, flexible-enough rider that fits nicely on a 56/57cm, I am interested in where this “small batch” production is going. I’m on two factory-built aluminum bikes right now, and something like the Crema will likely be a first step towards the handbuilt arena at some point.

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    Default re: Hampsten Cycles

    Steve,
    I've got nothing to ask as of now, but I'd like to say that Reynolds 853, Match built Cinghiale I bought from you 8 years ago or so was one of the best purchases I've ever made. Even the color rocks. Thanks.

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    Carl S's Avatar
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    Default re: Hampsten Cycles

    You rock Steve, it was fun working with you when we built your lightweight steel frames. I like the fact that you work with all the common material. Not many do.


    This question may be a bit large for smoked out but I'll give it a try. If you have a customer that wants a frame but does not know which material will suit them best how do you go about guiding them to the proper material?
    Carl Strong
    Strong Frames Inc.
    www.strongframes.com

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    SteveP is offline vSalon Legend
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    Default re: Hampsten Cycles

    i thk the strada biance would make a perfect d2r2 bike. you should bring one out here next year to prove the point.
    make for this event and events like it i thk.
    congrats on the stuff you deliver.
    it is right on the money.

  8. #8
    hampco's Avatar
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    Default re: Hampsten Cycles

    Quote Originally Posted by robin3mj View Post

    Mondrian color schemes aside…I’ve been following your website/blogs since I found the Vsalon, I guess about 2 years ago. In that time, it seems like you have made a lot of changes to your model lineup, most noticeably that one Tournesol being discontinued and now brought back as a city bike. What has been the process to determine what to market, what to discontinue, and do you see anything new coming down the pike?

    How is the Crema selling so far? As someone who admires the whole ethos and aesthetic of the custom frame market, but is also a pretty proportionally built, flexible-enough rider that fits nicely on a 56/57cm, I am interested in where this “small batch” production is going. I’m on two factory-built aluminum bikes right now, and something like the Crema will likely be a first step towards the handbuilt arena at some point.
    Yeah, we ditched the Tournesol Leger - which was one of my personal favorite "models" - and we built a few Shopping bikes. It comes down to: if it don't sell, at all, in a year or two, then we lose it. And if we get three-four requests in a row for something different then there's a good chance we add it to our line-up.

    Crema has been good: we've been slowly upping the quality of the tubing (Spirit-for-lugs) and dropouts (Paragon stainless) and sales are right where I want them. We still build them one at a time but I try to limit my own time spent on each one - compared to a full custom, that is.

    Quote Originally Posted by Jonathan View Post
    Steve,
    I've got nothing to ask as of now, but I'd like to say that Reynolds 853, Match built Cinghiale I bought from you 8 years ago or so was one of the best purchases I've ever made. Even the color rocks. Thanks.
    I'm relaxing my Soup Nazi stance on pink frames, but yours was still the first!

    Quote Originally Posted by Carl S View Post
    This question may be a bit large for smoked out but I'll give it a try. If you have a customer that wants a frame but does not know which material will suit them best how do you go about guiding them to the proper material?
    Most customers seem to know what they want by the time we have our first meeting but for the few who are on the fence I tell them as truthfully as I can how I feel about steel, stainless, and titanium. It usually comes down to: steel has the best ride and lowest price. Now if you want a similar-but-slightly-different ride, a lighter frame, one that doesn't need to be painted, and is more expensive, then we're talking about titanium. And stainless falls roughly in the middle between the two.
    Steve Hampsten
    www.hampsten.blogspot.com
    "hey, we got grenades!"

  9. #9
    Archibald's Avatar
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    Default re: Hampsten Cycles

    Steve - You have a brother other than Martin? First I head of that. What's he do?

    Mad love to you & what you do, mang!
    "It's better to not know so much than to know so many things that ain't so." -- Josh Billings, 1885

    A man with any character at all must have enemies and places he is not welcome—in the end we are not only defined by our friends, but also those aligned against us.


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    Default re: Hampsten Cycles

    Thanks for getting smoked out -- I've been looking forward to it!

    2 questions:

    1. What's your favorite part of the business...and your least favorite?

    2. What's the general product mix going out the door? The Strada Bianca enjoys a great reputation...is it your best seller? Do you sell more Ti or steel, etc.?

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    Default re: Hampsten Cycles

    Steve,
    It's great seeing you smoked out. I haven't had the guts (or eloquent writing style) to enter this forum, yet. Besides being a great guy to work for, I have to say that meeting you, Martin, and Max was a highlight to my long, wet three and a half years in Seattle. And yes you are right, you do have a rather smooth way talking to customers. I had to think long and hard of a few questions, so here they are: What do you attribute to such a good year for bicycle sales in 2010 when most builders saw a decline in sales? Any plans on expansion or just keep doing what your doing? And one last question: Who has been your favorite mechanic/rack and wheel builder at Hamco?

    I think you should definitely bring a Strada Bianca out for next year's Cino Heroica ride here in Montana. Sounds right up your alley. Although, you may have to make some "retro" mods to qualify you for the ride.

    Tell the kids hi for me.

    CTB
    Last edited by Boedie; 12-07-2010 at 05:40 PM. Reason: grammar

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    Peter Polack is offline VSalonistas
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    Default re: Hampsten Cycles

    Well written and honest. Thanks, Steve.

  13. #13
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    Default re: Hampsten Cycles

    Steve, thank you for getting Smoked Out. I've had the good luck to meet you and always enjoy your style as reflected in your company and here on the salon.

    I have a pseudo-question that may be more musing than asking. It seems to me that from the content and photography on hampsten.com to the Strada Bianca to the rest of the fendered brilliance, there's as much Seattle/Northwest "aesthetic" to what you do as there is anything else. Is this my locally-colored glasses at work? Or is this northern clime, utilitarian component of your company intentional?
    a one bike believer

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    Default re: Hampsten Cycles

    Steve,

    here's the first of many questions. Every Hampco or Tsol that leaves your shop seems to be set up perfect. Paint and graphics as well as the component selection and lines all look super refined. Please pass some wisdom along how you keep your styling tight and focused, and how you influence the choices the client gets to make to have the end result look the way it does. Thanks
    Last edited by Jonathan; 12-07-2010 at 06:40 PM.

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    Default re: Hampsten Cycles

    hampster:

    what makes max tubing so badass even for the gentlemen set?

    who'd win in a fight between a taekwondo master, a okinawan mr. miyagi karate dude and giancarlo ferretti?

    i've been thinking about it for 6 years, how should douglas build up my tournesol?

    how much more awesome are your bikes, your times and your sex life since moving all your production in house?

    what's your favorite piece of don ferris ephemera?

    alain ducasse cooked a hot dog once. you ever cook a hot dog? any bike you are ashamed of, or wish you never built?

    what's the bestest bike in the world?

    thanks pal! you're an inspiration and a friend!

    craig

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    hampco's Avatar
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    Default re: Hampsten Cycles

    Quote Originally Posted by Archibald View Post
    Steve - You have a brother other than Martin? First I head of that. What's he do?

    Mad love to you & what you do, mang!
    Brother David lives in Portland, rides when he can, works when work is available. Not sure why he's not a framebuilder yet.

    I guess there is one more brother, Andy, but no one asks about him... he's still doing Cinghiale Cycling Tours, loves riding his bike and "fixing" his house, same dead VW parked in the front yard as has been for the last 15 years.

    Quote Originally Posted by grscha View Post
    Thanks for getting smoked out -- I've been looking forward to it!

    2 questions:

    1. What's your favorite part of the business...and your least favorite?

    2. What's the general product mix going out the door? The Strada Bianca enjoys a great reputation...is it your best seller? Do you sell more Ti or steel, etc.?
    1 - Easy: talking with new customers. I love that part of my day, hands down. Least favorite is all the business stuff Carl Strong talks about: taxes, reports, filing forms - stuff where there's no person at the other end.

    2 - Looks like this: titanium - 50%, steel - 50%, stainless - 10%. (hmmm...) Strada Bianca (both materials) is probably our best seller, followed by Gran Paradiso, then S & S coupled bikes, then Something With Lugs.

    Quote Originally Posted by Boedie View Post
    Steve,
    It's great seeing you smoked out. I haven't had the guts (or eloquent writing style) to enter this forum, yet. Besides being a great guy to work for, I have to say that meeting you, Martin, and Max was a highlight to my long, wet three and a half years in Seattle. And yes you are right, you do have a rather smooth way talking to customers. I had to think long and hard of a few questions, so here they are: What do you attribute to such a good year for bicycle sales in 2010 when most builders saw a decline in sales? Any plans on expansion or just keep doing what your doing? And one last question: Who has been your favorite mechanic/rack and wheel builder at Hamco?

    I think you should definitely bring a Strada Bianca out for next year's Cino Heroica ride here in Montana. Sounds right up your alley. Although, you may have to make some "retro" mods to qualify you for the ride.

    Tell the kids hi for me.

    CTB
    Chris - we've been consistent for 2009 and 2010 and I think gross sales were almost identical. Maybe we're down a little from the two years preceding but it's not huge. I think what's helped us ride out the financial downturn is that I see our bikes as being somewhere in the middle of the custom spectrum: neither the most expensive nor the least expensive - we build quality and we give reasonable value. Our focus is on steel and titanium which aren't the most expensive materials to work with, and the bikes we sell tend to be on the practical side ("No, really honey, with this new bike I can replace all but two of my other bikes - think how much money we'll save!"), either in terms of go-anywhere/do-anything or that we build many of them with couplers - so we sell a lot of versatility. Or, as with Crema, it's a great steel bike that takes fenders and bigger tires at a good price - we all need a good fender bike, right?

    No plans for expansion but maybe get the business out of my house some day - as soon as I get tired of working in my pajamas, of course. We recently completely redid the shop so now there are two distinct work spaces, one for wrenching and one for framebuilding; now Max wants a horizontal mill...

    Favorite mechanic/wheelwhore/rackster? Oooh, that's a tough one, so many, so many... you, of course. I think it's that Montana work ethic. Shoot me a note on this Cino Heroica, wouldja? I'm interested.

    The cats and dog continue to age gracefully, Riley just had his 13th. Alle ist gut.
    Steve Hampsten
    www.hampsten.blogspot.com
    "hey, we got grenades!"

  17. #17
    hampco's Avatar
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    Default re: Hampsten Cycles

    what makes max tubing so badass even for the gentlemen set?

    It's cool, it's retro like Raybans, chicks (would) dig it. And you must - and I can not stress this enough - be able to produce enough wattage to merit riding MAX. You either can or can't.

    who'd win in a fight between a taekwondo master, a okinawan mr. miyagi karate dude and giancarlo ferretti?

    My money is on Ferretti.

    i've been thinking about it for 6 years, how should douglas build up my tournesol?

    You know the answer as well as I, pal: Mafac/Simplex/TA - a cheese-eating, wine-sipping, surrender-monkey re-enactment piece.

    how much more awesome are your bikes, your times and your sex life since moving all your production in house?

    The bikes are indefinably better, the lead times would confound Einstein, and gentlemen don't kiss and tell - but it's been a very good move on all the fronts you mention.

    what's your favorite piece of don ferris ephemera?

    MAX tubing - didn't he invent it? Or his Supermaster - it makes drying my clothes after a ride so much easier, all those pointy bits and stuff.

    alain ducasse cooked a hot dog once. you ever cook a hot dog? any bike you are ashamed of, or wish you never built?

    I'm more of a bratwurst guy, myself. Shame... let's just say there have been some bikes that have taught me a great deal about the importance of setting boundaries and of what constitutes good taste. At the same time, who am I to dictate what a customer should or shouldn't ride? I try to interject my preferences and desires in a sale but I'm not the one writing the check, am I? My top three, however, were for friends or family who thought they knew exactly what they wanted and needed no input from me.

    what's the bestest bike in the world?

    Whatever you're riding today, Craig. But bikes are like pizza (...) - I've almost never ridden a bad one.

    thanks pal! you're an inspiration and a friend!

    Likewise!

    craig[/QUOTE]
    Last edited by hampco; 12-07-2010 at 06:35 PM.
    Steve Hampsten
    www.hampsten.blogspot.com
    "hey, we got grenades!"

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    Default re: Hampsten Cycles

    Quote Originally Posted by hampco View Post

    I guess there is one more brother, Andy, but no one asks about him... he's still doing Cinghiale Cycling Tours, loves riding his bike and "fixing" his house, same dead VW parked in the front yard as has been for the last 15 years.

    Andy Hampsten has a dead car in his front yard? THE Andy Hampsten might be a redneck? That makes me like him even more:)
    Eric Doswell, aka Edoz
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  19. #19
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    Default re: Hampsten Cycles

    Steve - Can you go into a little detail on who makes up Hampsten and who does what? I know there's you, wearer of many hats, but who else is on the team, what are their jobs, etc? Also, who dishes your delicious paint and what are your rules for such, i.e., how much input do you allow the customer? I ask this because all your bikes seem to follow a classic scheme and you appear to not fall prey to paint jobs that look like dayglo Nikes covered in hangover or 15 color fades and some folks just can't seem to help themselves. What's your secret?
    "It's better to not know so much than to know so many things that ain't so." -- Josh Billings, 1885

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  20. #20
    Curt Goodrich is offline VSalonistas
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    Default re: Hampsten Cycles

    Steve,

    What are you riding these days? What is Martin riding? Show me some pictures.

    Curt
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