To call Alex Clauss “exuberant” would be an understatement. The giant German from Pforzheim stands out in a room full of passionate bike builders through his enthusiasm, animated pitch, and positivity- something that’s unfortunately lacking at cycling events for whatever reason. His love for bikes just makes you love bikes more. It’s really something to experience.
Alex is clearly having fun with his work, and it shows in how he seems to use frame building as a vehicle for engaging the larger world. His background in designing and making components shows through in all of the little laser cut and machined details of his bikes. In the case of his Armor of God bike shown at Sacramento and Berlin this year, these details establish his bikes to his public as impassioned statements (which he is happy to explain). He also takes part in large scale collaborative projects developing frames in conjunction with public feedback. And he mentors local refugee children in building bikes. It was all of this that made him a show highlight for me at NAHBS earlier this year and makes Portus Cycles a stop I’m really looking forward to making next week at the Philly Bike Show.
CURTIS: Are all Germans engineers?
ALEX: Well, not all Germans are engineers but I think being innovative, and a love for details and precision is just part of our DNA.
CURTIS: You seem to have two different full suspension designs? Are they a work in progress or two different designs? You’re right we currently have two different full suspension frames.
ALEX: The ICB2.0 steel is single pivot crowd-based project with 130mm travel and it’s already available to order. By the end of this year six frames should be out there. Current leadtime for new orders is around 6 to 8 months.
Our Fast Karl is a prototype with the goal to build a long travel 650b (166mm) VPP with a weight close to an aluminum frame. To be honest: The Fast Karl is a collab with Intend, which is kind of an “underground” brand for very nice USD forks. The guy behind those forks is the engineer at Trickstuff, known for their awesome brakes and other tricky stuff.
Back topic: It won’t be available to order before the mid of next year but people can already place a low deposit, which we would refund if we have to stop the project for some reasons.
The deposit helps with the calculation of the CNC-parts and the planning in general.
We also plan to offer a 29er version with a little less travel and a downhill version with way more travel but first we need to test the current design.
CURTIS: Your pinion gear housing is quite beautiful, do you do your own design work for the parts that you are having laser cut? You seem to have a good relation with a laser cutter. Tell us how that came about?
ALEX: Thanks a lot for the compliment, which means a lot to me.
Of course almost everything is designed by myself in house with my favorite CAD system SolidWorks. In the beginning I had a good contact to a local waterjet cutting company but things were hard to get. Especially cause I’m mostly doing stuff just in time as I probably have a better efficiency factor under pressure.
Through some friends I found kind of secret company in east Germany which delivers laser parts really fast for fair pricing.
If I currently would have some money to play I directly would order the desktop waterjet cutter WAZER. Having this machine in our workshop would be a blast! For us the next big invest is buying everything for powder coating in house. I spent to much money in the past for not perfect results and the paint job has to perfect on a custom frame.
CURTIS: Are you a one-person shop or are there a few of you that make up Portus Cycles?
ALEX: This year I had a friend who helped me out a lot and I reply to this question with we are a “one and half men show”.
Of course my wife is supporting me whenever necessary but her full time job as a designer for jewelry is a full time job.
Just in these days there is a new guy which probably will support me by the beginning of next year for a longer time period.
Next to our custom projects we do a lot of B2B stuff, where me make folding and/or pinion frames. As I have some bigger plans for the future I definitely will need some more employees.
CURTIS: Do you want to collaborate with me on a full suspension Retrotec?
ALEX: WHAT?!! Sick! Yes! Yes I would love to!
Let’s talk about it with some beers at the show!
CURTIS: How are you enjoying the pass and stow rack?
ALEX: Next! Just kidding 😉 You guys are probably well connected and sadly it’s still not attached to a fork cause I’d like to see it on my own every day singlespeeder but don’t have time to finish it.
I’m pretty sure that I’ll enjoy to use it sooner or later.
CURTIS: How are you enjoying your Type 4 Anvil fixture? Do you feel it will help speed up production time?
ALEX: Almost everything from Don is just tool porn. In some ways it’s a little over engineered but sometimes our bikes are the same.
For myself it helped to get faster as I can use a reliable tool everyday without any concerns if the rear wheel will be in center. I didn’t had this feeling with my first “quick and dirty” self-made jig or the second one from a UK company.
CURTIS: How jealous are you that most of us in California are one day shipping from Paragon Machine Works?
ALEX: One of the reasons I should move to CA, so very jealous…
Even I’d love to see some more diversity and yes I’m thinking about my own dropout system for beltdrive.
CURTIS: What are your hobbies other than bikes?
ALEX: I don’t understand the question. OK, travelling is something I really love next to bicycles, especially together with my wife. But I always feel a little incomplete if I don’t have a ride to explore unknown areas.
CURTIS: What is your favorite David Hasselhoff song?
ALEX: “I’m Looking for Freedom” – It’s THE song of Germany’s reunion from 1989 between East and West. Probably our secondary national anthem.
CURTIS: Have you ever played bike polo? If so, why?
ALEX: I tried to start a team in Pforzheim years ago and borrowed almost every bike I owned to get my friends on it. Right now bike polo in Pforzheim is dead but I have some plans to restart it with my kids project the Friday mechanics.
I really like to play it cause it teaches your coordination on the bike incredibly. I like the changings from super fast offensive to fast defense. Sometimes it’s a pretty hard game where no one is making presents each other.
CURTIS: This coming up with questions is harder than it looks. How about you come up with a question you really feel like answering? Now answer it.
ALEX: Fairtrade is a big thing in the context of sustainability. I asked myself several times in the past few months: Why is it called fairtrade? It should be called fairmade! The questions I’d like to ask to all cyclists especially to those who praising the bicycle as THE solution for our cities.
Who made your bicycle?
Where was it made?
How got it produced?
I mean every single piece on it, not only the frame.
I’ll try to reply these questions by the end of 2017 with a very unique ride…
Tune in Monday for when Alex Clauss interviews Carl “Snarl” Schlemowitz of Vicious Cycles.