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Road to NAHBS 2018: Interview with Adam Sklar of Sklar Bikes

NAHBS 2018, Adam Sklar, Sklar Bikes
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Adam Sklar seemed to be having a moment last year at the North American Handmade Bike Show in Salt Lake City. His dynamic and fresh approach to framebuilding and design had gained him a lot of recognition in the months leading up to the show, where he took home “Best Mountain Bike.” Plus, his exuberance and enthusiasm for building and the industry is striking– especially when in contrast to a room of his peers. He is exciting because he is genuinely excited, and it shows through in his presence and his work. His bikes are fun and clever and deceptively sophisticated, just like Sklar.

All that would be reason enough to be a fan. But the other facet that makes Sklar such an interesting character is his young age, something he is ragged about on a perpetual basis. At 24, a decade and a half younger than the average age of a new student at UBI, he is a successful and established builder– something that many in the industry don’t achieve in a lifetime.

But it isn’t just the number of years that separates Sklar from his peers– he’s from a totally alternate universe without memory of a time without NAHBS, social media, and cell phone (he taught himself how to build his first frame from a YouTube tutorial). Could Adam Sklar represent the leading edge of the next new wave?

BIKERUMOR: Why did you first build a bike frame? When did you realize that this was something you could actually do?

SKLAR: I bought a fork from a builder when I was in high school– this guy, Waltworks. He was at a bunch of races. Everyone was like “you should get a Waltworks fork.” I was building up my first nice bike. I walked into his garage, there were milling machines. He was filing a fork, finishing up some welds or whatever. It had never occurred to me before that people made bikes. That was my first exposure.

I had always been taking things apart and making things. Actually, how I afforded to make that first bike– I would buy old road bikes off Craigslist. This was during the fixie thing. I painted these frames and turned them into fixed gears and would sell them on Craigslist again.

NAHBS 2018, Adam Sklar, Sklar Bikes

BIKERUMOR: How old are you when you’re doing this?

SKLAR: I think I started out when I was 15 or 16? In high school. I’d sell them to the CU kids on campus. I’d buy road frames for like $50, turn it into a fixie and sell it for like $600. That’s how I bought my first mountain bike.

BIKERUMOR: You were flipping bikes.

SKLAR: Yeah, basically. Totally.

BIKERUMOR: You walk into Waltworks and you see the machines and you understand that people build bikes… when did you build your first one?

SKLAR: A year later I met one of my very good friends in College; he was a super bike nerd also. We were learning about bikes and he goes, “You should build a bike.” It had never occurred to me before. That was another light bulb moment. “Oh shit, I should do that.” I ordered a tubeset and I built that first frame in my parent’s garage over winter break after my first semester of engineering school.

BIKERUMOR: Did you just got online and Google where to get bike tubes?

SKLAR: Yeah, pretty much. There’s so much you can learn on the internet. It’s funny to look back now, now that I know stuff. I don’t know if you know anything about the internet framebuilder drama– there’s just a lot of bad information on the internet too, especially looking at some of it now that I know more. You can learn a lot, but, yeah– I pretty much learned how to do it off of YouTube.

NAHBS 2018, Adam Sklar, Sklar Bikes

BIKERUMOR: Would you consider that a good source or a bad source looking back on it?

SKLAR: You know, I wouldn’t have done anything if I hadn’t felt confident enough to try it out. That first frame didn’t turn out well enough to consider putting parts on, but I think it led me to a good place. The good thing about learning that way is that I brought it to the same guy I bought the fork from and I showed it to him. And then I got real life advice.

“Hey, look what I made!” And he was like, “Oh my god, that’s so bad!” I brought him this super awful, horrible lugged cross bike. It was stuck together… it was so bad. I’d never brazed or welded anything at all. So I went over there. He felt bad for me and gave me a brazing lesson.

Now I get a lot of people who are like, “Oh, I want to learn how to build bikes!” If someone’s actually done something, I’m so much more willing to talk to them, spend my time with them.

BIKERUMOR: Because they’ve made a learning investment in it already and they aren’t just relying on you to teach them everything.

SKLAR: Yeah, totally.

BIKERUMOR: You build a first frame. You got a brazing lesson. When did you try again? What were the steps for the next one?

SKLAR: He gave me a fillet brazing lesson, which was really quick. So then I went back to school. I was living in a dorm so I didn’t really have access to a shop because it was my first year in school. I spent just so much time reading everything I could. I got books. I watched videos on how to weld, having never done it before. Really, I spent 100% of my free time obsessing over building bikes and researching that.

BIKERUMOR: Why all of this research? Why this focus on building the next bike?

SKLAR: It was kind of like I just lost control. I have heard other builders say, “I lost control of my body and I don’t know what I was doing.” I think I just– I definitely wasn’t thinking of it as a business, that’s for sure. I think I just wanted to build.

It’s still one of my favorite things when I pull a frame out of a jig– it’s a really good feeling. I got a taste of that with the first one. I got so close. It was shaped like a bike and that felt really cool. It still feels really cool, like, “Whoa! You made a bike!” I just wanted to make myself one. I wanted the next one to be better for sure, so I came home that year of school and I was living with my parents for the summer and I tried again. But I built a jig first– a super shitty jig.

BIKERUMOR: Can we talk about this jig?

SKLAR: The window frame one– my parents have a business installing commercial glass. I went to the scrap bin and got a bunch of this aluminum extrusion. I used a plastic ruler– I think it was left over from third grade, to mark the centerline– really accurate.

NAHBS 2018, Adam Sklar, Sklar Bikes

BIKERUMOR: A super precision machine right there. Did you have any idea that one of our domestic fixture superheroes was down the street?

SKLAR: Don [Ferris]? Yeah. I did know that, actually. I think I– I was going to ask him to make the cones that hold some of the tubes. He might have made those, actually. There was a tool dealer, and he sells tools to Don. He was like, “I got a guy that owes me some favors,” so Don might have machined my cones. That’s the only nice part on the whole thing.

BIKERUMOR: You have these nice cones, but the rest of it is made from window frames… and you built this jig before you built your next bike.

SKLAR: Yeah… I knew I needed something better than the garage floor. I call that first one “Number Zero” because it doesn’t count. It’s that bad.

BIKERUMOR: Your second one, you built the jig and you built the bike. Is it also lugged? Or did you try to fillet braze it.

SKLAR: That one was fillet brazed. It was a single speed cross bike. I rode that bike around forever– I rode that bike for, I don’t know, three years? It felt like forever. Never painted it. I remember it was still hot from brazing when I started putting parts on it because I was so excited. I wanted to ride it.

BIKERUMOR: That’s awesome!

NAHBS 2018, Adam Sklar, Sklar Bikes

SKLAR: Yeah! I couldn’t wait. It was really fun to ride something I had built. I thought, “Okay, a cross bike is a good place to start. Geometry is kind of proven.” But I needed a mountain bike because I was pretty much only riding mountain bikes. That’s when I was bike coaching. I was riding Monday through Thursday, 8–5pm riding bikes. That job was really fun. I wanted to have a bike I could ride during that so I could really test it. So I built a frame to replace my Gunnar.

BIKERUMOR: You build this mountain bike. You have the two bikes you need. Then, at some point during engineering school, you decide to be a framebuilder.

SKLAR: That was a slow process. For a long time, it was like, “This is really fun and I like it, but I don’t want to do this as a job.” I built three frames that summer, including my first one for someone else, my friend Brae. He got the first one. When I went back to school, I brought my stuff back up there. My parents weren’t stoked on that. “You need to focus on school.” I built maybe three more that year.

Then I met my mentor Tom [Jungst] who was working at the school. He helped me a lot with the fabrication side of things. In the 70’s, he was building frames– he’d built like 300 frames. Eventually his business shifted out of bikes completely to machining. A lot of his feedback was, “There’s never money in bike frames. I was super poor and I worked too much.” Tom gave me an in with Carl Strong as well. The first time I met Carl, a lot of his advice was like, “Building bikes is cool, but doing it as a business is entirely different. It’s hard work.” That made me really hesitant to pursue it as a job, for sure.

BIKERUMOR: Clearly, having that input up front set you on a different path than other people. You were doing it, whereas other people are like “I’m going to be a framebuilder. I’m going to UBI. I’m going to do this defined path.” Business is the last thing they think about.

SKLAR: I don’t get that.

BIKERUMOR: You don’t get that?

SKLAR: No. Why would you want to? Yeah, I don’t get that.

NAHBS 2018, Adam Sklar, Sklar Bikes

BIKERUMOR: Explain that. You’re literally a framebuilder and you’re like, “Yeah, I don’t get that.” It’s really funny.

SKLAR: I don’t know. I mean, maybe I get it. It’s a romantic thing. But there are so many other ways– like, it’s awesome to be self employed. It’s awesome to build bikes sometimes.

BIKERUMOR: You don’t understand the mindset where you would attack it from that way.

SKLAR: Yeah, I guess that’s more– I came at it from a different way. What happened was like, everyone was like “Don’t do it. Don’t do it.” The more I got to know Carl– he’s always hesitant to encourage people because a lot of people come at it like, “I want to be this framebuilder.” You’re making stuff and filing and at the end of the day, it’s not that. You could be making anything and filing. It’s really not that different a business. The more I got to know Carl, it was like, “Yeah, you can be a framebuilder. You have to do it well.”

NAHBS 2018, Adam Sklar, Sklar Bikes

BIKERUMOR: You have your mentor Tom and you have Carl who are discouraging you and telling you all the ways that you can mess up doing this full time, which is probably the most valuable education you can get if you’re going to do this as a business… because people ignore the business aspect. 200 hour bike frames can be really really cool, but they aren’t necessarily profitable.

SKLAR: They’re not.

BIKERUMOR: Where is the point where you start tailoring your class schedule so your schooling can be educational around a framebuilding business?

SKLAR: Yeah. I met Tom and I met Carl my sophomore year. That summer, I was able to build frames full time, which was really cool. I had some money saved and I got to practice for three months. I learned a ton just doing it every day. I was working in Tom’s shop. He rented me this tiny corner. It was a workbench with, like, two feet behind it. I got to use his mills. He was in there working too so I could get his feedback on everything. I learned a ton about the application. I wasn’t really selling bikes at that point– I think sold my first bike at the end of that summer. I went back into school and I thought, “Okay, that was the most fun summer ever.” That’s when I started to think about it more as a business. That must have been when I got insurance and all that stuff too.

BIKERUMOR: Wow, you were on top of it.

SKLAR: The other thing I noticed– there was no money in my bank account. The main reason why I started the business is that I realized I was spending a ton of money to build my friends bikes. “Okay, I need to separate these things because at least then I’ll be able to buy groceries when I sell a frame.” Definitely, from that point I took as many business classes as I could. I definitely focused on manufacturing processes. I finally got to take a welding class my last year of school… after I had welded a bunch of bike frames. I learned how to MIG and stick weld, which I had never done.

NAHBS 2018, Adam Sklar, Sklar Bikes

BIKERUMOR: Again, you take the class after you’ve been screwing around with a welder for awhile so you’re actually able to appreciate what you’re learning.

SKLAR: Totally. It was the same with the business classes too. I looked at the P&L before, and I was looking at them in class. I took an accounting class too. That was really good.

BIKERUMOR: I’m kind of jealous. I wish I had had any kind of focus like that. When you approach school from the perspective of someone who is going to start a business, it’s a very different game.

SKLAR: I forgot to mention, the last year and a half of school, I was working at an engineering firm at the same time, which made school frustrating. Engineering professors, if they did work in the industry, they worked there thirty years ago. I was at a firm doing cool new stuff like, “That’s not how we do that at all.” I was super ready to get out of school my last year.

BIKERUMOR: You’re out of school, you have this dream job at the consultancy. You’re building bikes on the side and setting something up there. When did you go to your boss and go, “I’m going to stop doing this big broad portfolio of work and I’m going to focus in on just designing and building bikes.”

SKLAR: That’s a nice way to say what happened. I took two weeks off to ride the Colorado Trail with my friends, which was cool, but it was definitely… the couple months leading up to when I left, I was taking phone calls at work because someone was calling to buy a frame. I was just distracted. It was a mutual break up, I’d say. It was kind of like, “You should probably focus on this or focus on that.” I was like “… yeah…”

It wasn’t getting fired so much as life advice. My boss is still a good friend. He was really awesome to work for. There were other people there who good friends of mine too. It was an awesome place to work doing really awesome stuff. But I just sat there every day thinking about bikes. I just couldn’t do it– I couldn’t do it without trying this full time first.

My boss, Jeff, ordered a bike right after I left there, which was was really cool. I can still use the 3d printer if I need to.

NAHBS 2018, Adam Sklar, Sklar Bikes

BIKERUMOR: So in review. You started building bikes in 2011 with Bike Zero. We’re seven years into this. You’ve only been doing this full time since 2015. This has been a full time effort for two or so years. By last year at NAHBS, you were this known entity. You had a style gelling. It’s a unique style. It has hints of other bikes, but it’s yours. Can you talk about why you focused in on that particular frame strategy?

SKLAR: I would say it was accidental. At first I built straight tube bikes. Brae, who I built my third frame for, came back. I built my eighth frame for him, or something like that. It was a mountain bike. He really wanted a curved top tube. Forever, I said, “No. No way I’m going to do that. I don’t want to build curvy bikes.” Eventually, I told him if he bought me a tube bender, I would do it. He bought me the tube bender, the same one I still have. I did it, and I kind of liked it. Then all my friends wanted a curvy top tube also. There was definitely a period– it probably took me twenty or thirty frames to settle… there was a while where I was doing a lot of different stuff.

A lot of my bikes are built on how I build them too. A lot of people look at them and think it’s art, but a lot of it is the engineer in me going, “Okay, this looks cool, but this makes sense for building them.” My top tubes are curved, but I have a way where I bend four top tubes at once and those bikes get that radius. My seat stays are curvy too, but in a way that is quick for me to build them. The seat tubes– I need bent seat tubes for most mountain bikes to clear tires, but I might as well make them look nice. There’s definitely this balance of having built a bunch of different aesthetic bikes, figuring out what makes sense. It’s like the mixture of Carl Strong and whatever art bike builder you want to say.

NAHBS 2018, Adam Sklar, Sklar Bikes

I think I’ve found a good balance to make them look cool and also to make them efficient to build. That’s really why I’ve settled on this style. And people kept asking for it. I think having this style has helped me get to where I am a little quicker.

BIKERUMOR: Have you hit 200 bikes yet, careerwise?

SKLAR: No. I’m still in the hundreds.

NAHBS 2018, Adam Sklar, Sklar Bikes

BIKERUMOR: Before you even build your 200th bike, at NAHBS in Salt Lake last year you take home a big award, Best Mountain Bike, at arguably the biggest handmade bike show in the world. What was your reaction to that?

SKLAR: I was very surprised. I didn’t expect that at all. I was totally honored. That whole room was full of amazing builders that I’ve looked up to since before I started building bikes. Super cool to get that. Definitely a big honor.

BIKERUMOR: You’re 23 at that point.

SKLAR: Uh huh.

BIKERUMOR: Everyone in the room knows who you are. You went on a bike trip with Jeremy Sycip and Curtis Inglis before the show– so you’re getting hanging out with legends. They don’t just know you but they want to hang out with you.

SKLAR: I know! It’s crazy.

BIKERUMOR: But you didn’t understand what framebuilding was really until after you built a frame. When did you start understanding the cult of personality aspect of framebuilding? Because cult is a big part of framebuilding, to be honest.

SKLAR: It is a big part of it. A lot of it happened through Instagram. Once I had built a couple frames… after I built that first frame and I was pouring over the internet…

BIKERUMOR: Here is what’s kooky… Instagram has been around your whole cognizant life, pretty much. You’ve been doing this long enough that you’ve made it a business, you’re winning awards, you’re selling bikes, but you’re young enough that haven’t really known life without NAHBS or social media. I joked when I called you Doogie Howser… but you totally are Doogie Howser! It’s bananas! Typically, when someone hits year six of building… they’ve gotten through college, had some desk job they hated and/or quit and/or went to a bike shop, decided that they were going to UBI and be a framebuilder. The median age of new framebuilders going through UBI is about a decade and a half older than you are now.

SKLAR: I know. I feel lucky to have found something I really like so quickly. I guess the thing I don’t get– I don’t understand the perspective of going into framebuilding as a release, as a midlife career change. I’m lucky that I’m still liking it and it’s cool that I don’t feel burned out on the bike industry yet because it’s still new and exciting. It’s cool that I get to hang out with all these framebuilders and people that are really talented.

Like… I saw Paul [Price] at Grinduro and I went and gave him a hug and was like, “Hey Paul!” and we talked for awhile. And then I went back to my friend who I was hanging out with and I was like, “Oh my god, that’s Paul! I’m friends with Paul!” Yeah. If I knew I was going to be friends with Paul… hoo. Paul’s so cool.

BIKERUMOR: Imagine you’re 20, you know, like five minutes ago, and Future Sklar dressed in an aluminum foil space suit and neon eyeliner comes through the time portal and goes, “In four years, you’re gonna be friends with Paul Price and you’re going to go on fun bike trips with Jeremy Sycip and Curtis Inglis.”

SKLAR: (Giggles) … yeah…

BIKERUMOR: You have to step back and be stoked on that stuff.

SKLAR: Hee, yeah, totally. I know. The other thing that’s been cool to realize is there is no barrier to entry, really. Just make cool stuff– all those people are just people who like bikes as well. It’s cool to realize that everyone is pretty approachable. Curtis is the best. John Watson, I mean, he’s a super nice guy.

NAHBS 2018, Adam Sklar, Sklar Bikes

BIKERUMOR: And you’re all over Bicycle Pubes right now.

SKLAR: Yeah, me and Pubes right now… I met Pubes at NAHBS in Salt Lake. We’re pretty good friends now.

BIKERUMOR: On that: you’re bringing a couple rad bikes to the show and one of them, as Pubes would say, is very “untukt.” Which one do you want to talk about first?

SKLAR: There is the Kitsbow collaboration bike– it’s going to be a sweet mountain bike with some Kitsbow branding on it. We’re working on putting together an event this summer in Montana– part of what I’m trying to do with my business more is to use it to grow the cycling scene in Bozeman. We have a pretty cool bike scene, but we have long winters. Kitsbow is coming up here and we’re going to do some riding– hopefully get some framebuilders here. We’ll get some media people in and talk about our bikes and actually do some riding in this great place.

BIKERUMOR: How did this project come about?

SKLAR: One of my friends, Nick who has done art for my water bottles, and he’s done a bunch of art for my website, he works for Kitsbow. I’ve always liked Kitsbow’s brand– they are pretty well aligned with my brand, I think. I’ve wanted to do something with them for awhile, and then this opportunity came up to build this bike.

It’s a cool company. They have all these people who work for them who are ambassadors. They have that guy Zander who does The Cyclist’s Menu. They put on camps where you eat super good food and ride bikes and stuff. I’m hoping to bring him up here too and have him be a part of it.

The Kitsbow bike is kind of like a “Hey, we’re working together. We like each other.”

BIKERUMOR: Can you talk about the bike itself?

SKLAR: It’s pretty representative of a lot of what I build: fun, trail–oriented hardtail. It has a 150mm fork on it, and it’s 29×2.6, which I think is a mountain bike tire that will stick around. It’s my favorite. It’s got a pretty aggressive geometry, but the kind of thing that’s what I ride where it’s really fun for riding every day but if you want to go on a two week packing trip it’s great for that too. It’s fun for a twenty minute ride after work.

BIKERUMOR: Kitsbow–themed rad trail bike.

SKLAR: Yeah!

NAHBS 2018, Adam Sklar, Sklar Bikes

BIKERUMOR: Cool. And then you have this other projects. The rumor on the street is that Ultraromance is the official NAHBS greeter for this year. So what’s that story?

SKLAR: Benedict, who is “Ultraromance,” is from Connecticut, which is Nutmeg Country. They call it Nutmeg Country. I got to go ride it a few years ago– it was actually a lot of fun. There are all these old carriage roads. It’s like ten foot wide single track– super rocky and you’re out in the woods. Yeah, he’s the “official ambassador for cycling in Connecticut,” so NAHBS has him as their greeter. As part of that, NAHBS commissioned me to build him a bike– the “Ultranutmegger,” we’re calling it. It’s super not what I build at all.

NAHBS 2018, Adam Sklar, Sklar Bikes

BIKERUMOR: Why are you building it if it isn’t what you build at all? And this is an unusual bike… they don’t really build them like this anymore. It’s quite “untukt.”

SKLAR: The idea behind the bike is that in Hartford there were a bunch of bike companies in the early 1900s. There’s a history of bike manufacturing. This bike is built in the style of early century bicycles. It’s nickel plated.

We’re doing this pre–ride trip before NAHBS. We’re going to visit J.P. Weigel, who is one of the really cool builders out there.

NAHBS 2018, Adam Sklar, Sklar Bikes

It was fun to embrace that style. It’s a randonneuring style bike with this geometry that Benedict has been experimenting with– he gave me the geometry. “Build this.” He has another frame he’s been riding with it and he likes it. It is high trail, similar to these Dutch cargo bikes. Super slack, high rake so the trail ends up being 100mm–ish, if I remember right, so it isn’t as insane as it looks. I’ve never ridden it, though. I’m really excited to try riding it.

It has a truss fork, which I’ve never built before. It was fun. I have my style of bikes that I build. It’s nice to be good at those and to get them done efficiently and quickly, but sometimes I miss more of the craft, the reason why I got into it. It was fun to spend a lot of time thinking about it.

NAHBS 2018, Adam Sklar, Sklar Bikes

There is the Ultranutmegger, which is Benedict’s bike, and then there is the Swoophorse, which is Billy [Sinkford’s]. Benedict’s is the quick, overnighter or day tourer gravel bike. Billy’s is the same thing but less weird shit on it.

BIKERUMOR: I’m looking at a picture of the Ultranutmegger frame. It looks like you’re mixing up processes. You’re welding. You’re fillet brazing. There seems to be some bilaminate thing going on the seat tube. Can you talk about some of these assembly decisions? Plus, you’ve never built a truss fork before. Were you looking at other people’s forks? Or did you interpret it purely for yourself?

SKLAR: The truss fork– I definitely looked at a lot of other things. Everyone’s like “oh, is that a Jones?” Truss forks have been around for 150 years. I called my friend Corbin Brady, who works for Blacksheep. They build all sorts of truss forks.

BIKERUMOR: Man, I hear that Corbin Brady is the next big thing. We hear so much about him.

SKLAR: I love Corbin. I’m so excited he’s actually coming up to Bozeman after NAHBS. Corbin’s, like, the person you meet that you would have been best friends with if you grew up down the street from one another but then you meet later. Yeah, he gave me advice.

NAHBS 2018, Adam Sklar, Sklar Bikes

The truss fork was fun and challenging. It took me way too long. It took me like a week and a half to build the truss fork because I was thinking and figuring and machining all these little bits. I brazed the top of the head tube because Benedict is like 6’3”? 6’4”? He wants his bars even with his saddle, which is why it has this ginormous headtube. And to get the standover was to drop the top tube, so to get a little extra strength I brazed it on there. It was fun, a throwback to my early frames. I haven’t done that in a while.

The seat tube sleeve, I used to do those on all my early frames. You can use a seat tube that’s designed for lugged frames so it is lighter. This frame looks heavy, but it’s actually really light– pretty damned light with all the extra tubes. The sleeve saves some weight on there and I thought it looked classy.

It has an integrated tail light that Compass makes. Silca gave us some pumps for these frames. Benedict’s thing, if you look at his other bikes, he likes to stick his frame pump on the back of the seat tube because visually it makes it less “untukt.” So it has a pump peg down at the bottom bracket and the Silca rests against the light. Silca doesn’t make a pump short enough, so I had to machine down the handle a little bit. And it’s hand–polished to match the rest of the frame as well. That Silca pump is pretty insane.

And my friend Brett, who paints some of my frames– he’s a hotrod guy and he does Harleys. He’s won all these big, international awards for Harley stuff. He’s really a pinstriper, so he hand pinstriped the logo on there too, over the nickel plating. That’s really cool– really artisanal.

NAHBS 2018, Adam Sklar, Sklar Bikes

BIKERUMOR: I’m willing to bet there is a healthy amount of PAUL and White Industries.

SKLAR: Yeah. White Industries headset, cranks, bottom bracket, and rear hub. The headset and all the PAUL stuff, the Klampers and skewers, we had anodized a custom “nutmeg brown.”

BIKERUMOR: You said you’re riding this before the show?

SKLAR: Yeah! Me, Billy, John and Benedict– we’re going to ride from Benedict’s mom’s house in Clinton. He’s picking us up from the airport in his mom’s minivan. I guess we’re riding 30 miles out to what Benedict calls the “Martha Stewart Replica Cabin” and spend the night there. It should be… and interesting night. Then we’re riding to J. P. Weigel’s shop and check that out, and he’s going to ride with us. Then we’re doing a loop, riding back to the cabin, back to Benedict’s mom’s house, and then we’re all taking the minivan to NAHBS. The bikes will be at the show dirty.

NAHBS 2018, Adam Sklar, Sklar Bikes

BIKERUMOR: Anything else cool going on in the booth?

SKLAR: I’m doing Ti bikes now, so I’ll have a Ti All–Road/Monstercross kind of bike in there. The reason I started TIG welding was so that I could build Ti eventually. It took me three years to get to my first Ti frame. So after building a bunch of test frames on that, I just started doing Ti. I’m excited about it. It’s a cool material. I think it compliments my style well because I’m not really into paint. With the raw Ti, I like how you can still tell that it is one of my bikes. Also, I’m building a lot more gravel bikes and I think that it’s a really good material for gravel. It’s nice to be able to provide that to the people.

BIKERUMOR: Adam Sklar: Crowd Pleaser.

SKLAR: I do what I can.

NAHBS 2018, Adam Sklar, Sklar Bikes

BIKERUMOR: You’ve geared up for Ti for a couple years, half of your framebuilding career– why did it take so long?

SKLAR: Part of it was that I was busy building bikes for customers. There is only so much time– I didn’t feel like practicing after building bikes all day. Also, I wanted to make sure it was perfect before selling it to anyone. I wanted to get all my systems super dialed. It requires more tooling because of the welding process, so I was building up that tooling, slowly. Then I had to build some bikes and ride them, make sure my ideas about the material were en pointe with the design.

BIKERUMOR: Where was the point with all your development did you decide to pull the trigger?

SKLAR: I wanted the welding to look aesthetically good. I welded hundreds of practice joints. There was a point where it was like, okay, I can only learn so much from this. I went to a bike and it went really well. Carl [Strong] was part of helping me to develop that. He had a lot of advice on welding and building Ti bikes. It was a two year long process building practice bikes, riding them, assessing how it rode. Some people do carbon seat tubes– so I did that, I didn’t like that, so I decided to make this bike all metal and tried that out.

I developed the crap out of this– I really did. I spent a lot of time trying to make it really perfect because I’m not going to sell anything that’s not 100%.

NAHBS 2018, Adam Sklar, Sklar Bikes

BIKERUMOR: So now Sklars come in Ti across the board.

SKLAR: You can get any kind of bike you like.

BIKERUMOR: What are you personal challenges in adopting new standards?

SKLAR: The biggest challenge is knowing whether or not they will stick around.

BIKERUMOR: What’s the point for you when you’re willing to adopt a standard?

SKLAR: If I see something that right away I think will make the frame better, like Boost– I was one of the first builders to use Boost because it totally makes sense for mountain bikes. I picked that up right away. Flat mount brakes, for example, I’m just building my first flat mount bike right now because I don’t really think it’s better but it is definitely sticking around so I have to use it. So either when I think it is really good, or when everyone else is using it. And sometimes I’m right. Sometimes I’m not.

NAHBS 2018, Adam Sklar, Sklar Bikes

BIKERUMOR: What’s the next bike you’re building for Adam Sklar?

SKLAR: I just sold my mountain bike, so I’m building a new mountain bike for myself. It’s going to be a 29×2.6. I think it’s going to be a Pinion bike because I have a bunch of Pinion bikes in my queue right now and I’m curious to try it out for myself.

BIKERUMOR: If someone else were building your next bike for you, who would that builder be?

SKLAR: To get my mountain bike built, I would have Cam Falconer do it because his bikes are sick. They are unapologetically utilitarian– is how I would describe them. Their tubes are only bent exactly where they need to be. My bikes have so much aesthetic built into them. His bikes are like, “This bike is going to ride good, so ride it.” They are exactly what they need to be. There is nothing excessive about them. Cam rides a lot, and the geometry that is on all his bikes is like the geometry that is on my bikes. We have a similar riding style, except he is way faster.

Yeah, I really love the bikes that he builds. They are super beautiful in a way that I wish mine could be.

BIKERUMOR: You’re doing all this pretty swoopy shit.

SKLAR: I know. Sometimes I wish I could just do straight stuff.

BIKERUMOR: You can if you want. So what is your blank check bike? 

SKLAR: That stripped down bike I was talking about. A bike that is what you need it to be and nothing more. It’s what I build every day. I don’t like excessiveness at all.

The way I look at it– some people put fancy paint on their bikes. My thing– almost all of my bikes are one color because all the aesthetics are in the shape of the tubes. Sometimes people are like, “Why don’t you make your seat stays curve in?” I’m not into overdoing it. I like where they are. It’s just enough. I joke about making straight tube bikes– I would like to make straight tube bikes.

But yeah, normally people come to me with their blank check bike and ask for full internal routing. If you’re going to get three cables internally routed, that’s another $1000. They want a split for belt drive and they want, I don’t know, all this crazy stuff… but if I could build any bike, I would tell that customer, “Internal routing is dumb. It’s going to make it harder to work on your bike. It’s going to make your frame less strong no matter how you do it.” There’s no advantage– and I spent so much time making sure that my external routing is visually clean.

NAHBS 2018, Adam Sklar, Sklar Bikes

I think restraint is good. That’s why Cam’s bikes and Rick Hunter bikes are some of my favorites because I know they can do all that stuff, but you can see the restraint in their design. Like, Rick will never build anyone a bike with internal routing. They build bikes to be ridden and they are built with a manufacturing process in mind just as much as the final product. I always like looking at people’s bikes. You can look at a lot of those bikes and see a lot of the tools they have in their shop. It’s interesting to see how they use those tools to make the bikes they build. It’s fun to look at bikes and go, “you must have this tool in your shop which is why you do things this way.”

BIKERUMOR: The last question I always ask is: what do you tell the kid who wants to be the next Adam Sklar? The 18 year old who just realized that framebuilding is a thing and looks at you as who they want to be in six years?

SKLAR: Cool. My advice to the up and coming frame builder is to ask yourself why you want to do it? Is it because you really like making bike frames? Is it because you want to be self employed? Why would someone buy a bike frame from you? I’d advise them to really look at all aspects of the business, talk to as many builders and small business owners as they can and if they really want to do it, be a professional and commit to doing it 100%.

Sklar Bikes

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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6 years ago

Pretty darn badass Adam! You make it look easy!

It seems like a long time ago that you brought over that window-jig lug pretzel and we fillet brazed for an hour…congrats! You deserve the success!

6 years ago
Reply to  Walt

Wow, thanks Walt, that means so much.

Ol' Shel'
Ol' Shel'
6 years ago

Listen to the builders. Check out their blogs. Pick the one that you think is coolest.

That’s the custom market these days.

Andrew Nepsund
6 years ago

THIS IS SO AWESOME ANNA! I had such a rad time reading through this today and soaking in every word. Really loving these Road to NAHBS interviews. THANKS!

Brad Comis (@BradComis)

This is a super fun read. Great interview! Looking forward to all the NAHBS coverage.

I spend most of my day dreaming about building frames too. I just wish I had more time to be in the shop actually doing it. I gotta get up early tomorrow and get in the garage!

David Lewis
David Lewis
6 years ago

Great interview! But it’s “complement,” not “compliment.”

6 years ago

Sklar is one very lucky dude and appears to be quite talented too. Great interview, although I wonder why so many builders are mentioned by name but the most pivotal of all is not actually named? I’m talking about Walt Wehner, the actual builder behind Waltworks. He’s not just some dude that built forks and gave Sklar a quick brazing lesson – he’s also a pretty cool frame builder as well.

6 years ago
Reply to  Thor

One thing I dig about Walt is his openness and activity on social media. I think some framebuilders get a bit snooty, and actively try to steer others away from their profession as a way of limiting competition. Walt seems to be one the few who will answer nearly every question a burgeoning frame builder has. He’s also getting a lot more honest in his opinions, notably on plus tires and frame material. Alas, I think the young Skylar is onto something, frame building will soon be so common that it won’t be hip anymore.

6 years ago

Great interview, Adam. It made me jealous that we are not making it to NAHBS this year. best of luck at the show. Hope we can come up to Montana and ride with you soon. -T

6 years ago

Thanks Tony! Would love to do some riding with you guys up here.

mike mcdermid
mike mcdermid
6 years ago

framebuilders have framebuilding superheroes? shit

6 years ago

I hope he stays interested in bikes, because it’s really fun to think about how good he’s gonna be when he’s 35 or 40. Great interview.

6 years ago

Sklar are my favorite frames .They look so unique and distinctive . I look forward to more to come

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