I first had an opportunity to chat with Eric Estlund at Bespoked in Bristol, England. In a show full of highly polished randonneur and classically styled road bikes, Eric rolled up with the pink and black bike seen above, one he painted himself. The fully rigid New England-style plus-sized mountain bike made my heart flutter, instantly revealing all of my deep-seated and very American biases.
But what was really interesting about this bike is that it wasn’t what I thought of when I thought of Winter Bicycles. There are two things that stick out in my mind when I think of this builder. One is his bi-laminate head tubes, where the top and down tubes seem to originate from the “lugs,” usually featured on a touring frame. The other is his finishes, with wild two dimensional (and sometimes, three-dimensional) finishes.
For this Builder on Builder interview, Eric is questioned by Chris Bishop of Bishop Cycles.
CHRIS: How did you get into frame building?
ERIC: My background is reasonably varied. I have an art degree with a focus on metal sculpture and function. I also have 14 years of experiential based outdoor, art and environmental teaching experience in addition to traditional guiding experience. I have worked in bicycle fitting, retail and rental sales. I decided to see if I could pull all of that together to work producing bicycles that combined my particular interests in performance, aesthetic and rider specific functionality. I took a UBI class to get my feet wet and transitioned that into a position as a builder for a very busy custom bicycle manufacturer in Oregon. I started Winter Bicycles in Oregon in 2008, moved to full time in 2009 and moved the business to central Pennsylvania in 2015.
CHRIS: What type of riding do you do most, and what bike do you use to do it?
ERIC: I’m predominantly a road rider these days, both recreational and utility cycling. I’m trying to get back into mountain biking now that I live in PA, too. I’m a big single speed guy, but I rotate through a few different bikes. I always want to try new things, so I end up building bikes in my size for demo or show rigs, then moving them through the system. Keeps things fresh.
CHRIS: Would you rather have all the basic tools you need to build a frame and a stereo, or a milling machines and no music?
ERIC: That’s an easy one- music is an essential building tool. Some of that may be from my production days- I needed earbuds just to help drown out the factory sounds. Now it helps keep my head clear and focused. I have a pretty well tooled shop these days, but my bikes are still predominantly made by hand. The machines are there to help speed things up some, but since I only build one bike at a time the primary benefit is in reducing wear and tear on my body- I want to be in this for the long haul.
CHRIS: What type of bike do you build the most of or that customers seek you out for?
ERIC: In the beginning it seemed like I was doing mostly urban commuter bikes. A few years ago I seemed to have found a solid groove making fully integrated rando and rando type bikes. In general I think these “high performance, non-racing” bikes are my biggest single category. I also do traditional road, track, cross and mountain bikes.
CHRIS: Are most of your customers local to you, or do they come from the Internet?
ERIC: I’ve always run Winter Bicycles from smaller college towns. I sell locally, but my business is primarily national with a sizable portion going internationally.
CHRIS: What is your favorite new cycling technology? What is your least favorite? Tapered steerers, oversized BB’s, Di2, eTap, etc.
ERIC: Hard to say- I’m not a particularly early adopter of first season tech changes. I like to build what I think of as heirloom quality bikes, that is bikes that continue to stay relevant and rideable despite changes in the mainstream bike market. I don’t test things on clients bikes, and I don’t want to paint them unnecessarily into technological dead ends. That said, I’m a huge fan of new tech that “makes sense”- I build with all the groups, do disc road bikes, tapered steerers, thru axles, many head tube sizes, etc. I’m not a total luddite.
CHRIS: Is your shop at your house or another location?
ERIC: I work out of an industrial space in the next town over. Lots of power, I can make a ton of noise, and it’s nice and quite. It’s actually a smaller space inside a huge old brass factory (they used to make one of the popular brazing rods). All my neighbors are other manufacturers.
CHRIS: What is your favorite construction method: lugs, fillet brazing, or a little of both?
ERIC: I’m predominantly a brazer and do quite a few purely fillet brazed and purely lugged bikes. I also do a signature bi-laminate approach that blends the two. I enjoy them all, and I think I have a distinctive “Winter” style in all of the methods. I first look at the design to see if there is a method that makes the most sense physically. Generally I can choose (and many of my clients seem open to me choosing for the bike) and can pursue what I think best fits the project.
Stay tuned! Tomorrow, Bryan Hollingsworth of Royal H Cycles is questioned by Chris Bishop.