Let’s put the price of Allan Wanta’s frames in perspective. The big bicycle magazines tell us that a “budget” road bike costs more than $2000. A high-end set of road wheels can easily set you back more than $1200 once you add in the cost of your racing tires. Heck, if you want to buy a new cycling wardrobe with a few stylish jerseys, a pair of shorts for every day of the week, a “fancy” helmet and a nice pair of shoes, you can drop $850 in the blink of an eye.
Or, for that same $850, Allan Wanta can build you a custom frame and fork to your exact specifications, using state-of-the art steel tubing. For a bit more, he can add a carbon fiber rear triangle, if you are into that sort of thing, or add just about any custom feature a bicyclist could think of. Plus, he will throw in one of the whimsical, colorful paint jobs for which he is known.
Since 1976, Allan has built frames for a fraction of the price charged by the better known custom builders. What do you get for so little money? Allan built me a custom frame in 2006, so I am fairly well qualified to answer. He built me a “virtual” 68cm road frame from a combination of Dedacciai and True Temper tubing. The frame was fillet brazed, with cantilever bosses and a full compliment of eyelets and braze-ons. The extra features brought the price of my frame up to $900.
If you really wanted a Brian Baylis or a custom Rivendell, you might be disappointed by the aesthetics of a Wanta frame. Of course, with the thousands of dollars you saved, you could furnish your house with quite a lot of nice artwork to improve the aesthetic quality of your life. The workmanship was very nice, but emphasized functionality over artistry. The finish was fine, but not perfect. I encountered one significant problem; some of my cantilever bosses were not aligned properly (note that Allan will be the first to tell you that "ATB-style" options like cantilever bosses are not his specialty). Allan apologized profusely. He repaired the frame quickly and cheerfully, at no additional cost to me. When all was said and done, I had a wonderful frame and fork in less than 8 weeks. It would have been less time, but Allan was hit by a car while riding his bike and injured very badly during that time frame. Yet, after taking a few days off, he labored heroically to get my repaired frame back to me.
Allan has a unique view of the bicycling world. I wanted to find out more, and he was happy to answer some questions for me.
Q: How did you get started in the frame building business?
A: Hello, I'm Allan Wanta, born and raised in Wisconsin sometime ago, moved to Santa Barbara California for the sun and buns of California life, along with my first wife and brought along some framebuilding experience from the Paramount Design Group back in Waterford Wisconsin, a Schwinn division before they sold their soul to the Corporate man. "Hisssss, boooooo."
Q: Your custom frames start at $850, which is less than a used Cannondale frame is likely to cost someone. I don't want to sound like a "Crazy Eddy" commercial here, but HOW IN THE NAME OF ALL THAT IS HOLY DO YOU KEEP YOUR PRICES SO LOW?
A: If I had a reason for keeping my frame prices low, it was because it's a fun thing for me to do, and not an 80 hour a week job like so many try to make it. They try and try, but the bike business is not a place to make money. So I build frames, make a little, smile and ride and race, learning every day that life should be simple.
Q: How would you describe your basic philosophy toward frame building?
A: Building bikes was supposed to be a hobby, and it still is, with the idea to KISS off. That's keep it simple stupid, leave the high pressure worries of owning a business to those with ample supply of hair… well I don't and so I didn't. I've always built a frame with the notion of improving something about it every time. There's a lesson to be learned with every build, so I'm not considered a Master builder, at least by myself.
Q: Do you build mostly race bike frames? Town bike frames? ATB frames? Touring frames?
A: If you were to go on my website, http://wantaframes.com/, you'd see a mish-mash of frame designs, some lugged, some lugless, some blue, some red. It's all about choices, the differences that make life worthwhile. I love to work with my hands, and with people. Everything from 24-inch wheel tri-bikes, to the 650c models… I love ‘em all. The only things I keep my fingers out of are those pesky off road things, 26 inch MTB's. Not because I don't believe in them, but because everybody’s bother’s mother makes them, so I'll let them have the fun. I grew up in an era of non-mountain bikes. I have one but would rather not admit to it. Road racing has been in my blood since 1978, and racing on a frame that I built is all the part of the fun factor. So it gives me an extra advantage to design frames with a little bit of knowledge about riding.
Q: What do you see as the role of the bicycle in our current transportation system?
A: The bike is the thing of the past and of the future. Sure I have a car, but the era of the automobile is fast coming to a close. We just haven't accepted it. I for one would rather ride to work than drive, no need to fund the tax coffers for projects that I don't believe in. I do believe in people, and getting fit by riding a bicycle is a future I want to be a part of.
Q: What else would you like to say?
A: Please stop on by my website if you want to see a simple idea of building frames, at a simple price, by simply one person who enjoys making them.
And, “Yes,” I did ask Allan what he likes for breakfast, but he declined to answer. Maybe his breakfast choice has something to do with his secret for keeping frame prices so low…