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Thread: Signal Cycles

  1. #1
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    Default Signal Cycles

    Thanks to Mike and Craig for getting the ball rolling with this, and to Richard for scheming up new ways to entertain. My name is Matt Cardinal, I am one of two owners of Signal Cycles the other is Nate Meschke. Nate is in Columbia hanging out in a hammock right now, so I’m going to start the conversation and let him join in when he gets back (or gets good internet service).

    Before I started Signal, I had done some dropout replacements and basic braze-ons in my (at that time) 15 year career as a bike mechanic, but never really considered putting a bike together. During the summer of 2005 I got an opportunity to work for Sacha White assembling bikes, and was blown away and inspired by the experience of sharing shop time with him. I guess that is what pushed me over that little ledge of deciding, “I want to build a bike.” I built my first bike in my garage in the fall of 2005 it was hideous. I made Nate buy a tube set and the two of us helped each other build a few more bikes for ourselves. It was a lot of fun, and I started having friends asking about me building them a bike. I mosly said no, I wasn’t planning on starting a bike company at that point. The enjoyment I had building was all that I needed.

    This is where I tell you that we have no formal training as bike builders, and you all pick up your jaws and shake your heads in disbelief. As Craig mentioned in his thread “I’m and internet framebuilder.” I had a Paterek manual that I found almost useful, and help from a few friends that had built bikes, most notable is Brett Flemming the owner of Efficient Velo Tools. Brett helped us set up the shop with a jig and better hand tools. But the most exciting and diverse source of knowledge came from documenting that other builders had posted online. The online research helped clear up some of the gray areas from the Paterek manual.

    After Nate and I had been building for about two years, we found out that NAHBS was going to be in Portland in 2008. The fact that NAHBS was going to be in our back yard was too good an opportunity to pass up. I got funding from the shop we work at, the Bike Gallery and convinced Nate to be my partner in it. Looking back I suppose it was brash thinking I could pull this thing together. Somehow we were in the right place at the right time and were included in the book “Handmade Bicycles a passionate Pursuit” along with many heroes of ours. We made 20 bikes our first year.

    Last year after the Bike Gallery still wasn’t seeing a way to make money selling our bikes, they decided to offer the company to Nate and I. So Nate and I have owned Signal since June of 2009.

    I guess that’s as good a place to start as any. I know that a lot of successful builders started by just building a bike, whereas others got started by sitting at a bench and brazing hundreds of dropouts, then hundreds of brazeons. We’ve had insurance since day zero, none of our bikes have broken, and we’ve made a lot of people bikes that they love and are proud of. There have been growing pains and learning moments, but I feel that we are making good progress. I hope that the quality of the work we are doing can speak for itself. I know that Nate and I still have a long road ahead of us, and that makes me very excited. I really feel fortunate to be involved in this conversation. Thanks for reading.

  2. #2
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    Default Re: Signal Cycles

    Matt and Nate,

    btw, great website.

    why build together and not alone? Do each of you perform all of the same tasks? Are you in the shop together? Please share how your partnership works.

    Jonathan

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    Default Re: Signal Cycles

    Jonathan,
    I suppose strength in numbers is why we work together. We've taught each other a lot, and feel like we keep each other in check. I think we're pretty fortunate that we have two of us, over the last 8-9 months Nate has been driving a lot of the building and I've been learning how to be a dad and run a small business, and taking torch time when I can find it. But I feel we do the best work when it's both of us working on the same project, usually until it gets to finish work and then one will take over and the other will get to planning and starting the next one. Nate and I have been through a lot and it is possible for him to tell me I'm doing something stupid without my ego getting bruised. From the beginning I wanted Signal to just be Signal, not Nate, not Matt.

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    Default Re: Signal Cycles

    matt - does a certain type of frame beckon you two, or will you build any style (within reason) atmo?
    iow, road, mtb, fixie, 'cross, rando (stop me...), city bike, tricycle, etc.
    is there a focus at signal, and/or would you like there to be one?

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    Default Re: Signal Cycles

    wow. always thought your (signal) stuff was great, but never suspected the nouveau of it all. congrats and keep the metal hot.
     

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    Quote Originally Posted by e-RICHIE View Post
    matt - does a certain type of frame beckon you two, or will you build any style (within reason) atmo?
    iow, road, mtb, fixie, 'cross, rando (stop me...), city bike, tricycle, etc.
    is there a focus at signal, and/or would you like there to be one?
    So far, we've built mostly cyclocross bikes and light rando/ long reach/ fender road bikes. We haven't built a track bike yet. How insane is that?! It's pretty true that people expect to see you do what they've seen, that is why we decided to show a range of bikes at NAHBS 2008 (road, mountain, cross, and a twin-tubed city bike) this was our introduction, and we wanted to show bikes that represented our favorite kinds of riding. I never want to build a tandem, I've said no to that twice so far. It's not because I'm a tandem hater, it's more like I don't feel I have anything to add to that conversation.

    Wade, thanks for that. I'm really looking forward to the day that we are no longer the new guys. One day at a time.

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    Default Re: Signal Cycles

    Quote Originally Posted by cardinal View Post
    ... it's more like I don't feel I have anything to add to that conversation.
    rawesome atmo.
    that has been my mantra since day one.

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    Default Re: Signal Cycles

    Hey Matt, can you talk a little about the relationship between your bikes and The Bike Gallery? What worked and what caused the relationship to dissolve?
    Baltimore Bicycle Works

    FLICKR

    Natty Boh and Lonestar Enthusiast

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    Default Re: Signal Cycles

    That red mtb you had in Richmond was sweet.

    When you guys deal with customers, do you feel like you can switch back and forth seamlessly, or do certain customers end up interacting more with one or the other of you?
     

  10. #10
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    Default Re: Signal Cycles

    enjoy your logo -- makes a personnal and marketing statement.. many times, first preception makes ya come back and inquire..
    look forward,

    ronnie
     

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    Quote Originally Posted by Tommy Nash View Post
    Hey Matt, can you talk a little about the relationship between your bikes and The Bike Gallery? What worked and what caused the relationship to dissolve?
    It was a pretty big learning experience. We wouldn't be here without the help Bike Gallery gave. The Signal project was being overseen by the company accountant who had tons of business experience, but no experience in the bike biz . I think we didn't have a realistic expectation for how Signal would fit in Bike Gallery stores. After 3 months I remember the GM saying "It's taking longer than we thought for Signal to become profitable" and I knew expectations were way out of reach.

    The bottom line is that our margin just isn't there to make our bikes attractive to bike shops. We are fortunate that things turned out the way they did and that Nate and I are now the owners. I feel that as we grow, if we do it responsibly, we may be able to offer a frame to a shop with a better margin. But that would require more space, tools and experience. Long term goals.

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    Quote Originally Posted by edoz View Post
    That red mtb you had in Richmond was sweet.

    When you guys deal with customers, do you feel like you can switch back and forth seamlessly, or do certain customers end up interacting more with one or the other of you?
    We have tried it, but it is way easier if there is just one contact with the customer. We've run into those "seams" in the past, and loosing a part of an important conversation is no good.

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    Default Re: Signal Cycles

    Hey Guys,

    You two allready know I love your stuff but I gotta chime in anyway . For the record, you arent the new guys any more and haven't been for some time.
    I like how you've laid it out there from day one and followed thru, textbook almost. It's been fun to watch.
    several questions, one, what is your favorite part of the build process ?(i guess that is two questions, once for each of you)
    also, what technique or process still gives you trouble. Lastly ,whats in store for Signal for 2010 and beyond?
    I want to add as I finish up that there is no shortage around here of Craft at its highest level but to me at least, its clear that you guys are building art as well.
     

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    Quote Originally Posted by bellman View Post
    Hey Guys,

    You two allready know I love your stuff but I gotta chime in anyway . For the record, you arent the new guys any more and haven't been for some time.
    I like how you've laid it out there from day one and followed thru, textbook almost. It's been fun to watch.
    several questions, one, what is your favorite part of the build process ?(i guess that is two questions, once for each of you)
    also, what technique or process still gives you trouble. Lastly ,whats in store for Signal for 2010 and beyond?
    I want to add as I finish up that there is no shortage around here of Craft at its highest level but to me at least, its clear that you guys are building art as well.
    Thanks for the kind words. The part of the process I like the most lately is laying brass fillets. It is so satisfying and I know that I've got a lot of room to improve, but the tubes prepped and fluxed in the jig represent a clean sheet of paper, and I find that very exciting. I have a hard time with finishing those same fillets, but love it when they are done. That and mitering S-bends... ugh!

    For 2010 we are trying to increase our annual build numbers by at least 15%. I know we can do it and that only represents an additional 3 bikes, but growth is important for us. We thought building 20 bikes our first year was a great start, but after zero growth the following year (maybe we were lucky it wasn't negative growth) we are ready to get more Signals out there. The cyclocross team will happen again and I'm hopefully going to join the team at the races on the course this year! I really want to race at nationals this year.

  15. #15
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    Default Re: Signal Cycles

    ok here's a softball atmo -

    you all started as a collaboration and signal is matt and nate. can you envision having others work for or around
    you? and how about branding - is that a dirty word? could you see the signal logo on the frames made for you by
    subs who you'd contract with or bring in house atmo?

  16. #16
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    Quote Originally Posted by e-RICHIE View Post
    ok here's a softball atmo -

    you all started as a collaboration and signal is matt and nate. can you envision having others work for or around
    you? and how about branding - is that a dirty word? could you see the signal logo on the frames made for you by
    subs who you'd contract with or bring in house atmo?
    For the record, I'm ok with difficult questions. I'm wondering if anyone is going to ask where I buy my girl jeans?

    I want to keep my hands in it, but looking over at what is happening at the Vanilla shop is pretty exciting. Sacha has a few employees and with Dario coming to town to build bikes soon the Vanilla shop will be the center of the bike universe for about a month. That attention and forethought are what makes Sacha do so well. I don't know if we'll ever be in a situation to attempt something like that, but having an example of how to do it the right way is pretty cool. I hope I can meet Dario and try out my rusty Italian. So uh Richard, you want to come to Portland for a month and crank out some limited edition Signal CX bikes?

    What I said earlier about Signal not being Matt or Nate has more to do with not having our individual personalities too evident. I feel that a successful collaboration results in something different than the ingredients. Like combining cheese and apples. The aesthetic of Signal is different than Nate's aesthetic or Matt's.

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    Quote Originally Posted by cardinal View Post
    So uh Richard, you want to come to Portland for a month and crank out some limited edition Signal CX bikes?



    mixed signals atmo...

  18. #18
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    Default Re: Signal Cycles

    Matt,

    When you come upon a bike the interests you like at NAHBS or on the street in front of your favorite coffee shop, where on the bike do you look first? In other words, where do you look for the craft of the builder?

  19. #19
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    Hey Matt,

    Cool story, I really like your and Nate's stuff.

    How do you guys work together in the shop? What's the mood? Do you guys interact separately on different things? For example, if a customer says "do want you want with the lugs" how do you decide what to do? Do you both have input?

    Thanks!

    Conor

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    Default Re: Signal Cycles

    Quote Originally Posted by Curt Goodrich View Post
    Matt,

    When you come upon a bike the interests you like at NAHBS or on the street in front of your favorite coffee shop, where on the bike do you look first? In other words, where do you look for the craft of the builder?
    That's a good one Curt, I want to hear your answer too!
    It depends on what kind of bike it is, a steel lugged bike, I'm drawn to the seat stays and how they are attached, there are so many ways to make this area unique. I've got a mental picture of Mike Zancanato's cutaway frame burned into my brain. That thing was a stunner! I'll scope out the lugs and see if there was any thinning done or how sharp the lines are. If it's a fillet bike I stare right into the heart of the sun that is the bottom bracket. It is the tell all. I also notice dropout choices, like whether the DO was the right angle for the bike and what kind of finish was applied to the slot. There was this amazing Mongoose(!) road bike that came into the shop last year and I stared at that thing for hours. I don't know who built it, but it was obviously some team bike or something. it had the smallest fillets I've ever seen it looked like an early 80's road bike. Nice bridges and seatstays.

    If the bike is at NAHBS I usually have to tell myself to stop and really look at it. It's too easy to walk by something subtile and amazing, and go stare at the polished SS. I feel like every bike at that show (with the exception of the bikes that were shipped in from China) has something special about it that requires a long look.

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