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Friday, December 19, 2014

Small-Batch Builders Offer An Alternative to Big-Box Bikes

Posted By on Fri, Dec 19, 2014 at 2:20 PM

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I’ve always had a hard time separating my love for riding bicycles from my love of bicycles themselves. It's that passion that's created my obsessive interest in the production of bicycles, and an extensive knowledge of small companies, custom frame-builders, and other craftspeople that populate the specialty cycling marketplace.

One thing that I have noticed lately is that there’s a new category of bike company that's not like the big companies, like Trek, Specialized, and Giant, or tiny boutique frame-builders that make everything custom to order. These small companies make batches of bikes, usually in stock sizes and models, but they usually make them here in the USA by hand, and they don’t make a whole lot of them.

And these companies are growing.

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Ocean Air Cycles

Rob Parks, who owns and runs Ocean Air Cycles, which happens to be based in Ventura, told me that the business started as a photo blog. The company then started commission short runs of custom bicycle luggage, and finally, started making bikes.

The company produces one bike: the Rambler. It comes in seven different sizes, and a few colors. It’s made by fabricators based in the United States in batches of six to 50. In the past, the frames were made by Zen Fabrications in Portland, OR, but in the future, they will be made by someone else in that city (he wouldn't say who).  Parks describes the Rambler as “a lightweight sport touring frame, based on the traditional French cyclo-touring designs.” He calls it a “sport bike at heart, with some geometry details that allow it to handle well with a modest front load.”

According to Parks, the goal is to make biking with stuff, not racing, fun again, like when you were a kid. "We provide the framework and accessories to help that happen," he tells me. To get you out of your car and make your daily travel and weekend recreation back into a bunch of micro adventures and outdoor experiences."

Right now the Rambler is mostly sold direct through Ocean Air Cycles as a frameset – it’s expensive for most people who aren’t into bikes, running $1,799. 

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If you’d rather brew coffee on the beach than set a Strava personal record, the Ocean Air Rambler might be worth the price tag. 

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About The Author

Leif Haven

Leif Haven

Leif Haven is a writer and cyclist living in the Bay Area. He can be spotted dragging himself up a hill — literally and metaphorically.


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