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From Inside Peloton: Hands of the Handmade

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Ellis Cycles
Location: Waterford, WI

START: Wages has been a bike nut since he was a little kid. He was obsessed with European bikes with Campagnolo parts, and in high school would draw pictures of these bikes, including detailed drawings of the chain links. He started by working in bike shops, but then got an opportunity to work for Serotta in the shipping department. This was his foot in the door, but Wages never imagined he would eventually end up as a builder. He describes it as having happened organically. He was shown the basics, like how to melt brass, then did small projects like fabricate bar-ends, and eventually moved up to a full-time frame builder. The name Ellis stems from his middle name, which is his great grandmother’s maiden name.

SETTING: Wages works strictly out of his basement and thinks customers are surprised and underwhelmed to see what it consists of when they visit. According to Wages, it’s an incredibly small and self-contained space that somehow accommodates an alignment plate, fixtures, a vice, DynaFile, die grinder, and a drill press (only used to drill forks). He contends that there are very few tasks he comes across where he feels limited by the square footage. He doesn’t think, “Oh I wish I could do this if I just had a lathe or a mill.”

CREATIVE PROCESS: He is always thinking about bikes, and he suspects he drives his wife nuts because of it. He’s always “noodling” on bikes, but he never knows where the inspiration originates. Aesthetically, he believes his design comes from older bikes and their styling. However, he doesn’t want to copy old-school bike design but simply draw from it and tweak it to make it his own.

Once he is inspired and discusses a plan with the customer, he moves to his CAD program to generate a drawing. After a few tweaks based on customer feedback, Wages will select tubing and lugs, and refine the overall style.

Wages says the tubing is the most interesting part of the design. While some builders will use only one tube set, Wages prefers to mix, based on customer preferences, body weight, use, and what they will ultimately do with the bike in terms of racks or panniers. With this in mind, every tube on the bike is specifically and individually chosen, based on the customer’s input. Nearly every bike he fabricates has at least two different brands of tubing, and many have three to four different brands. This is based partly on the aforementioned rider input and Wages’s decision to go with a specific brand, but is also derived from his own preferences for specific areas of the bike like the chain stay or seat tube. Often he prefers a certain wall thickness or diameter for a seat stay and pulls from a specific brand. Wages believes this is yet another level of custom, beyond just custom sizing.

ONE TOOL: It’s the DynaFile—and the die grinder.


From Issue 04.
Image: Tim Schamber