The rain has stopped, and the Tour de France is under way. It's time to drag the bike out of the garage. But somehow that dusty old thing doesn't inspire passion, especially after the sleek machines in the peloton have flashed past. And what if that old bike never seems comfortable? Or isn't right for your purpose? A bike made for racing doesn't perform so well if you want to haul groceries, and the commuter bike can't negotiate an off-road trail. A custom bicycle builder may have the answer. Built to fit and made by hand, their bikes are as unique as the people they're made for. These five builders work on their own, each a one-man show making the exact bikes the customers need.
If you want famed builderRichard Sachs to make you a bicycle, you'll have to wait 43 months. That's the waiting list to get one of his traditional steel racing bikes, of which he builds only about 60 a year in his home shop in Chester, Conn. Each is unique to the buyer, with tube lengths measured to fit the person who will ride it. ``Steel has improved exponentially," he said. ``I can make a much better bike today than I could 10 years ago." Sachs, 53, got his start in 1972 with an apprenticeship in England. After returning to the United States, he began making bikes under his own name in 1975. His attention to detail comes at a price -- $2,700 for just a frame and as much as $7,000 for a fully built ride.
Mike Flanigan, 41, is on a mission to save the earth, one bicycle at a time. The Holliston frame builder calls his company Alternative Needs Transportation, and he builds lightweight bikes that are as good for hauling groceries as they are for a week ride. ``I'm trying to get people to think about bikes in a different way," he said, ``as transportation rather than sport." His bikes are powder-coated rather than painted with traditional paints, which contain solvents that harm the atmosphere. He recycles all his metal scraps. His bikes are among the most affordable custom builds around, starting near $1,200 totally built up. He is pictured here on his delivery bike, the ``Frontaloadontome."
Asked to describe his ``Goatbike," frame builder Dave Blakney answers, ``It'sa weaponized bicycle." Built for extreme riding, the ``Goatbike" is part mountain bike, part Humvee. Blakney, 39, was a Boston bike messenger year-round in 1986-87 before he learned to make bikes at Fat City Cycles inSomerville. He then built racing wheelchairs for Boston Marathon entrants before starting Dave Blakney Metalworks in Woburn, where he doesmetalworking jobs to pay the bills. He makes about 30 bikes a year. A ``Goatbike" frame costs $700; a fully built ``Goatbike" runs $2,500.
Peter Mooney figures he's made just under 1,000 of his elegant lugged-steel bicycles since he built his first in 1974. It was an eventful year. He'd placed third in the bike race up Mount Washington and had moved to England to learn frame-making from master builder Ron Cooper. He came back from England with enough tube sets to make 50 bikes, and so began the career of one of New England's best-known bicycle craftsmen. Mooney, 51, co-owns Belmont Wheelworks and can be found behind the cash register when he's not fitting tubes together. He makes 20 to 25 bikes a year, almost all custom fit. His bikes start around $2,350.
Mike Augspurger was building high-titanium racing bikes in 1986, when someone rolled into his shop on a poorly designed three-wheeled handcycle. ``It was an engineering challenge that was staring me in the face," he said. That is how an able-bodied bike builder began crafting three-wheeled off-road handcycles, which he now turns out for wheelchair athletes as far away as Japan, Scotland, and Australia. Augspurger, 49, had been a trials rider, a sort of off-road steeplechase event in which the winner is not the fastest but the one who has to put his foot down on the ground the fewest times as he negotiates obstacles such as rocks, logs, and streams. His vision for the so-called ``One-Off" handcycle was something that could carry wheelchair athletes unaided where they couldn't go before. Steered by the rider shifting upper-body weight, the $5,000 ``One-Off" is cranked by hand and is geared so low it can practically climb walls.