[BikePortland intern Jonathan “J.R.” Reed contributed reporting to this story.]
(Photo: Daniel Sharp Photography)
Portland-based Sweetpea Bicycles is the latest local bike builder to offer a line of production bikes. Builder Natalie Ramsland says the move was made to make Sweetpeas more accessible, both in terms of price and availability.
Natalie has garnered attention in the world of handmade bikes, not only because she is one of very few women making them specifically for women but because she does beautiful work and has the business acumen to continue doing so (which for some builders is more difficult than the building part).
The idea behind Sweetpea’s new production offering — dubbed “Lust” — is simple: Get more women on bikes that fit them in less time and for less money than a fully, one-off custom bike.
Natalie began the Lust line with her most popular model, the Little Black Dress road bike. The Little Black Dress model was born from piles of custom fit data derived through years of customer feedback and tutelage under Portland’s renown bike fit guru, Michael Sylvester of Bicycle Fitting Services. Ramsland has crunched the fit numbers critical in a custom built bicycle and distilled them down to standard small, medium and large sizes. According to Ramsland, the standard sizes of the new production frames will fit 80% of her customer base using only minor adjustments in parts selection.
Ramsland maintains production oversight and customer relationships, but actual fabrication of the Lust bikes is contracted out to a larger, undisclosed Oregon-based company with the stock and experience to turn around a Sweetpea design in approximately 8 weeks — compared to the three-year waiting list for a handmade-by-Natalie version. (The three year waiting list, Natalie says, is a result of hard work, positive customer response and a couple of shop relocations which put a kink in her production schedule.)
Unlike the limitless choices of colors and components available with a custom bike, the Lust bikes are available in three colors (juniper, pumpkin, black) and they are available as complete bikes only (assembled with what Ramsland termed “well-curated” parts kits based on Shimano’s 105, Ultegra or Dura-ace options). Price difference between a production and custom Sweetpea is likely to be at least several hundred dollars.
Sweetpea’s production offering isn’t new in the handmade bike world. Other builders, struggling to meet demand in a business that does not scale with popularity, have taken similar routes.
Another local example is the Speedvagen line created in Sacha White’s Vanilla Bicycles Workshop in Southeast Portland (read our Speedvagen coverage from 2007). Chris King, the man known for his legendary headsets and hubs, also offers what he calls “hand-built production” bikes under his new Cielo brand, and Joseph Ahearne of Ahearne Cycles, has also dabbled in a semi-production line (with pre-built front triangles) in the past.
At this point, the Little Black Dress road bike is the only model in the Lust line; Ramsland has yet to determine when or if she’ll add others. “I won’t launch a new model just for the sake of doing so. The demand and business case have to dictate it.”
Even in a down economy, Sweetpea’s business — which is run by Natalie and her husband Austin — seems to be doing quite well. Ramsland says Portland itself plays a large role in their success. “Cycling is in Portland’s roots. There is an appreciation for craft, a talent pool and an industry base that earns the city’s reputation.”
When asked about the future of framebuilding in Portland with around 30 builders toiling in a similar niche and a new UBI campus in town, Ramsland responded with a cheesy metaphor. “Lots of people make their own cheeses. Mozzarella is relatively easy. But when you get to blues and more elaborate types, you head for the specialty shop which will always have its place.”
If you Lust (ha, get it?) for a Sweetpea Bicycle, contact Natalie via SweetpeaBicycles.com.
Builder Focus is a new section we’ll bring you with the help of our intern Jonathan Reed. J.R. (which is what he goes by around here to avoid confusion), is not just a stellar intern, he’s also the man behind Quixote Cycles.
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Yay for woman sized bikes! And Oregon-built bikes!
I’ve had a hard time helping find the right bikes for my (short) wife. She could probably use custom geometry, but with her current bike experience and finances that isn’t in the cards for a couple years. But there isn’t a ton of options out there, glad to see nice production bikes like this come onto the scene.
Keep being awesome Sweetpea.
I saw this in your twitter stream and lucky enough got one of the last pre-built small bikes for my wife!
A friend of mine purchased a hand built bike by Sweetpea, and sorry to say, she was disappointed. Now I’m not trying to tarnish the name of this company or anything (I really do like the concept!), but when you by a brand new hand built bike and you can’t even shift into your lowest gear because the finish work wasn’t done properly, it makes me wonder what else is going on… I’m sure Sweatpea is going to fix it at no cost, but it is a shame when the customer spends so much time and money and receives a product of low quality.
Wow, beautiful bikes. But whoo the price tag ($4k+). I was thinking of springing a “little black dress” bike as a surprise for my short wife who’s been riding around on a 20 year old steel Trek. She’s a recreational long-distance road rider and is therefore less willing to fork out money for a new bike (she sees it as “not broken”) than I am as an every day bike commuter.
Still. Might consider springing it on her if I save up secretly.
I am hopeful that we are seeing a trend in bike production in Portland. I would, of course, love to see this trend expand to even broader mass production of bikes in Portland and Oregon.
Can you imagine a future where Oregon-made bikes are a mainstream point of pride and have a spectrum of pricing and options that make them widely accessible? Honestly with the right technical business support and, more importantly, greater access to capital it could be done.
$3k is “accessible” for those already willing to put down custom bike prices, but let’s be honest here, this price range is not achievable for 80% of women riders out there.
Most womens bikes I see on the street are at least in the $1-2k range.
Good step forward, however. Wish Sweetpea the very best with this line.
Fantastic! Best of luck to Natalie and Austin. Two great people who happen to be passionate about bikes.
I hope there will soon be a production cyclocross bike, because my girlfriend has a hankering for one. I offered to sell one of her cats to purchase a new cross bike for her, but she told me “no.”
It would be a lot more accessible if it were available as a frame and fork.
Many people build their bikes by starting with an entry level machine, switching out stock components with better ones as money allows. Usually the last thing is replacing the frame and fork with something really nice, like a handmade frame and fork. You get a new headset, bb, cables, etc. and then switch all your blingin’ parts onto your new blingin’ frame.
Thanks for the comments!
My mission is to get more women on bikes that are thoughtfully designed and fit beautifully. It is worth repeating: there is a real need for bikes that fit women. It is my passion, and it is what I am good at. Stainless steel hand-carved lugs? Not so much.
So to be able to take real data, develop a smart design, and distill it into a tasty nugget of cycling simplicity – that’s heaven for me.
A couple side notes:
Yes, I guarantee my work.
And thanks for the suggestion about offer the frame and fork a la carte. I’m looking to make these bikes as well-curated, and as accessible, as possible.
Making bicycles that fit women well is not a new idea, but the male-dominated bicycle industry has been slow to see the need. Georgena Terry has been making very high quality, women-specific bicycles since the mid-70s (see http://www.terrybicycles.com/cycling_savvy). If I wanted such a bike, and I was going to spend $3,000-5,000, I would go with a Terry and take advantage of her years of experience.
Leon: cables stretch on brand-new bike builds and often have to be re-adjusted. Are you sure that’s not the cause? Out back the only limitation would be the derailleur against the back wheel, so I don’t see how the “finish” of the frame could be effecting the ability to get on the big cog. In front I doubt the derailleur is against the seat tube, so the granny gear should be accessible.
I don’t think a mis-adjusted derailleur renders the countless hours it takes to hand fabricate and finish a bicycle frame and fork null and void.
The problem with the rear brake is the cable guide braze-on, for a lack of a better term–the part that is connected to the seatstays, is installed too low and so when the canti-lever brake setup is installed, there is no clearance for fenders. The problem I see with the finish work is in the rear drive side scallop–where the seatstay, chainstay, interface with the rear drop out. The cassette fits in nicely, but the scallop does not allow for the chain to be shifted into the smallest cog.
These are just minor details and I’m sure it will all be fixed. Sweetpea or nice bikes for sure!
Smallest cog is the highest gear…
Well curated?! What wheelset do the folks at Sweetpea recommend palping with that? Will the frame tolerate various hipster hi-lock methods?
I thought I was reading BikeSnobNYC for a moment.
As the owner of the Little Black Dress in the top photograph, I can tell you that I am 100% happy with my bike. It makes me smile uncontrollably when I ride it. I just took it on Cycle Oregon and had the derailleur cable adjusted at 500 miles (as SkidMark noted is normal) and it’s riding smoothly in every gear (and I used them all on Cycle Oregon). Natalie rocks!