Monday, November 2, 2009

Bring On the Geeks!

Since the early days of Fat City Cycles, the Boston area has been a center for high-end bicycle manufacturing in the USA. Today, bicycle companies and frame-builders such as A.N.T., Seven Cycles, Independent Fabrications and Peter Mooney are all contributing to make this region a vibrant, thriving hub of the industry. Geekhouse bikes is another worthy player in this mix. Geekhouse founder Marty Walsh has developed a reputation for building bicycles which perform beautifully while maintaining a remarkable level of practicality in the real world. The geekhouse “Woodville” is a bike that can do everything from hauling groceries and supplies to touring across the country.

Furthermore, geekhouse has bucked recent trends by switching from overseas manufacturing to building frames in-house. Somehow, they have managed to keep their prices remarkably affordable through this process. Take that, all you Cannondales of the world!

Walsh was kind enough to give Cycloculture his take on the geekhouse Woodville, domestic bicycle production, and a variety of other subjects. Enjoy!

Marty Walsh, geek extraordinaire!

Q: How did you get your start in the bicycle industry?

A: I got my start in the industry at the age of 16 at a bicycle shop. I worked at the shop through college and upon graduation became a store manager. I then worked at a bicycle components manufacturer for a few years before leaving to pursue Geekhouse.

Q: What sets the Woodville apart from other touring/commuting bicycles?

A: The Woodville is definitely unique in its class. While most of our Woodvilles have gone out as the kind of hyper-practical commuter bike, we have the capacity to build the Woodville to near infinite spec combinations. This coupled with our ability to do custom fit geometry means that your Woodville can be personalized to you down to a point. Our Woodville stylings so far have favored really functional commuters, but we are working on two totally custom bikes that will be ridden from Boston to San Francisco next summer as part of an upcoming project. We can also alter the Woodville for Commuter, Touring, Rando, Porteur, and Dutch styles.

The geekhouse Woodville, in commuting attire

Q: Woodville frames start at $1199. Custom frames start at $1299. How do you keep the price so low?

A: The Woodville, like all our custom bikes, are set up a la carte style. We start with a bare bones frame and then you can add a variety of features including forks for $250 and a variety of tubing and braze-on options. In the end most Woodville frame/forks usually end up around $1600 and then we also have the ability to sell them with components. But in the end the price is still lower than that of other builders because #1 the frames are TIG welded which is a much faster process than brazing, #2 because we have the ability to powder coat all our frames in-house saving on the expensive paint jobs and #3 because we purchase many of our tubes in bulk at a discounted rate. Though even with all these reasons, prices are still very low compared with other builders and we will most likely be raising our prices in the near future.

Another Woodville, this one with a step-through frame

Q: Geekhouse used to farm out frame production to an outside vendor. Who used to build frames for you? Was it an overseas vendor or someone in the USA?

A: Initially, in 2003-2006, I just designed the frames and then had them built first at Brew in NC, and then in Taiwan. I also aspired to build frames myself, but I never thought I would be able to do it the way we have things set up now.

Q: Why did you bring production in-house? How has that worked out for you?

A: It wasn't just bringing production in-house, it was a long process of learning the craft and creating a shop out of first just my simple tool box to now a 1000sqft building packed with a variety of large machines. In the end I wanted more control over the products under the geekhouse name. But I also wanted to make this my craft and my trade. I want to build the best custom bikes we possibly can and I want to feel proud at the end of the day that we actually made something beautiful and practical. So, yes, this is working out, and I think things will only get better in the future.

The Wormtown was once made overseas, but it is now made in Boston!

Q: Do you build mostly stock bicycles or custom jobs?

A: All of our frames are built to order so when you order something from geekhouse there is nothing pulled "off the shelf" or anything like that. As for stock sizes (we do a 50-62cm run) vs. custom fits, it is roughly 30% stock sized and 70% custom.

Q: Do you plan on expanding production?

A: Production is currently expanding and will hopefully continue to do so. Within the past year we have added in-house powdercoating and geekhouse-specific front and rear drop outs. We're still a young company but some specific themes will stay with us for the long term. Every month is busier than the month before. We manage a cyclocross team, our new website is less than a year old, and there are near infinite offers and creative outputs for future projects. But while we will be expanding, it's still on a relatively small scale comparatively. I would like to keep it that way though, I don't want to lose ourselves in getting “too big.”

A geekhouse Mudville cross bike

Q: Do you think it would be possible, given today's global economy, for a domestic manufacturer to attain production levels similar to those of Fat City Cycles back in its heyday?

A: I think Fat City was a one-time thing. They started making mountain bikes right at the beginning of the boom and made some really nice models, although most of them were all in stock sizes, which, at the time, was fine.

I think there's at least three factors as to why this won't happen now: #1 With the boom of custom and the large amount of domestic custom builders, there are so many options for people to go to on a beautiful hand-crafted frame. #2 The large manufacturers are doing just about every style of bicycle now, and they're doing them quite well. I've seen many production bikes mimicking what I've seen at the NAHBS show not too long ago. #3 There are even a ton of small US companies manufacturing in Taiwan or importing from abroad and people are eating it up, because most of these bikes are honestly pretty cool.

Q: Would you consider shifting production to an overseas vendor if the demand was there?

A: I think that there are opportunities for us overseas with purchasing components. But as far as frame production, I am happy keeping things in-house and I would like to keep it that way as long as I possibly can.

The name of the geekhouse road bike, the "Fast Chance," is a nod to Boston-area bike builders of the past

Q: What can we do to get people out of cars and onto bicycles?

A: I think the best way to do it is to just get more people on bicycles first on any level. I think the fixed gear boom in the cities is a good start to that. A lot more people are riding fixed gears because they are simple and require little maintenance, and now also they have become “cool” which I'm really excited about. I think that this is a good start to getting people into bikes for transportation that haven't ridden before. I hope that as these people get more into bikes, they will check out other styles and grow on the styles that they ride. I think we're already starting to see this with fixed gear people getting into touring-style rides.

Q: What else would you like to say?

A: Ya, check out our flickr and facebook for up to the day progress on what we're up to:

Q: What do you like for breakfast?

A: Ideally pancakes. But most morning I settle for a breakfast bar and a mug of Earl Grey tea...

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