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NAHBS 2017: Circa shows off new levels of finish customization/story telling with Icon series

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While there are categories for Best Fillet Frame, TIG Frame, and Frame Lay-up, there is no category for Best Bonded frames at NAHBS. In fact, aluminum frames, while not directly shunned, have largely fallen out of prominence at the show, with less than a handful of builders present showing bikes in that material. It’s really a shame- large scale production in aluminum has done a number on its reputation, moving perception of it from the high-performance realm to an introductory tier material. As someone who has been in love with more than a few aluminum bikes, it’s always irked me a little that the material doesn’t get the respect that it should.

Flash back to last year when I met Rich Fox on New Builder Row at NAHBS in Sacramento with his bonded aluminum Circa frames. I was intrigued. The potential for this category has come a long way since its heyday being used on 80’s ALAN frames, with higher precision materials and more versatile machining processes available, as well as much stronger adhesion capabilities- something Rich at Circa was pretty hopped up on when I spoke to him at that show. The result was a highly versatile, do-anything model for any consumer- without the need for heat or paint processes in assembly or finish.

But Circa has taken it a step further. In releasing their Icon series, they have demonstrated that full finish effects are on the table as well, opening the door for some interesting custom laser etched projects. The project, “Medicine,” is one you won’t want to miss.

For the Icon PDX frame, the first in what Rich says will be a series of location-specific finish schemes, Circa chose its hometown of Portland, Oregon. “It’s a celebration of all things Portland. Beards, Bikes, and Bridges.” Because it is designed to be a scheme for the rider first and foremost, rather than a billboard for a brand, the scheme takes pains to place graphics to give the rider a perspective they can enjoy while on the bicycle.


The frame components are anodized and laser etched prior to assembly, meaning that there are plenty of options for schemes. And, geometries are custom as the joints or lugs are CNC’ed according to customer needs. While this scheme was shown on a single speed city bike, it is also available on other models.

To demonstrate the versatility of the platform from a functional standpoint, Circa also displayed this more classic, “town” bike.

The modular frame system allows for bolt-on and bonded components to mix up the package per the application. Bolt on stays allow for easy belt-drive installation and indexed dropouts facilitate internally geared hubs as well as singlespeed axles. It’s basically a choose your own adventure platform.

It was after this general discussion that Rich was able to share the potential for customization of the platform as it applied to a very special customer. “It’s getting really interesting. It’s like creating tattoo sleeves for bikes.”

A woman approached Circa saying that she had recently lost her son and that she wanted to process his loss through training to ride the Tour Divide. She needed a training bike for this purpose and wanted it to tell the story of this journey.

Rich sat down with her and through many discussions they together arrived at a set of symbols that represented parts of this story. As she is Native American, many of the symbols have special cultural significance to her.

The seat tube features a medicine wheel. There is also an elevation profile for the Tour Divide route.

Her view as a rider shows a silhouette of her son, a gymnast, as well as hat profiles to represent both of her sons and the styles they would wear as cowboys.

As you can see from the complete bike, the customer was small in stature. In order to accommodate her fit, a special custom wishbone had to be constructed for this project. In this case, the platform was built into a road bike with rim brakes. As Rich shared with us, the customer was delighted with the final affect.

We wish her well on her journey.


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7 years ago

I would think the reason you don’t see many Aluminum frames from small custom builders has more to do with the cost of post-welding heat treatment. Its a must with welded Al and the cost can be prohibitive to do just one or two frames. The ovens that do this usually fit 20+ frames allowing larger manufacturers to amortize the cost over the lot.

7 years ago
Reply to  Ripnshread

7005 doesn’t need heat treatment. There’s not an amazing selection of 7000-series aluminum tubing specifically for bikes, and the TIG welding is a process to learn and master. There’s also a weird stigma around aluminum bikes in some circles.

7 years ago

I’m buying a Nicolai right now. Apparently Aluminum is in high demand except where CF hype has destroyed the market.
If you build the same cookie cutter geo as a CF bike and the cost is a small fraction more at less weight then people will buy the CF.But if you build custom and unique geo/designs then it still is a viable medium. Probably the most viable vs steel(weight) and Ti(cost).

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