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Great American framebuilders: Legends and latest stars

By Bruce Lin

Published

I enjoy foreign cars, imported beer, and movies with subtitles. But when it comes to bikes, I like to ride domestic. I think every bike enthusiast should own an American-made bike at some point in their life. 

Many American framebuilders have distinguished themselves, but who are the great legends? And who are the brightest new stars? To find out, I perused our vintage bike museum, checked out our bike inventory, and got schooled by the head honcho of The Radavist, John Watson. Here are my picks.   

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Great American framebuilding legends

Albert Eisentraut

1994 Eisentraut road bikeA 1994 Eisentraut road bike for sale at The Pro's Closet.

“If you trace it back, Eisentraut was the tree branch that many California builders stemmed from,” said Watson. The godfather of modern American framebuilding built his first frame in 1959 using a frame jig he machined himself. He became known for building his own style of bikes, rather than mimicking European designs. He taught his craft to future legends Joe Breeze, Bruce Gordon, Skip Hujsak, Mark Nobilette, and Bill Stevenson. 

Ben Serotta 

Serotta Huffy 7-Eleven bikeThe 1988 Serotta-built Huffy 7-Eleven team bike.

The legendary American 7-Eleven team raced on Murray and Huffy bikes but these bikes were actually built by Ben Serotta. An essential figure in the rise of American road cycling, Serotta became the dominant builder of high-performance racing frames through the ’80s and early ’90s, building bikes for the American Olympic team and another legendary American team, Coors Light.

Read about Davis Phinney’s 1984 Olympic Murray Serotta and Scott Moninger’s 1990 Team Coors Light Serotta.

Watch our video with Scott Moninger and his Coors Light Serotta Colorado.

Charlie Cunningham 

Cunningham #291983 #29 Cunningham | Photo: John Watson

“The parts we’re used to now didn’t exist back then. Guys like Cunningham made everything themselves. They were inventing it,” said Watson. Cunningham pioneered compact frame geometry, sloping top tubes, wider rear hub spacing, zero-dish rear wheels, narrower Q-factors, and even 1x drivetrains. His development of lightweight, welded, and heat-treated aluminum frames paved the way for brands like Cannondale to bring aluminum to the forefront of cycling technology.

Read about our 1974 Cunningham Alan or check out our 1988 Cunningham Racer #22

Chris Chance

1990 Fat Chance Yo Eddy1990 Fat Chance Yo Eddy.

Chris Chance and Fat City Cycles represent the genesis of East Coast mountain biking. When he built the first Fat Chance mountain bike in 1982, there was nothing else like it. West Coast bikes had ultra-long chain stays, slack angles, and low bottom brackets for Repack-style riding. But Chance bucked the trend with buzz-cut chain stays, upright angles, and high bottom brackets made for clearing the stumps, roots, and boulders of New England's trails. 

Read about our 1990 Fat Chance Yo Eddy

Watch our video meeting Chris Chance

Joe Breeze 

1978 Breezer Series IThe 1978 Breezer Series I.

Breeze is credited with building the first modern mountain bike, the Breezer #1 in 1977. That bike is now in the collection of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History, but Breeze built nine more Series I Breezers, one of which resides in our own vintage bike museum. “Everyone likes to talk about people like Gary Fisher and Keith Bontrager, but Joe [Breeze] paved the way for mountain bike production,” said Watson. 

Read about our 1978 Breezer Series I

Watch our video meeting Joe Breeze.

Mark DiNucci 

Dinucci classic roadOne of DiNucci's recent creations, a 2018 Classic Road | Photo: John Watson

As an engineer for Specialized, Dinucci created the original steel Allez, one of the most coveted racing bikes of the ‘80s and ’90s. DiNucci sourced higher quality tubing and lugs from Japan, setting his bikes apart. This quest for quality led to the creation of Specialized’s S-Works division. While many American brands struggled for recognition overseas, DiNucci’s bikes were highly regarded as they went on to win mountain bike world championships and stages of the Tour de France. 

Tom Ritchey

Ritchey Faux Lug Competition1983 Ritchey "Faux Lug" Competition

While Breeze built the first mountain bike, his friend Tom Ritchey became mountain biking’s first production framebuilder, bringing numerous innovations to frame and component design. “I personally feel his fork design influenced the design of the uni-crown fork, which is still in production today,” said Watson. Ritchey was also a pioneer of fillet brazing and brazed over 1,000 bikes in his first three years of production. 

Read about our 1976 Ritchey road bike which Ritchey built at only 19 years old. 

Honorable mentions:

Bruce Gordon (“The OG gravel god.”)
Chris Igleheart (“Designer of the segmented fork. That fork is still used by numerous builders.”) 
Independent Fabrication
JP Weigle (“A true constructor and artisan. Weigle is still machining everything himself.”) 
Litespeed / the Lynskey family 
Moots / Kent Eriksen 
Seven Cycles
Waterford Precision Cycles

The latest American framebuilding stars

Firefly Bicycles

Firefly Chubby Road 2.0 Rat RodJohn's rat rod Firefly 2.0 Chubby Road | Photo: John Watson

“Firefly (in Boston) came from Indy Fab, which came from Fat City. They’re stunning examples of deep custom bike nerdery. I don’t think No. 22’s finishing program would exist without Firefly. Plus, they’re doing awesome 3D printed stuff. In terms of titanium frame builders, I think they’re doing some of the most advanced work in the U.S,” said Watson.

Mosaic Cycles

Mosaic GS1Mosaic GS1 All-Road | Photo: John Watson

Mosaic Cycles produces bespoke titanium and steel bicycles in Boulder, Colorado. Mosaic's sister company, Spectrum Paint & Powder Works, provides many options for vivid custom paint, and also paints many frames for other handbuilt brands.

No. 22 Bicycle Company

No. 22 Aurora DiscNo. 22 Aurora Disc | Photo: John Watson

No 22 uses the old Serotta facility in Johnstown, New York. They build titanium frames with a focus on contemporary finishes to showcase the beauty of raw and anodized titanium.

Sklar Bikes

Sklar Disc Dirty RoadieSklar Disc Dirty Roadie | Photo: John Watson

Sklar bikes stand out with their distinctive curved top tubes. Each bike is custom built to order, one at a time by Adam Sklar in Bozeman, Montana. Their beauty and craftsmanship has made them instant classics. “I own a Sklar 29+ rigid mountain bike myself,” said Watson.  

Speedvagen / The Vanilla Workshop

Speedvagen Ready-Made Disc OGSpeedvagen Ready-Made Disc OG | Photo: John Watson

Speedvagen bikes are produced in small batches by The Vanilla Workshop based out of Portland, Oregon. All of its bikes are built out of steel with classic lines and plenty of custom details like machined dropouts. 

Honorable mentions:

Argonaut Cycles
Allied Cycle Works
Black Sheep Bikes
Breadwinner Cycles
Myth Cycles (“Steel full suspension!”)
Reeb Cycles

Final thoughts

Choosing the biggest legends or brightest stars might be a matter of taste or exposure. Since Watson has attended every edition of the North American Handmade Bike Show since 2008, he had great perspective on the difference between a great framebuilder and a legendary craftsperson.

“I think bikes stand out once you start getting into deep custom frames. The framebuilders who are pushing the envelope are doing what Cunningham was doing back in the day. They’re machining everything in their shop. Making unique, handmade parts. There are very few builders doing that. It’s the difference between artisan and production frames. Of course, there’s space for both. Not everyone wants or needs something deep custom.” 

I’ve just scratched the surface with my short list. And chances are, this list won’t match your list. So who did I miss? Let me know in the comments who you think the greatest American framebuilders are, past or present!

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36 comments


  • Yamaguchi makes the best traditional frames in the US.

    Ima Rider on

  • No one has heard of Doug Curtis?
    Curtlo Frames? Beautiful fillet brazed road and MTB frames.

    Russell McElhatton on

  • David Tesch.

    Fernando Castro on

  • You mention some great ones, but missed many, too. Most that I would list have listed have already been listed by others (Jim Merz, John Slawta of Land Shark, Roland Della Santa, Bill Davidson, Richard Sachs. . .).
    Here’s a few more: Steve Rex, Chris Kvale, Mario Confente (do immigrants count?), Tim Brummer, Paul Sadoff, John Fitzgerald.

    Ray Cash on

  • You forgot the GT Tech Shop. One of the best collectives of builders to ever weld frames. Tiemeyer, Yelverton, Nobilette, Dave Norton, Nalby Viroqua and Jason Hamburg.

    Kevin on

  • How did you leave Steve Potts off the list. He has been actively building mountain bikes longer then anyone else.

    Aaron Kamp on

  • Gangl, Sachs, Bishop, Chapman, Johnny Coast, Gallus, Ellis, Mone, Bantam, Moth Attack, Thompson,Ground Up, just to name a few that are missing from this list…

    Lugs Not Drugs on

  • I saw the phrase Deep Custom mentioned in here, but no reference to the builder who coined it, which was Erik Noren of Peacock Groove bikes.

    DON WALKER on

  • Scott Quiring is a great American frame builder! He has a small shop in freesoil MI and in my opinion makes some of the best frames you’ll ever throw a leg over

    Jeff Rotenheber on

  • Great article and just like you mentioned, it just scratches the surface.

    Glenn Graczyk on

  • Marinoni. Still builds beautiful traditional lugged steel frames.

    Gordon S Bowersock on

  • Cannot believe no one mentioned RICHARD CUNNINGHAM. So many innovations,
    such handcrafted artistic “Mantis” Frames
    Oh, while your at it, Bill Holland fits here somewhere.

    Leo Pettus on

  • Jack Trumbell from Franklin frames..

    Mitchell Paul on

  • Andy Gilmour of Tucson, AZ has been frame building for 40 plus years. He cannot be denied a place high on the list. www.gilmourbicycles.us

    Mike Hauri on

  • I agree with the article and the comments at least 90%. My additions: Pop Brennan, Jim Merz, McLean Fonvielle, Dave Tesch. Of everyone, John Slawta is the only one to clear (by my guestimation) $200K profit with his own two hands in a year. His process and energy were remarkable at his high point for quantity. He gave a talk I attended and two very elite builders were sniggering in the background. Slawta’s output in a month might have been greater than their lifetime total. Andy Gilmour is getting at that point with 5500. I’m not saying mere quantity but also quality and not just fussing over a frame forever. DiNucci stands above regardless the quantity. McLean Fonvielle would be way up there had he not passed at 29.

    JoeB-Z on

  • Interesting that you show a Rivendell Homer Hilson in the email blast but then don’t feature Grant Peterson in the article?

    Philip Barrett on

  • Seriously, missed Landshark. I’ve had two. Still have one. My first was a dream. Super light for steel: in race trim, ~19lbs.
    Oh, and the most stunning paint jobs…..evar.

    William O'Dell on

  • Steve Bilenky should be mentioned in the article! Artist who builds frames.

    David Jackson on

  • How about me? I’ve been building frames since 1974. Built about 5500 frames.

    Andy Gilmour on

  • Sachs, Bayliss, Bishop: huge omissions.

    Aaron Lipstadt on

  • John Slawta @ Landshark? R. Brian Baylis? Tom Kellogg? Roland Della Santa? Richie Sachs? Jim Redcay? Mike Melton? Those names trump many if not all of the above. I’ve ridden many of these and some of those noted. The ones I’ve mentioned are light years better than the ones given kudos.

    Freddy Reiner on

  • No mention of Richard Sachs, Brian Chapman, Mike Zankonato, or Bilenky Cycle works (the folks who founded the Philly Bike Expo). You should be embarrassed to post this article on your blog.

    Tom Nyzio on

  • Bill Davidson design great frames
    He also designed investment cast lugs
    Cast in Japan
    Waterford, Richard Sachs olus many others used those lugs
    Many in your list

    Charles Nighbor on

  • Bill Davidson, who made bikes for Rebecca Twigg (and me), still active in Seattle.

    Jay Fromkin on

  • Great American Frame Building Legends..

    Hmm , you mentioned Ben Serotta but failed to mention one Kelly Bedford…He too built for the USA Olympic team .. and still builds some excellent frame sets….imho

    tim compton on


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