2010 NAHBS Interview Series : Groovy Cycle Works

The largest series of interviews of frame and part builders, leading up to the North American Handmade Bicycle Show February 26-28, 2010.. Make sure to add us on Twitter for the latest show news.


Whats your name:
Rody Walter

Where are you based out of?
Groovy Cycleworks is located in Wooster, Ohio

How did you get into frame building?

Disenchanted with our current tandem’s capabilities, my wife Christi and I decided to embark on designing a new tandem to meet out needs. With a goal of having a bicycle that could easily traverse diverse surface conditions, from full on road to the rough double track of some of our favorite Vermont areas, it had to be nimble, tough, and fully suspended…a difficult combination to achieve in the early 90’s with production models. With a utopian design in hand, I began contacting the few custom builders I could find to see if anyone would be willing to work with us to bring our dream to fruition. I landed at Grove Innovations in Centre Hall, Pennsylvania, where Bill Grove was not only receptive to working with us on the project, but was excited about it as well. Months went by with frequent exchanges in phone calls and a few prototypes making their way across the state line between Ohio and Pa before I finally traveled to the shop to watch the final steps in completing the frame take place. When I arrived, I was overwhelmed with the authenticity of the process; a few individuals performing each step of the creation in house, meticulously cutting, brazing, welding, and painting. It was like watching a new mechanical life being born. I was enamored with the union of man and machine, taken with the focus and dedication these guys possessed…I wanted to experience that for myself. Knowing that nothing in life is ever easily attained, I asked Bill if would consider taking me on as an apprentice, willing to work for the experience alone as money could never match that. With hope glimmering in my eyes, I was quickly rebuffed; “We are a small shop with a very busy workload, I can’t afford the time to bring on someone new.” Though dissapointed, I was grateful to have been witness to the inner workings of a frame shop, and the smile quickly returned to my face.

My visit ended the following day and as I loaded up our new tandem frame into the car, Bill strolled up and fired off a some serious questions;

“You know, I’ve been thinking about your request. If you are willing to work long days and keep your mouth shut, I think we can work something out.”

“I’m willing to put the work in…but I can’t guarantee the second” I replied with a dimple to dimple grin.

So began my time working in a small custom/production shop. I had the opportunity over the next two years to learn from many of the guys who specialized in specific parts of the process; frame layout and tube mitering from Hubby, the art of Tig welding in Steel, Ti and Aluminum from Johnny, and was mesmerized by the colorful talents of Tommy in the paint booth.

When I left Grove and began building on my own, I took with me experience and a belief structure that I have continued to build upon…to bring a customers dreams to reality, a builder MUST be part of the entire process, from listening to the customers needs/desires through final assembly and delivery. Mastery is never achieved, but one must strive to move closer to it with each build.

What’s your experience and length of building?
I’ve been actively building my own work since 1994.

How are your bikes different, or what do you bring differently to the bike building arena?
I feel that one aspect that sets me apart from the majority of single person fabricators today is that I have a strong background in fabrication that allows me to control the entire process from start to finish. Rather than purchase elements of the frame and put them together before sending them out for paint, I am able to create truly custom pieces. One example is a bike I will be displaying at Nahbs this year. Steven desired a modern bike that paid tribute to the Klunkers of the 30’s. In bringing his dream to fruition, I custom designed and fabricated dropouts for his frame, created a unique triple crown fork, and incorporated small details like an integrated direct mount front derailleur, custom ovalized and arc’d tubing, and custom pinstriped paint. It’s my ability to go beyond the norm that not only provides a true one of a kind creation, but enriches the customers experience.

Commuter’esque bikes :

Do you build any utility, commuter or daily use style bikes?
Yep, sure do, though they typically tend to be a bit over the top 🙂

If so, what do you think are the key ingredients in making a bicycle that will help people use their bicycles more for everyday use?
In creating a bicycle that is intended to be ridden every day for purpose, not just enjoyment, there is one critical element to insure, that your bike is fun. Despite how crappy the weather is, the fact that you burned your oatmeal hurrying to get ready to leave for work, and you cat chose to mark his territory on your favorite cycling shoes, when you step out into your garage and see your bike, it instantly brings a smile to your face. If a commuter can achieve that, it does not matter if it’s a custom Groovy or a 1963 Schwinn Panther, you will be a commuting success.

What is your idea of a perfect, everyday bike?
The perfect bike really is one that will be ridden daily, for fun or function. To achieve that, I believe that it begins with good fit, followed by reliable function, and ends with personal details that make it special to the customer. Case in point, I’m working on a bike for a customer for the show that had some applicable goals to our conversation; daily rider, low maintenance, able to be used on pavement or dirt road, and has some flair. The bike will be for a women who would like to get back into riding more and will feature a dirt drop bar for a nice wide/comfortable platform, high rise stem for a heads up position, a nicely balanced unicrown fork for good road vibration absorption, knobby cross tires and a sloping top tube for easier use when the roads/trails get rough, an IGH belt drivetrain for high function and low maintenance, and a fun paint job with custom fenders for a bit of personality. I’m hoping I hit the mark for her and that she’ll want to be on it daily.

Alternative Transportation

Do you think the culture of the US will continue towards alternative transportation. What can we do as cyclist to help this? What do we need to see from the government?

I believe that one of the greatest hurdles to more folks rolling on two wheels rather than four is our country’s continued subsidation of petroleum fuels. When I speak to customers outside our country, they all state that the high price of fuel has contributed to more alternative transportation options. If we desire the US to move on to more green options, two things need to happen; we need to remove the co-dependant relationship we have with oil so that more folks see alternative transportation as a necessity and more cyclists need to commit to a consistent commuting lifestyle. Cycling needs to be present in the everyday driver’s eye to be a recognized leader for change.

What do we need to see from the bike industry to aid in the movement?
I feel that the industry had kept a keen eye toward providing the necessary tools for consumers to embrace a transportation mindset. What we need now is a greater level of industry advocacy for change in our governments priority ladder…bicycle lanes, public facilities, and other support systems that promote commuting.


Switching subjects, what a
re you most excited about at NAHBS?

Sunday evening when it’s over 🙂 … honestly, I enjoy the interaction with prospective customers but my most favored aspect is socializing with fellow builders. When you work by yourself all year with only a few phone calls or forum posts to keep in touch with like minded folks, it’s nice to share a good meal and stimulating conversation.

What do you think we will see differently this year?
I’m hoping to see Don Walker in a pair of pants…that kilt is strangely distracting 😉

Make Contact

Folks can find me by web, blog, email or phone…


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