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Road to NAHBS 2018: 10 Q’s with Bryan Hollingsworth of Royal H

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Hailing from the beautiful (and apparently runner-up) city of Boston, Bryan Hollingsworth has been one of those East Coast builders that has traditionally forgone the halls of North American Handmade Bike Show in favor of the Philadelphia Bike Expo. But with NAHBS just down the road this year, regional builders are bridging the show gap.

Bryan’s style is engaging because he spans so many genres – he doesn’t really focus in on a single theme. In a given booth, you’ll find a highly committed riff on a late 80’s road racing bike next to a futuristic randonneur mash-up complete with Di2 and Dyno hubs. Plus, as his uncle, Pete Hollingsworth, carves and constructs custom lugsets, Bryan’s lugged builds are always something lug-lickers can pore over. For extra added fun, Royal H frames tend to have ever-changing branding to fit the mood of each bike.

BIKERUMOR: What are you bringing to NAHBS this year that you’re excited about?

BRYAN: ROAD BIKES! I build plenty of gravel and all-road bikes, but there is something satisfying about building a sleek, pavement only machine. I’m particularly excited about a lugged steel Di2 bike that will be in the Royal H booth – it’s got the stance of an early 90s Italian thoroughbred, the colorway of a late 70s Saab, and the drivetrain of a contemporary racing bike. The combination is, to me, perfect! Classic 1″ top tube steel bikes ride like nothing else, and I’m excited to pair this with the crisp shifting of the Ultegra Di2.

BIKERUMOR: What are your current challenges in adopting and implementing new standards?

BRYAN: In general, I have all of the key parts going on each Royal H purchased before the frame is finished to check clearances/tolerances, so new axle standards and brake mount types are all test fitted with the actual parts going on the bike. Working with dropouts like Paragon Machine Works Polydrop makes building the rear ends a little easier, as I can build the bike with a dummy set of “traditional” quick release dropout inserts and swap out for through axles when the bike is ready to assemble. Polydrops also make the bike somewhat future proof, since as long as Paragon is willing to make inserts to each new standard, the bike will continue to be relevant!

BIKERUMOR: What new or upcoming standards are you excited about?

BRYAN: I’m excited about wireless shifting! I built a bike for the Philly Bike Expo a few years ago with the long forgotten Mavic Mektronic wireless group, and it was very fun – the lack of cables made for a very clean, sleek frame. That 1997 system… worked, but the new SRAM eTap is much, much better. Orders of magnitude. So as a builder, it’s exciting to be able to draw more attention to the frame and lugwork on a less cluttered machine while maintaining precise shifting. That said, if anyone has a Mektronic group kicking about, I would be more than happy to build you a custom frame for it!

BIKERUMOR: What type of bike have your customers requested most in the past 12 months?

BRYAN: This past year has seen a lot of orders for wider tire bikes, almost evenly split between proper gravel grinders and slightly more refined randonneuring bikes. The distinction seems to be along the lines of who keeps a Radavist tab open on their browser and who has a subscription to Bicycle Quarterly. Both bikes open up a lot more riding opportunities – either for dirt road excursions or simply more comfortable long rides, so I’m all for it! The gravel bikes are a fun foray from me into both fillet brazing and new brake/axle standards, which is exciting, since now I can participate in the great cycling debates of our times.

BIKERUMOR: What is the next bike you’re building for yourself?

BRYAN: I have always wanted a tricked out randonneuring bike – integrated lighting system (with generator), matching bags, fenders, brazed on centerpulls, the works. These bikes are devilish to build, but when you are finished putting that frame pump on and everything is securely buttoned down, it’s the most satisfying feeling. Also, it would be nice to actually do some longer rides this year! The randonneuring bike in the Royal H booth this year will be mine if I don’t sell it at the show- I’m taking the “build the show bike in your size” approach this year, so I may end up with a new bike on Feb. 18th!

BIKERUMOR: …and if someone else were building your next bike for you, which builder (of all time) would you choose and why? What would it be?

BRYAN: This is a tough one! Even with the “of all time” option on the table, I would still want to get a bike from someone I know, so I think it would have to be a Geekhouse. I don’t actually own any TIG welded bikes. Marty is a hell of a welder, and I appreciate his down to earth attitude about framebuilding, so this would be perfect. We also are good friends, and have shared shop space off and on for the past ten years. Actually, he would probably have me do the tube machining and finish work… so I guess I’d be making most of this hypothetical frame anyway. But Geekhouse bikes always seemed fun – they lack pretension, and truly look better with grime and wear. They are definitely custom bikes you ride hard. Specifically, it would probably be a cross bike. I don’t race, but those Geekhouse cross bikes were iconic, and it would be fun to have a little bit of that mid 2000s canti brake, 1 1/8″ steerer action. Any color but teal. Or neon yellow. Actually, that’s half the point, so any color.

BIKERUMOR: What is your “blank check” bike?

BRYAN: In terms of blank check, nothing can run up a tab like weight shaving. I think it would be really fun to go all out with drilling bb shells and using minimal lugs and super thin tubing to try and build up a really light steel road frame. 16lbs? Is that still considered light? I don’t generally weigh my bikes, but I think that would be a fun project. Oh, and carbon everywhere for parts. I like the juxtaposition of steel tubing with high tech composite.

BIKERUMOR: If you could exist in another period of framebuilding, what would it be and why?

BRYAN: This is crazy, but I think it would have been interesting to have been a builder in the late 1800s. There are not that many other reasons to wish to exist that far back in time, but it would have been a unique experience to build in a time before ANY standards- using available materials when appropriate, and creating your own when those don’t exist, without a road map for what’s acceptable. That period of time seemed to inspire an insane amount of experimentation – some of the craziest frame and component designs are from that era (curved or split seat tubes to minimize chainstay length, oval chainrings, etc.), and it just seems like the wild west for builders. Of course, most of those designs were lost to history, and their builders probably died penniless, but this is a hypothetical question.

BIKERUMOR: If you had to stop building in your current material, what new material would you choose and why?

BRYAN: Titanium. While paint is a huge part of building in custom steel, and a great opportunity for creative expression, the lack of a need for a corrosion resistant coating makes titanium very appealing. The welding is also a lot more in the picture, since it’s not covered by anything.

BIKERUMOR: If your shop was burning down, what one or two tools would you grab to save? Why would you save them? 

BRYAN: If my shop was burning down, I probably would let the tools go down with the ship. There are two items I wouldn’t want to leave behind though, and those are an original Clark Filio oil on gesso and a hand painted disc wheel. Ian and I commissioned the painting for our first Philly Bike Expo ten years ago, where we shared a 10’x10′ booth. We wanted to stand out, and an ornately framed, beaux-arts oil painting seemed like a logical way to do that. Also, the painter had a space down the hall and was willing to trade for a new track fork. It’s the only oil painting of me (that I know of), and brings me back to those early days with Ian in the freezing Somerville shop that we called home (and was, in fact, Ian’s actual home for a few months).

The disc wheel is another original, painted by my sister Janet and her partner Robby as a scaled up and re-calibrated Benham disc- a black and white pattern that, when spun, produces bands of color. The wheel is calibrated so that different colors correspond to different speeds, and so it acts as a sort of speedometer for spectators.

It also can induce seizures, so could be used as a type of optical doping to take out competitors (or their fans). The principal of how it works is still not fully understood by the neuroscience community, so I am saving that one for science, as well as sentimentality. oh, and there is a really great flannel shop shirt I like to work in that I would go back in for if the flames weren’t too intense. That shirt has enough grease and cutting oil on it that it would probably catch fire pretty quickly though.

Royal H Cycles

The North American Handmade Bike Show will take place from February 16th to 18th in Hartford, CT. For more information, visit the NAHBS website.

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