2010 NAHBS Interview Series : Alliance Bicycles

The largest series of interviews, hosted on Commute by Bike and Bike Shop Girl, 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:
Erik Rolf

Where are you based out of?
Bozeman, MT

How did you get into frame building?
I’m currently working as an apprentice at Strong Frames. It took some begging and pleading, the right timing, and some luck.

What’s your experience and length of building?
I’m fifteen months into my two year commitment with Carl.

How are your bikes different, or what do you bring differently to the bike building arena?
I start a bike with an overall goal in mind. How is the bike going to be used? What are the rider’s priorities? Then I design the geometry, ride quality, and overall utility of the bike around these goals. Some bikes are stiff and fast, just one trick ponies. Others cover a broader range of use.

Commuter’esque bikes :

Do you build any utility, commuter or daily use style bikes?
I do build those types, as well as ride them. Until recently this was a commonly overlooked area in the custom niche. I think some people had a hard time justifying the expense of a custom verses a production bike. However, the cyclist mindset has shifted. If a nice bike makes you ride to work or the store, then it’s worth it. Money that isn’t spent on a car, gas, or maintenance can be directed towards a quality commuting bike.
It’s nice to have a bike that fits, has proper stiffness, and all the correct mounts for fenders and racks. Production bikes are at a disadvantage, in that they have to design a bike that works for thousands of people instead of just one.

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?
Fenders, bigger tires, and disc brakes are all a good choice during winter. It’s also nice to have a full light setup because of the shorter days during the season. In the summer, nothing beats a simple singlespeed with some fast rolling tires and a dropbar.
That being said, if the bike doesn’t fit, you’re going to hate riding it. Being more upright is nice, because it allows you a better view of oncoming traffic. At the same time, I like to have even weight distribution between the seat and handlebars because many people commute in regular street clothes without a chamois.

Alternative Transportation :

Do you think the culture of the US will continue towards alternative transportation?
I certainly hope so! First something has to change with the mindset of daily drivers. It’s hard for me to envision the need to drive a few blocks to the store when a bike is so much easier. I’m to the point where anything within a few miles is far less stressful to arrive at on bike.
I didn’t always have this mindset. I only rode my bikes for fitness and pleasure. I don’t know why but it seemed easier to just drive, it’s just what you do right? One year in college, I was short on cash, and couldn’t afford a parking pass at school. So I just rode, then I started to ride everywhere. I realized that the personal freedom was a huge factor in this choice. You can leave whenever you want, you can take any street or back road to avoid heavy traffic or stop signs, and there’s no more searching for parking when you arrive.

What can we do as cyclist to help this?
This is a tough one because there are two points of view. When you are an active cyclist you start to understand that you need a certain amount of the road. You can’t ride on sidewalks any longer because you’re moving too fast and pedestrians become disgruntle. At the same time you can’t be pushed into the ditch or move dangerously close to parallel parked cars (the old car door opens and you run into it scenario). In general, people in cars are in a hurry; otherwise they would be walking or working around a public transit schedule. When I see other cyclist riding two or three abreast, riding in the middle of the road, riding into oncoming traffic, and so on, I understand why the average driver is annoyed with bikes on the road. Not because the cyclist is wrong, but because traveling by bike on public roads is not that normal in the US. People that don’t ride don’t understand what you’re doing. They view you as a slow moving obstacle obstructing them on their way to work.
My whole point is that it’s going to take a change lifestyle, but it won’t happen overnight. It certainly won’t happen if we force it down the daily driver’s throat either. That’s why I’m not so hip on the critical mass rides or large group road rides. That sort of vigilante riding really doesn’t win the hearts and minds of drivers. The best thing I can do is behave like someone who rides a bike and drives a car. I try to envision the situation as if I were driving and relate that to the way I’m riding. As a cyclist we have an amazing amount of rights to the road, but I would bet 95% of drivers either don’t know or don’t care about them.

What do we need to see from the government?
There needs to be a staggering increase in punishment for drivers who endanger cyclist. Whether it’s buzzing a group of road riders, cutting off someone riding to work, or passing a cyclist in a dangerous manner, there needs to be repercussions. Ultimately, this will require more enforcement for bicycle laws because it takes two to tango. You can’t expect people in cars to respect cyclist who ride foolishly.

What do we need to see from the bike industry to aid in the movement?
Make ridiculously good looking commuter bikes to persuade people to ride! Kidding aside, offering bikes at all price ranges is what will do it. This method is nothing new and has been in place for some time now; it just takes time to switch everyone over.
It’s also important to remember that not everyone wants to ride a bike, and for some people it’s not realistic. If you have a family of four that lives 18 miles out a dirt road, I don’t expect them to ride to school on a December morning.


Switching subjects, what are you most excited about at NAHBS?
Last year I went to help Strong Frames exhibit. This year I’m displaying a bike of my own. I’m excited to display a painted bike, which is a first for me.

What do you think we will see differently this year?
I think we will see the show grow in both vendors and attendees.

Anything else you would like to say?
Please swing by my booth at NAHBS to chat about all things bike related.

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