What to do? The show has been rescheduled to August, but we still have plenty of great NAHBS content to share with you. We’re going to have our usual series of pre-NAHBS interviews to put the spotlight on a handful of our favorite builders – and will start sharing these stories NOW, when the original show was scheduled to begin. Economic times will be tough for us all, but perhaps even more so for small independent businesses. Thus, we feel it is our duty to help promote these builders, and keep the excitement going all the way to the forthcoming August NAHBS.
Please enjoy this interview with Mike Smith of No. 22 Bicycle Company.
Bikerumor.com: What’s your name, your bike brand, and where are you based?
Mike Smith: Mike Smith, one of the co-founders of No. 22 Bicycle Company. Bryce Gracey and I founded No. 22 in Canada, and we build all of our bikes in our factory in upstate NY, USA.
Bikerumor.com: How long have you been making bikes? How’d you get into it?
Mike: We launched No. 22 in 2012. Bryce and I had been riding together for a few years in Toronto, and I was getting ready for a coast-to-coast ride across Canada and needed a bike to do it on. Bryce and I began brainstorming about a titanium bike for that trip, as Bryce had recently built up a titanium commuter and had become evangelical about the ride quality. After the bike was built we both had the desire to do more with titanium: its performance envelope was so huge, and the ride quality is so unique to the material.
Our first year saw us doing a test of concept, designing some basic frames made by a contract fabricator to see if there was enough interest to build a business. That went well enough for us to take the next step, designing the bikes that would become the key early models of the brand, the Great Divide road frame and Little Wing track frame. These were contracted to Lynskey in Tennessee with pretty solid results. When it came time to step up the quality again in late 2013, Saratoga Frameworks, the latest iteration of the former Serotta factory, had just made an announcement that they were open to contract frame building. At that point some of the key artisans from the Serotta team were still involved: Scott Hock, head frame designer who’d been working in the bike industry since age 16, Frank Cenchitz, head welder who had seen thousands of bikes pass through his hands, and Bryar Sesselman, who excels at extremely skillful machine and metal working, as well as finishing work. They agreed to build us two prototypes which Bryce and I drove down to inspect in person and meet the team. The bikes blew us away and we really hit it off with the guys.
Our next step almost buried us: we put down a deposit on a full run of bikes, and then about a week later the factory shut down for good. For an agonizing window, we were out all of our money, and the guys were out of jobs. In a huge stroke of luck we were able to get most of the deposit money back given the method we used to pay it, but the bigger issue remained: how are we going to get bikes of this quality from this team? The answer staring us in the face was to open our own production facility and hire the crew, with no previous plan to do so. We purchased a small amount of equipment that was still of use to us from the Serotta collection and started hunting for the rest of it and a space to house it all. We ended up in an old knitting mill in Johnstown, NY, about 45 minutes away from the former Serotta space in Saratoga Springs. We found a bunch of Bridgeport mills in NJ and scooped those up, with the smaller pieces coming together in the next weeks/months. By the end of summer, 2014, we were starting to ship bikes from our own factory.
Today we’re still in the same space, having taken over the neighboring unit with an expanded amount of equipment, over one thousand bikes out the door, a nice amount of hardware from the NAHBS exhibitions we’ve participated in, and most importantly, a larger team: Sam Dries, our second welder, Josh Mock, another former Serotta employee in finishing, Patrick Gillham from Serotta, Parlee and Speedvagen (among others) and a handful of other key fabricators are working for us now.
Bikerumor.com: How many frames have you built, and what’s your material of choice? Why that material?
Mike: We turned over the milestone of over 1,000 No. 22 frames relatively recently, though some of our team members have decades of previous experience. Franz Cenchitz alone has guesstimated that he’s welded over 5,000 frames. We build all of our frames primarily from titanium: it’s a material that has a huge bandwidth of performance: depending on how it’s used, it can be very light, very stiff, comfortable, durable, and in all cases beautiful.
Bikerumor.com: What’s going to be the highlight in your NAHBS booth this year?
Mike: We have two key bikes that we’re really excited about. The first is a “Save the Rim Brake” Reactor with an aggressive build to show off how darned good a rim brake bike can still be. As we often do for NAHBS, we’re going to be showing off some new finishing approaches on that bike with a hope that they will land on our production models down the road.
The other bike is a travel-focused version of our Drifter gravel bike. We are really excited about this one, as I think it’s going to be a gamechanger for people that do a lot of traveling with their bike. We’re showing off an extremely slick new coupler system that is super clean, simple, and really vanishes once the bike is together. More importantly though, we’ve developed a system for disconnecting hydraulic disc brakes without tools or bleeding required, which means that finally you can build a great travel bike with hydraulic brakes.
Bikerumor.com: What’s your inspiration lately?
Mike: It comes from so many directions, and everyone on our team will have a different answer. I think one of my favourite things about NAHBS and the handmade bike space in general is that there are so many people doing really clever things. When you walk the show and look at bikes from other brands, without fail on every single bike you can point to a detail that makes you say “wow”, and that’s really inspiring. Where it becomes exponentially more challenging is growing that from one detail to a cohesive, well detailed and most importantly great riding package. The drive to do that is what keeps all of our fires lit.
Bikerumor.com: Any unique questions you use to help customers get a bike that’s really dialed for them?
Mike: It all starts with a phone or email conversation with the customer. We have developed a collection of eight models which each represent our philosophy of how a bike built for each discipline should ride, and the door is then open for customization for fit, finish options and the final build. The particular questions really depend on each customer and each conversation: I wish there was a clever secret question I had in my back pocket!
Bikerumor.com: What’s the oddest request you’ve gotten for a custom build?
Mike: We get a lot of requests for things we really have no background in. We get asked to build titanium unicycles every now and again, and we have to respectfully decline: I don’t even know if anyone on our team knows how to ride one.
Bikerumor.com: Someone calls you up and says “Can you make me a race bike?” – Describe the first kind of bike that pops in your head?
Mike: What kind of racing! All of our bikes have a performance bent, and we design each model with the intent that they could be raced in their respective disciplines. The first that jumps to mind is our Reactor road race model, but also our Broken Arrow CX race bike. Those two are probably the bikes we make that on average spend the most time actually being raced.
Bikerumor.com: Sum your brand up in one word:
Bikerumor.com: What is your website and Instagram handle?