A Super light Custom Travel Tandem

Highlight: A fly-weight steel travel tandem from Rodriguez

These have been really hot in 2016!

Super Light Custom Steel Tandem by Rodriguez

Rodriguez Ultra-light tandems offer many advantages over other brands:

  • A Rodriguez rides like steel because it is steel
  • Rodriguez Tandems are built custom to fit both riders at no extra charge
  • We don’t skimp or use tricky weight saving techniques like leaving out the Stiffener Tube
  • Rodriguez Tandems are built to last forever without the use of non-standard parts
  • A fork that’s not only tandem rated, but handles better than any carbon fork on the market
  • An adjustable stoker to dial in your stoker’s fit, then a super-light steel or titanium fixed position stem to shave another pound or two
  • A lifetime frame and fork warranty (most carbon frames have very limited warranties)

For almost a decade now, we here at Rodriguez have been known for building some of the lightest tandem bikes on the road. One surprising thing about these bicycles built for two is that they are made of good ol’ American steel! Well actually, they are made of the New American Steel. In 2007 we introduced our 25.8 pound Ultra-light tandem and shocked our competition. Since the bike’s introduction, we’ve sold them steadily, but 2016 seems to be something special. We sold several just in the last few months.

Now you don’t have to sacrifice weight to have the durability, comfort, and superior performance of a hand-built steel tandem.

A twist this year is that many of them are travel versions using S&S couplings. This adds 2.7 pounds of weight, but we’ve been busy shaving weight where we can and now have these incredible bikes down to a science in the travel version as well. I thought it was time for a highlight on one that’s just coming through the assembly dept. now. This one is our Chorus version, and has some weighty additions, but still comes out incredibly light!

The Current Tandem at Hand
The Weight Break Down on this bike goes like this:

  • Rodriguez Ultra-light Chorus Tandem Model (28.6 pounds)
  • Rodriguez Travel Upgrade (+2.7 lbs)
  • Cantilever brakes for extra wide tire clearance (+8 oz)
  • Bodyfloat seat post for Stoker comfort (+8 oz)
  • Option for disc drag brake (+5 oz)
  • Spinergy Tandem Wheelset upgrade option (-5 oz)

Including the above list of weight additions, final weight on this bike is 32.5 lbs once the included lightweight custom steel stoker stem is installed. Our ultra-light tandem models come stock with a temporary adjustable stoker stem that is heavier. Once the stoker’s fit is completely dialed in, measurements are taken of the final preferred position and a lightweight steel (titanium in the case of the Record Tandem) fixed position stem is built to replace it.

Realize, when I quote weights, I’m quoting verified true digital scale weights that we will stand behind with a ‘no bull’ money back guarantee. This one clocked in at just 33lbs 4oz with the adjustable stem and the other options.

Custom Rodriguez Tandem with S&S couplings

This Rodriguez Travel Tandem (Chorus model) is not only great looking, but only weighs 33lbs 4oz as pictured here with the fully adjustable stem and several comfort upgrades that add some weight. Subtract 3/4lbs when the included ultra-light stem replaces the adjustable.

Lightened couplers and braze-ons all around help to keep this flyweight tandem one of the lightest, best performing tandems available today. This customer also chose to add rear rack braze-ons for light touring. At Rodriguez, your bike is really ‘your bike’. Just tell us what you want and we will make it happen!

View the full photo gallery for this bike here

If you or anyone you know, has been considering a high-end tandem, ultra-light or not, we ask you to consider a Rodriguez Custom Tandem. We build every tandem by hand, custom for its owners. We’ve been doing it longer than anyone else too. Since 1973 we’ve been building our tandems right here in Seattle’s University district. We’d love to be your tandem shop.

Stretch your Budget, not your Chain

Do you change the oil in your car? Most people will change the oil in their car every 3,000 to 4,000 miles as their manufacturer suggests. Why do they do it? It’s still oil when the mechanic drains it out of the engine right? Isn’t it still lubricating the parts inside the engine? But it is still drained out of the engine and brand new oil is poured in it’s place. The reason that the oil should be changed at a certain mileage is simply preventative maintenance. The engine would continue to run on the same oil for 10’s of thousands of miles, but slowly it would wear out, and the engine would become damaged. This is a much more expensive repair than regular oil changes.

The same is true for the chain on your bicycle. The chain on a bicycle is engaging on the gears in the front and rear. The chain is manufactured with exactly 1/2″ of space between each link, and the gears are precisely manufactured to ‘mesh’ with the chain. The chain is under incredible strain because of the force and leverage that a cyclist applies. The chain is also subject to sand and other road grime that collects and acts as an abrasive, wearing away the metal the chain is made of.

Even with these factors, a chain can last for 10’s of thousands of miles just like the oil in your car. But, over time, the chain will stretch. As the chain begins to stretch and is no longer 1/2″ between each link, it wears the metal from the teeth of the gears to match it’s new length. If a chain is allowed to stretch too far, it will wear all of the gears on the bicycle so much that they will not ‘mesh’ with a new chain. If a new chain is installed at this point, the chain will ‘slip’ on most of the worn gears and create a lot of rumbling noise on the others. Often a customer will come in with a chain that is so far stretched that the bike won’t shift well, or the chain may even be broken. At this point, all of the gears have to be replaced and the repair bill is much greater than it would have been if we had just replaced a chain earlier.

Drivetrain close up

What’s the recommendation? On modern bikes we are seeing people get about 1500 – 2000 miles before a new chain is recommended. On a tandem it’s more like 1000 – 1500 miles. I’ve seen some people get 3000 – 4000 miles with minimal stretch, but that’s the exception. I recommend that you start having your shop check your chain stretch at 1500 miles, and then every 500 miles after that. If you replace your chain at the first sign of stretch it will cost you about $30. If you wait until your rear cogs have to be replaced along with your chain it will run approx. $100. And if you wait until your chain just breaks and all of your gears need replacing it will run from $250 to $400 or more.

How many miles are on your chain?

Bushnell, the Eccentric King!

Patent GraphicOur patent has been issued!
(To clarify, An eccentric bottom bracket is a part that is used to adjust the chain tension on any bicycle that has no derailleurs. Track bikes, Rohloff bikes and the chain between captain and stoker on tandems are the most common uses.)

How long does it take to get a patent? Apparently about 4 years.

Way back in early 2007 or so, we began the patent process for the now patented Bushnell® Eccentric bottom bracket. I didn’t know how long it would take, but as of December 6th, 2011 we have our patent! The patent number is U.S. Patent No. 8,070,633.

Order your Bushnell ebb online here.

We’re thrilled to finally have the patent process completed. Production of this ingenious Dennis Bushnell creation continues uninterrupted. We manufacture several thousand of these each year right here in Seattle at the Rodriguez shop. It’s a true American manufacturing success story that’s seldom heard of anymore. We actually ship these parts to companies all over the world, including to Taiwan. That’s right! An American made bicycle part being shipped to Taiwan for use in bicycles.

The benefits of this light-weight, versatile design have been known throughout the tandem world for a long time. Now, with the onslaught of Rohloff equipped bikes and single speed bikes, the Bushnell® has really taken it’s position at the top of the industry! Congratulations to Dennis Bushnell on creating a design that is worthy of patenting!

I realize that the eccentric is a very specialized part, and not everyone wants to wade that deep into the muck, but I thought all of you would be interested in the fact that we now have a patent, and the parts will still be made in the U.S.A.

If you are hungry for knowledge though, and you’d like to read more about the Bushnell® eccentric (oh I’ve got more believe me), and why it’s the number one item in its class, read on.

Eccentric Thoughts from Rodriguez Bicycle Company.

Who Cares About Eccentric Bottom Brackets?

Rohloff, Tandem or Single Speed bike riders should.

Each week, I get dozen’s of emails asking if they can upgrade their existing bicycle to our patented Bushnell® Eccentric Bottom Bracket. These are from people who’ve bought expensive single speed bikes, Rohloff equipped bikes, or tandems that use eccentric bottom brackets (referred to as EBB throughout this article). As they have examined their bike, they’ve discovered the fact that their bike came stock with an EBB that was designed in the the Fred Flinstone era. While this may have saved their frame builder a hundred dollars or so, it has no benefit for them, and actually makes their bike heavier, and harder to use. They discovered our design on-line, and want to know if they can retro-fit one into their custom bicycle. Most of the time, it is possible, but sometimes the bottom bracket shell that is used is too small to fit any EBB into the bike except for the one that came with it:-( For this reason, it’s important for you to find this out before you order your new frame.

In this article, I aim to help customers understand the different designs, so they can steer their frame builder to the eccentric that works best, not just the cheapest option. As a customer, it’s up to you to educate yourself on the different styles, and then ask your builder to use the one you want before the frame is built. Otherwise, they will usually choose the cheapest option. It’s an easy place to skimp if your customer doesn’t know any better right? Customer education has always been our friend here at Rodriguez Bicycles, and here’s a new area to focus on.

Note: All of the designs mentioned in this article, including the Bushnell®, are available to every frame builder through their standard frame building supply companies. Any reputable frame builder is able to build your frame to accept any design, but you have to express your preference.

The Bushnell® EBB

The Patented Bushnell® EBB is the most popular design on the market today.

The Bushnell® EBB is self contained. It does not rely on parts welded to the frame to hold it’s adjustment.

This is a product that we manufacture right here in our
shop in Seattle
. We ship them all over the world, and have distributors in England, Germany, and large accounts in Taiwan and Japan. Just last week I was notified that our patent will issue on December 6th, 2011! I thought an article about why this product exists, and why it’s better, was long overdue. There are several things that make the Bushnell® unique, but lets focus on the benefits to the user.

Safer Design:
The first benefit is the fact that the design does not use parts welded to the frame to hold it’s adjustment. That means if you get a little heavy handed, ‘reef’ to hard on the bolt and strip the threads, you’ve just stripped a nut, but have not damaged your frame. Every year we upgrade several people to Bushnell® EBBs after they’ve stripped the threads in their frame. Sometimes we even get a call from other bike manufacturers trying to help one of their own customers who’ve stripped their frame.

Order your Bushnell ebb online here.

Ease of adjustment:
As you read through this article, you see that there are many eccentrics on the market, but only one Bushnell®. The Bushnell® was designed by Dennis Bushnell, our head frame builder, to address all of the design drawbacks of the other designs, and ease of adjustment was key. A 4mm alan wrench is all that is required to adjust your chain tension when you are using a Bushnell®. No hammers required (yes some require a hammer).

Light Weight
Although we’re not complete weight freaks, a lot of customers want the best performance and the lightest weight option. The Featherweight Bushnell® EBB is that answer at just 140grams. This is why it is used as the standard on light-weight tandems and other bikes in the industry.

There are massive differences between a $15 eccentric and a $160 eccentric

The Mark
(set pin) design ebb

Mark leaves terrible divots in your ebb, making accurate adjustment almost impossible.

Benefits: Extremely inexpensive

Drawbacks: Harder to use, and not very reliable.

The first $15 option we’ll call Mark. Mark is a good name, because the design forces sharpened ‘set’ pins into a solid block of aluminum and leaves ‘marks’ all over it. I guess we could call it Scratch or Gouge, but Mark sounds more like a real name. It always finds it’s mark again, even though you’re trying to adjust it.

The eccentric itself is just a solid block of aluminum that the user rotates in the bottom bracket shell welded into the frame. The frame builder welds nuts onto the outside of the frame on the bottom bracket shell. You will use a wrench to drive the set pins through the nuts, and into the aluminum EBB. Once the hardened steel pins have created a deep divot into the softer aluminum EBB, it’s very hard to make a fine adjustment because the pins always try to turn the ebb right back to the divot.

Aside from being very difficult to use, the Mark design has very little surface contact so is the most likely to slip out of adjustment. This is because the amount of contact bewteen the frame and the aluminum ebb is very little. The set pins drive the unit against the top of the frame’s bottom bracket, so the points of contact are about 25% at the top, and the set pins themselves.

As if this is not enough, the Mark design is often rendered useless when a rider over-tightens a set pin and breaks the welded nut right off of the frame. The good news about the Mark design is that a Bushnell® EBB usually drops right in and works beautifully.

Here’s an example
of a custom titanium frame rescued with a Bushnell EBB. Every month we sell several Bushnell EBBs to customers who have the Mark design in their frame. I’m very surprised at how many manufacturers still use the Mark design in their $4,000+ bicycles.

Enter Evolution:

Modified Mark uses a ‘pinch bolt system’

The second $15 option we’ll call modified Mark, as it’s really just an improved version of Mark. This is a design that we used to use ourselves way back in the mid 1980’s when it was the best option. It’s pretty much the same solid block of aluminum, but the frame has been cut, or slotted, where it holds the ebb and then a pinch bolt system has been brazed or welded onto the frame. When the pinch bolts are tightened, the frame ‘closes up’ around the aluminum ebb and holds it into place.

The Good News
The pinch bolt design holds it’s adjustment better than Mark because of the fact that there is full contact all the way around the aluminum EBB. It also doesn’t gouge ‘memory’ marks into the EBB so you can more easily make micro-adjusments.

The Bad News
Other than it’s relatively heavy weight, there are a few other drawbacks to this design. The biggest drawback is the fact that, like the Mark design before it, the bicycle frame is used as the method to actually hold the adjustment and not the EBB component itself. This means that if the pinch bolt breaks off of the frame, or the threads are stripped out, the fix is not an easy one, but one that requires frame work and re-painting. The next drawback is the fact that since the frame is split at the bottom bracket, an expanding design like the Bushnell® will not work in the frame unless frame modifications are made.

Let’s step forward to 1990 or so

The 1990’s brought the
split/wedge design

Adjustment required
know-how and a hammer

Here I am adjusting a Rodriguez tandem customer’s chain ‘on-the-road’ during the
1995 Tandem Rally

I can’t remember if it was the late 1980’s or the early 1990’s, but around that time Cannondale came up with a good design that we started to use instead of modified Mark.

We liked the design because it didn’t use threaded parts welded awkwardly to the frame to hold the adjustment, but was a self-contained unit. This meant that the frame was safe from the gorilla type torque that bike mechanics often applied to eccentric bottom brackets.

The design was similar to a handlebar stem with a wedge and a bolt that pulled the wedge into position tight against the bottom bracket shell. There was very good friction between the parts and the adjustment held extremely well. The design was heavy like the others, but all in all was nice looking in the frame, and kept the frames safe.

It was not without it’s problems though. The Cannondale wedge design required a very specific method to loosen it when you needed to adjust the chain. That technique? Hammering! “Woooh, wait a minute! Are you going to use that hammer on my bike?” Was a phrase anxiously hollered by customers watching me preparing to make an adjustment to their expensive tandem.

The design was not intuitive for most bike mechanics either. When you break a stem loose, you hit the stem bolt with a hammer, not the actual stem. For this reason, most bike mechanics who hadn’t seen one of these before, usually took a good ‘whack’ at the bolt after loosening it up like they would on a stem. Well, this would not loosen the eccentric, but rather drive the threads right out of the special nut required for the eccentric. I spent many hours on the phone (and still do) explaining to mechanics how to get one of these out of a bike after you’ve stripped the nut.

A better design was needed for expensive tandems.

That answer came in the form of the Bushnell® EBB.

The Patented Bushnell® EBB is the most popular design on the market today.

The Bushnell® EBB is self contained. It does not rely on parts welded to the frame to hold it’s adjustment.

Well we’ve come full circle. The patented Bushnell® EBB was designed by Dennis to specifically address every drawback in all of the above designs. It remains to this day the best selling EBB on the market. There is no substitute for the quality of engineering and construction of this American made product.

Order your Bushnell ebb online here.

With the rise of popularity in single speed bikes and Rohloff equipped bikes (we’re the biggest Rohloff builder in the U.S.A.), the eccentric bottom bracket has new life. Dennis originally designed our EBB for tandems, and that’s why we have a big head start on every other manufacturer of EBBs. The fact that ours was in development for years means that you’re getting a product that’s tried and true. This goes for any bike that needs an EBB.

We stand behind the Bushnell® EBB just like we stand behind everything we make. When a Bushnell® EBB customer emails us for help, their talking directly to the folks that have designed, manufactured and assembled that part. Remember, demand the best for your custom bike. We think you’ll agree, that the Bushnell® EBB is that choice.

If you’d like to read an evolutionary history of the eccentric bottom bracket, click here.

Material World – Steel, Carbon, Aluminum bike frames…which is the best?

Material World
(this article was run in four parts in The Bicycle Paper through the summer of 2009)

Penny Farthing Bike

Ever since I can remember, bicycle makers have tried to find the ‘perfect’ material to build a bicycle frame that was the lightest, safest, most comfortable, durable, responsive frame ever made. In short, they’re looking for the ‘Miracle Material’. In today’s high-end bicycle frame market, customers will often decide on a brand of bicycle based on the material the frame is made from. There’s steel, titanium, carbon fiber and aluminum. There’s certainly others like bamboo, magnesium, etc., but we’ll try to limit this article to the four most commonly used in today’s bicycle frames. Which one is best? What are the differences?

If you know me, then you know that first and foremost I think that a good fitting bicycle is the most important factor, and things like components or frame material are always second to that. That being said, there is a lot of information and opinions that a bicycle shopper is exposed to when discussing a new frame. Keep in mind that I’m no engineer, and I’m not going to pretend to be one. We have been designing, making, selling and repairing bicycles full time here in Seattle for several decades now. I have been riding, building, selling, fixing, destroying, customizing and loving bicycles since I was given my first one at the age of 6. It is from these experiences that I draw on to write an article like this one.

You’ll notice that when I refer to weights, I refer to things I’ve actually weighed. This is because I find that most manufacturers either have poorly calibrated scales or they…..well….stretch the truth a bit. It’s kind of like my Uncle Earl and his ‘Fish that got away’.

I’ve been trying to decide the best way to analyze this topic without delving so deep that the entire issue will be consumed by my ramblings, and I think I’ve come up with some relevant filters.

I don’t think I have the time here to compare every price range, so we’ll limit this article to higher end and custom frames….let’s say frames that cost over $1,000. We can also filter out the mass-produced frames from Asia (that could be a book long analysis in and of itself).

We’ll compare cost, durability (longevity), versatility, repairability, and the all important ‘ride quality’, of the four common materials. I’ll also throw in a little ‘wrap-up’ section at the end.


Very quick history:
Aluminum has been used in bicycle manufacturing since the 1890’s. A quick Google search for aluminum bicycles of the 1900’s will turn up very modern looking bicycles from the 1930’s made with aluminum frames and aluminum forks. Aluminum has the advantage of ‘no paint needed’ if you like that aircraft industrial look.

Aluminum Peugot from the middle of the 20th century

Peugeot aluminum bicycle circa mid 1900’s
Photo – blackbirdsf.org

When I was kid, all bikes were steel. Not just any steel though, they were really, really heavy steel. It wasn’t until the mid 1970’s that Vitus and Alan introduced aluminum frames that I lusted after. These frames resembled conventional frames but had anodized finishes instead of paint and were very light weight (in comparison to the steel frames of that day). The ride was very soft, and worked best for riders who were of lighter weight, and rode with very high cadences.

About that same time, Gary Klein came out with a new aluminum frame that used super fat tubes and a neon painted finishes. It looked completely different than any frame I’d ever seen before. In the 1980’s, Cannondale followed suit, and the oversized aluminum craze took off!

Eventually, these oversized aluminum beasts gained a reputation of being so stiff that they were uncomfortable to ride. This was my experience when I commuted almost 40 miles 3 days per week on one of these frames for nearly 2 years. Soon, riders were running for the Ibuprofen, and scheduling appointments with their bike fitters.

Modern day aluminum:
While in the 1980’s customers thought of aluminum as expensive and lightweight, today, the story is very different. Just as any great thing eventually turns into a fad, heavy, huge, fat aluminum frames have pretty much taken over the lower end bicycle market. Just because it’s made of aluminum does not make it light. One visit to Toys-R-Us to lift the 40 pound aluminum monsters will prove that. There are still however some light weight, high-end, custom aluminum offerings. We also build a lot of the super long bikes (triples, quads, and quints) from aluminum.

Expect a high-end, light weight aluminum frame to be 3 pounds or a little more. On occasion I’ve weighed one in under 2.5 pounds, but those are usually very small sizes and very expensive custom frames.

Custom light-weight aluminum frames can be built for a fairly reasonable price. Expect to pay $2,000 to $3,000 for a custom aluminum frame with fork built to your specifications.

For a custom builder, it takes more time to weld an aluminum frame, and the aluminum ends up costing a bit more to mitre and shape as it clogs the equipment faster than steel. It also has to be heat treated after welding, adding to the time and cost. These extra costs show up in the retail price of custom aluminum frames, but the actual material is relatively inexpensive.

Durability (longevity):
Warranties vary on aluminum frames. Some companies offer lifetime warranties, and some offer just one year warranties. I feel that most aluminum frames are very durable, and will last a very long time. Although, over-sized aluminum does have a very non-forgiving characteristic – if it is over-stressed or cracked, it can fail very abruptly. Because of this characteristic, it is important to inspect aluminum frames after an accident for any sign of cracking or stress, even if the bike rides perfectly. Some manufacturers put a warning sticker right on the frame advising the owner to inspect frequently for cracks.

The super light aluminum bikes will not last forever, and aren’t advertised that way. On the other hand, I see a lot of the old original Cannondale and Klein frames still on the road after all these years. As a matter of fact I saw one of those original 1983 ~ 1984 Cannondale bikes in the repair shop for a tune-up just yesterday. I also have a neighbor that rides his Vitus aluminum frame as his daily commuter, so I’d have to say that aluminum as a material can have a very long life span if not damaged.

When building a custom frame, aluminum is a versatile material. It’s available in many weights for different riding styles and rider weights. When building extremely long bikes like a triple or a quad, aluminum offers a light-weight, reasonably priced alternative to steel. After the frame is built and heat treated though, that’s where the versatility ends.

Aluminum machines easily, and is readily available in our area so it’s easy enough for us to machine any frame fitting or dropout that’s not available to order.

Repainting an aluminum bike is always possible. It’s more labor intensive than steel because paint has to be chemically stripped off of aluminum. Since we don’t offer chemical stripping services, our aluminum bike customers….well they’ll have to do the stripping themselves.

As far as frame repairing goes, aluminum is not very repairable. After it’s welded, an aluminum frame must be heat treated. Once it’s been heat treated, further structural welding will weaken the frame. Sometimes very small things can be fixed, but if something crucial breaks or bends, the frame is done for.

If you wind up in a pinch somewhere, you’re probably not going to get your aluminum frame repaired.

Ride Characteristics:
For the most part, oversized aluminum frames are very stiff and unforgiving. You’ll get good transfer of power through the cranks to the wheel, but suffice to say that the ‘thud’ sound you hear if you flick the frame with your finger nail, is the same ‘thud’ sound you’ll feel when riding on pavement or bumps. You’ll feel the road transferred to your ‘contact points’ through a very unforgiving frame.

Tight corners on bumpy roads will require more slowing down for control purposes as the bike can ‘bounce’ or ‘rattle’ out of the groove if your not careful.

Not to characterize all modern aluminum bikes the same though, Scandium aluminum from Easton claims to ride more like a steel frame. I’ve ridden a Scandium frame that was my size, and it rode much nicer than my other oversized aluminum frame, but I wouldn’t say it had the liveliness of steel.

Carbon Fiber:

My brief (and rather limited) history with carbon bicycle frames:

First, a bit of mythbusting:
Most people think of carbon frames as fairly new to the industry as well as being ‘uber light-weight’. Fact is, there are some very light carbon frames out there, but no lighter than the ‘uber light-weight’ offerings in aluminum, titanium or even steel. If weight is important to you, then it’s important to actually weigh a frame yourself on a digital scale before you buy it.

I’ve been turning my office upside down this morning looking for one my old Bicycling magazines that had a picture of an old Rodriguez graphite (carbon) frame. Low and behold, in an old dusty filing cabinet behind a wooden dresser in the warehouse, I finally found it. I had to page through many of my old magazines to find it, but that was fun too.

Here it is straight from Bicycling Magazine, November of 1975, a Rodriguez Carbon track frame. For those of you who wonder if we’ve ever built carbon bikes here in Seattle, the answer is yes. Note: (Even the 1975 photos were provided by The Bicycle Paper.)

1970's Carbon Fiber Race Bike

Angel Rodiguez hand-built Carbon Frame – 1975

Photo From Nov. 1975 Bicycling Magazine

Dennis, our head frame builder (through 2012), also built a pair of carbon fiber tandems for a world record setting ride back in 1987.

Now, I’m not quite as old as those guys (I was 10 when Angel built that frame), so my history with carbon fiber goes back to the early 1980’s when I worked a summer at a Peugeot/Schwinn dealer. They had an extremely expensive Peugeot that was made from carbon fiber, but I wasn’t allowed to ride it. I never saw anyone ride it actually, but it sure looked cool on the top rack in the shop. Every time I see one of those Peugeots I kind of want it, more because of it’s looks than anything else.

In the late 1980’s I started work here at R+E Cycles. We sold Kestrel carbon frames that were roughly 3 times the price of a nice steel frame at the time. The design was much more like the modern molded and shaped carbon bikes. By comparison, these frames were much lighter than steel (at that time), as well as the aluminum Cannondale and Klein frames that we sold.

During this time, I ran the repair department, and we assembled all of the upper-end bikes. I got to ride Kestrel frames on several occasions, but really never rode one more than 5 minutes at a time. The ride of these frames was not attractive to me, and I could only describe them as ‘dead’. I would say that the ride was as dead as an oversized aluminum frame, but for the rider looking for the lightest frame they could get, this was the best option if they could afford it.

Modern day carbon frames:
Like aluminum, carbon went from being the ‘untouchable’ super light frame on the top rack to a more affordable version. The ‘uber light’ versions are still very expensive, but Taiwan and China are now cranking out heavier, less expensive carbon frames in record numbers. I have never ridden a carbon frame that made me want to buy one, so my experience is limited to that of my customers who do have them.

Carbon as a material is pretty versatile because it can be molded into just about any shape that you want it to be. Then those shapes can be used to add strength where needed. It has a very strong strength to weight ratio, and is replacing aluminum in a lot of aircraft manufacturing.

I’ve seen carbon frames advertised at 2 pounds, but on my digital scale those same frames weighed 2.5 pounds. When we checked into the discrepancy, we found that the advertised weights did not include the bottom bracket shell or the dropouts. Most people want to have their cranks and wheels attach to their bicycle, so we always quote weights that include the bottom bracket shell and the dropouts. 😉

Custom carbon fiber frames are pretty expensive. Mass produced production models have become affordable over the last few years, but in the world of custom bikes, expect to pay about $2,500 to $5,000 for a custom carbon fiber frame with fork built to your specifications.

Durability (longevity):
This was an interesting quote that I came across while researching for this article.

Yes. [Our] frames are guaranteed for five years of racing and training use. When the primary consideration is performance, carbon is the only choice. If you really need your frame to last for fifty years, buy a steel one.”

Believe it or not, it is a quote from a major carbon frame manufacturer from the FAQ section of their website. I think it is worth pointing out that the frame in question here is a $4,000 frame, and the manufacturer thinks that 5 years is a reasonable life for such an expense. Let’s see….$4,000 over 5 years (60 months) = $67 per month. The warranty excludes damages from “extremes of temperature, or the effects of UV light”. Isn’t that sunlight? OK, we don’t have to worry about that one here in Seattle 😉

I also strongly disagree with the statement ‘carbon is the only choice for performance’. This is obviously a very un-researched opinion. Maybe they need to read this article;-)

What my personal experience says about the durability of carbon frames is that when they fail during an impact, it usually looks catastrophic. On one occasion a customer brought her broken frame in for me to see. The frame actually had broken in half after she hit a curb. The 2 halves were separated completely, and the customer broke her collar bone so she was in pretty rough shape. The frame was probably 10 years old, and she did hit a curb going fast, so a frame failure is not surprising. However, this failure was much more dramatic than I’ve seen on aluminum, titanium or steel frames under any rider accident circumstance.

She replaced that carbon frame with a steel frame.

Side note:
I have heard of an occasional aluminum frame breaking in this same catastrophic fashion, but due to defective welding, and not due to age, accidents, or damage from the sun. In those cases, the frames were virtually new, and failed under normal use…not that that’s any comfort ;-(

As far as longevity of carbon frames, I don’t see a lot of old carbon frames out there. Certainly the ones from the 1970’s and 1980’s are very, very rare to see. The occasional old Kestrel rolls in for some work in our repair shop, but for the most part I can’t say how long a carbon frame will last if ridden all the time. I can tell you that the company quoted above thinks that 5 years is a long time for a carbon frame to last. I know that some manufacturers do warranty their carbon frames for 25 years, and some for life, but if you look real close you’ll find that there is still some planned obsolescence in a few of those warranties. To explain that understandably, I’d have to delve into proprietary parts manufacturing and that’s a whole article in and of itself.

I think all in all I want to see a number of old carbon steeds that have been used as commuter bikes for maybe 20 years or so before I can recommend carbon as a very durable custom frame material.

Modern carbon frames that are mass produced are built with a mold. This isn’t a cost effective way to build a custom frame as the molds cost a lot money to make. So, for a frame built especially to your dimensions, the frame is built in a different fashion. Custom carbon frames are built kind of like the one pictured in this article from 1975. The tubes are cut and mitered, and then attached together. Some are glued into lugs, but most modern frames are wrapped with carbon fiber fabric and then coated with an adhesive resin.

I think that the versatility of carbon fiber has a lot of promise. As far as custom frame building goes, there’s not a lot of small bicycle frame shops that are insured and set up to build or repair carbon frames. In modern times, we’ve used a few carbon rear triangles upon request., but these are pre-fabricated. Apart from that, we haven’t found the need to switch to the material as customers don’t come to us often for carbon.

Every year I have customers who would like to have me paint their carbon frame. Some carbon manufacturers will void their warranties if the frame is re-painted because most methods of removing the old paint will cause structural harm. Sometimes we’ve painted carbon frames but more times than not, we can’t do it. We won’t remove old paint from carbon frames with chemicals or heat, so paint removal can be very costly. In short, if you’re a person who likes to have their bike painted different colors once in a while, don’t buy a carbon frame.

As far as fixing a broken carbon frame, like I said before when I’ve seen a carbon frame fail it was always something that looked unrepairable. I have a friend whose dog chewed through his carbon frame and he did have it repaired successfully. But, the repair was in a non-crucial area of the frame, and the work is kind of bulky and obviously a repair.

Again, there’s not a lot of frame shops insured and set up to fix carbon fiber bicycle frames, as most of the carbon frame manufacturers are overseas. So, at this point anyway, I would agree with the carbon frame company that I quoted above and say that carbon frames aren’t really meant to last forever.

If you wind up breaking your carbon frame, you’re probably going to need a new one.

Riding characteristics:
Carbon frames have evolved a lot since the 1970’s (so have aluminum , steel and titanium frames for that matter). There are carbon frames designed to ride smoothly, and there are carbon frames designed to be lightweight. Since I haven’t ridden one that made me excited enough to buy one, I will have to speak from my customer’s experiences on this topic. I would say that for the most part, modern carbon frames are reported to ride more comfortably than oversize tube aluminum bikes. Most of my customers prefer the ride of steel or titanium frames to the carbon frames, but I do have a few customers who prefer carbon.

Our head frame builder, Dennis, originally built his steel S3 frame with a carbon rear triangle, but after a year, replaced the rear triangle with an S3 steel rear end. The steel rear triangle was lighter than the carbon one, and he reported an increase in both hill climbing power and responsiveness.

Titanium (ti)

If you would’ve asked me 10 years ago to make a bet on the preferred frame material of 2009, I would’ve said it would be titanium. Titanium has been used for high-end bicycles since the 1970’s (and probably earlier if one did some looking). It only took me about 5 minutes to come up with this advertisement from August 1975 for a ti frame that was going to ‘change the world of cycling forever’. Titanium rides great, doesn’t need paint, plus the sun won’t damage it.

Titanium frame ad from 1975

In August 1975, this advertisement
appeared in Bicycling Magazine

Early titanium frames proved to be a disappointment for me as the metal is so strong that the frames can be built too light. Too light, you ask? Yes, too light. Ti is very strong, but also very springy. I remember getting some titanium tubes for $1 each at Boeing surplus and setting one across a pair of milk crates. I could jump up and down on the thin-walled, super light tube to bend it several inches, but it would spring back every time. No matter how hard I jumped, the tube wouldn’t bend to it’s ‘crumple’ point (technical bike shop terminology). Well, when a bicycle frame is built from titanium to it’s ultimate ‘light-weightness’ (more bike shop technical terminology) so to speak, it acts like this thin-walled tube. This results in a frame that’s very light, but rides like a wet noodle. My first experience on a ti bike was an ‘uber light’ frame in the 1980’s. This colored my judgement until I rode a heavier Merlin ti frame in the late 1990’s.

Titanium didn’t take off like I thought it would as steel evolved so much that we can now build steel frames that ride great and are lighter than 3 pounds. That darn evolution, I didn’t take that into account.

Modern titanium frames:
We offered ti frames in the late 1980’s for a short time. We only recently started offering them again (back by popular demand).

You can still find some ‘uber light’ ti frames advertised out there, and even see a few of them on the road. Most ti frames however, are built around 3 pounds or so and ride very much like a high-end steel frame. Although it’s completely possible to build a ti frame well below that, if you’re my weight, height and riding style you’ll prefer a ti frame that’s 3 ~ 3.25 pounds….or 2.5 pounds if weighed by Uncle Earl 😉

Well, I would say that titanium is on par with carbon fiber as far as custom frame pricing goes. Expect to pay $2,500 to $4,000 for a custom made titanium frame and fork built to your specifications.

Ti is difficult to machine, and requires a lot of extra steps to be taken during welding. The material is not as readily available as steel or aluminum, and is much more expensive to purchase. When you purchase a ti frame, you’re paying for twice the labor as a steel frame. The materials run about three times that of a high-end steel frame.


A little more mythbusting:
In the bike industry, most people think of titanium as indestructible. While I believe that titanium is the most durable of all modern bicycle frame materials, it’s not completely indestructible like many people think it is. This winter alone, we’ve fixed three cracked titanium road bike frame of various makes. Some of the cracks were due to extreme circumstances, but some were just from regular wear and tear. As far as misalignment goes though, the material has such a memory that it’s very difficult to bend it out of shape permanently.

I would expect a ti frame to last forever. They’ve been around since at least the 1970’s, and I have no horror stories to report. When they break, they break like a steel fame. A tube might break at the welding point, but I have never seen a ti frame break in half and result in a catastrophic failure.

Ti is a versatile material to work with, but it’s limited availability and difficulty to machine, result in compromised aesthetics in my opinion. If my prediction would’ve come true, there would be hundreds of different dropouts and tubing manufacturers vying for our custom business, but that just wasn’t meant to be. Even so, I would consider titanium a versatile material that is great for just about any type of bicycle as long as the rider doesn’t mind paying a higher price.

There’s probably more frame shops in the U.S. insured and set-up to repair titanium frames than there are carbon shops, but the number is still very limited. We have been able to fix the ti frames that come to us for repair, but the ease of the job is somewhat limited to the materials available. For instance, if we need a certain diameter of ti tube to maintain the look of the bike, and that diameter is not available, then we have to improvise. This can result in a different look, maybe even a “wow has that been repaired?” look, but none the less it’s fixed.

As long as you are in a fairly large modern city, you can probably get your ti frame repaired if needed. Otherwise, your trip is going to be cut short.

Riding characteristics:
If the frame is built heavy enough for the rider, then the riding characteristics are fantastic. Ti frames ride smooth and responsive and stable. If the frame is too light (which is possible on a ti frame) then the ride is like a wet noodle. We have lots of customers who ride ti and love it.

Titanium and steel are my personal favorites for ride characteristics.


Steel has been used for making bicycle frames forever. No need to really go into the history here, as I’m sure just about everyone reading this has had a steel frame at least once in their past. Many people associate steel bicycle frames with ‘heavy’ because of the 50 pound Schwinn Varsity that they rode in high school. While it’s true that a steel bike can be very heavy, I’ve also shown that an aluminum bicycle can be very heavy as well. What it boils down to is cost. A cheap bike is heavy no matter what it’s made of. Steel bicycle frames can be as light as a $4,000 carbon fiber frame, and lighter than a $4,000 ti frame. Steel technology has evolved just like carbon, aluminum and ti has.

When I bought my first racing bike, it was a Peugeot steel frame equipped with all French components. It was light, but the frame was probably 5 pounds. I rode high-end steel bikes until I went the Cannondale route for a few years. I loved the ride of my steel Reynolds 531 Peugeot and I still have the frame hanging in the shop if you want to drop by and see it. I got it back from my step father whom I’d sold it to, and I’m waiting to have Teresa do a full paint restoration.

Steel bike frames in the 1970’s were advertised in bicycle magazines to weigh as little as 3.75 pounds, though I think Uncle Earl may have been writing their ads.

By the late 1980’s steel bikes seemed pretty heavy in contrast to the carbon fiber and aluminum frames.

Steel evolved through the 1990’s at a very rapid pace though. Since most custom builders are equipped to build with it, the steel tubing companies had an instant market for their products and didn’t have to ‘sell’ a builder on converting their entire operation to new material. Fittings and tooling for working steel are easy to get and relatively inexpensive, and it’s much easier to work with than the other materials.

Photo of Road Bike Action Magazine about the Rodriguez Outlaw Superlight Bike

In June 2009,
Road Bike Action Magazine an image of the steel Rodriguez Outlaw for an article about ultimate frame materials.

Modern day steel frames:
True Temper developed some new super strength tubing that was designed for the TIG Welding process. Eliminating the need for lugs lightened the frames as well as sped up the build process. It also allowed for more flexibility in custom design, and R&D projects.

When steel frames got down to lower weights than the aluminum frames, they started catching back on. The ride quality was seen as far superior to aluminum or carbon, so customers were willing to but up with a small weight difference if it meant a better ride.

Starting in 2009, we were building steel frames at well under 3 pounds. That weight includes the bottom bracket shell and dropouts 😉

So, instead of ti being my favorite all around bicycle frame material, steel remains my personal favorite.

Steel is the most economical material for custom frame manufacturing. A custom steel frame with fork will set you back $1,200 to $3,000 built to your specifications. You can spend more on some of the froo froo stuff, but for most part these prices should get you just about anything you want.

Dropouts, braze-ons, bottom bracket shells, and just about any thing a custom builder needs is available in steel so there’s not much reason to compromise. This availability adds to the lower cost of building with steel as well.

Steel is very easy to machine, and the tooling to do so is available and fairly inexpensive. We can make any custom part we need when we are building a custom steel frame. Welding steel doesn’t require all of the special tooling and steps that welding titanium does. It also takes less time and less electricity than aluminum welding.

When purchasing a steel custom frame, you’re paying for only about 1/2 the labor costs of an aluminum or titanium frame. Steel as a material is also less expensive than ti or aluminum, so your costs of materials are less as well.

As a bicycle frame material, the durability of a steel frame is very good. This is evidenced by the large number of high-end, heavily used steel bikes that you’ll see out on the road everyday.

A steel frame can be bent easier than a ti frame or an oversized aluminum frame. But all in all, it holds up extremely well, and it’s ease of repair if it is bent helps add to the durability factor a bit.

Steel can rust unlike the other materials, but in my 44 years I’ve only seen about 10 or so bikes that were rusted so badly that we couldn’t fix the frame. Those bikes were all decades old, and most had been ridden extensively on an indoor trainer. Sweat is the most corrosive agent to a bicycle it seems, so if you ride a steel frame on an indoor trainer, make sure to always wipe off the sweat when you’re finished.

For custom frame manufacturing, steel is probably the most versatile. You’ll see every kind of high-end frame made from steel and the material is very readily available. We use steel that’s manufactured right here in the U.S. When we need something made in a custom length, diameter, or thickness, we can spec it and they’ll make it. This is not as true for the other materials.

Steel is the most repairable of all the frame building materials. Just about anything on a steel bike can be replaced or redone. For example, every year we have someone who’s got an old tandem that they want to bring into the new century. We can weld in a new head tube so they can use modern headsets and forks. Then we can re-space the rear end to fit modern axel widths and more gears. Then we can move the brake studs to a position for use with modern 700c wheels. All this for about 1/5 the cost of buying a new frame. This also goes to versatility.

Riding characteristics:
Steel is the standard that other materials are compared to. It’s got a lively, comfortable ride that most customers prefer. I think that everyone reading this probably had an old Motobecane, Gitane, Peugeot, Raleigh, or some other sweet steel ride that they remember fondly. The ride of most modern steel bikes is just a great, they’re just lighter weight. Titanium and steel win the ride characteristics as far as I’m concerned.

The Wrap up:

Which material you choose for your custom bike can depend on so many factors. I’ll list a few here.

Weight – If you were to come in the shop and ask for the lightest frame available what would I recommend? I would say that despite what one reads in magazines, at this point in time if you’re willing to go to the top end of any of the price ranges, you can get equally light weight offerings in all the listed materials.

However, for those who value extreme light weight I have some rules to follow:

  1. Paper doesn’t refuse ink – Just because a frame weight is printed in a catalog or magazine this doesn’t make it true
  2. Keyboards don’t refuse fingers – If someone types a frame weight in a news group, find out if it’s my Uncle Earl
  3. Apples to apples – Make sure to compare equal items. If a frame requires proprietary parts (special fork, bottom bracket, head set etc…) then you’ll want to weigh all the comparables. Several manufacturers take weight off of the frame, but then add it back in the fork, headset, etc…. (again with the proprietary @#$#@%)
  4. Don’t trust, but verify – If you’re going to pay top dollar for light weight frame, weigh that frame (and proprietary parts) on a digital scale before you assemble it. The weight should be what your builder said it would be or your money back (bike salesmen everywhere are cursing my name right now).

Cost – That one’s easy. If dollar value is important, then I would suggest steel as your best option for a custom bicycle frame in 2009 (and still in 2012). At $1,200 for a custom frame/fork, it’s a hard value to beat.

Cool Factor – If you want your friends to be blown away by the look of your new machine, I think you can do it with any of the materials. Carbon has some interesting shapes, but steel and aluminum you’ll see with some amazing paint jobs. Titanium has that really cool ‘naked’ industrial look to it. Cool factor is really a personal choice, so I have a very hard time picking a winner, but my personal favorite is something that looks classic.

Longevity – If you really want a frame that lasts forever, I will suggest steel or titanium. Even if they do break, they can be easily fixed. If you don’t care to have a frame that last 20 years or more, then any of the materials will suffice.

Ride characteristics – Basically here, I would just suggest that you ride a bike that fits you well, and buy from a shop that will work with you over time to ensure that you’re comfortable. A good shop will spend an hour or so fitting you before even suggesting a frame size. Frame material plays a factor in comfort, but your shop’s willingness to get you comfortable is WAY more important.

Overall performance:I’m a firm believer that fitting comfortably on your bike will improve your riding performance more than a frame material will. But, if a ‘best’ material must be chosen, I would suggest a frame that won’t rattle your teeth when cornering on a bumpy road. This way you won’t have to slow down as much around those corners, and you’ll be able to stay on the bike longer between rests. I find that these things are much more important to average speed than saving an ounce or two anyway.

Well there it is. I’m having a hard time not writing 10 times as much as I’ve written here, but hopefully I’ve done an OK job recounting my views on custom frame building materials based on my experiences (or lack there of).

Just in case you thought I might be an impartial judge, let me set you straight. Steel is my favorite material for the bicycle frame. It seems to be the best balance between cost, ride quality, versatility and weight for me. We all have some bias one way or the other, and I appreciate this opportunity to express some of the factors that have formed my bias towards steel. Thanks Bicycle Paper.

I sure had a great time down memory lane looking through all of the 1970’s Bicycing magazines and seeing all of the ads for the new titanium, aluminum, carbon fiber, and even (believe it or not) bamboo bicycles. I guess the more things change, the more they stay the same.

The Rodriguez Custom Rainier Fork

Carbon fork that will allow fenders and wide tires

Carbon Fiber Rodriguez Rainier Fork

There’s a good Reason for the Rodriguez Rainier Fork:

People sometimes think that we had our own fork made in order to save money. This isn’t true. The reason that we developed the Rainier fork was because of the fork manufacturers didn’t offer the fork that our customers wanted.

1970's Rodriguez Touring Bike with Fender Clearance

Ahhh the good old days

Remember the days when you could buy a sweet racing bike and install wide tires, and maybe a set of fenders for your daily commute? The best of both worlds right? The lightweight speed and performance of a race bike, with the comfort and durability you needed for your commute. Well, those days vanished a long time ago. As many people have been disappointed to discover, a modern race bike will not accept full fenders, and in a lot of cases won’t even accept wider tires 🙁

We struggled for years just like our customers did, to try and install fenders and wider tires onto their new race bikes. Cutting and zip tying were common methods of installation. Eventually the industry produced a scaled down version of fenders that installed to the frame by the use of ‘rubber bands’. We called them ‘race fenders’ but we all knew that they were a ‘pretend fender’ to try and keep some of the crud from hitting your riding buddies. Unfortunately, the rise of the carbon fork meant that we were in the hands of the fork designers to limit our tire widths, fender clearance, and even our trail numbers (a little frame building lingo for you). While most manufacturers ceded to the pressure and gave in, we here at Rodriguez said “Enough already!” We designed and had our own custom carbon fiber fork made specifically for us. It’s the fork that the public was demanding. The Rainier Fork.

Carbon fiber fork on Rodriguez with short reach brakes
So, what’s the problem?

The problem starts with the brakes.
A wider tire and/or fenders require the use of brakes that are a little bit longer reach than standard racing brakes. They look just the same, and they work just as well, but they allow for a little more clearance than the short reach racing brakes. To use these brakes, the manufacturer must position the brake bridge (where the brake mounts to the frame) a little higher. They also have to use a fork that is designed with a little more clearance at the point where the tire and fender have to go through it.

At Rodriguez, we’ve always had control over the frame, so we could place the brakes at any height we wanted too. Most companies don’t make their own bicycles, so it’s not possible for them, but for us….no problem.

Forks on the other hand were something completely different. We, like everyone else, relied on the industry to provide the products that we needed. Well, the industry failed. Although our customers want a lightweight carbon fork, they also want wider tires, and sometimes fenders. That seemed to be something that Alpha Q, Easton, Reynolds, Wound-up and the like didn’t even have on their radar (not to mention options for smaller bikes with 650 wheels). The carbon forks got to a point where they wouldn’t accept a fender under any circumstance, and even a 28mm tire was an issue if it was kind of a wide 28mm.

Rodriguez carbon fiber fork with long reach brakes and an unmodified fender fitting through the fork
Rodriguez Bicycles to the resuce!

We kept running into customers who wanted a race bike, but also wanted to run 28mm or wider tires. Out here in Seattle, fenders are required on many group rides, so the ability to install them is quite convenient too. This is why we spent the time and money to design and have our own carbon fork manufactured. Very few (if any) small frame builders go to this trouble for their customers.

Originally it was more expensive for us to make the Rainier fork than to just order the Alpha Q or Profile carbon forks. Once we had the mold though, and went through several orders of the forks, our cost began to drop, and now it’s actually an option that’s less expensive than the other options. It’s the only carbon fork on the market that offers the rider the opportunity to run up to 32c tires on both 700c or 650c bikes. It even comes with threaded eyelets on the dropout so you don’t have to put clamps on your carbon fork when you install fenders.

We spec’d the Rainier fork a little heavier so that we could offer a real warranty on it like we do everything else we make. We’ve used an aluminum steering tube instead of carbon for durability. You’ll notice that most carbon/carbon forks are warranted for only a few years. We built the Rainier fork as a fork that someone could ride with confidence forever.

The Rainier fork is available in both 700c and 650c wheel sizes.

Shopping Local

Built in Seattle, USA

Is the Grass Always Greener?

Over the last 8 to 10 years, several new mid sized custom bicycle companies have sprung up around the country. They build various types of high quality road bikes from steel, aluminum, carbon fiber or titanium. These companies get a lot of attention because they are new. The bicycles that they build are priced from $3,000 to $10,000.

Don’t live near by?

Not everyone has a local shop that they can work with one-on-one to design their new bicycle. For our online customers, we strive to provide that same feel that the customers who are able to come to the shop get. We email pictures of their bicycle in progress, and communicate on a regular basis about the progress. For those who live in the Northwest though, I find it odd when I see them purchase a bicycle from a far away company.

While custom, hand built bicycles are a new and exciting phenomena to the rest of the country, we here in the Northwest have known for a long time the benefits of a hand built, custom frame. You see, the history of hand built bikes here in the Northwest goes back a lot more than just 8 to 10 years. Several Northwest builders have been around here in Washington and Oregon for well over 25 years (some well over 30 years). The experience level of builders in Seattle alone is unmatched anywhere in the country.

While I think it’s a great thing that the bicycle industry magazines, and the rest of the country, are just discovering how great a hand built bike made in the USA can be, I think that there are some incredible benefits that we who live in the Northwest enjoy. Below is a story contrasting two typical experiences of two different bike buyers who reside in Seattle, Jack and Jill.

  • Jill visited a website and downloaded a form to order a bike.
  • Jack visited the facility in person and met with the designer.
  • Jill carefully followed the provided instructions, measured herself, and filled in the numbers on the form.
  • Jack worked with a professional fitter for over an hour, and even got to ride a fully adjustable stationary bike set up just like his new bike will be.
  • Jill communicated her preferences and concerns in a series of emails and phone calls to someone in another state.
  • Jack sat with his professional fitter, had a cup of coffee and went over all of the details of his new dream ride.
  • Jill waited patiently for her new bike to be built.
  • Jack took a tour of the frame shop to see bikes being made and even met the frame builder in person. He visited several times over the next few weeks, and even saw his new bike in progress.
  • Jill selected colors from a chart and checked the appropriate boxes on the form.
  • Jack met with the painter and designed his own custom paint job.
  • Jill selected parts from a list of the newest equipment and checked the appropriate boxes on the form.
  • Jack worked with experienced professionals to select parts groups, and then test rode bikes with those parts to decide what he wanted.
  • Jill received her new bike in the mail, and assembled it from the box.
  • Jack picked up his new bike at the shop that built it. He worked closely with the designer to fine tune the seat and handlebar adjustments and picked up some last minute accessories.
  • Jill had some concerns about her new bike, so she fired off some emails.
  • Jack had some concerns about his new bike, so he visited the shop again, and got it all straightened out while he waited.
  • Jill, after a few months, needed some small adjustments on her new bike so she took it to her local bike shop. Everyone ooohed and aaahed, but they still charged her full price for the service. If Jill requests it, the online company she purchased from may re-imburse her, but not usually. We often re-imburse customers like Jill in this situation.
  • Jack took his bike to the shop that built it for him, and was surprised to see that they all recognized the bike and him! The minor adjustments were made at no charge.
  • Jack and Jill both got great bikes, but Jack got something more. He took advantage of the fact that he lives right here in the Northwest, and built a great relationship that can only come with personalized service.

While you’ll get a great bike either way, if you’re going to buy a hand built bike and you live here in the Northwest, why not enjoy the benefits that are right in front of you? The resources are all here, the history is here, the talent is certainly here, and the prices are even lower when you buy directly from the builder as opposed to going through a 3rd party.

So, is the grass always greener somewhere else? Only if you don’t live near Seattle.

See you on the road!

-Your friends at R+E Cycles
Home of Rodriguez Hand Built Bicycles

A History of R+E Cycles

This article is from 2012. To read an updated version, Click Here.

1970's Staff Photo

The 1970’s

Earth shoes, Flower Power, and lots of hair!

Rodriguez bicycles was established in 1973 by Angel Rodriguez (2nd from left in photo) and Glenn Erickson (left most kneeling person in photo). The sales and service shop was (and still is) called R+E Cycles. A lot of people assume that R+E Cycles is a regular bike shop, and just happens to sell Rodriguez and Erickson bicycles. Actually, R+E Cycles is Rodriguez and Erickson cycles, and is the only place to buy them as well as the manufacturer. The photo to the left shows what the staff looked like in the late 1970’s as the shop began to grow. Angel and Glenn began building bicycles and tandems under their own names, sponsored a racing team, and soon had one of the most respected shops in the city of Seattle.

Angel Rodriguez holding a Triple Tandem under construction
It didn’t take Angel and Glenn long to attract the attention of business publications in the bicycle industry. Here’s an article from a 1976 issue of Bicycle Dealer Showcase magazine.

To the right, Angel Rodriguez shows off a Rodriguez ‘bicycle built for three’ frame in progress.
circa 1979

1980's Staff PhotoSome photos taken for the
1989 Rodriguez Tandem Catalog

The 1980’s

Max Headroom, Hair Metal, and Madonna are all the rage!

After Angel and Glenn part ways in the early 1980’s, Angel expanded the shop throughout the decade. He worked with the city of Seattle to secure Seattle’s first ‘on-street’ bicycle only parking area. It would be would be 30 years before it’s time!

In the 1980’s Rodriguez bicycles put together a professional tandem catalog, and soon Rodriguez tandems are being shipped all over the United States. Angel also opened the first ‘all mountain bike’ store in the Northwest, Mountain Bike Specialists.

This is the decade when I (Dan, the long haired guy in bottom right photo) first came to Rodriguez Bicycles. I (Dan) started in 1987 as a bicycle fitter and salesperson, and soon was managing the repair and assembly departments until 1991.

In the 1980’s Angel Rodriguez also started a new name brand of bicycles, TerraTech, and had them produced in Japan. These were produced in a touring model and a couple mountain bike models. The TerraTech became a favorite with bicycle commuters all over the Northwest. We still see dozens of TerraTechs each year in the repair shop getting overhauls or updates.

By the end of the decade, this expansion culminated in the shop being voted the best bicycle shop in the country by the readers of Bicycle Magazine. Now R+E Cycles had over 50 employees and had become one of the most reputable shops in the United States. The mountain bike craze helped propel cycling in general to new heights, and Angel Rodriguez had ridden the wave to the top of the industry!

Darker clouds were on the horizon though.

Wheel Truing

The 1990’s

Grunge Metal, corporate downsizing, and the tech bubble dominate the Seattle news through the 1990’s!

Angel sold the company in 1990. The new owner was not from the bicycle industry, and took the company in a sharply different direction. After losing confidence in that new direction, I left in December 1991. My departure was followed by a few more key employees.

The 1990’s were a brutal decade for big bike shops like R+E Cycles as well as the industry as a whole. Several of the shops voted in the ‘top ten’ of the Bicycle Magazine readers poll of 1990 were out of business before the end of the decade. By 1993, R+E Cycles would almost meet the same fate. In May, 1993 the new owner of R+E Cycles filed for bankruptcy and the doors were shut. The Seattle Times reported on the Cycling Institution ‘Out of Business’ after 20 years. Just a week later, the same paper would be running a different story though. One about a Second Chance for the shop at the hands of Angel Rodriguez with a few others in the background.

Since Angel had financed the sale of the business, he ended up getting the business back. As it turned out, it was just a shell of what it had once been and the inventory had been decimated. Angel Rodriguez called me at home one night. He asked if my wife and I, along with Estelle Gray (one of the key employees that left when I did) would be interested in purchasing what was left of R+E Cycles from him. I answered an immediate “yes!” and because my wife was working in China for 3 months at the time, she couldn’t talk me out of it. I quit my job and joined Angel the next day working to put the shop back together. Estelle joined us as soon as her two-weeks notice was up at her job, and my wife, Marcie, joined us after her return from China.

R+E Remodel
R+E Remodel

The Come Back 1993 ~ 1999

I could write a book about those first 5 years, but I’ll spare you that at this point. Suffice it to say that we worked extremely hard to bring R+E Cycles back to life. They were the hardest 5 years of my life, and I had no idea that humans could actually endure the amount of fatigue that we went through in the 1990’s. To the right are a few pictures of the worn-out team (Johnathon, Robb, Myself, Marcie, Estelle and Cindy) taking a rest from construction. We worked night and day to construct an entire, new retail floor.

I put together some of the photos of the re-birth of R+E Cycles if you dare to look. Realize that we were on a shoestring budget, everything was on the line, and we had to work tirelessly to achieve success on this project. We often slept at the shop during that first year as we just kind of passed out on the floor. The friends that you see in the photographs helping us are just some of the people that we owe so much gratitude to. This is the first time I’ve taken these photos out, and I realize that we had some amazing friends helping to make it through that first year. Thanks everyone.

By 1995, we had a
web site up and running (in those days bicycle companies did not have web sites). The internet was very new, but the site did generate some interest from long distance customers, and we sold a few bikes through the site. It’s hard to believe now that a company could survive very long without a web site, but back in 1995 it was still a novel concept. We also began the process of computerizing more than just our bike fit, but our whole process. It doesn’t sound like much, but in the 1990’s computer programming and running a bike shop were not done together. We were technically advanced enough that by 1998 we even attracted the attention of a local computer magazine who ran a feature article on us.

In addition to rescuing the company, we managed to design and build an industry favorite women’s specific bicycle line through the 1990’s. In 1996, the Rodriguez Stellar was born. A U.S. made bicycle that sold for less than $1,000! Nobody had anything like it, and we sold thousands of them. In 1997, the Stellar managed to attract the attention of Bicycling magazine for a review. We also made headway back into the tandem world with the sub-$2,000 Rodriguez Toucan tandem. Before the end of the 1990’s, we had a full line of U.S. made production Rodriguez bicycles to add to our custom line-up….just in time for the dot-com bubble burst.

Not too shabby I say, for a company that was down for the count just 6 years earlier!

2000 ~ 2010 A new Millennium!

Y2K panic, America is attacked, but Lance Armstrong kicks butt anyway!

The year 2000 was preceded by a period of medai hype fueled fear of some sort of world wide computer collapse of mythic proportions. Well, that didn’t happen, but what came next was worse. After the World Trade Centers were brought down by terrorists on September 11, 2001, sales in our store came to an abrupt halt. Soon, the country went into a recession. Fear of flying was causing cancellations for Boeing airplanes. Boeing is a huge part of the economy out here in Seattle, so airplane cancellations turned into bicycle cancellations.

2008 R+E Staff Photo
2008 Staff Photo

By 2003, R+E Cycles needed to go through yet another transformation. The shop had shrunk from 22 employes down to 6, and my business partner retired and moved away. We needed to reach out to a national audience if we were going to grow the company again. We did this through expanding and improving our website, redesigning our entire line of bicycles, and re-tooling to make our prices more competitive. We’re a ‘do-it-yourself’ kind of company, but we managed to put together a website that attracted a much larger audience from outside Washington. Soon we were hiring again and building bicycles to ship all around the country and even the world. By late 2003, our focus on service even attracted the attention of The Seattle Times who called me for a quote when a new bicycle Superstore was opening down the street from us.

We also put in a coffee shop (Pedal a Latte’) to serve our staff and customers. This really helped with ambiance inside the store. On Fridays we started a program where we made lunch for the staff. Eventually this policy was extended to Saturdays as well. The team spirit of the shop, and customers too, was lifted to a higher level. I wanted to make R+E Cycles the best shop in the industry to work at. I’ve found that keeping employees is very efficient.

We teamed up with bicycle traveler Willie Weir to design and market (as a model) the bicycle we had built for him back in 1996. This helped boost our reputation as a travel bike company throughout the decade. Email sales really took off with the Willie Weir Adventure (our UTB) bicycle.

In 2005 we acquired Bushnell Cycle design, and hired Master Frame Builder Dennis Bushnell. We were able to patent his eccentric bottom bracket design, and grow the production and sales of the eccentric from just a few hundred each year to thousands. With Dennis came several established wholesale accounts that filled the frame and paint shops with frames to be shipped all over the country.

In 2006 we used our decades of bicycle fitting expertise to design a fully functional bicycle fitting system including software.

was introduced in February 2006.

In 2006 we also re-tooled the frame shop to produce bicycles like no company has ever done before! This is a transformation that brought the price of our bicycles down to the price of bicycles produced overseas, while at the same time improving their quality. It was important to us that Rodriguez Bicycles become the best value in the bicycle industry. Without the efforts put forth in the winter of 2006 by the folks here at R+E Cycles we would either have to produce our bicycles overseas, or charge twice the price that we charge for them.

Back on Top!

Before long, Rodriguez Bicycle company (R+E Cycles) was back on top as a business leader in the Bicycle Industry. It wasn’t long before we started attracting the attention of business publications like the Puget Sound Business Journal. Here is their front page article about our effective production of bicycles in the United States. Lance Armstrong had made cycling popular again, and off we went! Like Lance himself, we accelerated in the industry. We expanded our high-end road bike offerings to include some of the lightest road and tandem bikes in the industry.

We couldn’t let Angel’s efforts be for nothing by letting Seattle’s first ‘on-street’ bike parking area go to waste. Through this decade, we worked with the city (it took several years) to give our ‘on-street’ bike parking area a complete overhaul. We got a new heavy duty bike rack (ironically shaped like a car), fresh paint and new respect for how hard Angel must’ve worked to get the project done in the first place. Here’s what the shop looks like now.

2012 To the Future, and Beyond!

2012 Staff Picture
2012 Staff Photo

My name is
Dan Towle and 2012 is my 19th year as the owner of Rodriguez Bicycles (R+E Cycles). That’s two years longer than Angel owned the company! While writing this page for the site, I realized: things that seemed like they happened yesterday actually occurred decades ago. I had to do the math to believe 19 years (in 2012)!

Rodriguez Bicycle Company remains a Seattle cycling institution as well as a leader in the cycling industry. We have persevered through some of the worst times, and pioneered in the areas of bicycle fit and manufacturing for almost four decades now.

This year we have a fully redesigned website written in CSS. As I write this, the catalog is almost done and the new website just went live an hour ago. We’re teaming up with Glenn Erickson (yes the same Glenn Erickson) to offer Erickson Custom bicycles, thus putting the E back in R+E for 2012. We’re very excited to offer all of the innovative products that we make here, and hope that you choose us as your bicycle company.

This is a historical tour, so let me get historical here. When you choose to buy a bicycle, you are actually choosing to buy the staff of that shop. This is the best staff in the history of R+E Cycles, and I think the entire industry. Everyone here has been here a long time now, and this is their career of choice. If you want a bicycle, there is no better time or place than Rodriguez Bicycle Company right now.

This article is from 2012. To read an updated version, Click Here.

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