Now that several years have passed since the sun set on the Golden Age of Portland Bike Builders it might be hard to recall just how big a deal it was.
There was a time (from 2007 to 2013 give or take) when Portland was inarguably the epicenter of America’s framebuilding renaissance. People moved here to learn the art and craft of making bikes, builders crammed together in workshops, handmade bikes were welcomed into places like the Portland Airport, the Sentinel Hotel ballroom, the lobby of Wieden + Kennedy, and the City Hall atrium, and we even hosted the world’s largest handmade bicycle show.
But as Portland changed, so too did its framebuilding scene. Interest waned and that exciting cultural moment passed us by. Today just a few of those builders remain.
Through it all, one of the brightest stars was a quietly confident young builder from the Buckman neighborhood named Sacha White. In custom bike circles he was nothing short of a rock star. Even to people who only saw his Vanilla Bicycles creations on the internet, they seemed to have a mythical quality about them. There was something about the clean aesthetic of the bikes, the reverence for details, and undeniable quality that set them apart from everything else.
White started making bikes under his Vanilla Bicycles moniker in 1999. By the time I met him in 2005 he already had a multi-year waitlist and a level of attention even he couldn’t explain. Two years later he launched Speedvagen and welcomed other accomplished artisans into his shop to make the Vanilla ethic more accessible. Today the Vanilla Workshop remains a leader in the handmade bike world.
The shop’s latest creation is the Vanilla Classic, a bike that attempts to push boundaries while staying firmly connected to its roots.
Here’s what the company says about it:
“2020 hasn’t had too much going for it, but it has produced a renaissance for the bicycle. This rebirth has moved us to celebrate our origins.
In 1999 Sacha created Vanilla Bicycles, based on the simple idea that it is what the builder does with their material, that makes a truly rarified bicycle experience. Craft, style, obsession, and live on the spot design decisions, where every single part on the bike was considered, launched Vanilla to the forefront of the custom bicycle world. This created overwhelming demand and a multiple year long waitlist. With the waitlist came collectors and bikes that would get dusty, not muddy and ridden as intended.
Our bikes are built to be ridden!
Speedvagen was created in 2007, to take the same handcrafted approach of Vanilla and apply it for cyclists that want to ride hard. Sacha surrounded himself with talented fabricators, obsessive painters, edgy designers and world class mechanics. The Vanilla Workshop grew from this passionate collaboration, quickly creating the Speedvagen we know today: a bike stripped of bullshit with only the details that matter to our people.
As we look to the future, it is important to celebrate our past, and in the spirit of taking it to 11, this November, we release a modern racing machine, wrapped in the original colors of our Vanilla DNA.
A throwback to the flavors of the early 2000’s, mixed with what is now possible when today’s shop is having some fun.”
This beautiful bicycle will be limited to a run of just 44 bikes — 11 each in Race Red, Curtes Silver, Alpers Blue, and Classic Vanilla Cream (a third of the lot is already spoken for). The bikes are fillet brazed with superlight Speedvagen Custom tubing and a special Dura Ace groupset with a hand-polished finish.
The Classic is fully custom so you’ll have to ask how much it’ll cost to own one. And just a hint: If you have to ask, it’s probably more than you can spend.
For full parts spec options and other fun details, check out Speedvagen.com.
— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and firstname.lastname@example.org
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That is one beautiful bike, and damn so I miss those custom bike days spent at Hopworks and Velo Cult.
I miss Velo Cult, period.
Its one of those amazing things that flowed in the cheap rents and abundant cycling tough times after the Great Financial Crisis but died in the high rents and dwindling cycling affluent times that eventually followed.
We are back in the tough times, in a big way. The ground should be fertile for another great bike bar. But, Covid has salted the soil.
What, No Battery? Who would ride that, a Luddite? Before you know it we will be listening to music from vinyl records and drinking hand made beer.
plus, RIM BRAKES!
you can have both. all my ebikes are rockin’ vintage rim brakes and 1980’s steel frames.
It kind of looks like MY Vanilla, only nicer. I went with a tomato red/brick color, and he really did not want to do it back then (when it was pastel-city).
The silver DA looks amazing – love silver gruppos.
uh, I just got drool all over my keyboard! Great photography and write-up!
“And just a hint: If you have to ask, it’s probably more than you can spend.” I gotta laugh at this story since one of the stories just before this one was about the homeless disaster on our bike paths.
Beautiful! I want it and the first thing I’d do is mount my super bright super blinky NIteRider light on the bars.
Every technological form reaches its pinnacle, then after that it tends to get junked up with gee gaws, or technological add-ons for the sake of progress. You can tell those things that have reached the apex of form and function because they look perfect. Nothing needs to be added and nothing can be taken away. Among these things are the 1964 Ferrari 250GTO, the Swing-Away Can Opener and the Chemex coffee maker. This bike, or others like it is the pinnacle of road cycles. I for one am thankful that a few of these are still being made so one day when everyone is riding a molded plastic battery cycle we can look back and figure out where things went wrong.
+1 for “gee gaws”.
Carbon bikes are like inflatable sex dolls, they check all the boxes but they don’t have a pulse. (And yes, I know there are tons of jokes to be made at my expense there – I’d love to hear them as well.)
Of all the bikes I own (Carbon, Ti, Alu, steel)…the one that rides the best is the Vanilla. Not as fast as my carbon road bike, but it has a soul.
and yet you’re cool with Shimano over Campagnolo?
Sure. But if the bike is Italian, it better have Campy.
Interesting. If one of those companies has more “soul” I would have to say it’s Capmy.
There’s the bike snobbery that has so long been absent from this blog. Beautiful bike, but Dura Ace? /s
FWIW my Campy grupo goes nicely on a Waterford (burnt orange w/black lugs)
I love my Swing-Away can opener! The can opener that’s been to outer space!
As a mechanic who sees mangled derailleur hangers all the time, the fact that this frame has a non-replaceable derailleur hanger (see close-up in photo 16/20) is, to me, the opposite of “built to be ridden”. N.B.: Do not confuse the Shimano Shadow link with a replaceable derailleur hanger; they’re different things.
Ehhh, whatever. I have several custom bikes and a couple Surly’s, and none of them have replaceable hangers. They’re fine! They get commuted on, taken on tours, multiple Oregon Outbacks and DM60s etc., countless CZ trail rides, OMTM rides, and so on….it’s not a big deal!
Steel is bendy.
…and easily repaired
This brings up a great point, and one Jonathan touched on a bit in the article. Vanilla/Speedvagen is somewhat of a survivor with quite a few custom steel builders going under since the custom boom of 2005-2010ish. And with most of the custom builders going to semi custom production (breadwinner is a good example) or very niche and expensive Vanilla, Chapman, J.P, Weigle well out of reach for normal budgets and not really available for frame fixes. Where can someone realistically and reasonably get a rear dropout fixed if they break/bend an integrated steel hanger? I’m sure people exist, even locally, but I don’t know anyone actively advertising steel frame repair (Norther came to mind, but I think they closed their doors). The refrain is that steel is repairable, unlike carbon or aluminum. But I’d almost be more confident Ruckus could fix a broken seat stay than I could find a steel builder to fix a dented/cracked steel frame.
Dave Feldman in Vancouver can fix your steel frame. He has a website easily found.
Funny when I tried to find someone to fix a broken aluminum frame in 2015 or so, I couldn’t find a single company around the US. The only option ended up being a titanium sleeve (made by Ti Cycles) to put over the fractured Aluminum tube.
TLDR: You’re going to be VERY hard-pressed to find anyone willing to fix aluminum.
That’s what is said, that many people see steel as easly fixed, while other materials are disposable and unfixable. This is effectively true for aluminum, as you point out, but not for carbon due to Ruckus and some other outfits around the country. I guess I took it for granted that when I said Ruckus that the reader would know that I was speaking of a carbon repair, not aluminum.
yeah, I didn’t really understand you then, with the way you lumped aluminum and carbon together.
Replaceable Derailed hangers are items that can make an otherwise perfectly serviceable bike, scrap metal. That part is now not even available for my older mountain bike from Cannondalespares.com. Planned obsolescence sucks
I don’t understand, a severally bent or cracked aluminum integrated hanger is better? Replaceable hangers make a lot of sense for alu and carbon bikes. Really any bike that is going to be raced.
Maybe that website doesn’t have your hanger… But derailleurhanger.com has 610 (yes, six hundred and ten) different hangers available. Do they really not have the one for your C-dale? It may take a bit of digging, but they’ve never failed me.
Worth a look
Great bike porn but not accessible to your average cyclist, at least you are correct that if you have to ask you can’t afford it!
Pretty cool, but the fork?
I agree, fork looks out of place….
I’m disappointed there’s no Dura Ace hubs and headset – very incomplete, a bit like a frakenbike from some ultra high-end chop shop.
I am glad he choose to include the made in Portland Chris King Head set and hubs. When you have world class stuff made right here in town it seems like a good idea to use it. You have to be even more of an old school bike luddite than me to like those loose bearing hubs. I have a friend who only rides stuff with vintage Campy kit, and loves to pull out the ball bearings and soak them in coffee cans of special elixir in his living room . I will take the tiny bit of drag for sealed bearings myself.
Pretty sure I saw some dude building one of these in the houseless camps.
I don’t know that I would go so far as to say it was disjointed or a frankenbike bike. CK hubs, headset and BB is a pretty normal and cohesive thing to do.
I agree regarding the hubs, especially with the special dura-ace/speedvagen group, it should be as complete a group as possible. But I don’t know that Shimano made threadless headsets, I could be wrong about that. If you’re gonna have a modern carbon fork, then 1 1/8in threadless headsets are kinda baked in to the design.
With something like this breadwinner (obviously based on the owner’s preference, so who am I to say) but I would have wanted a 1″ threaded steerer fork and a matching 7400 group headset.
Anyone recognize the tires?
I think it’s a Vittoria Corsa.