Matt Appleman is a carbon frame building wizard. He is the owner/builder of Appleman Bicycles based out of Minneapolis, Minnesota. While manufactured carbon may be a mainstay of the bike frame world, custom carbon frames are not. Matt is one of the few in the world that makes all of his frames by hand using carbon fiber. Find out what his unique take on frame building in this interview.
How long have you been a frame builder?
Matt: I’ve been a full time frame builder since 2010.
What training have you been through to build your carbon frames?
Matt: I’m a self taught frame builder and have a degree in Composites Materials Engineering. Before Appleman Bicycles, I worked in the composites industry building 140 foot wind turbine blades and aerospace materials. Working in non-bike related industries, I was exposed to a lot of different technologies to build carbon fiber parts. I started sticking tubes together in my dorm room and have been evolving my techniques to what they are today! I’ve been riding seriously since 5th grade! I raced road and track pretty heavy growing up and now focus on CX racing as my competitive outlet.
Why did you decide to start your own handmade bicycle company?
Matt: I had a knee injury in college. I couldn’t ride and could hardly walk with out pain. My position on the bike only hurt my knee more and I needed custom geometry. After a substantial amount of trial and error and hacking parts, I found a position that suited my knee.
There were no stock bikes that matched my Franken-geometry. I could either buy a custom frame, or use that money to buy tooling for building my own frames. I chose the latter. I started building frames for myself while still working full time as a Composites Engineer. I eventually quit my “real” job and moved back to Minneapolis to start building Appleman Bicycles full time.
While my knee injury was devastating at the time, it was really the best thing that could have happened to me. It opened my eyes to the custom bike world and set me on a path to do things my own way.
What inspires your frame designs?
Matt: My customers, the natural beauty of carbon fiber and other materials, raw-minimalism, function, structure, elegance.
What are some of your founding principles you live by for creating bikes?
Matt: Strength – Durability – Ride Quality. By prioritizing these three aspects, you get a bike that feels good, looks good, and that you want to keep riding. When I build a bike for a customer, my personal goal is to build a bike that they like so much, that they don’t want to ride anything else. People may ride other bikes bikes, but if I am doing my job well, you’ll keep coming back to your Appleman.
From a business standpoint: Don’t spend money you don’t have. Never build something you wouldn’t ride yourself.
What part of the frame building process do you enjoy the most?
Matt: Frame building isn’t just mitering tubes, filleting epoxy, and laying up carbon fiber. It’s customer service, design, accounting, and a hundred little things. I enjoy the variety of framebuilding and running a business. I love being able to layup a head tube joint and then get off my feet to engineer a new tubeset for a customer.
What do you feel is most important for clients to understand going into a custom bike frame build?
Matt: An Appleman is far more than just custom geometry. I engineer a custom tubeset for each customer. I design the stiffness of each tube based on it’s length, rider weight, and riding style. I have an algorithm I’ve developed to optimize the carbon tube layups and diameters. All this translates into a bike that is light, strong, and deliciously comfortable.
What trends in bikes are you seeing right now? Do you agree with them or not?
Matt: I see a lot of new “standards” that are tip-toeing around trying to gain marginal improvements. The standards need to be created, with thought, to fix problems or do exactly what you want it to do with little compromise, not just add 2.5mm this year, next year add 5mm and the next year another 2.5mm. Just make it 10mm wider to begin with.
What trail / where do you like to enjoy riding the most?
Matt: I’m happy anytime I’m on the bike. Whether it’s trying to crush a Strava PR, or crushing gravel, I’m happy to be riding!
What has been your favorite bike you’ve owned?
Matt: My current CX/Gravel bike is the best riding bike. I features a new taper-oval tubing design that makes for an incredible ride.
Do you have a favorite bike you’ve ever built?
Matt: It’s really hard to pick favorites, as many of my customer’s bikes are so cool! I’d have to say that the “DNA Bike” is what started the Appleman-style and was a cornerstone to every other bike built after it.
Who do you admire as a frame builder / who would you want to build you a frame?
Matt: There are a lot of great builders out there that I respect including, but not limited to…Peacock Groove, KirkLee, and Chris Kvale. One of my favorites is Tom at Demon Frameworks: the man and the bikes have absolute style and personality. I would love to have him build me a frame.
If you’re a frame builder and would like to do an interview with OGMTB, send me an email.