Words by: 7mesh
Photos by: No. 22 Bicycle Company
Ian is temporarily mystified. “It’s just so complex,” he explains, shrugging with resignation at the layers of paper patterns sat crumpled and drawn on the work table in front of him. “It’s amazing that anything gets made. It honestly amazes me that anything gets made in the apparel business.” If you’re tasked daily with doing a million necessary things to put out exceptional bike gear, it’s perhaps understandable that at times, like 7mesh’s VP of R&D, you feel momentarily struck by the sheer impossibility of it all.
It turns out, making other things in the two-wheeled world is equally challenging - like building a company to make titanium bikes, for example. “We launched the brand in late 2011 or early 2012,” says Mike, one half of Canadian bike brand 22 Bicycle Company, calling in with his business partner Bryce over Skype one sunny morning in early June. “A lot of titanium bikes, especially back then, drew heavily on the old cliches of a skinny-tubed, comfort-oriented feel. So we thought about making a performance oriented bike that had modern levels of stiffness and a ride quality that carbon has a harder time delivering.”
Having started off getting their designs built by others, Mike and Bryce began looking to hone and customise the bikes themselves as their ideas for the brand started to solidify. “The contract frame builders that we were working with pushed back on that, so we started looking around for someone else to build for us,” explains Bryce. “I'm an architect by trade, so the process was very familiar to me in that you do the drawings - blueprints so to speak - and somebody else executes it. You make sure everything is in line with the tolerances it's supposed to be. In hindsight, my training and experience in architecture helped with that side of things.”
Deciding to switch from their existing manufacturer to Saratoga Frameworks, a new, private equity-backed company formed out of the Serotta Company that had recently opened its doors to do contract frame building, Mike and Bryce had them produce two new prototypes of their flagship Great Divide model. “They were phenomenal,” enthuses Bryce, “exactly the level of quality we were looking for.”
Then things went south.
“We put down the deposit on the production run, and the next week, Saratoga Frameworks was no more.”
Why Saragota shut down so soon after launch is unclear, but however it played out, Mike and Bryce had a big decision to make. “We needed bikes, and these guys, who had this incredible legacy of frame building, needed jobs. We didn't want them to fall into the ether, so we took the step open our own factory. We had to go to where the talent was, and within a few weeks, we were setting up our facility in Johnstown, New York, close to Saratoga Springs where all those guys were based.”
No-one could accuse No22 of going the easy route, off-shoring their production, slapping stickers to stock frames and calling it good. But business decisions aside, titanium remains famously hard to work. “It’s especially difficult to build at the high level we're aiming at,” says Mike. “You can't just find someone to come in off the street or from another position to do that. Thankfully, the talent pool of the ex-Saragota people allowed us to build our business. They are 100% why we are still here today.”
Mike first found bikes through friends, building dirt jumps and cruising downtown Toronto to ride its deserted stairs and sparsely peopled streets after the work crowd had run for home. Parts were expensive, so he started working in bike shops, falling in love with racing and the industry at the same time. Then in 2008, Mike met Bryce, a recent arrival from Calgary. "I got my Masters degree in Architecture, and took the last bit of scholarship money I had to build up a bike,” says Bryce. “I had it ready to go as soon as I finished defending my thesis project, and jumped right back into it after that.” A couple of years later, Mike had trained as a lawyer, and Bryce had bounced back to Toronto after the post-Lehman financial slump curtailed a new career in London. Back in the same place and now fuelled with thoughts of starting No22, it wasn't long before the duo rolled back sleeves to bring their ideas to life.
Everybody in the industry goes, but showing a bike at the North American Handmade Bicycle Show is pretty much a huge hassle. And in 2017, with the Toronto International and the North American shows separated by just four days and nearly 2,000 miles, it would take an extraordinary effort to make both events. But, nerve-wracking customs clearances and logistics issues aside, Mike and Bryce knew that with their race-orientated Reactor model, they had something special. Their faith was rewarded when Bryce’s Velocolour-painted No22 Reactor won 1st place in the Campagnolo Best In Show category at NAHBS. “I’m the ultimate Campy fanboy!” exclaims Bryce, laughing at the memory. “The guy that got me into it cycling made it clear that Super Record is the groupset. I stand alone on that with my team here, but given that the bike we entered was also my bike, it meant a lot personally. I'm staring at the placard in my living room right now as a matter of fact.” Which must be a nice pick-me-up on days when you have doubts about yourself? “Sure, or if you're having a really down day, you might wonder about its market value,” he quips.
And why buy a No22? It’s a reasonable question in a market where the customer does not lack for options. Bryce takes up the call: “We're trying to lay down the best product with the best value proposition around. A lot of the things that we include as standard features, like a fully butted tube set and the T47 bottom bracket, we put on our bikes because we want to offer value, irrespective of the price point, which frankly, is what it is with titanium milled, worked and welded up right here in the US. Our approach contrasts with the base level model that a lot of bike brands employ: here's what it could be if you spent this much more money on it, here’s all the extras you need, and here’s the bill - you’ll need a chair for this one, which incidentally, is also on the bill. That's not us; we don't want to complicate things."
For all that, Mike and Bryce feel that like-minded brands working the same vein are only a good thing for bike sales. “It's super inspiring how many great people are building in this space right now,” says Mike. “And while technically we’re competing with other brands, when one of us does well, all of us do well. Our best advertising is someone riding a modern, well-built titanium bike. So when Moots sells a lot of bikes, we like to see that. Yesterday I was at one of our dealers, and they had an Eriksen there, and I'd been remarking to Bryce that it was phenomenally built, really well done. I think it's awesome to see so much innovation and creativity in this tiny little sliver of the market that we have and there's a real deep well of inspiration from other builders that are doing stuff, too. It's fun, it kind of forces us all to raise our game.”
Van Nicholas Astraeus
December 19, 2017
So here it is ladies and gents our last bicycle for the 2017 year, here is a Van Nicholas Skeiron Disc, built with the new Shimano Ultegra R8000 groupset and Mavic Ksyirum Elite Disc wheelset a perfect end to a fun filled year, from all of us at Bicycle we hope you have a lovely Christmas and we will see you in the new year, cheers
Van Nicholas Astraeus
February 16, 2018
We love a ti bike here at bicycle, here is a custom Van Nicholas Astraeus that is leaving us this week, built on the new Campagnolo Potenza groupset and new Fizik Antares VS Evo saddle, truly a stunning bicycle, setup done by our very own
Many different materials can be used in the manufacturing of a bicycle, each with their own set of benefits and challenges. Before launching No. 22 Bicycles, we put significant time and energy into considering the type of performance, comfort, durability and aesthetics we wanted to offer to our customers.
With the frame qualities established, we researched which material would best deliver the ride experience we were working towards. In the end we agreed that titanium was the best solution.
In this post we examine some of the attributes of titanium, and how its properties deliver the ride experience every No. 22 frame offers. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but may help point you in the right direction when choosing your next frame.
Above all else, our priority when launching No. 22 Bicycles was ride quality. We want every frame that exits our factory to provide a smooth ride with a great feel for the road.
Using titanium as our frame material allows two things that significantly enhance ride quality over other materials. The first is the elasticity property of titanium: the metal itself stretches and returns without breaking or deforming. This property, when used correctly allows us to design the frame with a feel for the road that other frame materials just cannot offer.
The other element is the ability to alter tube diameters, wall thickness, and the tube shapes and sizes used. By working strategically with these three variables our craftsmen can build in compliance where we want, and ensure there is stiffness where we need it.
A great example of the steps we are able to take with titanium to positively affect the ride quality is the Reactor. This frame is designed with massive chainstays to provide the stiffness required to properly power the frame forward with each pedal stroke. Conversely the seat stays on the Reactor are strikingly thin, which provides the compliance needed for a comfortable ride.
The next goal on our list was durability. Not only do we want every No. 22 frame to provide exceptional ride quality, but we want that quality to be consistent over time, and using titanium provides that.
The hard nature of titanium means not only will it not rust or corrode, it is also extremely resistant to scratches and dings that can occur from daily wear and tear. The tensile strength of titanium allows it to face most impacts with little to no damage. However, if a serious impact results in damage, titanium can often be fixed, re-finished and returned to near new condition, while frames of other materials would be trashed.
Titanium also offers a tremendous fatigue life. While most materials will either soften or “work harden” over time affecting ride performance, your No. 22 frame is able to handle years of heavy usage, surpassing the limits of other frame materials. The real beauty of titanium is that it is able to provide all of this durability at a weight that is comparable to top-end carbon frames.
Each No. 22 frame is going to turn heads, and its durability means you are going to be riding it for a while, so we worked hard with our design team to make them as aesthetically pleasing as possible.
Using our knowledge of titanium’s characteristics our design team opted to stay away from paint and clear coat that can chip or fade over time. Instead, we developed our graphics into the frame material itself and used anodization from electric current instead of paint. This means that not only will your frame perform for years to come, it will look good doing so.
The added beauty of the clean graphics approach to our frames, is that it allows us to really showcase the craftsmanship that goes into every bike. Nothing is hidden behind paint, each weld and finish is obvious to the naked eye. This further showcases the time and dedication that goes into every No. 22 frame.
While we could go on about the benefits and beauty of titanium, nothing showcases a bike better than throwing a leg over and turning the pedals. Take some time, head into your local shop and test ride one for yourself.
Independent Fabrication Ti Club Racer
June 7, 2016
A great example of a bicycle to do a little of everything and all in KCR Team Colours to match the teams custom Le Col kit.
This Independent Fabrication Titanium Club Racer is built with Shimano Ultegra 6870 Di2 Hydraulic Disc, brand new Enve 5.6 Disc wheelset with Chris King R45 Hubs, Enve Stem, Enve Seatpost, Enve Bars and Fizik Alanite R1 Carbon Braided Saddle.