Eric Estlund of Winter Bicycles is known for his gothic-style bilaminate construction and his randonneur bikes. To my surprise and delight, his booth at the Philly Bike Expo featured bikes across his personal style spectrum. Rather than try to summarize the collection for him, I let Eric describe each bike in the collection, its purpose and often extreme detailing in his own words.
My favorite in the collection (though, I’m highly biased) was a high fashion track bike- a category that’s become exceedingly rare since the wind-down of the fixie boom in the mid 00’s. A highly nuanced build that he calls his interpretation of an 80’s Japanese impression of a 50’s Italian race bike. With shorelines pulled to the brink and an overhaul of the crown, the bike is an academic discussion of a recent history of framebuilding on a global scale- fitting for a American builder with one foot in the foreign market.
BIKERUMOR: First, we’re looking at what looks to be a light-load touring and travel bike. The surface finish looks like Ti… but this is steel.
ERIC: Lugged, steel bike, sort of matte shaped tear-drop disc fork on it. It is a road bike, which is sort of a novelty for me in that I do a lot of the rando bikes, hybrid utility kind of bikes.
It is designed as a travel bike, so it has the S&S Couplers. I call these my feather racks- really light, petite, feather-shaped rear rack that can pack in the suitcase as well. It has a set of ultra light micro panniers, a little handlebar bag, so even though it is a straight up road bike, it is designed to be versatile enough so that if someone is going on a credit card tour, but they don’t want a touring bike, or they are traveling on vacation and they want a road bike that they need to carry some stuff ‘cause they are day tripping, or whatever, it can be set up that way. At the same time, if they don’t want to travel with that stuff, take the fenders off, take the rack off, or even leave them on. They don’t weigh anything. It’s just a straight up road bike.
BIKERUMOR: What’s the weight rating on those racks.
ERIC: Ehhhhh… enough for this. Yeah, I mean I have a rack like this on one of my wife’s bikes. She’s loaded it up with a full on glass casserole on one side and a bunch of clothes on the other side. They hold up. Yeah, they are pretty stout.
BIKERUMOR: So you shot it with ceramic paint. You’ve got your shiny details basically in the build. The actual couplers, the struts for the fenders, the pedals-
ERIC: It’s a mostly- I guess I’ll back up. A lot of the bikes that I do are pretty classic kind of hot rod and classic bikes by colors with metallics and the single or two color paint jobs. This one- you know, it’s got a little bit of shiny to it. It’s got some pretty nice parts to it, but for the most part, it’s not flashy. It’s just really nice. So here in a bike room of lot of bike people, it looks pretty hot. If you just lock it up on a bike rack in the middle of some city you flew to, it’s just a dark sort of sleeper bike.
BIKERUMOR: It’s steathly.
BIKERUMOR: That’s pretty cool. I’ve been staring at that trying to figure out how that would work.
ERIC: The wishbone?
BIKERUMOR: Yeah. I’ve seen that in parts catalogs. I’ve never seen that one installed.
ERIC: Yeah, they are laterally stiff, vertically stiff. I use them on bikes that are going to have relatively narrow tires because there isn’t a lot of clearance. This is a 28mm on a fairly wide, I think it’s a 23mm wide rim, maybe 24mm. But it’s got enough room for that and the fender if you spec it out right. At the same time, you take all the stuff off, and you’re just treating it like a road bike, it’s a nice and tidy, tight, clean-looking bike.
BIKERUMOR: You’re kind of an exception to the rule because you actually do interface with Europe way more than most American builders. They’ll sally forth once in awhile. But you actually do show there and pay attention to frame parts available in those parts of the world and actively sell to those markets.
ERIC: Yeah, Winter Cycles is international both in its influence and its market. On any given year, 20-30% of my business is export.
BIKERUMOR: What volume are you up to?
ERIC: I’m in a diminishing volume. I’m trying to shrink stuff down. For awhile, I was, you know, 20 bikes, then 30 bikes, then 40 bikes, then 50 bikes. Now I’m at the point where I’m trying to get fewer bikes that are more complete, holistic projects. I’m mostly, well, I’m exclusively doing complete bicycles. I really want to design a full product for somebody, especially because bikes like this where we’re designing the bags for the bike, the racks for the bike, with a lot of integrated lighting. The bikes that I’m doing- I build a pretty cool product. What I find value in is my ability to do the design work. I take pride in the fabrication, but what I’m selling is not just a cool bike, it’s a bike built for somebody specific. That interplay between a nice product and a really nice custom tailoring-
BIKERUMOR: -a full experience rather than sculpture that others attach components to.
ERIC: Yeah. I like bikes to be pretty. I don’t think that I’m making art bikes. I like bikes to be functional, but I’m not building strictly utility tool bikes. I want bikes to have that sort of sweet spot where it’s a cool thing, it has a lot of detail in it, it’s a bike that’s fun to own and fun to ride, but it’s still a bike. It’s not just a showpiece. You know, these bikes at the show, people might look at this stuff and go, sure, show bikes. These are the everyday bikes that I do. I don’t vary the quality.
BIKERUMOR: On that, let’s talk about your track bike.
ERIC: Yeah, let’s talk about this. For instance, I wanted to start doing what I think of as Japanese-style 80’s interpretations of Italian lugwork.
ERIC: It’s an American version of a Japanese version of an Italian bike.
BIKERUMOR: That is extremely nuanced!
ERIC: I would say that people either kind of get it, or they don’t really. This guy got it. I was like, this is what I want to do. He likes track bikes. He’s got track bikes he rides a little bit on the track and fixed road.
BIKERUMOR: Where does he ride?
ERIC: He is in New Jersey, I’m not quite sure where he’s about.
BIKERUMOR: Did you do design it for-
ERIC: – not for a specific track. The track competition bikes that I do for folks where I’m building them a track bike, that’s built for where they race. This sort of thing, it is built in that sort of 80’s Japanese high and tight sort of spirit. This is designed for that, to be emulative of that. The clearances on this, the specific details, the specific geometry on this are classic of that time and they aren’t necessarily what I would do for somebody that’s riding omniums and specific tracks.
This is a very different- it’s sort of a historical recreation with modern touches.
BIKERUMOR: Talk about how this is a Japanese impression of an Italian bike.
ERIC: Okay, so in the basic sense, the 50’s-70’s Italian lug shapes- it’s called a Continental lug cut, which is kind of a mid-point, sort of classic long point/short point type lug set. You’ve got folks in Japan where- Japan has always had since the 1900’s a pretty awesome domestic bike market. Around the 70’s, some of those guys went to Italy or looked at Europe. If you look at Nagasawas and others, that late 70’s early 80’s period, when I think of bikes coming out of Japan that aren’t bike boom, mass produced bikes but are the high-end stuff that we think of as happening.
That 80’s classic Keirin builder- those hot road bikes from when, those were essentially Japanese aesthetic refinements to 70’s Continental lugged bikes.
BIKERUMOR: How is this a Japanese interpretation? What specific things can you point to?
ERIC: Sure. What I think of as the Japanese version of the Italian stuff is a quality refinement.
ERIC: You look at Italian bikes in the 70’s and they were hot bikes. But as time goes by, we get more nitpicking in detailing. Things like file marks- they didn’t care about in the 70’s, but by the time the early 80’s happened, the Japanese were like, let’s not do that. And now, we’re even more tweaky about it, just because it is- every bike isn’t lugged, so if you’re going to build a lugged bike, let’s do it the best that I can do it. That type of thing.
BIKERUMOR: That’s such a great discussion because I mean, shit, I posted something awhile ago, like a Richard Sachs interview and one of the commenters… I just know- I could feel Richard reading that comment and then crinkling like a pop can. It was something like, “Have they really improved upon the lugged bike since the 70’s?”
ERIC: The shorter answer is: no. The long answer: well, yeah. It’s a bike. Bikes then rode like bikes. Bikes now ride like bikes. The refinement is in the construction and the craft.
BIKERUMOR: And the processes that do it. Lugs are so much better than then. Tubing is so much better.
ERIC: This is modern heat-treated alloy steel, it’s just classic diameters. The materials are nicer- even the materials for the dropouts. The dropouts are nicer than they were. Does that make it a better bike? It depends. Functionally, you still have to push the pedals to make the wheels go round. Is it somewhat of an academic discussion? Sure. Bikes like this, the reason this is interesting to me is because it is academic, historical- I’m taking very direct nods at classic queues from European and Asian bikes I thought were cool.
BIKERUMOR: On the back here, instead of just having this as a smooth joint on the cluster, there is a line and a point. It’s not just meeting, you clearly have deliberate points here. This is Italian, that is Japanese.
ERIC: This lug starts as a cast lug. It’s nice. If you look at what some of the Japanese builders are doing, semi-production, I take that lug, I refine it. I change the shape of it. I clean it up to my eye.
BIKERUMOR: Pull in the shorelines, which you love to do.
ERIC: I have a really specific kind of curve that makes sense to me. That’s what I put in. Things like, these little window cutouts- you can’t even see them unless you turn the bike upside-down.
BIKERUMOR: I love it! Oh, and it’s round!
ERIC: And it’s round. These lugs come with those holes. This is essentially a Taiwanese-made for the Japanese market that copies an old Cinelli lug.
These holes were all different sizes. So I went through and made them the same size. Stuff like that, you can’t tell. Does it make the bike ride better? No. Does it make a better made bike? I would argue: sure.
BIKERUMOR: Does it make you feel better viscerally? Yes.
ERIC: Going back to the seat lug specifically, this lug is designed for a two piece seat binder bolt. Male-female. I remachined all that, I put in a different binder. It’s got a milled relief-recess. This shoulder where it’s a hard edge and then a soft edge- this is stuff where it doesn’t make it a better riding bike. It could make a more durable bike. It’s all very specific choices for function and aesthetic that I put into it. And that’s, that’s where it’s my interpretation. The Japanese Keirin bike, probably just has the seat pin. It gets the lug, it does a really nice job of it. I went a little tweaky because that’s what this is. It has a certain degree of bike fetishism in it intentionally. That’s the point of this. A lot of the bikes I do are very- the travel bike we were talking about- function first and after all the functional, I’ll put a lot of details in it. This bike is all the details and it happens to be a really cool bike at the end of it. It’s the opposite end of the spectrum.
BIKERUMOR: Round straight chainstays, almost round fork blades…
ERIC: Yeah, so this is not a traditional round track blade. It’s actually an old 1970’s cast crown.
BIKERUMOR: That’s so sweet.
ERIC: I’m really specific about the tweak of the fork blade.
BIKERUMOR: Why didn’t you do a socket-style crown with this?
ERIC: In this case, that was purely an aesthetic choice.
BIKERUMOR: You’ve got a bottom bracket cluster, seat cluster, headtube lugs with points. But then your fork is clean. You don’t have socket dropouts.
ERIC: It’s to get a really clean edge to it. If you look on the inside, there are external points.
BIKERUMOR: Perfect. That’s perfect. Why did you keep that flat spot for the brake interface on the crown then? Why didn’t you just grind it off.
ERIC: It’s actually all re-machined, but it gives it a bad Italian cast lug look where, again, if you look at a production 70’s Italian race frame, they’ll take the crown they’ll build the fork. It’s a nice fork, but it still has all the cast-iness to it. This one, it still has the original shape of the fork crown, but it’s all cleaned up and refined.
BIKERUMOR: It’s cleaned up and refined in a very Winterian way in that it’s smooth-
ERIC: All the shape- nothing on that crown has not been touched and reworked. These come with a little dimple to start the drill for a brake hole. That’s been all filled and smoothed and reshaped. Things like that.
BIKERUMOR: You did this as a complete build. You’ve got an NJS partial cockpit. The seatpost and bars are NJS. You did the stem, which is great because it’s smooth. You carry the points through, which is great. Very Winterian too.
ERIC: It has an inset pewter badge at the back of the stem. Just sort of flat top thing- I do a lot of Cinelli 50’s style stems. This kind of flat top is a little bit more of what I think of as an 80’s Japanese-style flat top stem. There was nothing on the market quite like this, but it has some of that spirit to it, aesthetically.
BIKERUMOR: The dropouts?
ERIC: Old Pacenti. I’m not trying to build a straight up Keirin bike. There’s no real point. The guy’s not racing in Japan.
BIKERUMOR: It’s a high fashion track bike.
ERIC: Yes. Most of the parts are Japanese. The chain is Izumi. He didn’t want to run tubulars. I wanted to run these really cool Curtis Odom hubs. The drillium NJS stuff is 36 hole. This is 24-28 with two cross rear and front radial, so it’s a modern wheel. Looks classic. Looks hot. On the other end of the spectrum, he’s got NJS laminated toe straps in suede, match the suede Concor.
BIKERUMOR: Why didn’t you machine out the bottom of the bottom bracket shell? I feel like that’s an easy queue for a bike like this, and you didn’t take it. I’m confused.
ERIC: Stuff that like big open shells- sure if a bike is going to live on the track, if it will live on a wooden track or an indoor track, or on a wall. But because this is a real bike that will see street time, it’s got a closed shell. Because it’s going to be a real bike, there are still vent holes that allow it to be frame saved.
BIKERUMOR: This is designed to be ridden.
ERIC: Oh yeah. I don’t do strictly art pieces. This one has a lot of that tweaky, collectory specificity, but that’s because it was a fun thing to do to a real bike. But yeah, a lot of color detail in the windows and the dropouts that match the other windows.
BIKERUMOR: All tucked in.
ERIC: Yep. Bar plugs, cloth tape…
BIKERUMOR: What I like about trends right now is that you can’t just have a high fashion track bike without making a statement. You have to make it meaningful.
Next bike, let’s talk about the headtube.
ERIC: Lots of people are doing variations on bilaminate. That’s my signature gothic headtube. I think a lot of folks when they think of me and a particular constructive method, it’s that. I do a lot of it. It’s a hybridized shopmade lug.
BIKERUMOR: Very Edwardian.
ERIC: Yeah. It’s very intentionally British style post war type stuff. Visually as far as the curves and arches and where the points are, but done in a way I hadn’t seen before that makes sense for my bike.
BIKERUMOR: With this one you’ve got your Winter headtube. Is this the build that you’re working on for it?
ERIC: Yes, so this bike was originally designed for a client who- life stuff came up and wasn’t able to finish the project. I continued on with getting it painted in a way that I thought would show it off the right way. All the chrome-work and whatnot. This bike is fairly typical of what I do.
BIKERUMOR: It’s the typical bike that you have here for the work that I know of. Everything else seems like it’s tipping its hat to something else. But here you’ve got a carbon cockpit and dynamo hub.
ERIC: It’s a Schmidt hub. Disc brake. This is a rando event bike. What I mean by “event bike” is I do a lot of rando-style bikes for folks that need or want kind of a high performance commuter bike. They are using it for urban riding. This one was designed for somebody that had a road race background and were doing more rando fast events. It has a lot of that classic kind of French rando, air quote, kind of thing. But it isn’t super low trail. It’s hybridized to feel like a road bike with rando weight.
BIKERUMOR: You’ve got some big stays.
ERIC: Yeah, it’s not a porteur bike. It’s designed fast riding with a limited load. It’s not a touring bike. Really classic look. Classic diameter tubes. Modern materials. Disc brakes. The original intent was a modern Dura Ace group with modern discs. A totally contemporary bike with some very intentional style. And yeah, that’s pretty much the kind of bread and butter category for me. I build the racks for these. It has one of my stems on it. We do collaborative bags where the bags are made for the style of racks that I build, and sized and made for a particular client.
BIKERUMOR: Last but not least, you’ve got this little bike packy bike.
ERIC: This is an accidental combination. This is a straight up my version of a modern road race bike. Shaped tubing. Lightweight, air-hardened alloys. The whole sort of bit. It’s pretty much a fillet brazed bike. There’s one little laminate detail- it’s a seat ring reinforcement. But it’s basically a fillet brazed bike.
BIKERUMOR: It’s got your pinhole details. I like how you interrupt shorelines like that. Either you scoop them out, or you put a little detail like that in there.
ERIC: I like things to have a deliberate gestural mark visually, that’s my art kid background, without being Rococo. I like thinks to be really intentional, but not overblown.
BIKERUMOR: Thank you so much for using the word “Rococo.”
ERIC: Really classic stuff. In this case, it happened to fit these bike bags. He sells a lot of bags to folks that don’t do the full rando rack things that I do. It looks slick. Honestly, I do a lot of classically styled rando type bikes, a lot of fast randonneur riders are really riding this type of bike. It’s a fast road bike with enough stuff for what they are doing. They aren’t going for the full constructor, French recreations. Doing more of this would be a lot of fun.
BIKERUMOR: Columbus Max fork situation.
ERIC: This bike is a big mix of hot tubes from all the companies. It’s got some Columbus stuff, it’s got some of the True Temper S3, it’s got some of the Deda shaped tubing. I think the whole bike weighs with pedals and cages, 17 pounds or so. It’s a real road bike. It’s a modern road bike. It happens to be made out of steel.
BIKERUMOR: You didn’t put points on your transitions from your dropouts. What’s the deal?
ERIC: It’s just kinda going to that whole smooth transition thing. Echoing that, you have the fork blades- some of it is just practical. Those fork blades are so big that they swallow dropouts. It’s echoing that transition. With the headtube, I made these reinforcement rings. It’s a really light headtube, but it’s got visual brakes and details, but they are based on the functional build of a race bike.
BIKERUMOR: What’s this downtube?
ERIC: It’s a Deda tube. It’s a Bi-Ovalized tube. This is the kind of thing that I do that people don’t think of me for. I build modest amounts of very straight-up road bikes, percentagewise. But people think that I do mostly the Frenchy sort of randoy type things. It’s fun to bring these to shows to say I love that kind of bike, I also love to do this type of bike.
It’s pretty fun at the show. I’ve got a straight up road bike. I’ve got a straight up event rando bike. Sport touring bike. Mountain bike. Track bike. I like to be a versatile builder. I like to build stuff that, you know, works for my clients.
BIKERUMOR: What I like about this is every single of one of these- it is deep into the purpose of the type of bike it is. They are deep for the client. As a collection, it shows range and depth. You really do have a collection here.
ERIC: I definitely think of myself as a bike builder, but I also think of myself as a bike designer. My job is to build very specific bikes for very specific people.