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Road from PBE16 BoB Interview: Bryan Hollingsworth of Royal H, questions by Eric Estlund

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Bryan Hollingsworth hails from the incestuously tight-knit framebuilding community of New England. At his day job at Seven Cycles, he works on their carbon frame line. After hours, however, he (like many employees at the company) builds his own product. At first, his bikes through Royal H (H is for Hollingsworth) seem like an eclectic collection with very little in common. There are carbon creations, tapered headtubes, constructed or modified lugs- it makes someone question what theme could possibly be pulling them together.

Here it is: Bryan is a tailor. He builds for the customer’s needs, whatever those physical or formal needs might be. It sets him apart from many builders who build in a highly stylized format no matter who the customer may be, but it demonstrates his range of ability and experimental spirit.

In this post show Builder on Builder interview, Bryan Hollingsworth is interviewed by Eric Estlund of Winter.

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Photo: Eric Baumann

ERIC: First up, is there anything you are particularly excited about showing at this year’s PBE?

BRYAN: Yes! The booth this year ended up having a pretty coherent theme- past, present, and future. The “past” bike is a traditional lugged touring frame with a mix of vintage and modern components. The present bike is, naturally, a gravel grinder- thru axles, hydraulic disc brakes, tapered carbon fork, oversized tubing. It’s very much of the now, but it still incorporates lugs and Columbus steel, so is in keeping with many of the frames I’ve made thus far. The future bike is a departure for Royal H- a lightweight bonded titanium/carbon road bike with wireless SRAM electronic shifting.

It may initially seem out of place, but I’ve build hundreds of Ti/C (and full carbon) frames at Seven Cycles…

ERIC: I know you got your start working for another bike company- how did that experience influence the start of Royal H?

BRYAN: Perfect segue question! I knew after my courses at the United Bicycle Institute that I wanted to be a framebuilder, but I was new to the scene and needed to get some experience working with frames and make some connections. Seven Cycles was my first bike industry job, and it was the perfect place for a new framebuilder to cut some teeth. And meet some amazing humans- that’s where I met Mike of ANT Cycles, Marty of Geekhouse Bikes (we’re shopmates now), Ian from Icarus (we also shared a shop years back), Mike of Sketchy Cycles (he did the welding on the Ti/C bike), Lauren of Saila Cycles… there are just so many awesome, talented people working there that helped me in various ways over the years. I don’t think Royal H Cycles would be what it is today without that community. I think my initial thought was to have my job at Seven serve as a kind of short term apprenticeship, but it ended up being the best job I ever had and I am still working there (albeit very part time!). Whenever anyone asks me about my start in the bike industry, I usually go on and on about Seven, but it really is a great place that not only makes great bikes, but fosters a great small framebuilder community under its awning.

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Photo: Eric Baumann

ERIC: I have seen you at a few shows over the years- how are they going, and how do they fit in with Royal H?

BRYAN: Shows are important to Royal H, but as a single person operation I can only afford to do a few. The Philly Expo is definitely the biggest show I do, and my favorite. I like the opportunity to do something outside of the box for a show bike. My old shop mate Ian and I made dueling time trial bikes one year- probably that was a little much, as they both ended up being mostly unridable. But it was an opportunity to do some unusual fillet brazing with odd aero tubes. As a builder, I just cannot resist those odd aero tubes. For more recent shows, I try to arrange customer bikes so I can bring something both interesting and paid for to the show, and that has worked out a little better. Shows are also invaluable for networking- I’ve made so many framebuilder friends at the Philly Expo, and it’s a good time to reconnect with builders you only see once a year and see what they’re up to and share stories of how to survive in this industry. Very useful!

ERIC: Is it just you in the shop? Do you work with outside folks for paint or other parts of the build?

BRYAN: Royal H has always shared a shop with another framebuilder. Part of this is to keep the overhead low, but I genuinely appreciate the company of another builder. No one understands a bad (or good) customer like someone in the same boat as you. No one can sympathize quite as well when you have to spend two hours fixing an infinitesimally crooked bridge because it will eat at you for the rest of your life. I also feel like sharing space with another builder keeps your framebuilding game sharp, as you know another set of trained eyes are always nearby to see that void in your brass or unfiled casting marks on your lug (or that aforementioned bridge).

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Photo: Eric Baumann

I have always sent my framesets out for painting. There are a lot of talented painters in the New England area, and it seemed that it would take a lot of money to build my own booth and a lot of time to get as good as they are at painting frames for it to be worthwhile to do myself in house. I also like the opportunity to get some distance from a frame after a few weeks of being so close to it. Painters like Jordan at Hot Tubes and Rudi at Black Magic (though he’s since moved to Oregon) also have some great color instincts, and I value their input to how the final bike will look immeasurably.

ERIC: Looking through some of your portfolio, it looks like you do a little bit of everything design wise (ed: road, track, mtb, etc). Was that how it shook out, or was that a conscious decision as a bike designer?

BRYAN: I would say that’s definitely just how it shook out. My experience is that being a primarily lugged builder results in more classic orders, be they road, track or touring. But I did a fully fillet brazed mountain bike and it was one of my favorite frames to build. I’m always happy to eschew lugs if the customer likes the look of fillets or the design demands angles outside the range of the available castings.

ERIC: It looks like you do mostly lugged work with some fillet bikes. Do you have specific preferences or design considerations when choosing a production method?

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BRYAN: I clung to lugs at the beginning of Royal H mostly because I loved the look. And because that was the course I took at UBI! Sharing my first shop space with Ian of Icarus Frames introduced me to the world of brass (he trained with Yamaguchi), and he gave me some valuable lessons in fillet brazing. So as I gained confidence, they started creeping into my frames more and more. It’s undeniably liberating- a fillet allows you to use shaped tubing and design frames with varying degrees of top tube slope. For a modern mountain bike, full fillets are a requirement. But I like the look of a mixed construction and have no problem using a fillet brazed head tube with lugged bottom bracket shell and seat tube. Landshark had been doing this for years, of course, but it’s a nice look.

ERIC: What do you think are the main draws for new clients to Royal H? Are these the same things that draw you to the work?

BRYAN: This is an excellent question. I like to think that clients are drawn to Royal H because it allows them to have a one of a kind machine. This then would be the same thing that draws me to the work- the ability to build something modern and functional using very traditional techniques and materials. I think that this juxtaposition more often than not results in unique bikes with a lot of character. This explains my answer to your previous question- customers wanting one of a kind bikes will lead to an eclectic portfolio! Building a different bike for every customer means a lot of learning curves, but that keeps me engaged and learning even though efficiency might suffer a little.

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ERIC: We tend to get asked many of the same sorts of questions in interviews- is there anything you’ve been wanting to mention that people don’t ask about?

BRYAN: I think you may have been interviewed more than I have! But it does seem that questions tend to focus on aesthetics and process, and less on fit and customer interactions. It’s definitely easier to photograph lugs and fork crowns, so that’s understandable. But a big part of buying a Royal H involves fitting, both static and on a fit bike. I can get the bars, brake levers, saddle, cranks and pedals that will go on your final design on the fit bike to give an accurate sense of how the final product will feel. A stationary fit bike will never capture 100% of the real riding experience, but it’s a great start, and definitely gets the rider within striking distance of perfection. A beautiful bike that’s uncomfortable to ride is going to spend more time on the wall. Since frames on the road are my main marketing strategies, this is important!

ERIC: Do you have any plans for the next year or two? New product, processes, etc?

BRYAN: I do have some plans, yes. I’m starting a new Royal H model, the Hollingsworth. The frames will have classic lines and geometries and feature hand cut lugsets. The goal is to have a vintage looking bike that’s made to your measurements and rides as nicely as the classics. I’m also excited to do more work with bonded titanium/carbon frames. The look is a departure, but I’ve been working with these materials for so long and would like to explore some of my own designs. It’s a great excuse to work with some of my Ti welder friends as well! Never a dull day at Royal H.

RoyalHCycles.com

Tune in for tomorrow for the last in this Philly Bike Expo edition of the Bikerumor.com Builder on Builder series where Drew Guldalian of Engin Cycles is questioned by Bryan Hollingsworth.

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