Oregon Trail

Words: Ian Cleverly Photos: Andy Waterman

I think independent framebuilding has picked up, but I think independent businesses across the board have picked up. Portland is popular for bike makers, but it is also popular for single-operator bag makers, or dressmakers, or bakers. Places that have that local, craft-y, young-ish population – where that is popular, frame building is popular.

Eric Estlund, Winter Bicycles

We were warned it would be wet in Oregon – mostly by the people living in the drier climes of Kentucky and North Carolina we just left – but they had a point: all day rain and plenty more to come, apparently. This place makes Manchester look like Abu Dhabi.

What we had no warning of was the quality produce we have found on every step of this road trip. After a lifetime of somehow sidestepping the USA, I had built up a warped perspective of what constitutes America: McDonalds, KFC, Budweiser, Britney Spears – you get the picture. We Brits get the very worst of what this huge, diverse country has to offer, and assume that is it. How very wrong. It transpires they have been keeping all the good stuff for themselves. Turn off the gaudy neon highways and dig around a little and every stop throws up a fine eatery with a selection of local beers to rival anything Belgium has to offer. It is foodie (and drinkie) heaven that, for an American virgin like me, has been a wonderful surprise and an attitude changer. Y’all come back soon, y’hear? You bet!

But we are not here to sample the local produce, as fine as it is. We have come to Oregon to talk to producers of bicycles, of which there are many, starting with Eric Estlund, who makes beautiful steel frames under the name of Winter Bicycles in a big old draughty building in Eugene, a couple of hours’ drive south of Portland. Eric is vice president of the Oregon Bicycle Constructors Association and an eloquent spokesperson for the art of framebuilding – if it is an art. His past life as an artist working in metal, followed by a spell learning his chops with local folding bike manufacturer Bike Friday, suggests it is. And seeing his handiwork at close quarters confirms it. This is quality craftsmanship.

What Eric says at the top of this page regarding the growth of independent and single-operator businesses in Oregon, and many other pockets of the USA, hits the nail on the head. As framebuilding in the UK clings on by its fingernails and the remaining dozen or so guys, with the knowhow to take a pile of tubes and construct a beautiful and individually tailored machine, appear in danger of being the final generation, Portland is awash with people making spectacularly wonderful bicycles.

What Eric says, I think, is there is a sea change here in the States that we could learn from in the UK. The shop local, source local – pay just a bit more for quality produce instead of constantly seeking the bottom line – movement is strong here. If framebuilding is to survive at home, it needs those other small businesses to grow alongside it. And for that to happen, it needs you, the consumer, to look anew at your choices.

Worth thinking about the next time you step inside yet another Starbucks…

In the meantime, Andy and I are sampling the Wassail winter ale from Oregon’s Full Sail, an independent, employee-owned brewery, and mighty fine it is, too. You have a choice, people. Do the right thing.


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8 Responses to “Oregon Trail”

  1. Shop visitors, work, and the new year | | Winter Bicycles Says:

    […] wrote a few words about the visit, and Andy busied himself taking […]

  2. Winter Bicycles Says:

    […] Ian and Andy (from Rouleur and Privateer respectively) popped in as part of their US visit. Ian wrote a few words about the visit, and Andy busied himself taking photos: It was a pleasure to chat about their […]

  3. Julian Says:

    I look forward to reading more of this article in Rouleur. Perhaps, Ian could write some more framebuilder articles to recover the disappointment arising from the Zullo piece in issue 27?

  4. Ric Says:

    Ian’s writing is one of the the best things to happen to the mag in the past few years, as it’s seeming formulaic in scope nowadays – maybe that’s just a natural consequence of generating content for a magazine that has grown in heft and frequency. Am still weighing up whether to carrying on buying it after the introspective rambling waffle that was “Zullo” in #27, though the photos in that were alright. The thing is, these pieces can’t all be photo essays – how many arty shots of work benches and factory shop floors does the world need? – so engaging quality writing is essential.

    • Julian Says:

      You are right on the money, Ric. “Rambling waffle” it was, engaging quality writing is essential.
      I’m glad I’n not alone in thinking this.

      • roadiesean Says:

        Yes indeed. What in Gods name was Herbie Sykes thinking of, and Ian Cleverly as Managing Editor should hang his head in shame for allowing such tripe into a magazine of any calibre. Absolutely the worst article I have ever read, Herbie, no one cares about your battles with your teenage stepson, we want to read about cycling, its the worst sort of Rapha/Rouleur excesses that gives the product its hammering from many people who think that to wear it/read it, you have to be some sort of navel gazing wanker with no real idea of what life is all about. Most of us reading the magazine would cut off an arm to visit legends like Tullo & Pegoretti, don’t throw the opportunity away.

        Thank goodness for the phenomenal images shot by Paolo Ciaberta. Ian, Guy and the rest of the gang, no more of this introspective, rambling bollocks. More stuff like that on Ray Eden, preferably when they are not dead.

  5. tartanterror Says:

    I had the pleasure of chatting to Eric at this years Oregon State Cyclocross Championships – he was there supporting the event and showing some of his beautiful machines. There were no aires and graces about him, we chatted about this that and the other, a genuine human being creating a unique and wonderful product. As Mr.Cleverly engagingly comments; do the right thing, support these local artisans, if you have the means of course…my experience of having a handmade bike made has resoundingly deepened my love for the sport…its a good day when i take taking that machine on the road. Nice article Ian…

  6. tandaylor Says:

    I first spotted Winter bikes while drooling at pictures of nahbs. Bespoked Bristol and bicycle academy immediately spring to mind if you want small scale craftsmenship. It’s alive and well in the UK. Buy in to it.

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