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2010 NAHBS Interview Series : Kirk Frameworks

by Bike Shop Girl

The largest series of interviews of frame and part builders, leading up to the North American Handmade Bicycle Show February 26-28, 2010.. Make sure to add us on Twitter for the latest show news.

Basics

Whats your name:

My name is Dave Kirk and my company is Kirk Frameworks Co. I am a one-man company with the exception of my wife Karin who does my website. Otherwise I’m it.

Where are you based out of?

I work from my home in Bozeman, Montana.

How did you get into frame building?

The answer to this could take as much time and space as you have but I can give you the Cliffs note version.

As I young man growing up in Central New York State I got deeply into many different aspects of cycling. I raced BMX and MTB’s professionally and I raced road on an amateur level. I also worked in a few local bike shops and rode by bike to work. It was through my racing and the bike shop connections that I met some of the road reps for various companies that sold to our shop.

I’d always been in awe of framebuilders and what they did but I had no idea how one might get into that line of work and my life was very full with racing and work so I didn’t take any conscious steps in the framebuilding direction. That changed one night when the phone rang and it was Ben Serotta. I couldn’t believe it was really he on the phone and thought it must have been a friend having some fun with me pretending to be Ben. But it was really Ben and he told me that he was looking to add people to his staff and wondered if I might be interested in joining the team. He’d heard of me from the company road reps and thought I might be a good fit so I went and interviewed and after a few missteps I took the job there. That was October of 1989. I spent 10 crazy years there and started out on my first day as the guy who sandblasted frames to get them ready to paint and when I left in July of 1999 I was the head of the Research and Development department. During that time I designed and build thousands of frames for everyday cyclists and professional team riders alike.

What’s your experience and length of building?

I started building as a full time professional at Serotta in 1989 and that, with very rare exceptions, has been how I’ve made my living ever since. I left Serotta in 1999 when my wife and I moved from Saratoga Springs, NY to Bozeman, MT. Shortly after I arrived in Bozeman I met the framebuilder Carl Strong and we worked together in various ways for a number of years. During the winter I was the head supervisor for the Bridger Bowl Snowboard school and then it was back to building in the summer. In June of 2003 I started Kirk Frameworks and I’ve devoted myself to that ever since. So this year marks my 21st as a professional builder and my 30th year in the bicycle business. Time flies.

How are your bikes different, or what do you bring differently to the bike building arena?

I build about 35 – 40 bikes a year for all types of riders and while I do take great pride in the way they look I’m frankly more interested in the way they handle and fit. A handsome bike that fits and/or handles poorly isn’t worth much. I don’t look at my work as art but as tools to be used and used hard. I think my practical skills as a fitter and designer combined with my desire to make beautiful things makes me unique.

Commuter’esque Bikes

Do you build any utility, commuter or daily use style bikes?

I build what I consider to be all around road bikes with the room for proper tires and fenders that are suitable for commuting. I don’t necessarily think of them as commuting bikes but because of their versatility they work very well for that. And at the same time one could put on some narrower tires, pull off the fenders and rack and go do your club’s Tuesday night race series. I like versatility. I do not offer cargo bikes or work bikes. I leave those to the guys who are good at that stuff.

If so, what do you think are the key ingredients in making a bicycle that will help people use their bicycles more for everyday use?

For a bike to be truly usable as everyday transportation it goes without saying that it needs to have certain things. It needs room for proper tires and fenders. It needs mounts for racks to carry bags and clean work clothing. That much is obvious. It also needs to fit and handle properly considering its end use. A race bike needs one fit and an everyday bike needs another. The everyday bike needs to put the rider into a position where they can react quickly to changing road and traffic conditions and feel relaxed and confident doing so. They need a high enough position so they have good sight lines all around without straining but still have enough weight on the front wheel for proper handling and stability. If the fit and handling are dialed in the rider will feel confident to use the bike in all conditions, including commuting. I also think that if the bike is light and sporty it will make its everyday use a pleasure and not a chore. Riding can and should always be fun in my opinion.

Alternative Transportation

Do you think the culture of the US will continue towards alternative transportation?

I hope so but I think it will take a long time and be a slow and painful process. I think our culture is set up around the car and long commutes that are not practical to do by bike. Grocery stores are too far away for most to get to safely and practically by bike. It seems more likely that we might get good rail systems to get folks from where they live to the city center where they work. If this happens then the bike could be used to get to and from the train. It would make life more simple and less expensive for many. But the trains don’t exist for most now so there is a lot of work to do.

I also think that we in the USA will need to look at bicycles differently. For the most part the average non-enthusiast views bicycles more as toys as opposed to tools. In Europe they have a more mature view and see bikes as a tool that can be used, in conjunction with other modes of transport, on a daily basis. Until our view on this matures it’s going to be a tough sell for many.

What can we do, as cyclist, to help this?

I think we as cyclist can lead by example. We can show how versatile bikes can be and how practical and fun they can be at the same time. I’ve been in the bike biz for a over 30 years and one constant has been that many cyclists see themselves as superior and look down at the non-cyclist as not as smart, fit or tough as they are. This needs to stop but I’m not holding my breath. We live in a democracy were we are free to choose how we get from point A to point B and passing judgment on those that choose another way because they feel it’s the best choice for them is not exactly welcoming them into the cycling fold. We need to show them that riding a bike is healthy and fun and saves money and not just tell them they are evil for not riding. I cringe every time I see a -cars r coffins’ bumper sticker. Cars are choices, just like bikes are, and that needs to be respected. We need to make bikes the best choice for more is all and then give the driver some time to adapt and adopt.

There is a movement out there called -Critical Mass’ and I can’t think of a worse way to try to get the cycling message across. Blocking the streets in a slow rolling protest is vengeful at best and will do nothing to promote the use of bikes as everyday transport. Does anyone really think that the driver caught behind a group of cyclist going as slow as possible down the middle of the road is going to go home and rethink his driving habits? Does anyone really think that after being caught behind a bunch of yelling cyclist taking up the whole road that the driver will give more room to that lone cyclist they see later on their commute? I don’t. I think they are pissed and frustrated and will have less respect and give less room to that lone cyclist they encountered the next day on the way to work. How does the breaking of traffic laws, being rude and a general PITA do any good? Every year there is a Critical Mass ride here in Bozeman and they get on the local 10:00 news and effectively set back the movement by who knows how much. Maybe if cyclist obeyed traffic laws, like we expect other users of the road to do, those drivers would give us a bit more room next time they go by. I completely understand the frustration on the part of the cyclist but acting this way only hurts the cause.

What do we need to see from the government?

Two things. Both of them are unfortunately huge. First the government needs to -allow’ us pay the true cost of gasoline. As long as it’s artificially cheap there is little motivation for people to leave their cars at home. Nor is there much motivation for companies to locate their businesses so that their workers can have a short commute and save time, money and emissions. It all comes down to money. I don’t like that but it’s how this world works so we need to play by those rules. Make is expensive to live an hour’s drive from your job and in time you won’t.

The second thing is to stop thinking that the bike path is a viable means for cyclist to get from A to B. For better or worse most bike paths are now full of walkers and runners and strollers and these are all low speed forms or transport. When you put a cyclist in the mix and realize that the speed differential between foot traffic and the cyclist is so great it becomes obvious why so few bike paths are good places to use a bike. Many in the government will say they have spent so many millions on bike paths and that we should be happy but it’s just not practical and in most places just doesn’t work. We need to have the money spent on adequate bike lanes along side normal traffic and at the same time enforce traffic laws for drivers and cyclist alike. If an aggressive driver kills a cyclist they should get locked up and have the key tossed. Right now that doesn’t happen in most cases. If a cyclist breaks the law he should get a ticket and suffer the financial pain of that.

What do we need to see from the bike industry to aid in the movement?

I think the bike biz, both big and small need to think of cycling as a viable alternative and to stop asking for the financial scraps to be tossed down to us. We need to know in our collect hearts that these things are not toys and start acting that way. There are certain things a cyclist needs to get from A to B safely and practically and the law says we should have them. Yet, in many cases we settle for pennies on the dollar of transportation funds and think it’s better than nothing. While it is better than nothing it’s not fair or right. The tough part is that the cycling advocates have much more shallow pockets than the others they are up against so again the money speaks the loudest. The latest move by the US Supreme Court doesn’t do us any good in this regard.

NAHBS

Switching subjects, what are you most excited about at NAHBS?

I live in a very small town very far from all my customers and NAHBS is a great place to meet both new and old customers alike. It’s great to put a face to the name. It’s also fun for me to see the look on people’s faces when they finally see my work in person for the first time. The big eyes and deep grin they get makes all the traveling and expense worth it.

What do you think we will see differently this year?

Every year the show gets bigger and better. Cliche I know, but it’s true. The show seems to be upping everyone’s game because the new guys get to see the work of true masters in the flesh and they realize what they need to do to compete and have a viable business. A side effect of the show getting bigger may be that it gets more commercial and less personal and I think we need to expect and plan for that. It used to be that you could walk into a builder’s booth and spend 15 minutes talking with him without causing him to ignore other potential customers. That was difficult last year and I’ll bet will be even more so this year now that the show is so close to so many

Make Contact

David Kirk
Kirk Frameworks Co.
329 Little Wolf Road
Bozeman MT, 59715
800 605 5475
info@kirkframeworks.com
www.kirkframeworks.com

 
Burley nomad 269

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