Fate is a wonderful thing sometimes. I dreamed about making bikes since my childhood but never understood the concept of custom bicycles. I went to school for Mechanical Engineering so I could design bikes and possibly go work at Cannondale in Connecticut. After school I quickly realized that 10 years of bike shop wrenching experience and an engineering degree wasn’t enough to get into the bike manufacturing business. Fast forward to 2002 when I learned that there was a custom frame builder in my home town of Providence, RI right down the street from my house. I warmed up to Chris pretty quickly and had him build me a couple of frames over a two year period. It was about 200 cups of coffee later that I convinced him to let me apprentice with him.
Now that I’ve been working here for almost 9 years, I can see how this might’ve been perceived. My idea of frame building from a customer’s perspective was highly romanticized and unrealistic. But Chris took me on and challenged me to learn all the facets of the process because that’s how it works at this shop. The builder needs to tackle the learning curves of fitting, materials, brazing, metalworking, and painting. After a year of doing small repairs and paint jobs, I built my first frame in 2005 and I was off. I quit my “real” job in 2007 and have been building and painting full-time since.
There is no way my life would be on this path without Chris Bull. He is the reason I am a frame builder today and it is so much of who I am. That’s why I’m saddened to leave this shop. The rapport that we have developed over these years has been one that I cherish. We are like brothers who love and irritate each other and finish each other’s Simpsons quotes.
In 2010 I approached Chris with the desire to build some bikes under my own name—Chapman Cycles. The reason being that I wanted to try and create a brand of bicycle that was specific in style and focused on commuting, light touring, and city bikes (bikes with which I identify most). I built bikes for my family and friends and it was a fun side project for a couple of years. But the list has been growing and the time to part ways with Circle A Cycles is coming to a head.
I am not severing ties or burning any bridges with Circle A. I still consider Chris and Jay (our painter and soon to be builder) not as co-workers but as two of my closest friends. I will still be working at the shop finishing up paint work and frames for customers on my Circle A list. I wish the best for Circle A Cycles and I look forward to seeing Chris and Jay continue to make some of the best bloody bikes on the planet!
Every once in a while a customer wants to make a modification to a Circle A but because they are so happy with the way it rides, they don’t want us to completely rebuild the bike. Here are two cases in point. This gold frameset was originally a yellow single speed. Chris wanted to make it compatible with a 3-speed hub and wanted a couple braze-ons added. Also, the stainless fork crown was originally satin and this time around I gave it a high polish shine. The details are a metallic brown to match the Chris King headset to be installed.
This bright blue frameset was was originally a white and gray single speed. This time around, I removed the cantilever brake posts, drilled the fork, and added a rear brake bridge for medium reach brakes. The horizontal dropouts were removed and replaced with Ritchey vertical ones and the rear end was re-spaced to 130mm. Other changes include STI cable guides on the downtube, rear derailleur cable guides, and the front derailleur boss. The geometry was essentially a single speed road bike to begin with so this full road iteration will not handle differently but will now be able to climb some big hills!
Craig brought this 1950s(?) mystery frame to us with the bottom portion of one on the fork blades missing. Our job was to replace the blades with an original set of Reynolds 531 imperial oval pencil blades and recreate the original front dropouts (as only one was still attached). A repaint was obviously needed as well. I reinstalled the pump mounts on the downtube, one of which was hacksawed off at some point. I also reinforced with brass and a small piece of steel tubing the seat binder whose stamped shape had been crushed over the years.
Jamie’s 90s fillet brazed Charles Roberts came in a bit rusty and with a slightly chipped up red paint job. Looking to make a bike that he loved ride like new, he had me paint the frame black with some silver detailing in the pantographing on the bottom bracket. And voila, it’s a new bike!
Steve has had this Fuji Dynamic 10 all his life. It’s his favorite bike and with the tubing that it’s built with, it’ll definitely last him a lifetime. It was starting to rust in the areas where the paint had chipped and the chrome was almost completely gone on the fork. I blasted off the loose chrome and painted the bike this Porsche Viper green by his request. I also added the downtube water bottle and shifter bosses.
My wife and I recently took a trip to Ireland for our first big vacation together. It is a beautiful country but with incredibly narrow roads which would’ve made for some adventurous cycling. While driving on our trip, we came across this “Circle A” rental bicycle parked near the Cliffs or Moher. It’s a little different from the ones we make.
Cyclocross season is well underway and Genisis just got her bike together a bit ago. This is one of the smallest cross bikes I’ve made in a long time. The frame might be smaller but it’s the same amount of work as the larger ones. The paint on this one had much inspiration from the black Rapha Continental bike with pink and silver details from a couple of years ago. The fork was from ENVE and painted to match. I painted some small pink and silver details on the fork tips and seat stays to match the details on the head tube and in the seat cluster. It was also a way to hone my paint registration skills. Check it out.
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This Hollands came in with some significant rust damage to the top tube cable guides as well as a large dent. The cable guides were removed and replaced with cable stops, the dent was rolled out and filled, and the decals were procured to get this bike back to it’s original state, albeit with a different color.
Sean brought this Croll to us for paint. It came in stripped so clean it looked like it was just welded. He also provided us with the Croll decals and the PPG paint in the same system we use. Definitely an accommodating customer!
This customer came in with a specific vision or recreating a paint job that was once on this bike. The lugs were red and there was a distinct series of cogs on the seat tube. I was able to recreate the cog design and got nice clean lines on the lugs and fork crown.
I graduated from UMass Dartmouth about 14 years ago with a degree in mechanical engineering. I haven’t kept in touch with a lot of people who were in my graduating class but I’m glad to have reconnected with my friend Mike. I remember him being into mountain biking back in the 90s and wanting to build bikes. Well, he built his first frame recently and it came out great! I hope he has the bug and wants to build some more.
Two great people tied the knot recently as well. Congratulations Adam and Ali! You guys rule. The wedding was beautiful and I wish you the best of luck in the future. Adam, your cross bike is coming up soon!
There was a hurricane along the east coast recently too. We had a bunch of tree limbs down but nothing too serious. The shop came out damage free which was a relief. Some were not so lucky though.
Lastly, our friend Ryan brought us a cake! Why? Well, he’s just a nice guy and he likes what we do. We like you too, Ryan.
Next up is Dan’s grocery getter, some pics from the Circle A Cycles 10 year anniversary party, Joseph’s cross bike, and more!