[This Q & A with Massachusetts-based builder Chris Igleheart was written by Portlander Otis Rubottom as part of our ongoing coverage of the upcoming Oregon Manifest event. Igleheart will be in Portland this October to compete in the Constructor’s Design Challenge. We’ll publish more builder Q & As in the weeks to come.]
(Photo: Slate Olson)
Chris Igleheart has a little bit of giggle behind his words. It’s easy to think of him as someone who does not fluster easily, which makes sense given his attention to detail, and his focus on creating bikes that fit and function across a wide range of disciplines.
From his time at Fat City to a stint in Oregon, to his base in Massachusetts, Chris has spent his life around bikes. With a reputation for functional, utilitarian steel bikes, he’s also gained attention for producing a selection of punishment-worthy steel forks. Chris is looking forward to building, and riding, one of his own bikes in the design challenge. It will be the first bike he’s built for himself.
What do you find most intriguing about the Design Challenge?
Jeremy Dunn suggested this was up my alley so I looked into it, and in keeping with my outlook “Made by hand, pedaled by feet,” it seemed to be what I’m about. The challenging ride just sounds like fun, rounded out with an added sense of whimsy. I like building a good ride…one that makes it so a person almost forgets what’s under them. Then they are free to enjoy the pedaling experience, look at the day, see the birds, take in the scenery, or if you live life in the fast lane you can put all focus on fulfilling your need for speed. (If that’s your bent.)
Are you approaching creating a bike for the Design Challenge differently than you would a bike for specific rider? How?
Well, I am looking at the durability and load carrying needs, with a focus on a stable, nimble ride. After all these years, I actually have yet to make myself a bike, sort of the shoe cobbler syndrome. I ride leftovers that thankfully have fit and been good companions, on-road and off. I like function in a bike, and this challenge is to make my favorite type of build—a utilitarian bike that can be an all rounder. Loaded up for the day-to-day errands, or just taking off up to Montréal or someplace away.
Years ago I had a bicycle shop in Portland, Maine, and didn’t have a car for some of that time, and I used a bike for everything! This build will be around that experience. I still only use a car when I have to. “Bikes are toys” is the American view, but I have shown otherwise, and the times are now proving me correct.
“A frame is basically just a set of tubing. I can riff with those tubes, play some arpeggios, find and make little things that the rider will discover that will make them smile.”
Given the various requirements, is there any one element of the Challenge that you will focus on more than others?
In making a bike the whole form is simple, and messing with one part of it can affect the others. So I look at the overall of it…the big picture. Load carrying ability will be a big part of the design. Also getting my miles in, as being the motor is important here!
What is it that you love so much about building that, at the end of the day, you still want to come back and do it again tomorrow?
I’ve been in the bike trade my whole life. It has always been about getting people on bikes. Doing this is satisfying. I like making things. And making something for someone specific, and then seeing them be happy about it fires me up. You want to make something that is truly satisfying for them to ride. I hope that they don’t have to think about the bike. It just fits. The joy of a custom builder is in that.
It’s kind of like seeing a musician playing a transcribed piece—notes on page. A frame is basically just a set of tubing. I can riff with those tubes, play some arpeggios, find and make little things that the rider will discover that will make them smile.
There is always something else to make. There is nothing that will stop me from getting (the customer’s bike) done. It’s a promise that’s satisfying to honor.