I recently got to interview Jim Kish who is the owner/builder at Kish Fabrication based out of Carrboro, North Carolina. North Carolina happens to be have some of the most beautiful mountain bike trails in the country, so Jim has great first hand knowledge of what an MTB needs to perform well out on the trail. He was gracious enough to share with me his approach to building frames.
How long have you been a frame builder?
Jim: Since 1992.
What training have you been through to build frames?
Jim: Most of what I know is a result of being an employee at United Bicycle Institute. I started working there when Gary Helfrich was teaching titanium and steel TIG welding classes, and Ron Sutphin was teaching brazing. A few years later I took over the titanium and steel welding classes, but without those two guys I never would have got going building bikes. Working alongside two world-class builders for 40+ hours a week for years is invaluable.
Why did you decide to start your own handmade bicycle company?
Jim: It was just the next logical step in my career. I caught the building bug at UBI. The frame classes gave me a lot of ideas, and you can only build so many bikes for yourself and your friends…
If you weren’t a frame builder what would you do for an occupation?
Jim: I’ve wanted to get more involved with woodworking for years, specifically lutherie. So, I might be building musical instruments instead of bikes some day. Or in my next life.
What inspires your frame designs?
Jim: At the root of it I like things to be clean and simple. Each specific bike, though, is ultimately inspired by the customer. Everyone has different wants and needs regarding fit and function, and that’s the real motivation – trying to hit the mark for the rider.
What is your favorite material to work with and what joinery method do you find most enjoyable?
Jim: I believe that titanium is the best material for a bike frame if it fits the budget. Even though it can be challenging to work with it’s my favorite. So, that means TIG welding, which is probably the most relaxing part of the building process for me.
If you could give the next generation of frame builders advice what would that be?
Jim: Realize that most of your job is customer service. There’s 1000 builders out there that can put together a bike frame, a lot fewer than that make it an enjoyable experience. Don’t hang out your shingle just because it sounds like a cool job, it’s not fair to your customers or the other 999 builders.
What do you feel is most important for clients to understand going into a custom bike frame build?
Jim: It’s important to understand that a custom bicycle (like most things) is a series of compromises, and you’ll need to work through those compromises with the builder. So, you need to do your homework and find a builder who you can trust to go through that process with.
What trends in mountain bikes are you seeing right now? Do you agree with them or not?
Jim: I see a lot of short-lifespan carbon bikes with gigantic logos all over them, which offends both my design and aesthetic sense. On the other hand, I love the trend of relaxed, fatter-tired bikes that are built more for the enjoyment of riding rather than worrying about where you’re going to shed your next gram.
What trail / where do you enjoy riding the most?
Jim: The trails in the western part of North Carolina are probably the most fun trails, in the most beautiful setting, that anyone could ask for. I wish I got to know them 20 years ago.
What has been your favorite bike you’ve owned?
Jim: Whatever bike I’ve built for myself most recently is always my favorite. Right now it’s a rigid titanium fat bike.
Who do you admire as a frame builder / who would you want to build you a frame?
Jim: As a complete package of the person and product, Bruce Gordon is near or at the top of the list. He occupies his own unique position in the bicycle world. After all these years, though, I’ve met so many great people who happen to build great bikes I couldn’t even begin to name them all.
If you’re a handmade builder and would like to be interviewed, send me an email.