Heavy hearts


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!

A couple of repaints and a couple of remakes

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.

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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!

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.


Wet paint!

This blog post is long overdue. I had finished Mark’s road bike back in late March and have been wanting to write about it for some time now. He came to Circle A looking for a custom road frameset that could handle the hills of Vermont. What we put together was a Columbus Spirit for Lugs tubeset, the Llewellyn 6° sloping lugset, the Columbus Minimal carbon fork, and all Shimano Ultegra components. He wanted it to say “Wet Paint” on the top tube and if you didn’t already know, black paint always look wet with the glossy clear coat.

See the full slideshow.

And if you’re in the Bennington area, check out the exhibit of his paintings at the Vermont Arts Exchange. Including this one of his Circle A!

I’ve also been doing a bunch of paint work as of late. This 4130 come through the shop a couple of months ago. Lots of stainless bits and painted on logos.


This Vista was the customer’s childhood bike. We can always appreciate when someone wants to keep the bike they’ve had all their life on the road. He stripped the bike of paint and accidentally stripped the paint off of the head badge as well. I ended up making the olive brach stencil and painting the badge for him. The gold lug lining was done to match the gold Araya rims it had on there.


And finally, Polly the Fetchmaster has been spending quite a bit of time at the shop these days. She’s still tiny and fits in a cat carrier that goes into my BOB trailer. Thanks to Jay for taking the shot of my back side.


Nik F’in Perry

Nik Perry was unfortunately in an accident recently that saw the demise of his Davidson bicycle. He didn’t get too hurt though which is the important thing. Nik is one of those people you can call a “bike guy”. He has worked in shops since I first met him and has also spent his fair share of time over at Recycle-A-Bike. We were so excited when he decided to replace his broken bike with a Circle A. He chose to go with a touring bike that’s ready for dynamo wiring. The components are all coming in as I type this and it will be assembled in the coming week. The bike is clearly lugged and oversize as Nik is a tall fellow. The head lug had a 20mm extension brazed on to the top to be more compatible with modern threadless stems and not have to use an exorbitant amount of spacers. The downtube is tapered from 31.8mm to 34.9mm to add a bit of stiffness to this large bike. The tubing is a combination of Dedacciai and Columbus. The paint was inspired by the Centurion paint schemes from the 80s but with silver and white with black details. The full bike photo shoot will follow soon!

See the full slideshow.

And Mike brought his Bianchi by the other day after he and Billy Rounds did the build. It is gorgeous! Almost too clean to ride….almost. Check it out.


This Colnago master came in with more rust than you can shake a stick at. I was skeptical about the structural integrity of the frame but after sandblasting I was relieved to find that most of it was confined to the castings (lugs, bottom bracket, dropouts, and braze-ons). After much body filler in these areas, it was brought back to life. See the slideshow for the before and after shots.

See the full slideshow.

And finally we have a new small friend that has been hanging out at the shop. Meet Polly! She’s a 12 week old border collie that has been coming to work with me every other day. She’s a smart one so we’ll be sure to put her to work soon.

The seat mast situation

This is the second cross bike I’ve built for Adam St. Germain but it’s the fourth Circle A I’ve built for him. He also has one of the few Circle A BMX frames and a pretty fancy road bike. For this one, I wanted to make it as light as possible. I ended up going with Dedacciai’s Zero tube set. Because this is a cross bike and it’s going to be put through the motions, I put a small gusset at the down tube head tube junction. I suggested a seat mast with some unique internal cable routing and Adam let me have my way. So here’s the final product but I unfortunately neglected to think about one thing…

See the full slideshow.

A week or two after he got the bike, at the NBX Grand Prix of Cyclocross right here in Rhode Island on December 4th, the seat mast bent. I was devastated. I totally felt like I let Adam down by building a bike with such a thin seat tube and doing the internal routing at the rear. He sent me a txt with the image and my heart sunk. I had to fix it. NOW.


So Adam dropped the bike off at the shop on the Monday after and I had it back to him at the week’s end for the Ice Weasels race in Wrentham, MA on the 10th. The repair consisted of me carefully straightening the mast and reshaping it with tubing blocks. To strengthen that joint, I bonded a section of slotted aluminum post into the seat tube. It essentially has a seatpost in there now, which I will recommend to all future customers who inquire about a seat mast. I repainted the affected area and it was ready to ride again. Just last week, he raced it at the Nationals in Madison and got 32nd. Attaboy! We’re very proud of him here at Circle A. Here are a couple shots of the bike after the repair.


My longtime friend Lee FINALLY got his bike together. Definitely a fun commuter/light touring ride. Hope you’re having fun, Lee!


And it was a long time ago (I think back in October) but we had our 10th year anniversary. A lot of friends and local builders came by to help us celebrate. We’d like to thank everyone who has supported us over the years and will continue to build for the unforeseeable future. Here are some shots of that beautiful day.


Next up is a travel bike with a couple of firsts for Circle A…

Dan’s classy city bike and photos from Philly

This bike was originally going to be called a “Grocery Getter” but the rack is more conducive to just doing a milk run to the corner store. I feel that “City Bike” is a more apt title. The 1×10 Shimano Ultegra drivetrain keeps things simple. The Sugino 75 crankset was paired with a 42 tooth chainring to make the hills a little more bearable. The rack on the front was based on specific dimensions (it’s 7″ wide x 10″ long) and got a bit of inspiration from one recently done by Capricorn Bicycles. It’ll be great with a larger handlebar bag. The moustache bars bring me back to my days of working at Union Cycle in Attleboro, Massachusetts and selling the Bridgestone XO-1. Good times. The paint is a custom gray/green mix with a very faint pearl coat. And there are red and silver details throughout. It is understated to say the least. Hope you like it as much as I do, Dan!

See the full slideshow.

In other news, we went to the Philadelphia Bike Expo again this year. The weather was less than stellar with a freak snow storm but the turnout was still great. Bina and the rest of the Bilenky crew did a great job of putting this one together. Circle A Cycles shared a big “Providence Booth” with Chapman Cycles and Dharma Cycles. Here are some shots from that weekend.


Miss Dancer

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.

See the full slideshow.

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!

Trevor’s lugged Columbus XCr frame

The latest project out of my fixture is a lugged stainless frame for Trevor. This was my first time working with this particular brand of stainless steel and have to say that I was pleased. One of the complaints I’ve heard from other builders was in regards to the tubes’ dimensional accuracy. I had none of these problems and with good tolerances built a very strong frame. Trevor went with an ENVE 2.0 fork painted to match.


I’m still making freewheels from time to time. This one went over to the UK. If you have a project that needs a freewheel with a tooth count greater than 22. Give me a holler.

Also, a bunch of us Providence folk went over to Deerfield, MA for the D2R2 last month. It’s becoming a new tradition of packing a couple of vehicles with people and bikes, sleeping in a bumpy field, and then waking up to a very difficult but beautiful ride. Plenty of Circle As were there in attendance. This year seemed a bit harder but maybe I was just a bit out of shape. Anyway click on the big pic of Jim to see some video of us agonizing up one of the climbs. Fun stuff? Yes!


Henry’s classic road frame

This is Henry’s second frame from me! He’s the only other person out there with a Circle A BMX frame and a road frame. Definitely a well-rounded rider. I first met Henry in New York at a flatland jam. Super nice guy from the west coast. He went the ornate lugged route with the Richard Sachs Newvex series lugs, crown, and bottom bracket. The paint is a red candy over a red-tinted silver. Defnitely has another dimension in the sun.

See the full slideshow.

What happens when you drive into a parking garage with your bike on the roof. Nothing good. Except the opportunity to get a “new” bike. We can rebuild it. We have the technology. This bike has a new down tube and rear seat stays, and a new paint job. And now it’s back on the road and heading south from Philly to Florida!


Spring time means fun bike time! A bunch of us did a full moon ride down the bike path to Bristol. We had lights but didn’t really need them. Moon shadows abound! Another group did a little ride around the Little Compton area. We ended up on some trails heading down to Simmons pond. It just the start of a wonderful riding year.


Some tasteful shop photos

One of our customers who’s having his vintage Richard Sachs frameset refinished came by to take some pictures of the shop for a school project and he gladly shared his shots with us and I, in turn, will share with you. Thanks Greg!

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See all the shots.

I’ll be sharing pics of that Sachs when it’s done as well as the frame in progress currently dubbed “Mike’s Handsome Gentleman’s bike.” Check back soon.