Written by: Nik Karbelnikoff
Last summer I became one of the many cyclists who found themselves sucked in by “all road” craze. Before the Winter took full effect, I was pushing my Giant TCR on 25mm tires well past its recommended use and I knew I would need a different bike for the 2017 season. Around the same time, a colleague of mine introduced me to the world of custom made steel bikes. As a former carbon obsessed race bike guy, this was completely new to me. I was instantly obsessed with the craftsmanship, paint schemes, and of course the endless build possibilities. I wanted in!
While searching for steel all road frames I came across a number of great options that were all conceptually pretty similar. As a Brooklyn native, I decided I wanted to work with someone local, and the minute I saw the Horse Cycles All Road Elite I knew I had to have it.
If I was going to go custom I wanted an intimate experience, so to me the big upside of working with a local builder was actually getting to meet them and see their work space.
In mid-February I sent Thomas an email inquiring about the bike. He immediately wrote back and invited me to his shop. The next week I stopped by to discuss the project. We chatted while he gave me a tour and introduced me to Charles, his infamous shop cat. He was so psyched on the bike and the high end build I wanted to do that I knew I had made the right choice. The next day I emailed him again to confirm the frame size and he wrote back – “So pumped. I love this bike and everything about it. Amped to build you one.”
This was my first custom steel bike and the build process did not disappoint. I got to stop by a few more times to check out the progress and consult on components and paint before taking it to Magliarosa NYC to be built up. During my visits Thomas and I casually talked about getting some rides in and maybe taking some photos. I figured that after the bike was done we might set up some time to take high res stills in his shop, high five, and go our separate ways besides a few Instagram tags and some friendly email exchanges.
After picking the bike up and sending Thomas some nice shots of the completed build he mentioned wanting to get some more outdoor shots, casually texting me – “I’m going upstate this weekend. Anyway you will be up there? Would love to get some nature shots! Let’s chat tomorrow. I’ll know more.” – Two days later he sent me an address and a photo of a beautiful property with a pond and a newly built one room cabin in Bovina New York and said – “Not sure if you have a car. Headed up tomorrow. Will be there until Sunday. You could stay on the property. I have a little shed and a tent and sleeping pad.” - The invite sort of caught be by surprise but after a few more picturesque photos and a thumbs up to bring my dog, I had say to yes.
What ensued was an epic weekend of camping, cooking, swimming, and of course riding while Thomas and his friend Steve finished the newly constructed outhouse, duly named – the poop castle. Thomas’ property is a little slice of heaven in the Norwest corner of the Catskills where the valley views, local farms, and dirt roads to explore seem endless. It quickly became clear to me that his brand is synonymous with what he loves and the property is a perfect way to make his work come to life – chopping fire wood with his hatchets, preparing food with his knives, and exploring the area on his bikes.
On Sunday I went out for a ride just short of 40 miles that was about 60/40 paved to dirt ratio. The terrain is challenging to say the least. I cracked 4,000ft of climbing in under three hours of riding, making me earn every last bit of the fast fun descents that followed each long climb. The hard-packed red clay dirt roads were in amazing shape and outside of Route 28 I saw very few cars at all. It was exactly the kind of ride my new bike was made for and left me wanting to get back as soon as possible to explore all of the roads I couldn’t get to.
That evening I got in my car to drive back to the city, dirty, sunburnt, dead tired, and completely content. What had started as a bike frame inquiry had become more than I ever expected. A month or two prior to this trip I heard Thomas and Ben Falcon speak about their crafts at a Magliarosa: Meet the Maker event. Ben talked about how objects carry meaning and rhetorically asked – “Why not make them special?” I couldn't agree more. As far as my bike is concerned, it's absolutely awesome - but I think the memory of this process and hanging out with two rad dudes in Bovina will outlast it, and that might be the coolest part.