Tuesday, August 13, 2013


There's a saying that you should never meet your idols, that they inevitably turn out to fall short of your expectations.  That's not true in the cycling business.

Jeremy SyCip of SyCip bicycles in his element.

Let me start from the beginning.  Over the weekend, I discovered that the recent annoying creak in the Colnago was actually a cracked dropout.  In a frenzy, I made some calls, and managed to get a hold of Jeremy SyCip (pronouned: See-Sip) of SyCip Cycles in Santa Rosa.  I'm lucky that in the bay area (oh yeah, I moved here a month ago...I should write about that eventually), there are so many amazing builders within an hour's drive.  Jeremy agreed to weld the dropout back together despite his very busy schedule.  For this, I can't thank him enough.  Jeremy SyCip is a name that well known to cyclists for good reason.  His bikes are incredibly beautiful and functional, and he has a (very well deserved) reputation for doing really high quality work.  Even more than that, he's a really amazing person and I immensely enjoyed meeting him. The repair on the Colnago is excellent, marring only a tiny bit of the powdercoat around the repair.

Jeremy's work has been highlighted repeatedly in cycling blogs and magazines, and has won numerous awards.  Many of his bikes feature the signature penny caps on top of the seat stays.  Almost all of them he says, are built around True Temper OX Platinum tubing.  As an owner of a bike made with OX Platinum, I can find absolutely no fault in that decision.

Basically what I'm saying is that there is a good chance I'll have a SyCip in the fleet soon.

I made the beautiful drive up to Santa Rosa in relatively light morning traffic and parked near the shop. The shop itself has a small storefront but actually occupies the corner of a large old warehouse.  Jeremy arrived almost at the same time as me, with his two adorable kids in tow.  He immediately set about repairing the dropout, and graciously agreed to let me photograph the shop.

The space is typical of a machine shop, with tools and lathes laid out in a roomy workspace, frames in various stages of construction hanging from racks, and various other projects from linkage steering cargo trikes to a half completed camper occupying the far walls.  If I could have any living room I wanted, it would look like Jeremy's shop.

As I was walking around the shop snapping photos, a bear of a man road up on a very nice matte pink hybrid bike.  He introduced himself as Gary and presented a mocked up cargo bike fork with an astronomical 203mm BB7 brake setup to Jeremy for inspection.  I asked him whether he built frames as well, and he replied, "That's what I'm doing!" It was only when I asked what other frames he had built that he replied with a slight grin "Well I started Merlin, I'm Gary Helfrich".

Gary Helfrich.  Merlin Metalworks.  I was standing face to face with the man who founded the entire field of titanium frames.

Almost any cyclist knows Merlin (the original Merlin, before it was bought and sold) as the builder of some of the finest and most coveted Ti frames in the world.  Not as many know Gary Helfrich, but they should.  Check out this story for a summary of the man and the legend.

I chatted with Gary and Jeremy for a little while, and learned more about the properties of steel and titanium tubing that I ever thought possible in an hour. I also learned about how Gary came up with titanium frames while working as builder at the legendary Fat City bicycles who would break the Tange Prestige tubing used for mountain bikes at the time.

Eventually our conversation turned to the ins-and-outs of the personalities in the bicycle business and it was fun to learn about many of the people behind the brands and names we cyclists treat as household names.

Both Jeremy and Gary were incredible gracious and kind, answering my deluge of questions with patience and humor.  The way these builders work with metal and tools is beyond reproach, displaying skills and knowledge that only years and decades of experience bring.  Today, I met some of my idols, and they turned out to be even greater than I could have imagined.

Some more photos from the visit below.  I apologize for not getting more pictures.  I was having too much fun learning as much as I can from Jeremy and Gary.

I plan to head back up to Santa Rosa this weekend for the Santa Rosa bike expo so hopefully I'll get to run into these guys again.  Stay tuned!

A bunch of dreams about to come true.

Gary Helfrich (left) with a box of tubes that will soon become a cargo bike.

They say the man moves fast.  They're not kidding.

A fully custom job.  Love the bar/stem combo.

Tools of the trade.

Gotta have tunes.  There's some good stuff in there!

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