Oakland’s passion for local businesses is rivaled by its growing love affair with bicycling. Combining the two, local makers are designing bicycles suited to Oakland’s terrain and riders. Live Work Oakland spoke with four custom builders and two local designers about their craft, their customers, and the power of bicycles to make the world –at least our little corner of it – a better place.



Precious cargo.  Photo courtesy of Xtracycle

Precious cargo. Photo courtesy of Xtracycle

“People who ride our bikes are edge runners,” says Ross Evans, founder of Xtracycle, referring to a concept from mycologist Paul Stammets. “What we know is the more people ride, the more people ride,” he adds. “We celebrate the edge runners because that’s what’s changing the face of the planet.”

Riders can carry just about anything the long-tail cargo bikes Evans designs from his home base in North Oakland.   “Bike design has been driven by racing for 100 years,” Evans says, noting that a long wheelbase makes Xtracycle bikes  “less twitchy” than a standard bicycle and that “inevitably makes you handle better.”

Xtracycle founder Ross Evans.

Xtracycle founder Ross Evans. Photo courtesy of Ross Evans

Evans’ initial motivation for building cargo bikes was service. In 1995, with a grant from Stanford University and a partnership with Bikes Not Bombs, Evans spent five months in Nicaragua, where the challenge of transporting cargo on  single-track walking paths lead him to design a longer, sturdier bicycle.

In the beginning, Evans stayed focused on his mission, getting grants to work in Senegal, South Africa and Cuba. “At some point, I realized if I really wanted to make impact on the world,” he said, “maybe the best thing I could do is try to change culture” in North America. In 1999, he started Xtracycle.

In the beginning, Xtracycle couldn’t convince bike shops to stock its kits for converting a regular bike to a long tail cargo bike because the concept was too unknown. “That was really the challenge: building a movement,” says Evans.

Things started changing in 2008 when Surly partnered with Xtracycle to make the Big Dummy, a ready to ride long tail cargo bike. “People were looking for alternatives and Surly kind of validated it,” Evans says. Other long tail bikes appeared on the market, which Evans hails as advancing the movement. “We’re all about this for much bigger reasons,” he says. “I didn’t get into business because I wanted to be a businessman. I got into it because I loved this idea and that’s what it required.”

These days, you can get anything from the Free Radical conversion kit (about $500) to a top of the line Edge Runner with electric assist and what Evans calls a “mind-blowing lighting system” for about $5,000, plus many options in between.

Where can you get it: Many local bicycle shops.

Why you want it: What gas prices? Transport your groceries/kids/lumber on a cargo bike!

Cargo bikes change the world: Evans is interviewed in the upcoming documentary “Less Car – More Go.” You can support the movie through Kickstarter.



Broakland PIPEbomb track bike.  Photo courtesy of Jason Montano

Broakland PIPEbomb track bike. Photo courtesy of Jason Montano

Jason Montano, owner of Montano Velo bike shop on Piedmont Avenue, started designing and building his own line of custom bicycles, Broakland Bikes, ten years ago. “I had a lot of bike and they were all lacking,” Montano says. “I wanted to make a bike [that] I wanted to ride.”

“We design our bikes with a performance idea in mind, so number one, they’re a performance tool,” Montano says. Broakland’s mountain, track, cross, and road bikes are “totally tuned” for local riding conditions, including the short technical descents common in the Oakland Hills. “It’s stiff, it’s light, it handles like a great bike should,” he says.

Jason Montano with the next generation of bicycle makers, daughter Paloma.  Photo by Laura McCamy

Jason Montano with the next generation of bicycle makers, daughter Paloma. Photo by Laura McCamy

Montano, who “grew up obsessed with the geometry of bikes and how that affects handling,” is particularly enthusiastic about track bikes. A high bottom bracket and steep angles mean they are able to turn on a dime, an asset when manouvering obstacles in the city. “It’s designed so it can operate nimbly on a veolodrome, which is why people fell in love with track bikes to begin with,” he says. Plus, they are low maintenance and the chain lasts forever. “If someone is fit and balanced on a track bike, they are often just as fast as someone with gears,” he says.

He feels the collaboration with a CAD designer, who builds the bikes on paper before they are fabricated, and with a master fabricator is the strength behind the Broakland line. “All that comes together into something that’s more valuable,” he says. “Our attention to detail and our ability to execute exactly what we want” makes these custom bikes stand out.

“We build one bike per customer,” says Montano, noting that each frame is designed so it can be built in any size between 45 and 65, broken down into 1 cm increments. “It’s a big part of our business model that there’s a shop here,” he adds. Years of fitting people for bikes helps him create the perfect bicycle for each rider.

A Broakland frame and fork range from $2,000 to $3,000. A typical fully built Broakland bike usually costs around $5,000 to $6,000. The time between getting fitted to riding off on your new baby is typically 9 to 12 weeks.

Where to get it: Stop in to Montano Velo, check out the display models, and talk to the designer in person.

Why you want it: If you put a lot of miles on your wheels, why not do it on a bicycle that makes your heart sing?


Cleaver bike.  Photo by Laura McCamy

Cleaver bike. Photo by Laura McCamy



Michael Cleaver got his start building frames because, he says, “I had to. I told a girl that I’d fix her frame.” It took him two years to figure out how to repair the crumpled frame and, by the end, he had grown from bicycle mechanic into a bike builder.

Michael Cleaver with a hand built tandem.  Photo by Laura McCamy

Michael Cleaver with a hand built tandem. Photo by Laura McCamy

For the past five years, he has built custom road, mountain and cargo bikes. “Planes and bikes are the only place where weight really matters,” says Cleaver, who has studied books on aircraft fabrication to add to his bike building skills. “The less it weighs, the harder it is to make and the less safe it is.”

While most people are committed riders before they order to a custom bike, Cleaver says he sometimes gets customers who are brand new to bicycling. They turn to him because they can’t find a bike that works for them off the rack. “I like when someone has a need that the market doesn’t fill,” he says. “I build bikes for tall people and small people.” He adds, “That’s when building makes the most sense to me.”

Cleaver says a custom built bike winds up costing about the same as any high end bike: $1,000 to $2,400 for frame only, fully built for $3,000 to $4,000. His design and build time is about 12 weeks.

The upper end of the price range is custom cargo bikes. “I love cargo bikes,” Cleaver says. “I’m always going to make cargo bikes.”

Cleaver’s South Berkeley shop is in a warehouse filled with giant sculptures created by his studio mates, an appropriate setting for his work. “I think bicycles are beautiful,” he says, “and hand built bikes even more so.”

Where to get it: Make an appointment to talk to Cleaver about what you want.

Why you need it: A bicycle made just for you is a thing of beauty.

Casey Sussman, Rinki Saini and Matt Rodriguez at Defthouse Bikes.  Casey Sussman, Rinku Saini, and Matt Rodriguez at Defthouse. Photo by Laura McCamy

Casey Sussman, Rinki Saini and Matt Rodriguez at Defthouse Bikes. Casey Sussman, Rinku Saini, and Matt Rodriguez at Defthouse. Photo by Laura McCamy



“My interest didn’t come from bicycles, it came from the community angle,” says Rinku Saini, who founded Defthouse Bicycles five years ago. “I wanted to start what they call a sustainable philanthropy model.”

The West Oakland studio, whose walls are covered in art, is all about keeping costs low to create what Saini calls “protected space” for the three fabricators who work there.

Tim Sanner of Sanner Cycles, who was out of town and not available for an interview, teaches a bike building class in the West Oakland space. That’s how Casey Sussman got involved. An experienced bicycle mechanic, Sussman has been building bikes at Defthouse for about a year, trading his mechanical skills for shop space.

Casey Sussman with one of his creations. Casey Sussman, Rinku Saini, and Matt Rodriguez at Defthouse. Photo by Laura McCamy

Casey Sussman with one of his creations. Casey Sussman, Rinku Saini, and Matt Rodriguez at Defthouse. Photo by Laura McCamy


Sussman’s Mars Cycles are all steel because “steel is stiff, comfortable and will probably last forever.” Steel bikes can rival aluminum and carbon for lightness, coming in at around 17 pounds, he says.

While racing was his point of entry for bicycle making, Sussman says, “I don’t want to just build race bikes.” He is currently building a custom bike for a larger rider who needed a stiffer frame to feel secure on the road. He sees custom bikes as a way to help riders with special needs or handicaps get on the road. “I can build anything for anyone,” he says. “I’m new at this but I think my ideas are great.”

Custom Mars frames start at $900. A fully built bike starts at $1,800. Sussman can turn around a custom bicycle as little as in two to three weeks.

Matthew Rodriguez with an 8 Series frame.  Casey Sussman, Rinku Saini, and Matt Rodriguez at Defthouse. Photo by Laura McCamy

Matthew Rodriguez with an 8 Series frame. Casey Sussman, Rinku Saini, and Matt Rodriguez at Defthouse. Photo by Laura McCamy



The third builder in the space is Matthew Rodriguez, former owner of Shorty Fatz bicycle shop in San Jose and the current creative force behind Pop’s Fabrication. Rodriguez got his start building low-rider bikes with his grandfather. His distinctive 8 Series frame reflects those low-rider roots. “I wanted to create something that looked low from the start,” Rodriguez says. The result is a frame designed for the streets, both flexible and strong and ready to absorb the clunks and bumps of riding over Oakland’s ubiquitous potholes.

“Everything is handmade,” Rodriguez says. “Everything is hand built by us.” Saini’s cooperative shop helped motivate him through a down time, when the realities of business were a drag on creation.

Rodriguez plans to open a new shop in Fremont, where he will sell not only his own creations but handmade bikes by other local makers. His frames start at around $700 and a ready to ride custom bike can run between $1,200 and $1,800. Turnaround time for one of his creations is usually six to eight weeks.

“Everything is going to be based on how you want to ride your bike,” says Rodriguez. “It’s an investment that’s going to last forever.”

“Once someone gets on a custom bike that was built for them,” Sussman adds, they will never look back.

“It’s tailor-made and it’s art,” says Saini. “And you can ride it, which is dope.”

Where to get it: contact any of the fabricators through the Defthouse website and make an appointment for a fitting. Fittings can be in person or over the phone.

Why you want it: With so much talent in one place, it’s hard to choose just one bike….


A Fender Blender bike in action.  Photo courtesy of Rock the Bike

A Fender Blender bike in action. Photo courtesy of Rock the Bike


A visit to the North Oakland workshop where Rock the Bike assembles Fender Blender Pro and Generator Pro stationary bikes is apt to leave one breathless.

Company owner and bicycle evangelist Paul Freedman immediately puts a reporter to work grinding coffee with a pedal-powered blender. Then it’s on to a model designed to generate electricity, which charges cell phones and, with a bit more effort, powers on a speaker that fills the large space with music.

Paul Freedman in Rock the Bike's new North Oakland shop. Photo by Laura McCamy

Paul Freedman in Rock the Bike’s new North Oakland shop. Photo by Laura McCamy

Freedman sees the bicycle as “a portal into a new type of living.” People who ride every day understand the community aspect of bicycling; by inviting people to step onto an electricity-generating bike to help feed the amps on Rock the Bike’s bicycle-powered stage, Freedman gives newbies a glimpse into the joy of bicycling. “We’re definitely not preaching to the choir,” he says.

The best place to try a bicycle blender (which can make anything from smoothies, to hummus, to finely ground coffee ) or an electricity-generating bicycle is at events throughout the Bay Area and across the country.

One of Rock the Bike’s signature events, the Bicycle Music Festival, is coming to Oakland on October 11, after a seven year run in San Francisco.

If you are looking for indoor exercise that yields more than sweat, you can buy a Blender Universale, which attaches to any bicycle, for at little as $250. The Fender Blender Pro will run you around $1,900.

Freedman gives credit to Nate Byerley, who invented the blender bike and sold the business to Freedman. Byerly now works for Xtracycle (see above).

Where to get it: Rock the Bike’s online store is fully stocked.

Why you want it: There is no greener (and tastier) drink than a human-powered smoothie.

As Nate Byerly says, “Oakland rules when it comes to the future of bikes, and bike blended beverages.”

In this article:



Live Work Oakland’s bike series is brought to you by Hot Italian, the first LEED Certified pizza & panini bar and the first bicycle friendly restaurant in California, open daily 11:30 a until late night with weekend brunch, cocktails, wi-fi, curbside pick-up, and delivery by bike from Emeryville’s Public Market. HOT ITALIAN is a design-driven brand where modern Italy meets urban California and a 2014 East Bay Bike Bike-Friendly business winner.

VISIT HOT ITALIAN AT THE PUBLIC MARKET Open daily 11:30 am & weekend brunch 10:30 am-3:30 pm 5959 Shellmound Street, Emeryville, CA 94608 (510) 922-1369

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