Joe Graham is the owner/builder of Graham Cycles based out of New Hampshire. Joe is an up and coming builder with some pretty nice mountain bike builds under his belt. The interview and completed bike builds below should give you more insight as to how Joe approaches his frame making and the results he is able to deliver. The mountain bikes pictured in this article are some of my favorite Graham Cycles creations.
How long have you been a frame builder?
Joe Graham: I built my first frame Labor Day weekend of 2012. I was very fortunate to be able to borrow a frame jig from my friend Craig, the Mendon Cyclesmith. The bike was rough around the edges, but it functioned fairly well. I was immediately hooked by the creative outlet that frame building provided. That frame lives under my workbench to remind me of where I started.
What training have you been through to build frames?
Joe Graham: Soon after building that first frame I knew I needed to improve my welding ability. I took a TIG welding night course which taught me that I didn’t even know how much I didn’t know. Once I learned the basics it was a matter of putting in the practice, finding good positions for my hands, and customizing my equipment for the task.
Many of the other skills I use came from high-school tech electives and college mechanical engineering classes. Computer aided design, machine shop, materials science, statics and dynamics; my experience in these areas is a good background for the work I do. I have also been amazed by the willingness of other builders to share their knowledge. It’s a truly special group of people. The level of time and detail builders are willing to share with each other shows how truly collaborative people can be.
Why did you decide to start your own handmade bicycle company?
Joe Graham: I started Graham Cycles because my hobby outgrew the time I had for it. Enough friends and members of my riding community started asking for bikes that it made sense to give it a shot. I left my desk job and headed into the garage. Things became legitimate in Jan of 2014 when I started Graham Cycles LLC, got insured, and set up accounts with some of my favorite component manufacturers.
What inspires your frame designs?
Joe Graham: Function and fit are really important to me, so I design bikes that achieve the goals of my customers. The bikes I enjoy building are for riding, not for shows or to look good on roof racks. If I can enhance the function and the aesthetics at the same time I know I’m headed in the right direction. There are a couple stylistic things I do consistently, but even those tend to have a functional purpose.
What are some of your founding principles you live by for creating bikes?
Joe Graham: I see so many riders treating bikes like a disposable commodity, riding frames for a season then getting the newer, slightly shinier, thing next year. This conflicts with my values; I believe a bicycle (and most of the things we own) should have a long and durable life. Graham Cycles counteracts this by building people bikes that they can love for years not seasons.
I accomplish this goal by using steel, which has an excellent fatigue life. I try to “future-proof” my bikes so that when new components and standards come out the bike can be upgraded. A lot of Graham frames have 44mm headtubes, and adjustable dropouts for this reason. I also try to predict where the industry is going instead of where it is, and aim for that. My disc brake Micro-Graham All-Road bike is a good example of that.
What do you feel is most important for clients to understand going into a custom bike frame build?
Joe Graham: The value of the work is key. Clients need to understand that a custom bike can’t be compared to a mass produced bike in the area of cost. I don’t really “sell” people on my bikes; I would rather build for the clients that see the work and understand why it’s worth the price. I could give them a detailed explanation about the higher quality materials I use, how economies of scale work, the pros and cons of mass production, and the differences in labor cost between America and Asia…but I prefer not to.
Where do you enjoy riding the most?
Joe Graham: Until a month ago I would have said Copper Harbor, MI without hesitation. Stairway to Heaven, Bullwinkle, The Flow it’s all good up there. Now I’d have to say Moab, UT is on the top of my list. Magnificent 7 finishing with Portal, Captain Ahab, the Slickrock Trail…all amazing.
Do you have a favorite bike you’ve ever built / favorite bike you’ve ever owned?
Joe Graham: My answer for both of these questions is the same. It’s a tie between my Golden Graham LT 29er and the Chubby Pony Fat-Utility Bike. You can see the 29er here: https://www.flickr.com/
Who do you admire as a frame builder / who would you want to build you a frame?
Joe Graham: Kris Henry of 44 Bikes and Rob English of English Cycles are guys I look up to (and hope to meet someday). Each of them is special in areas that I value highly. Kris has some of the best execution I’ve seen and his welds are flawless. I believe every bike he puts out is at the highest level of quality and accuracy. Rob comes up with designs and ideas that are clever bordering on genius. His folding bike design is incredibly smart, and his ability to shape metal is off the chart.
If you’re a builder and would like to be featured on Old Glory MTB, send me an email.