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.