Appleman-Logo

Custom frame builder Matt Appleman has a degree in composites engineering. Although the bike industry uses a lot of composite materials, an actual composite engineer is usually a resource only the largest of companies has available. We have seen Matt’s final products at NAHBS 2014, and his attention to detail is obvious.

Matt spent years after college working in California on larger scale wind turbine blades, and on composite raw materials for large corporations. Growing tired of that, he moved back home to Minnesota to start his own bike company.

Building bikes full time for more than four years now, Appleman takes a much more scientific approach than most custom frame builders. We visited and got to take a look at his South Minneapolis shop, find out what makes his frames different after the jump…

Appleman-Choice-tubes

Appleman’s frames start life before he even purchases the tubes.  Drawing on his experience and connections outside of the bicycle industry, he has a supplier that makes his tubes in the USA. Not one of the typical suppliers to the bike industry, each tube is made to order, and per customer. This means that Appleman looks at each customer, what they want for ride quality, what their strength and weight is, and designs the layup schedule of each individual tube. If this seems over the top, it’s because it is exactly that. Few others go to this level of detail per customer, but this is why Appleman only makes 15 frames per year.

Appleman-Headtube-Compare

From these tubes, he then follows a relatively standard method of framebuilding, following the drawing and mitering each tube to fit tightly together. He even does this in an Anvil fixture, something most of the steel custom frame builders use. The primary difference is at this point, he is using a light bead of epoxy to glue all the tubes together instead of applying spot welds to tack the tubes into place. Carbon fiber is strongest when it takes smooth curves, so after this, he applies fillets of a light filler at all junctions before the layers of pre-preg are wrapped over the entire joint.

We were not able to photograph the wrapping of the joints, but based on the weight of the rider and the style of the bike, Appleman would apply multiple layers of material in a very specific pattern, commonly referred to as a layup schedule. This is where Appleman is different from most custom carbon fiber builders, since most do not have an engineering degree in this area, they would be guessing at the orientation and placement of these layers. For Matt, its a science and thoroughly planned out ahead of time.

Appleman-Oven-Closed

Pre-preg is a common term used to describe carbon fiber raw material that is pre-coated with the exact proper ratio of resin and hardener, one on each side of the material. Kept cool, the two parts of the epoxy will not mix, but when heated, they meld and start the reaction that forms a hardened epoxy. To do this, Appleman uses a custom designed oven that heats to the proper temperature for this reaction, but also has connections for the vacuum bags that keep the layers compressed during this process.

Appleman-in-the-Jig

Appleman believes he was the first small custom builder to create a complete frame from carbon fiber with no metal inserts or drop outs. Even though he is very small, he uses his engineering experience to constantly push new ideas to build better frames. The only metal on the frame is the replaceable derailleur hanger. Unless you opt for the thin titanium logo plate, that is. Carbon fiber or wood logo options let you keep it virtually metal free.

Appleman-In-Front-Of-Oven

Appleman’s frames are $5,000, and there is currently about a 6 month backlog on them. He mostly makes cross and road frames, but does mountain as well.

ApplemanBicycles.com

28 comments

  1. gino on

    @ Sam
    I was wondering the same thing. After doing a little googling it looks like it’s a shared space building. Peacock Groove, A-train cycles, and maybe others. That should offset the rent part at least.

    Reply
  2. Truth detector on

    I am sure Mr. Appleman makes excellent well engineered frames & it is great that you are highlighting a small manufacturer. However, you do him no service by making a statement like this…

    “most do not have an engineering degree in this area, they would be guessing at the
    orientation and placement of these layers.” (citation required)

    I am pretty confident that most carbon frames are designed by composite engineers using engineering tools like FEA which Mr. Appleman may/may not use (unspecified in this article).

    Its nice to “big up” a little guy, but I’m sure Matt’s work can stand on its own merit and he doesn’t you to disparage other manufacturers.

    Reply
  3. Dave on

    Most pre-pregs are fiber cloths that are impregnated with a resin that is at a “B stage” level of cure. The resin is tacky but still flexible. It is also fully mixed and will eventually fully cure on it’s own depending on time and temperature. Has anyone else heard of a pre-preg that doesn’t use a fully mixed resin?

    Reply
  4. K11 on

    @sam- not sure if he’s married, but that could explain part of it, or also he does what he really wants to do with his life, or like others have said he does more than just frames (complete builds, etc) and finally some really do not need a huge income to be happy. 🙂

    Reply
  5. Tim Krueger on

    Truth detector – that is specifically referring to custom builders. There are most definitely composite engineers at the large companies, and the point here that Matt is an anomaly in the custom builders world.

    Reply
  6. Joe on

    Just a heads up @truth detector, it is incredibly hard to model composites for FEA given the different plys and orientations of fibers, it gets even more complicated when you start introducing different materials into the same frame (weave, different tow size, etc).

    Reply
  7. Bob on

    I contacted one of the big “C”arbon repair places twice about a cracked frame, they never bothered to respond. After waiting a week I contacted Matt, he responded within a couple hours so he got the job. Reasonable price, good turnaround, great communication and a job very well done. Thanks again Matt!

    Reply
  8. Eric on

    Matt does amazing repair work. I’ve not ridden one of his frames, nor can I afford one, but they too look fantastic in person. His branding however does not.

    Reply
  9. jm on

    Having worked in the industry, we usually cleaned up shop when a writer was coming through. That being said, our shop, warehouse, or employee kitchen was never ever in the disarray shown in these pictures. Most mechanics keep a tidier workspace. He may very well do great work, but the mess does make one wonder about the attention to details.

    Reply
  10. Drew Diller on

    I agree with Tim K regarding Matt being an outlier with respect to custom frames. I’m breaking into custom carbon, and that well-informed thinking ahead type of development only comes with education.

    Matt’s a nice guy to boot, hooked me up with a good deal on some prepreg cutoffs just so I could practice with some. It led to a lot of positive steps from there.

    Reply
  11. Philip on

    Anybody criticizing his attention detail based on the look of the shop floor rather than the finished product is a total wanker.

    Reply
  12. david on

    @Gene- there is an old saying, ‘better a creative mess, than tidy idleness.’ This is backed up by studies that show that the most creative people range from messy to slobs, including Einstein. I have met Matt a couple of times at NAHBS and not only is he a nice guy, the product he puts out is fantastic.

    Reply
  13. Rob on

    I’ve purchased 4 bikes from Matt, they replaced a Baum, a Moots (x2) and a Parlee.

    I won’t be replacing the Appleman frames. Great workmanship. A genuine bloke who cares about his customers and his work.

    I’ve put my first Appleman MTB through the wringer – performs and looks as good as new as does my road frame. Can’t recommend the product highly enough.

    Reply
  14. greg on

    @Dave,
    the prepreg thing stood out for me as well. i dont see how resin and hardener would thoroughly mix if applied as described. what you describe is exactly as i understand it, supported by many sources in and out of this industry.
    there is FEA software specifically intended for carbon fiber and other anisotropic materials. im sure it’s not cheap, and probably has quite the learning curve. did you know cervelo either created or highly customized (cant remember exactly) software for their carbon fiber modeling needs? that’s dedication.

    Reply
  15. Bog on

    Fully agree with a few of the comments about shop cleanliness. A clean and organized shop is very important in any manufacturing environment. It is well documented that it leads to better quality and greater efficiency.

    Reply
  16. Jaques on

    Is it a documented fact for custom frame building workshops or something totally different making your comment not even close to relevant?

    Reply
  17. 1Pro on

    how many of you (deleted) have actually built a tube to tube carbon frame? probably none of you (deleted)
    Matt builds a straight trustworthy carbon rig. join lams are cut more than my aesthetic tastes prefer but his knowledge and application of advanced composites will keep those tubes together when the going get rough. that is of paramount importance. the rest is personal taste.

    keep it up Matt but if you wanna put a ring on it, up that volume dude,

    Reply
  18. 1Pro on

    ps, the description of “prepreg” must be BRs assumption. Prepregs are carbon that is pre-impregnated with FULLY mixed A+B epoxy whos cure is suspended in low temps.

    Matt, as far as I know is doing we layup, at least thats what he was saying at the last NAHBS.

    Reply
  19. quickgeezer on

    Gotta laugh at the commenters who’re dismissive because the shop didn’t go to hair and makeup before the photos were shot. No matter how “well documented” it may be that a tidier shop turns out a better product, by definition it’s irrelevant when you’re talking about such a clearly high level of dedication to craft, in such a low-volume custom shop. The commenters who’ve actually ridden an Appleman, or who own one, are the ones to pay attention to.

    Reply
  20. ginsu on

    I would really question the validity of modeling carbon in FEA. While it is easy to simulate materials that are isotropic (i.e. metals), you introduce an order of magnitude of complexity into the equation when you start using composite materials. I’m sure there are a ton of assumptions and simplifications that need to be made in order to model even simple carbon parts.

    I’ve done a lot of FEA work with metals and assemblies, and the difficulty lies in the interfaces between parts. Since a carbon part is technically a collection of fibres oriented in different ways and bonded in epoxy, you would actually have to incorporate this into your model to get realistic results. As such, even the simplest carbon part could take a huge amount of computing power to model accurately.

    Reply

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