James Bleakley Q&A – building bikes
Part five of a series of five interviews with frame builders (as published in RIDE #61, volume 3, 2013).
Black Sheep Bikes (Fort Collins)
How long have you worked with your hands and what is your background? “I started in the industry in 1991, working for a company called Boulder Bicycles, making full suspension mountain bikes out of steel, aluminium, and titanium. I received my Bachelors of Science from Colorado State University, in Construction Management.”
When did you begin building frames? What inspired you?
“I started Black Sheep Bikes in 1999, in order to pursue my passion for cycling, and spend time with my family. There were a few friends of mine who convinced me to build a frame for them, and it grew in a grass roots manner from there.”
What is your preferred frame material? “Definitely titanium, I like the vibration damping, light weight, strength, and non-corrosive properties of titanium. I also like that there are many nominal diameters and wall thicknesses to choose from, because of the extensive use in aerospace applications. It is clean to work with as well, keeping the hazard down to a minimum.”
How many frames do you build in a year? “Less than 100 per year with the Black Sheep name. It has been more in years past, but we are focused on quality over quantity, and prefer to hone our craft one bike at a time.”
From what other builders, artists or influences do you draw inspiration? “Inspiration comes from everywhere: architecture, nature, industrial construction – think bridges… fine art, furniture, and of course bikes. I like to build bikes that have timeless styling, with contemporary materials and construction.”
What makes Colorado and its bicycle builders so unique? “I think the weather and terrain are suited to bikes that perform well at the extremes, whether that is steep climbs, rocky descents, or technical terrain. Many builders here focus on designs that perform well in their own backyard, as well as the desert on the western slope, and the plains to the east. There is everything to ride here, from flat touring to gravity fed descending at ski resorts. Our challenge is to build bikes that can be enjoyed all year round.”
What is your favourite thing about attending NAHBS? “I like being surrounded by like-minded fabricators, and people who have a passion for fine bicycles. Denver was our sixth NAHBS, and we are looking forward to attending more.”