Aaron Barcheck is the founder and builder at Mosaic Cycles in Boulder, Colorado. We are thrilled to start the Head Badge Club framebuilder interviews with him. Just a few short months ago we approached Aaron with a very special project – Built to Fit :: A Custom Bike Story. He said yes and thus began our journey in to the world of custom bikes. Stephanie Loveless had a one-on-one with Aaron and this is how it went…
Aaron, Girl Bike Love is thrilled to sit down and talk with you about Mosaic Cycles! Would you please talk a little bit about the collaboration/involvement with Girl Bike Love for NAHBS? And why you feel like this is important?
When I was approached to work with GBL on this project I knew it would be a great partnership right away. I’ve always felt that the cycling community has many questions about the custom bicycle market that go unanswered, so getting the chance to explain the “what”, “how” and “why” of custom bikes is very important to the sustainability of the craft as a whole. Having the chance
to do it at NAHBS, along with the voice of GBL to women specifically, is a great opportunity to tell people what we are about and grow awareness of the custom market at the same time.
What are some other ways that women have been involved with Mosaic (business, sales, builds)?
On the business side of things, women have made up about 20% of Mosaic Builds, which is a number I’d like to see grow.
On the personal side of things, I’ve had a few key advocates that have helped to define me as a frame builder. My Aunt Colleen Cannon, retired world class triathlete, has supported me from the beginning of my cycling career. She helped me get my first custom bike, got me a job in the cycling world and has pushed me to follow my aspirations in life, both on and off the bike. My wife Liz has also been super supportive. Starting a small business is not easy and she’s definitely helped to guide me through the process. Of course, she doesn’t mind riding the nicest bikes around either.
You started racing as a junior back in St. Louis. What kind of bicycle were you riding back then? How did those experiences influence your dreams of building bicycles?
My first bike, that I could actually call my own, was a Trek 1500 aluminum frame given to me by a friend. It had Shimano 600 components. I was running a 9 speed rear wheel with 7speed down tube shifters on the friction setting. In retrospect it was a piece of junk compared to what all my friends were on, but it got me riding.
I used to ride with a friend in St. Louis, we thought we were so cool and we would talk about how cool it would be to have our own label of bikes and/or a bike/doughnut store at some point in life. It wasn’t really something serious, mostly a fun idea. Then when I moved out to Colorado I started getting into the idea, that it could be a reality, so I put some time and energy into it. Next thing I know I’m making bikes while my friend studies extreme biology in MT.
What is your first memory on a bicycle and when did you know you wanted to race?
Three initial memories: Riding on the river flats in St. Louis with my dad, he let me ride his carbon Alan because at age 12 it fit me perfectly. I was new to clipless pedals (at the time I couldn’t understand why they would call them clip”less”). I fell over while coming to a stop, unable able to clip out.
Age 15, I spent about two weeks with a friend riding my road bike in the Colorado Front Range thinking I could live here, Saint Vrain Canyon will never end. A local remarked that I “must be serious about cycling with my legs shaved at such a young age.” Guess I fit in.
And lastly, a day after I moved to Boulder I got my first real bike, my Dean, I road from Estes Park down to Lyons and back, the whole ride was surreal and still is.
To clarify, I don’t like to race, I think I spent too much time as an adolescent competing; basketball, running, tennis, speed skating and the list goes on. I was very athletically gifted and I liked to win, sure, but racing wasn’t something I was highly attracted to. I can’t say I even knew I wanted to ride a bike, let alone race a bike, more than anything else at that age. But I rode enough for cycling to become a part of my being and it has stuck with me since. Through my college years I learned to enjoy the sport of cycling for the love of it and not because it’s a means to an end of competing, being in great shape because I can means
just as much to me these days as racing.
I know your dad, Rick, is an artist/craftsman, did he teach you about building and tools when you were young? Inspire you? Or is it something that came to you on your own?
Actually both of my parents are artists/designers so that gift came with no fee at all. Let’s say I was taught to swing a hammer at a young age. My Dad had no trouble convincing me the household remodeling projects were fun so that I could do his dry-walling. For inspiration my Dad has been at the center of support for what I’ve done with Mosaic, for sure. He would tell you that I’m the man he’s always wanted to be, but he’s definitely led me by example all these years. Him and all the other Barcheck’s have always been project people, filling up their time with something to work on and I guess I’m no different. When you grow up in that type of environment you’re going to have some creative outlet in your life no matter what. I’ve been lucky that I’ve been able to combine a passion for cycling with a gift for craft and design into something tangible and productive.
Aaron, how did attending UBI (United Bicycle Institute) and working with Dean prepare you to both become a head builder and start your own company? How did your education in Integrative Physiology help with building?
That is a very loaded question to answer in a simple way. In short UBI gave me the thirst for building and my time at Dean gave me some of the know how. Neither a two week class, nor six years in a job can 100% prepare you for something like running a small business in the bike industry and truly creating your own quality product. A little trial and error and a big leap of faith is how I would describe it, plus I’ve been told I have the knack for it.
My physiology background helps in many different ways. Understanding the basics of physics and biomechanics goes a long way for fitting and design. More than anything though, a science degree gives you the knowledge to look at the world with a discerning eye, a skill for which is invaluable when it comes to problem solving as well as sifting through all the marketing in the bike industry.
What type of tooling do you use?
I have a small machine shop with standard mill and lathe, bicycle specific fixtures and finishing tools and a full mechanic set up as well.
How did you decide to work with steel and titanium? Did you ride bikes made of these materials when you raced or was it another influence?
I always tell people “I grew up on Ti.” My first real road bike was titanium which I was lucky to have. That definitely attracted me to the material. Then my first build was a ti frame, it just makes sense to me. I didn’t really learn to work with steel or aluminum for quite a while after I started building.
I have seen some of the crazy cool projects you have worked on. Can you tell me a little bit about the more unusual projects you’ve been asked to complete?
The traveling family project was my favorite. Two Ti light touring travel bikes with a custom Ti tag-a-long for each to pull a child. The bikes each fit in their own cases and the tag-a-longs broke down and fit into one case. Three bike cases to travel
anywhere with your family!
Do you have a specialty bike that you build?
I’ve built just about every type of bike except a recumbent. I like the evolution of building bikes for myself. I’ve built loads of bikes for myself and each time I build a new one I make a minor tweak.
What is the process for getting a custom bicycle from you? Do people come straight to you?
I choose to work with a number of highly trusted shops that all do great work in fitting and service. If a customer doesn’t have a dealer near them then I will work directly. I’ve found working with dealers to be the best way for customers to get the service they should when they are purchasing a custom bike and then have it serviced for a lifetime. The process involves an interview and fit session before the bike is built and sometimes more if needed.
By Stephanie Loveless – Boulder, Colorado – framebuilding apprentice, lover of sugar free chocolate and chatty cathy.
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