When I visited Curtis Inglis at his shop in Napa, CA, last summer, I got a glimpse into the mind of a guy who is obsessed with bending tubes. And actually, it ruined me a little for looking at other bikes. When you see a Retrotec in a room full of straight-tubed bicycles, it’s easy to take its curves for granted because it is just that different. When you finally really see and understand the flawless quality of the arcs in a Retrotec frame, bends Curtis has been refining for decades, you can’t unsee it. And you find yourself reevaluating all curved frames with that eye.
Last year, despite a hurried build due to attending the show at short notice, Curtis took home the Best Mountain Bike award for his fat bike. For this year, it looks like we have more stunners to look forward to…
BIKERUMOR: Why did you first decide to build your first bike?
CURTIS: I saw a Retrotec at a local mountain bike race and fell in love with the design. I found out that the original welder had left the company and got myself an interview with Bob Seals. Retrotec had been around for a year at that point. Bob and I hit it off and I got the job. Building bikes seemed to fall into place for me. I had been a TIG welder in the Air Force and was finishing up an associate degree in drafting at the junior college here in Napa. It was the perfect time for me to move to Chico and start something new.
BIKERUMOR: Who did you build it for?
CURTIS: Myself. Bob liked the idea of the first one being for yourself.
BIKERUMOR: Why did you decide to make a living out of it?
CURTIS: It sort of just happened. My original idea was to go to work for Retrotec for the summer, build myself a bike and then find my grown-up job. Somehow building bikes turned into my grown-up job.
BIKERUMOR: How has your style changed from your first year?
CURTIS: This was the early 1990’s, so I was really only making the Retrotec Classic and learning a lot. Since then, I’m stoked with the various other styles I have come up with over the years. I love the Retrotec Classic, but I also enjoy building the other styles that came later.
BIKERUMOR: Are you still building what you initially set out to build?
CURTIS: Yes, and no. I still build cruiser-style bikes, but they have evolved. I’m pretty happy about that. When we started out, most of the bikes were non-suspension corrected and now we build bikes from 140 (mm) to rigid. New standards come out and it is fun and challenging to see how they are going to fit into the Retrotec aesthetic.
BIKERUMOR: What got you excited about building bikes when you first started out?
CURTIS: I was young, excited to move to Chico and build the bikes that I had fallen in love with. Having the opportunity to work with Bob on the bikes that I thought were so beautiful was a dream come true. There are so many great memories from those first three years of living at the ranch. When I moved operations to San Francisco and shared a space with Jeremy and Jay Sycip, that opened up new ideas and even more ways to improve the bikes and come up with different designs.
BIKERUMOR: What gets you really stoked about what you do today?
CURTIS: I am no longer young, but some of the same things still apply. Trying to make an aesthetically pleasing bike that can handle what the customer has planned for it still motivates me to get out to the shop. After 23 years of doing this, I have seen many things come and go. I can only hope that Retrotec will be around for another 23 years.
BIKERUMOR: What’s the cool thing you’re bringing to the show this year?
CURTIS: Coffee mugs! I mean, I’m bringing nine bikes to the show, but I’m super excited that the Retrotec coffee mugs just arrived. I built a Retrotec twin for the owner of Bike Loop, Mr. Kasama. He and his wife have a beautiful bike shop in Japan that we visited last October. He had some really specific ideas about what he wanted for the bike and I was excited to build it for him. Also, I’m super excited to be a part of Chris King’s 40th anniversary, using some special parts on another bike we will be taking to the show.
BIKERUMOR: What advice would you give someone wanting to do what you do?
CURTIS: Dive right in and start building bikes for yourself. Ask questions, learn what you can from builders that have made a few bikes that have held up for more than a few years. I still remember advice I got from Ross Shafer about the bikes I was making in the mid nineties. It made me a better builder. Make sure to double or triple check that you have added all the braze-ons that your customer wanted. It really sucks when you realize after paint that you forgot to add a braze-on!
BIKERUMOR: What else have you been up to this year?
CURTIS: Mainly restoring an old car that I imported from England back in 1989. It is a 1966 Wolseley Hornet. My dad and I had a great time working on it together.