After leaving the corporate world, and armed with years of experience in composites, Matt Conrad saw an opportunity in the frequency of damaged carbon bikes coming into his bike shop. After repairing frames for a time, he decided to take the plunge to establish and pursue Journey Cycles full time. Though it would initially be a vehicle for his carbon repair business, his goal was always to move fully into frame building… and 2016 is his big NAHBS debut.
BIKERUMOR: At the beginning why did you decide to build your first bike? Who did you build it for?
MATT: I built the bike for myself. For some reason buying something just doesn’t seem to provide me with the same satisfaction as building it myself.
I had purchased a brand new Quintana Roo Seduza TT bike, and I just didn’t ever feel right on it. It was a really nice bike, but there was just something I didn’t like about it; I just felt slow on it. For some reason, I began to search on the Internet to see if others had built their own carbon frames, and was surprised to find, for the most part, only rudimentary builds that I felt looked poor and would probably not be overly safe to ride.
I was the owner/operator of Phoenix Race Works, LLC here in Phoenix so I had many years of composite experience building race cars and parts for those cars. I still had all the vacuum-bagging equipment and several yards of carbon fiber fabric and thought all I needed was some carbon tubing, a set of stays, a rudimentary jig, and I could build my own. To make it more challenging, and my desire to have something a bit different than everyone else, I decided to build a “funny bike”. For those that don’t know what a “funny bike” is, it’s a TT frame that has a smaller front wheel than the rear. Many older TT bikes had 24” front wheels, but I chose to go with a 650c front and the standard 700c rear.
The bike wasn’t the lightest or the most beautiful, but it was a really fun bike to ride. And I’ve ridden it in some local duathlons, as the differing size front wheels make it illegal for most sanctioned events. It now hangs on my shop wall and always reminds me of how far I’ve come since then.
BIKERUMOR: What is your origin story? How did your company get its start?
MATT: I worked for 3 years at a local bike shop while attending Eastern Montana College in Billings, MT and always loved my job. But after spending 20+ years in the corporate world, and being in a better financial position, I chose to go back to working in a bike shop. I spent several years working my way up and ended up managing a shop here in Phoenix, AZ. What I started to notice was the amount of customers that had damage to their carbon fiber frames, and I could find no local source for their repair. I was forced to refer them to out of state providers.
Seeing the frequency of these requests starting to rise, I thought that it would be worth my time to repair some frames on my own. I felt with my composites background, and having built several frames myself, I knew I could do this. I purchased a few broken frames from other local shops, and a few off online sites and began to repair frames. Just to be safe…all of the initial frames I repaired were my size so I could ride them and make sure they were solid.
I began doing customer repairs on the side, but it didn’t take long before word got out, and I began getting referrals from friends and those former customers. After a few years I was busy enough that I felt it was time to quit my full-time bike shop job and “officially” open up a dedicated business. I secured a website www.carbonframefix.com and began my new cycling “journey” in August of 2014. The company is legally called Journey Bicycles, LLC and the primary focus was carbon repairs, but I always planned to begin building custom carbon frames at some point. And that point has now come.
BIKERUMOR: What got you excited about building bikes when you first started out?
MATT: As I am still a “New Frame builder” and just getting starting on building custom frames for “real” customers I’m just excited to get more bikes out on the road. I’ve ridden these frames, and I feel they are as good or better than many out there on the market… custom or production. Every time I ride one of my frames, I really get excited for others to experience them too!
BIKERUMOR: What gets you really stoked about what you do today?
MATT: Truthfully, helping people achieve their cycling “journey”. Whether they’ve had a mishap and broke their carbon frame… or they’re in a place in life where they want me to build them a custom carbon frame that they can say was built and designed just for them… I can help them and that feels really great. I take a great deal of pride in my work and truly enjoy when a customer is satisfied with their purchase so I get pretty stoked when I can help someone else enjoy cycling as much as I do.
BIKERUMOR: What’s the cool thing you’re bringing to the show this year?
MATT: Because I am a “New Frame Builder” I can only show one complete bike or one frame at the show. My thoughts were to bring one of my custom carbon road frames and let people judge me on my core offering. After quite a bit of thought I felt that might be a bit boring, so I decided to do something a bit different….a custom urban carbon frame for the show. I guess you could refer to the bike as a “Retro-Mod” design as it has some retro touches, but is modern as well. It has elevated chainstays…like the old Richard Cunningham-designed Nishiki mountain bikes (my first MTB was a Nishiki Ariel with elevated stays) from the early 90’s, Aerospoke 5 spoke carbon wheels (yes they still make them), but it’s a handbuilt carbon frame with a Gates belt drive. It’s totally custom so I had to source a few tubes I normally don’t use, I had to cut most of my unidirectional carbon lay-ups by hand, and even had to modify my jig slightly for it to fit. I’ve named the bike “Urban Elevated”. I think it’s pretty fun… and cool too.
BIKERUMOR: What advice would you give someone wanting to do what you do?
MATT: Believe in yourself and don’t be afraid to make mistakes… because you are going to make them.