This week we are bringing you a very special interview with Matt Appleman, owner, founder and builder at Appleman Bicycles in Minneapolis, MN. We are very excited to see his new bikes at NAHBS!
Matt, I like to start out builder interviews by asking what your first memory on a bike is?
It all started after seeing the 1996 Olympic mountain bike course in a newspaper. That day, keep in mind I was still in elementary school, I started riding on the grass next to the bike path on a 20″ wheel bike. I thought I was hardcore mountain biking!
Matt, I read that you have a history of road and track racing that lead to a knee injury, that lead to building bicycles–can you talk a little bit more about that?
One winter during college I over did it. I was lifting weights, running stairs, and riding on the trainer. I developed an overuse knee injury that wouldn’t go away, no matter how much time I took off the bike. After seeing several specialists and physical therapists, I still had pain. I finally found that my position on the bike that was causing my knee pain. I wasn’t balanced on the bike, which caused a constant stress on my knees. It was an eye popping experience to realize much of what I’ve been told my whole cycling life was not relevant to my situation. I couldn’t buy a frame with a super slack seat tube angle so I set out to utilize my skills and knowledge as a composites guy and make my own frame! My custom frame got me back riding again! I soon realized that I could help others with fit issues through custom frames.
How many years has Appleman been around?
I’ve been building frames for 5 years. As a formal business, Appleman Bicycles has seen 1 full year!
I see you got a degree in composite materials engineering in college, so it seems obvious that you would work with carbon fiber. Ultimately why did you decide to work with carbon over metal?
While learning the basics during college, I started becoming quite obsessed with carbon fiber and epoxy. I taught myself much of what I know. I was building carbon test joints in my dorm room, researching processes, reading patents (exciting right?), and memorizing data sheets. My poor friends and family listened to me rant about a new carbon fiber process’, or that I had just found a new epoxy with property X. In a nutshell: Carbon fiber is an amazing material that I’m obsessed with. There is so much you can do with carbon (and so much that hasn’t been done yet), that it draws me in. Carbon is unique to work with and offers an amazing ride quality in bike form.
What kind of tooling does it take to build custom carbon frames? What is the process?
The Tooling: Most people who see my shop are surprised at how little tooling I have. The tools I’m most proud to own are: the “Big Bad Bike Baking (BBBB) Oven”, frame jig, and Dynafile. My hands and skill replace machines… no fancy CNC mills or carbon fabric ply cutters here!
The Process: It starts with the tubes. I design every tube for every bike. After I receive the tubes, I mold my own custom carbon dropouts. Once all the frame parts are in place, the tubes are mitered by hand to fit in the frame jig. Tubes are bonded together with a high strength epoxy adhesive. Once the frame is bonded together, the fun starts! I can take the frame out of the jig and start laying up the carbon fiber around the joints. Once the frame has been “carbonized”, I pull a vacuum around the frame which removes voids and excess resin in the layup. The bike goes into my “BBBB Oven” to cure. The joints are sanded smooth and the excess head tube and seat tube are trimmed. The frame may go back into the oven to cure the small parts like our in-house water bottle mounts and carbon cable stops. The final step is cutting out the carbon fiber logos… yeah… I’m that obsessed with carbon that I make the logos out of carbon as well! Carbon logos are fun and makes the bike unique! Carbon is such a versatile material. I love it!
Would you say that you have a specialty?
So far, Appleman Bicycles makes road, cyclocross, and track frames. I’m working on developing a few new products. Coming up the pipline are mountain bikes, a fat bike, for these long Minne-snow-ta winters, and short carbon cranks for shorter people and people with range of motion problems.
What is your philosophy behind building? And what would you say makes you stand out from other custom builders, carbon or otherwise?
Overall, my aim to make bikes that make customers happy and provide a bike that they can ride their entire life. This is accomplished through custom fit, customized “ride feel”, and in some cases a custom carbon fiber look to the frame. A comfortable rider is a happy rider.
Structurally, it’s very important to me that I build frames Appleman style. I utilize carbon fiber extensively throughout the frames. I make carbon dropouts, cable stops, seat stay bridges, and logos. Carbon likes bonding to carbon. Carbon doesn’t like bonded/drilled/riveted aluminum frame bits. My “Carbon Everything” design produces an extremely strong and durable frame. It takes me longer to build a frame with carbon bits rather than the quick and dirty aluminum bits, but I sleep very well at night knowing that my frames are built tough.
Aesthetically, carbon is an amazing material because the “look” of it changes depending on the lighting conditions and angle you view it at. I like to minimize the use of paint because it simply covers up the natural beauty of the fibers. I use carbon fiber not only as a structural element, but also to decorate a frame and give it a unique look.
Matt, from your website it looks like you handle customers directly. Do you work with any dealers or bike fitters as well? What is the process of getting a bicycle built by you?
Customer focus reins supreme at Appleman Bicycles. I have a handful of hastily selected dealers, but the bulk of my work is directly with the customer. Getting a new bike is a fun process for the customer (and myself). After a rider chooses to purchase an Appleman, a $1000 deposit is required. The customer and I will fill out a fit form that covers all the basics: riding style, what they expect out of their Appleman, body dimensions, and current bike dimensions. When the fit form is complete, I create the custom frame geometry and also design a custom tubeset that will ride how the customer wants. When the geometry is approved by the customer the wait begins! When it’s their turn in the build queue, I’ll let them know I’m starting the frame. The frame is built and shipped. Then the real fun for the customer begins!
What population do you sell to?
The majority of customers are riders who want something custom and totally unique. They’ve had bikes from the big box brands… just like everyone else. I sell an equal split of frames to local, national, and international customers.
Are there any ways that you involve women in your business/sales/builds?
On the sales/customer side of things, women are generally better candidates for custom geometry frames. I’m surprised I haven’t had more women customers! There are fewer production frames that fit women well. Through a flexible construction process, I’m able to accommodate riders of any size or proportion.
Matt, is there anything you want to add?
I’m excited to be exhibiting at NAHBS in Sacramento! It’s always fun to have so many custom bike people under one roof.
Thank you for the interview!
$4000 for a full custom frame, fork, and headset
Story of the Head Badge:
“Like all my logos, I make my head badge out of carbon fiber! The shape is just a simple apple. I like to use a different weave of carbon fiber than the rest of the frame which makes the head badge pop!”