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Thread: Winter Bicycles

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    Eric Estlund's Avatar
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    Default Winter Bicycles

    My name is Eric Estlund, and I build and own Winter Bicycles in Eugene, Oregon.

    Like most guys I have a long term love affair with bikes but I’ll focus more on the specific experiences that lead to my frame building. I raced a bit in high school and spent long hours in the saddle training, commuting and riding with friends. At college I started to get involved with bike mechanics, mostly as part of bike advocacy. I ran an on campus co-op that loaned out gear, helped with repairs and really tried to promote cycling as a lifestyle. At the same time I was working towards an art degree in metal sculpture. While I wasn’t building bikes, the main focus of my degree was on the intersection of hand craft and “art”. As my personal life became more bike focused, my academic life started to explore the relationship between form and function. Over the next six years those two interests began to merge. I spent time as a bike mechanic, worked bike retail/ fitting, and developed a mechanical base. I continued to work in bike advocacy as well as urban cycling education. I also worked as a high school art and experiential education teacher, and started to pull my love of bikes and love of making stuff together. Watching kids learn about themselves, their community and each other was very rewarding- and it was great to be able to help that transformation with a variety of tools.

    Taking a UBI class solidified my interest in combining bikes and craft. I went in to the class with the full understanding I would build more bikes and used it to really focus on the process. As fate would have it my wife and I moved to Eugene shortly after for her job and to be closer to her family. Before we hit the road I arranged an interview with Bike Friday. Two days after we arrived in town I had a full time gig as a brazer for a domestic bike company. I went from zero to a thousand braze-ons a week in 13 days. Nothing teaches you to braze like brazing.

    Bike Friday was very generous to me, and in addition to bouncing around learning different skills there, I started working on my own side projects after hours. About a year later I started Winter Bicycles part time and exhibited at my first show. I chose to name my company Winter because I wanted to express the idea of using a bike year round and having it become part of your daily life, be it for utility or sport. I like the concept of not having an “off season.” By the following year I was spending enough of my time with Winter I decided to make the leap to full time and have been at it since.

    I see my primary job as listening to and translating customer wants and needs. While we all love the object, much of the value of the experience is in the design process, building customer relationships and seeing our collective ideas produce something unique.

    In addition to complete builds and fully integrated bikes, I also sell individual parts. I build the occasional replacement or conversion fork, racks for non-Winters, and I seem to be developing a pretty comfortable following of custom stem buyers. Some of you may have seen the double headed stem I built for a gentleman with two different arm lengths. I really enjoy these unique challenges. I also have been doing more and more special projects and small batch work for other bike companies.

    I build in steel with fully lugged and fully fillet brazed bikes, as well as working in hybrid and bi-lam methods. At a recent show someone asked me if one of the bikes was an “art bike.” While I appreciate the comment, my answer was “no.” I strive to make clean solid performance bikes that fit the needs of their riders. My bikes are meant to be ridden first and foremost, but I don’t mind if they look good doing it.

    - Eric Estlund
    Winter Bicycles
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  2. #2
    steve garro's Avatar
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    Default Re: Winter Bicycles

    Yo, Mr. E! - when you started building did you say "I want to build bikes like xxxxxx" or did demand steer the form & function of your greater body of work? {OT - six degrees - E. was the best man for my wife's maid of honor's wedding - random} Rock on, - Garro
    Steve Garro, Coconino Cycles.
    Frames & Bicycles built to measure and Custom wheels
    Hecho en Flagstaff, Arizona desde 2003
    www.coconinocycles.com
    www.coconinocycles.blogspot.com

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    conorb's Avatar
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    Default Re: Winter Bicycles

    Hey Eric,

    Full disclosure; I consider Eric a bud and we chat on the phone about bike related stuff from time to time.

    How do you see your art background helping or hindering you? Is there a certain aesthetic that you're trying to get to - where form and function create an intersection of art and useful machine? I would think that a background in metal sculpture would be quite useful in this vocation.

    Is this process the manifestation of your hybrid bi-lam designs? Do you find that customers seek you out for your vision or are you putting your vision into their needs and wants as part of the translation process.

    Conor

    p.s. Yes, I'm sure you'll have questions for me when it's my turn.

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    Default Re: Winter Bicycles

    Do you consider your trip to UBI a necessary part of your evolution as a builder, or would you have ended up in the same place without? You said it solidified your interest, do you think anything else could have had the same effect had you not gone?
    Great work, I always respect the guys who do racks and all the extra stuff.
    Eric Doswell, aka Edoz
    Summoner of Crickets
    http://edozbicycles.wordpress.com/
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/edozbicycles/
    In Before the Lock

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    Default Re: Winter Bicycles

    What will the handbuilt bicycle buyers market look like in 10 years and what if anything can , in your view, be done to sustain, foster and create opportunities for new builders?

    Take you time. wink wink.

  6. #6
    Eric Estlund's Avatar
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    Default Re: Winter Bicycles

    Quote Originally Posted by steve garro View Post
    Yo, Mr. E! - when you started building did you say "I want to build bikes like xxxxxx" or did demand steer the form & function of your greater body of work? {OT - six degrees - E. was the best man for my wife's maid of honor's wedding - random} Rock on, - Garro
    Hey Garro- Hard to say, really. When I started I had an interest in building bikes that I wish I had access to as a retail guy- race-ish bikes with lots of versatility. I saw a demand but no product, so I started building them. I also really like that sort of ride- I'm not an active racer, but I like sporty feeling bikes for everyday riding.

    I really enjoy bikes that slot between traditional market categories, and that seems to be what my current customer is asking for (generally). I love purpose built machines, I'm just not particular about the purpose. Track specific is just as purposeful as commuter specific for that customer.

    I'm having breakfast with Andrew and Meg tomorrow back her in PDX. We're all in town for another friends wedding. Small world.

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    Eric Estlund's Avatar
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    Default Re: Winter Bicycles

    Quote Originally Posted by conorb View Post
    Hey Eric,

    Full disclosure; I consider Eric a bud and we chat on the phone about bike related stuff from time to time.
    Hey dude-

    Quote Originally Posted by conorb View Post
    How do you see your art background helping or hindering you? Is there a certain aesthetic that you're trying to get to - where form and function create an intersection of art and useful machine? I would think that a background in metal sculpture would be quite useful in this vocation.
    The art back ground helps in a bunch of ways- first I like making things in both additive and subtractive ways, and I'm used to combining those things in ways where they play with each other. That dynamic of taking material away and adding material is something I've done and thought about a lot. In my sculpture (and painting and printmaking and...) I am very interested in conservation of mark. By this I mean using, or appearing to use, the least amount of "stroke" to get a point across. At times this can actually be a bit of a deception. In bike terms it takes a lot of work to make a simple short point lug look good- possibly more work then trying to get a really fancy cut lug to look good. There is no hiding in it.

    I don't think of my bikes as art- I think of them as performance machines. But if I'm putting the effort into making them work well, I might as well put the effort into making them look hot, too.

    Quote Originally Posted by conorb View Post
    Is this process the manifestation of your hybrid bi-lam designs? Do you find that customers seek you out for your vision or are you putting your vision into their needs and wants as part of the translation process.
    The bi-lam came about as a bit of a whim. I wanted to try it out to balance a light weight step through that had several re-enforcing laminates, and I carried that into the head tube. I got on a kick where I was mostly building fillet bikes with seat tube laminates and echoing that in the head tube. Seemed like an elegant and bold version of a head tube ring with the benefit of a really beefy tube to head tube intersection and very round post-braze head tubes. As an added bonus it gives me a huge creative canvas for those folks that want to me play with art-school kid background! I've spent a lot of time refining the "basic" long point look, and each one is still cut specifically for the bike it is used on.

    Folks defiantly seek me out for it, and folks that haven't considered it before looking at my work are generally excited about it if it fits their bikes design needs. I'm also happy to not use it if it doesn't make sense for that bike/ rider. The lugged frame in this weeks FNL is an example.


    That was a long one! If any of that needs to be teased apart more let me know.

  8. #8
    Eric Estlund's Avatar
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    Default Re: Winter Bicycles

    Quote Originally Posted by edoz View Post
    Do you consider your trip to UBI a necessary part of your evolution as a builder, or would you have ended up in the same place without? You said it solidified your interest, do you think anything else could have had the same effect had you not gone?
    Great work, I always respect the guys who do racks and all the extra stuff.
    I'm one of those no-regrets, every step leads to where you are kind of guys, so I'd say it was an essential part. Had I not done it I may have been still building bikes, but I don't know if I'd be in the same place.

    Re: my UBI experience- I had a pretty solid fabrication base, and I knew a good shake about bikes. UBI helped me look at what it took to make a bike (at least the first one). I took it as a process class- I knew I'd build more, but didn't want to struggle through months of trial and error for something I could be shown quickly and professionally. It was a great experience, and I'd recommend it highly to anyone who wants to build a bike with the understanding that it (in itself) will not make you a frame builder. It was also helpful in my landing a job at BF, which was another big step in getting me to where I am now.

    Since that class I've come to know Ron a bit more, especially with my work on the OBCA and I really appreciate what he's got going on over in Ashland and now Portland.

    And thanks for the nod to the racks, etc.

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    Eric Estlund's Avatar
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    Default Re: Winter Bicycles

    Quote Originally Posted by Too Tall View Post
    What will the handbuilt bicycle buyers market look like in 10 years and what if anything can , in your view, be done to sustain, foster and create opportunities for new builders?

    Take you time. wink wink.
    Pulling out the big guns, eh? I'll take a stab at this, and add more as it come to me (over the next 10 years, no doubt).

    If the last 10 years have shown me anything its that something fairly niche can grow exponentially if the right combo of luck, work and vision come together. Just as an example 10 years ago the only custom builder in Portland (where I was living) I knew the name of was Andy at Strawberry (who I had lunch with today, btw).

    I think growth happened for several reasons:
    - A small builder can build a mean bike
    - Buyers became aware that they could purchase a "good" rather then a "consumable"
    - Customer service and personal relationships are important and add value
    -The internet helped pull a bunch of solo builders together and helped with the info share as well as the basis for a community of builders and enthusiasts

    I see the current "boom" as a potential for an even bigger step forward. What we (solo and small shops) make are relevant,modern and high performance products. By the nature of the single builder/ single buyer relationship we cater to a "specific", highly personal market niche that large mfgs can't, and arguably shouldn't.

    I'm a board member of the Oregon Bicycle Constructors Association- we're a non profit trade group working to foster interest in Oregon hand made bikes, as well as provide support to small builders. Thats an evolving concept, but it includes things like info sharing, group purchasing, association advertising, professional development clinics, show promotion (for our Oregon show as well as group exhibits at other shows) etc. At it's most basic form it allows local builders to connect with other builders and not work in a vacuum. Seeing other folks work, discussing process and sharing goes a long way towards helping all of us develop our skills and professionalism.

    I'm excited to see other such groups develop around the country. Opening forums like this one are a fantastic way of highlighting what, why and how we do what we do.

    Thats a start- I'm sure my answer will evolve and develop.

  10. #10
    Joel Benjamin L's Avatar
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    Default Re: Winter Bicycles

    My parents moved from Baltimore to Eugene and then to Portland a few years ago. While visiting them in Oregon, I was struck by how different the attitude toward industrialization, 'development', economic 'growth', nature, etc are in Oregon than on the east coast I was familiar with. I am curious how large your market is outside of Oregon and what you are doing, other than website in order to promote your bikes. Are you in any way politically involved in promoting cycling or the lifestyle of cycling? Thanks!

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    Eric Estlund's Avatar
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    Default Re: Winter Bicycles

    Quote Originally Posted by JBLANDE View Post
    My parents moved from Baltimore to Eugene and then to Portland a few years ago. While visiting them in Oregon, I was struck by how different the attitude toward industrialization, 'development', economic 'growth', nature, etc are in Oregon than on the east coast I was familiar with. I am curious how large your market is outside of Oregon and what you are doing, other than website in order to promote your bikes. Are you in any way politically involved in promoting cycling or the lifestyle of cycling? Thanks!
    I'm an east coaster as well- I moved to Portland from NH to go to school. I bounced around the west a bit, but I'm back!

    Most of my full bike sales are in state at the moment (working on developing from this base).I assume that is due to word of mouth and that people in Oregon can and have seen the bikes at shows, events, under riders, etc. My parts (stems, forks etc) sold as accessories are almost exclusively sold out of state- I think its an easier purchase sight unseen, and those offerings are fairly unique in the market. I've been getting lots of web traffic from around the country as well as a lot of international traffic.

    My current marketing (which I admittedly need to work on) includes social networking media (the blog, flickr, Facebook), my participation on several web forums, my work with and attendance at the Oregon Handmade Bicycle Show and other regional shows and events. I'll set up a booth at pretty much any group ride or advocacy event willing to have me. This year I'll also head out to NAHBS. I have also received some good web press for some of my bikes and show presence.

    I have been an active promoter of cycling as sport, exercise and as transportation for a long time. In SLC I was a board member for the SLC Bicycle Collective, a non-profit community shop that was also the hub for local bike advocacy. I was a League of American Bicyclists certified instructor and taught many safety, commuting and mechanical classes. I also worked with HS students teaching bike skills, but also worked with students on trail maintnance, race support and to explore the local and personal development parts of the sport. In Eugene I am a member of GEARS, a local advocacy group and work with OBCA to support the professional end of the industry.

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    D-CT's Avatar
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    Default Re: Winter Bicycles

    eric,

    who does the paint for your bikes?

  13. #13
    Eric Estlund's Avatar
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    Default Re: Winter Bicycles

    Quote Originally Posted by DarrenCT View Post
    eric,

    who does the paint for your bikes?
    Keith Anderson- fantastic paint, great guy, and "relatively" local to me (but I'd gladly ship my bikes cross country to him).

    For smaller items like stems and racks I will use a combination of a local plating outfit, a local coater and Keith as is dictated by the project. In some cases where I am building a stem for a customer working with another builder for a frame I'll send the item to their painter.

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    Default Re: Winter Bicycles

    eric,

    this should be a mandatory question for everyone who gets smoked out....

    what is your favorite beer, wine, or liquor?

    cheers :)

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    Default Re: Winter Bicycles

    Brag about yourself a little bit. A little vanity is a good thing. What do you think makes your frames/bikes unique, or the process of buying a frame/bike different from everyone else’s?
    "I think I know what military fame is; to be killed on the field of battle and have your name misspelled in the newspapers."

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    Eric Estlund's Avatar
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    Default Re: Winter Bicycles

    Quote Originally Posted by DarrenCT View Post
    eric,

    this should be a mandatory question for everyone who gets smoked out....

    what is your favorite beer, wine, or liquor?

    cheers :)
    Root, raisin, and in chocolate truffles, respectively.

    My vice of choice is coffee. I like it strong and flowing with a bit of nut and a deep flavor. I have mostly been doing a modified "americano" type drink with my cheap steam espresso maker (it works well with local beans). If the beans are right I also really enjoy a good French press or moka pot, but I seem to wear them out- I drink a lot of coffee.

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    Eric Estlund's Avatar
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    Default Re: Winter Bicycles

    Quote Originally Posted by dcpdpayne View Post
    Brag about yourself a little bit. A little vanity is a good thing. What do you think makes your frames/bikes unique, or the process of buying a frame/bike different from everyone else’s?
    A little bit of horn tooting then!

    I'm a really good listener and I enjoy having a two way conversation with my clients. I ask questions about what they are interested in, what they like and dislike, etc. I listen to what they say, process that information and ask leading questions. This helps me design an appropriate bike, and it helps develop a relationship with the owner. I think that relationship is part of what people are paying for, and the conversation informs my design decisions and ultimately the end product. It is also part of my customer service in that the decision making steps are clearly laid out and design, ride and aesthetic considerations are clear and well defined.

    From a product perspective I have a wide range of experiences to recommend, design and build from. I try to maintain a purpose driven build with a clean and bold aesthetic. I like to balance strong visual features like the long points on my head tubes or lugs with subtle touches like echoed curves in the bridges. The design conversation dictates the handling and feel of every bike- I wouldn't say that there is a Winter feel. Customer specific to customer tastes- that's what I mean when I say "individually tailored".

    Did I mention my bikes look bad ass? Because they do. Totally fricken bad ass (in a classy sort of way).

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    Default Re: Winter Bicycles

    Eric,
    The first bike you ever built ; What was is it ?, Do you still ride it? and what is your daily ride ? Have you ever considered having an apprentice? I also have to say your bike are the best I have ever seen and have been following your blog for a while and hope to purchase a frame from you eventually.
    Thanks
    sincerely Prentiss

  19. #19
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    Default Re: Winter Bicycles

    Hey Eric,
    It's been cool seeing the progress of your company and I appreciate that you are involved in the OBCA. I really hope the OBCA can become the organization that we believe it could be. What single item on the list of "What the OBCA could be" do you think would do the most good for members, and why?

    Also, who do you like looking at for inspiration? When you get on flickr, or browse a blog, what builders make your pulse speed up?

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    Eric Estlund's Avatar
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    Default Re: Winter Bicycles

    Quote Originally Posted by squirrel3370 View Post
    Eric,
    The first bike you ever built ; What was is it ?, Do you still ride it? and what is your daily ride ? Have you ever considered having an apprentice? I also have to say your bike are the best I have ever seen and have been following your blog for a while and hope to purchase a frame from you eventually.
    Thanks
    sincerely Prentiss
    Thank you for the kind words- I'm always happy to hear from people that are enjoying the bikes and the blog.

    The first bike I built was the one at UBI. It is a track bike that was also the first bike I painted (a double coat powder that I painted at Bike Friday with help my first week there). I still have it, and had I not pulled the parts for other projects it would still be ridable. That was also the first Cinelli style stem I build (they are soooo much better now).

    I try to resist building myself a fleet of bikes and instead try to build demo bikes that are close enough to m y size I can use them while they are around. That said I did build myself a bike for last years Oregon Manifest. I went in a different direction then most, to say the least. Was it Archibald who mentioned not thinking there would be any crazy custom paint? Ha! That bike can oft be seen locked up around Eugene bike racks and on the local roads.

    Thanks again for checking out the blog, and feel free to post over there if you see anything that you are excited about!

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