Many custom bikebuilders cater to a relatively wealthy clientele, and it's easy to understand why. Building almost anything by hand is inherently more expensive than doing so in a mechanized, high-volume factory. And as much as we like to think that any hand built frame is going to be intrinsically "better" than a mass-produced one, the fact is that some of those big name bikes are pretty good - and, in many ways, pretty damn similar to a custom frame. We haven't done any blind tests comparing bikes because that would be really dangerous, but we have to admit that a lot of what makes our bikes "special" is that they are, well, our bikes. Knowing that a frame was made by people who enjoy their jobs and take pride in their work is a fine reason to like it. In particular, knowing the specific economic and social circumstances under which anything was made or grown or whatever is to our minds the best reason to like something. It's also the best reason to pay more for something, but more on that later.

Many people who have expensive bikes have them because they also have lots of money. Some of them ride a lot, some of them don't. We don't really care. We know many of the custom frame shops in the Boston area, and if someone who got rich off junk bonds or currency speculation then helps the fine folks at Seven or Merlin or Litespeed make a living, well that's a little point in their favor that we'll take into account when the revolution comes (more on that later, too). But many people who have expensive bikes aren't rich, not even close. It's a phenomenon you don't see in too many areas: people are so into cycling that they will spend an enormous percentage of their money on bikes. This might be becuase they make their living on bikes, or because they tour, or just because they agree with us that bikes are one of the coolest things going.

Circle A Cycles wants to build bikes for people that love them and above all RIDE them. We ride the bikes we build, all the time. We ride to work every day. Circle A Cycles are built to ride, not to hang on the wall. It's art, but it's also a tool - to move us about physically, but also to move us emotionally. If you've read this far you know what we mean. You first had that feeling on your first bike, or on a sled, or just flying along the snow on a trash can lid or piece of plastic.

We think that everything that we as humans build should be built with the same care, artistry, craft and sheer enthusiasm with which we and others hand build bikes. Mass production has given us, above all, a lot more crap. Crap in the form of shoddily made disposable toys and "conveniences" in the first world, and crap in the form of pollution, waste and poverty for the rest of the planet - that is, for the vast majority.

At Circle A we are trying to remove ourselves from that particularly grim side of the global economy. In our lives outside the shop, this takes on many forms: we live in collectives, we have gardens, we heat with wood and the sun, we teach kids how to fix bikes, we do work as activists. We try to live cheaply so we can work less at fabulous Circle A Cycles so we have more time for projects like these and to hang out with our friends.

In the shop, this philosophy effects every facet of our operation. It's not just about the bottom line, it's about social and environmental costs too. For example, aluminum is very cheap, but artificially so: like oil, it's price doesn't reflect it's true cost. Aluminum needs huge amounts of electricity to be produced, but the costs of that electricity are heavily subsidized, partly on behalf of the airline industry. Similarly, titanium, while more durable and repairable than aluminum, is very expensive to produce - more so even than it's high price would suggest.

Steel, on the other hand, in addition to being classic and brazeable and fun to ride and relatively cheap, is easy to repair and recycle. A lot of the work we do at Circle A involves repairing bikes for kids for free, and showing them how to repair their own bikes. Replacing a rusted tube on an old bike isn't a particularly "cost effective" use of our time from a bottom line perspective, but keeping that frame on the road instead of in a landfill has benefits beyond the monetary. Also, there's no better way to begin training young framebuilders than with tasks like that.

Circle A Cycles   |   523 Charles Street   |   Providence, RI   |   401.831.5221   |   info@circleacycles.com
background: Benno with his Circle A randonneur. (reveal)

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