Saturday, February 10, 2007


My name is Tom Matchak, and I am one lucky guy. For the joy of producing something useful and beautiful with my own hands, I get to build handcrafted custom bicycle frames. Working alone, I select every design element, fuss over every metalworking detail, and don’t pay attention to the clock.

I design and build a frame with the goal that it will become your favorite bicycle. The one that you’ll ride hard, rely upon, and lovingly maintain. The one that you won’t worry about taking everywhere, because each scratch in the beautiful paint just reminds you of a great adventure. The one that you’ll outfit with different components as your cycling interests change over the years. The one which you want to last as long as you do.

I work in a single traditional medium, silver-brazed lugged steel. As an engineer, I understand that this is a superior method for joining the high quality steel tubes that are available today. As an artist, I find that this method allows for a level of creative expression not available with other, more industrial, fabrication techniques.

I build frames designed for the types of cycling that I know the best, and love the most … all-day social rides, long distance touring, and exploratory rambles on mixed-surface back roads. For all of these uses, my frames are designed along the traditions of classic road cycles. They build into the type of comfortable, versatile and durable bicycle that you’d want if you could have only one. Sure, you can set them up stripped down to ride fast. But, when you’ve outgrown that and find yourself ready for pure fun or serious adventure, these frames readily accommodate wider tires, higher handlebars, racks and fenders.

My framesets include a custom steel fork, designed to provide the desired handling characteristics. Building a fork is a time-consuming task, but it provides a level of design flexibility that simply is not available with the ubiquitous, but narrowly defined, aftermarket forks. A custom steel fork also allows the use, if desired, of a traditional quill stem, with its inherent advantages for easily adjusting the handlebar height.

Every frame designer should have a bias,
and mine is for rider comfort. I believe that comfort is paramount to performance, as well as to the overall enjoyment of the sport. If you’re not comfortable, you can’t pedal efficiently. I rarely ride with skinny young racers, but I’ve cycled on long cross-country tours for years in the company of “mature” men and women, many of whom simply can not achieve a comfortable posture atop the style of race-inspired bicycles currently crowding the showrooms. Over and over, I have observed how simple measures, such as raising the handlebars to near saddle height, can ease the common complaints of neck, shoulder, lower back, and crotch pain. The custom frame which I design for you will consider not just your body measurements, but also your flexibility, your weight and where you carry it, your issues with old injuries and the way that you relate to your current bicycle. Above all, I won’t build anything that I’m not convinced will allow you to ride moderate distances in relative comfort.

For each frameset, I select tubes which will be appropriate for your weight, strength and riding style. Tube selections also correlate to the overall theme of the frame, such as light road/sport or fully loaded touring. My goal in selecting tubes is to present steel’s legendary silky feel, while maintaining strength and durability. My frames are light enough, but never intended to be contenders in today’s frame-weight wars. I’ll mix tube sources to get the right combination, and your frame may contain tubes from Reynolds, Dedacciai, True Temper or Columbus, all of whom make excellent products.

This is a wonderful time to be building lugged steel frames. Modern investment casting technology is available to produce high quality lugs, and the masters are stepping forward to design new lugs and sponsor their production for the framebuilding community. I've worked with modern lugs from Henry James, and the great new lugs from Kirk Pacenti and Richard Sachs. Richard's are designed with classic profiles, intended to be used without modification. For creating something special, I turn to Kirk's artisan lugs, which contain a generous amount of extra material that may be carved as desired. Even though it requires an additional 12-15 hours per frame, I like to use these artisan lugs to express my own style, and make a frame truly unique.

I believe that there’s no point in building a frame which inherently limits the owner to only one style of cycling. It is such a simple mater to provide ample clearance for wider tires, secure attachment points for racks, clearance for fenders, and the easy ability to change the handlebar height. These features greatly increase the versatility of a bicycle, without significant performance penalties for the recreational rider. Once you have achieved a comfortable rider posture, a smartly designed frame can, within reason, be used for a variety of types of cycling by simply swapping a few components.

I have an interest in the bicycle designs, perfected fifty years ago in France, which combined wide, supple 650B tires and a low-trail steering geometry. Largely forgotten by the American market, the 650B tire, and low-trail steering in general, is enjoying something of a revival among riders interested in comfort and versatility. Using my own 650B-based prototype and a set of frame-neutral test forks, I have tested a range of low-trail geometry options over thousands of riding miles. I understand the nuances of this design option and how it may be applied to benefit various cycling styles. The photo below shows a detail of my low-trail All-Rounder frameset, designed around wide 650B tires, extra-long reach caliper brakes, and a long-rake fork.

I also offer a design/build service for bicycle owners wishing to convert their existing high-trail bicycles into a low-trail configuration. Using a special purpose numerical model, I can evaluate the specifics of the retrofit application and design a Frame-Neutral Replacement Fork™ which provides the larger rake and preserves the frame’s original orientation.

When it comes to visual effects, I prefer elegant simplicity. A bicycle’s overall appearance should be like that of a graceful bird, not a rolling advertisement. Paint should be simple and beautiful, but simple doesn’t mean dull. Bright, rich frame colors can appear quite simple, as long as they’re not competing with assorted panels, stripes or logos. No matter what the color, your frameset will receive a gorgeous multi-coat paint finish from one of the masters of the trade. I also feel that the traditional style for frame decals is mostly just cheap advertising, and tends to spoil the innate elegance of a finely crafted, lugged bicycle frame. The only decal on your frame will be my small “signature” graphic near the seat cluster. Such styling is unusual, I know, but this is no ordinary bike.