Saturday, April 20, 2013

Wooden Wonders

I love good woodworking.  I love bicycles.  Can good woodworking go hand-in-hand with cycling?  I discovered two gentlemen who are trying to answer that question in the affirmative.  Their company, Surname Cycling Goods, is making beautiful wooden bicycle components.  They were kind enough to grant me an interview.

All photos are courtesy of Surname Cycling Goods.
Steven Bukowski and Timothy Skehan (Tim is wearing the hat)
 Q:  Who is Surname Cycling Goods?

A:  Surname Cycling Goods is Steven Bukowski and Timothy Skehan.
Tim grew up in Cleveland, Ohio and Steve in Buffalo, New York. We met in Cleveland while both attending the Cleveland Institute of Art, graduating in 2010. Tim studied photography and Steve studied industrial design. After graduating, we both hit the road for New York, searching for new opportunities to pursue our individual interests. It wasn't until one warm, summer night, drinking beer on Tim's stoop, that we had the idea to start making wooden bicycle parts in his dingy basement, which flooded regularly. Brilliant. We've come a long way since then, moving into a real workshop with real tools and, most importantly, sunlight, and really trying to nail what our brand is and flesh out our product line.

Surname Fastback Fender

Q:  What gave you the idea to start a business building bicycle components out of wood?

A:  We would say that it came from a ­­merging of interests. Both of us have backgrounds in art and design, and we also both grew up in the rust belt (Cleveland and Buffalo), places where the need for reuse and creative repurposing of materials is much more visible. Combine this with a mutual love for bicycles and we have a spark. We think it was really the merging of all these interests more than a singular idea that produced Surname Cycling Goods.

Q:  Do you have plans to expand your offerings?  If so, what other parts or components are you considering?

A:  We're working on things all the time. It’s one of the best parts of being small and handmade, that you get to play around with different designs and materials all the time. Our selection of woods will definitely be seeing additions and some of our designs will have special limited runs. We're working on a few different basket designs, and maybe partnering with a secret someone on a outfitting a complete bike project this spring with our accessories. Some people have made requests for our fenders to fit Dutch-style bikes so we're working on those too.

Q: Tell us about the sustainability of your products.  What types of wood are you using?  Are you using them in a sustainable manner?

A:  All of the wood Surname uses is sourced from NYC and some parts upstate. We have been working with Build it Green NYC as a supplier so it's all currently material reclaimed from deconstruction. Some of it comes from old water towers, old warehouse floors and joists, some even from the Coney Island boardwalk when parts need to be replaced. We've usually got Douglas Fir and Spruce on hand because it was so widely used 100 years ago, but sometimes we come across something special, like the Ipé used for the Coney Island boardwalk.

Surname Sixer Basket

Also just recently we’ve started working with Roger Benton who runs a local sawmill called Re-Co Brooklyn ( They’re picking up felled trees that the city would normally throw straight into the chipper, and milling it into furniture grade lumber. Right in Brooklyn, how awesome! This gives us a lot more options and varieties of reclaimed wood, also saves us the headache of having to dig out nails from our stock.

Our design process also is a vehicle for sustainable practices in that we try to use as many of our offcuts as possible for other products, like our baskets. Also for any services we need, we stick to local people and businesses, which is one of the major advantages of being in New York, not having to outsource.

Q:  Is the wooden bicycle frame a pipe dream for us crazy wood lovers?  Or is it something that is within reach?

A:  The wood bicycle is something that gets tried out every once and again by designers, engineers, and frame builders alike. There are some pretty slick examples out there (check out Andy Martin’s Thonet track cycle:  It’s unique of course but it’s not something we’re interested in doing personally. I think we’re both more about the simplicity of a steel bike and an attention to detail. What we are interested in making are the details, and I think there is enough to explore in that realm to keep us busy for a while.

Q:  I love the look of your wooden handlebars, but they scare the bujeezis out of me.  Are they really strong enough so that someone of my 250lb bulk would not break them?  What assurances do you have that they will not break?  What kind of testing have you done?

Surname Straight Handlebar - Ipé goodness straight from Coney Island (before Hurricane Sandy)

A:  These really scared us at first too, even as the makers of them. We only sell them as the Ipé version currently because it's so dense and extremely strong without being brittle. Also we'd like to point out that the bars are made of laminated plies, which is much, much stronger in contrast to solid wood. We're doing some research into possible reinforcements to allow us to make them out of other woods as well. We've both ridden them a decent amount, and we of course wouldn't want to put something out there that might get people hurt, but the next plan is to give a few pairs to our courier friends and let them really put them through the ringer.

Q:  If you were put in charge of America's transportation infrastructure, what would it look like?

A:  That’s a loaded question over here. The Netherlands perhaps; it’s kind of a cliché answer, I know, but they really have a good model in practice over there. In that form though it probably wouldn’t even work in New York; people are too hectic, need too much of their own space.  You can’t impose a willingness to share.  Bike and pedestrian dedicated zones are a must, and some people need to drive of course, but right now cars are given way too much priority. 

Q:  What other bicycle and/or component companies do you like?  Why?

A:  A few of the big companies we look up to are Paul, Phil, Brooks, and there are a ton of local custom frame builders such as Horse, Ceremony, Fast Boy, and there’s really a ton out there if we get into people outside of NYC; Swift Industries, Geekhouse, StanRidge Speed; the list just goes on. Just looking at the spectrum we have these days of small producers is impressive to say the least.  You can find an amazing bespoke bicycle builder working in every style of frame imaginable. What we really like about them is that they make beautiful and rad shit - they're really doing what they love - and they're all small(ish) and follow respectable practices. They all stand by what they make, and they make their goods well.

Q:  Describe a viable complete bicycle made from sustainable materials and manufactured in a sustainable manner, please.

A:  This is obviously a topic that runs pretty deep, but to keep it relatively simple it all starts with sourcing. We try to work within our local sphere as much as possible, and when we need to go outside of it we try to weigh our options carefully. This is why we're so excited to be working with Horse Cycles on their Urban Tour Project, it's a whole bike that is relying on the local economy as much as possible. This idea of local is of course only a jumping off point; the issue of sustainability goes all the way up the supply chain, and in our opinion deals with myriad issues, not only environmental impact, but also ethical and economic issues. Though there are some manufacturers out there cleaning up their practices it's our job as makers to demand a higher standard from those companies we source from.

Surname Bottle Whip, because you never know when a bottle of beer will appear!

Q:  What do you like for breakfast?

A:  I'm not sure what Tim usually eats, though it's safe to say that there is coffee involved. As for myself, a big cup of black coffee and either yogurt and fruit or toast and almond butter usually suffices.

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