Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Jordan Hufnagel on Building Frames and the Portland Bike Scene

I stumbled upon Jordan Hufnagel’s flickr photo stream a few weeks ago, and I immediately knew I wanted to interview him. His bikes are lovely. He obviously builds them to very high quality standards. But they look immensely practical, too. He shows lots of frames built with track dropouts for assembly as fixies, and he shows lots of bikes built up with flat bars for urban riding.

Hufnagel builds in Portland, Oregon, which is experiencing a bicycle boom of epic proportions. So I asked him about the bike scene in Stumptown, as well as about the bicycles he builds. He gave me great answers to all questions.

Hufnagel, the hairy-chested he-man frame builder (photos from his website www.hufnagelcycles.com)

Q: Portland has always had a very active cycling community, but it seems to have exploded in the last few years. Is that accurate? What is the bicycle scene like in Portland these days? Where do you think it is going? What are some of the important elements of bike culture in Portland?

A: I have been in Portland for almost 4 years now and I could instantly feel the serious presence of bikes. No type of cycling is left out here. There is heavy participation in everything from mountain biking to track racing, and you can't deny the amazing cyclocross scene here, but at the heart of it for every cycling enthusiast in Portland is commuting. There is a defiant effort on behalf of the people here to do all they can by bike, and the city government is behind it too! I see more porteur racks, panniers, and cargo bikes than ever. I think that Portland culture breeds this mentality. This is a city designed to support local businesses and develop self-supporting neighborhoods. To find a big box store you have to go well out of the city center, and there is no reason to. You can find most things you desire within 20 blocks.


Q: What can other US cities do to develop a cycling mindset similar to what we see in Portland?

A: Make the roads safer for cyclists. This means educating drivers and cyclists, and developing functional bike routes. Focus on a local economy. Shop locally owned neighborhood businesses. I think this plays a huge role in Portland culture and the cycling community. Plus, it makes it easier for people to live in their neighborhoods and not feel like they have to make massive shopping trips by car to big box stores. And also have a fun race scene. The Cross Crusade has been a great example of how to make competition fun and accepting to all interested!

Q: You make a lot of frames for fixies, from the look of your website. How many frames with track dropouts do you make for each frame you build with road dropouts? Any thoughts as to why so many of your frames go derailleur-free?

A: That was definitely the deal this past year. I built about 1 geared bike to every 3 single speeds. However, when I look at my build queue now, there are only 2 track bikes in the next 6 months of builds. Cyclocross has taken over my shop! I think the number of track bikes I build has a lot to do with their popularity in general, and the simple classic look I give them. I also love making the clearance super tight and I think that speaks to a lot of people looking for an awesome track bike.

Mmmm... Shiny track dropout goodness!

Q: You seem to use a combination of lugs and fillet brazing. Why did you choose these frame building methods? Have you thought about TIG welding frames? Why or why not?

A: Aesthetics. I just love the way a smooth fillet looks and feels, and the elegance of a well done lug. They get me really excited. The first bike I made was TIG'd but I think I have always had my heart in brazed bikes. With that being said, the TIG work of guys like Jim Kish at Kish Fabrication, Mike DeSalvo at Desalvo Cycles, and Sean Chaney at Veritgo Cycles is really something to love!

That's what a filed fillet braze should look like.

Q: Please tell us a bit about your shop. I know you are a one-person operation. What kind of tools do you use? What kind of building are you in?

A: My shop is in SE Portland right on a major bike avenue. I occupy a 500 square foot box in the corner of a warehouse with some big windows. The tools I use on each build are your usual shop selection ranging from a large selection of files to a 2000 lb vertical mill. I have a lug vise from Efficient Velo Tools as well as a bunch of odds and ends that I have made over time that have made my work a lot easier too. You can usually hear some Tom Petty or Neil Young blasting while you ride by, or see me drinking massive amounts of peach tea and eating cookies!

Craftsmanship? Yup.

Q: Please describe your ideal bike.

A: Any bike I'm having fun on, but right now it would have to be the new cyclocross bike I'm making myself in a couple weeks!

Q: Do you travel more by car or by bicycle?

A: Locally it's the bike for sure. Long distance travel has been by plane mostly, with my bike as my checked baggage.

Urban machine.

Q: Which off-the-shelf bikes do you like?

A: As far as the big companies go I’ve been into the steel Lemonds. They seem like a good deal with a classy look.

A lovely Hufnagel mixte

Q: What do you like for breakfast?

A: Breakfast food plays a serious role in my life. Brunch is the meal that brings most of my friends together. A tofu scramble with lots of veggies and vegan sausage would be my favorite I think.

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