At the shop in San Carlos, CA. ©1984 Dick Sangalli

Brief Steelman history from Brent's pov

Born in 1960. Discovered bikes in 1964 and was wrenching them by 1965. Before I was 6 years old my cousins and I were tearing down, rebuilding, modifying, and tweaking our various bikes, trikes, scooters, you name it. Pre and early teens were all about Sting Rays (this is pre bmx era) which we constantly tore down, repainted, and modified. At 12 years of age I was imprinted for life when I saw a sparkling new cobalt blue Ron Cooper Nuovo Record road racing bike. There is a lot I am leaving out here, but started hanging out at bike shops around 1973. Rode everywhere. My high school had a phenomenal vocational program and I took all the classes (except auto shop...was not into cars at all). Machining, sheet metal, general metals, brazing, welding, plastics, woodworking, and even sewing. My Mother was very supportive of my bicycle fanaticism and helped me buy my first hand built racing bike made by Tom Ritchey in 1977. Rode my bike everywhere. Got into bicycle racing and loaded bike touring.

Was 18 or 19 when I began working at Garners Pro Bike Shop in Redwood City. Mike and Rick Garner had both built some frames and had jigs and torches and files! So I begged them to let me help, pleeeeeeeeeease. They finally caved and set me loose. Working on the frames was natural, as if I had done it before. Reynolds 531 and Columbus SL felt so comfortable in my hands. Maybe it is in the genes.

More riding, racing, and also working as a carpenter. In 1982 my Mother (and other very important people) helped me set up my first frame building shop in Mom's garage. January of 1983 Steelman Cycles was officially underway. After a few months in Mom's garage, I moved the shop to an incubator light industrial space in nearby San Carlos. That proved too small and within a year I moved again to a bigger space down the street in Belmont.


Track bike built for a Pen Velo racer 1984


Milling a headtube in the San Carlos shop. ©1984 Dick Sangalli

Lugged frame for Andy S. 1984. Dig the checkerboard!
The early 80's were a great time for cycling and I was busy with work. Everyone was excited and orders seemed to come on their own. In addition to my own frames, I built mtbs on contract for Gary Fisher, painted some for Tom Ritchey, and built quite a few lugged steel frames on contract for other companies. A few of the early frames ended up winning some major races. All very cool stuff for a young bike builder. Moved the shop to a raw 4200sf live/work space in Oakland with my wife-to-be Katryn. She is an artist so she understands my brain. She even filed lugs for me when the heat was on. Our daughter was born and the bohemian industrial space eventually proved too much. So we moved the shop, this time to a space shared by framebuilders Albert Eisentraut (the Godfather of American framebuilders) and Ed Litton at 2200 Adeline Street in Oakland. I have fond memories of working alongside these guys in an iconic building that was a nexus of Oakland artists and craft based businesses.

In 1989 things changed. Following the naive temptation of expansion a new business partnership was formed and we moved the shop to Campbell, CA. It was the usual story: the partners provide fresh capital, management, and marketing savvy, I provide the goods. Cranked up production and had some great racers riding the bikes. We had a nice crew, produced some very cool bikes, and got good press. Sometimes "money and marketing savvy" make life unbearable, so I left the partnership in 1991. My tools, fixtures, and machines were left behind and vanished into the ether.
post partnership bike with freshly designed graphics 1993

The Campbell shop © 1991 John Paape

1997 Redwood City shop
Production frames ©1998 Dick Sangalli
Time to retrench, retool, and start over. Worked as a carpenter again with my mentor James Docker. Very good times building homes in Sea Ranch with James.

photo: James Docker

Kept the torch going back in Oakland thanks to Ed and Albert. By January of 1994, with the unbreakable support of my wife Katryn, my mother, and close friends, we had fully retooled and setup shop back in home town Redwood City. The Haven Ave location became, and remains, our best equipped shop ever.

The Redwood City shop ©1998 Dick Sangalli

After reopening the shop in '94 I focused on only custom work, but by 1996 for some reason I was itching to do more production again. With two stellar employees we ramped up production. I designed four models of stock sized steel frames: StageRace (road), Manzanita (mtb), Eurocross (cyclo-cross racing), and CycloCross (fat tire/pre 29er mixed use). Selling through dealers and direct our volume increased. We maintained an inventory of 150 unpainted frames in all the various sizes and models. This worked for a while, but carbon, ti, and aluminum soon came on the scene and our steel frame sales decreased.

Brent wearing his SOPWAMPTOS Golden Toity award with David diFalco and Bruce Gordon at Interbike 1997.

Greg, Chris, Brent and John at a Surf City cross race.
Brent (yes I'm fat) and John at the shop in 2000

By 2002 the Steelman shop consisted of Katryn and myself again. With steel bike popularity still in a slump, I decided to begin working with carbon fiber and offered custom lugged carbon frames. These were a hit with the customers, but eventually I discovered I really did not like working with carbon. It was a tactile day to day thing. Nothing against the material, but I have steel coursing through my veins not resin impregnated fabric! Fortunately, my desire to quit working with carbon coincided with a resurgence in the popularity of hand crafted steel frames!

Building frames is fun, just ask John


Our booth at the North American Hand Built Bike Show in San Jose CA, 2006.

Romancing the Lug, 2010

Una Pizza Napoletana SF, 2012


Roger and I bonding a lugged carbon frame 2004

2007 found me in a funk. I was depressed and felt like we were going nowhere fast. My outlook dimmed to the point of trying to sell the business and start fresh with something else. I spent very little time at the shop and did not accept new orders. After eight or nine months of hiatus I had an epiphany and suddenly felt hungry to create bikes again. Having spent over half my life building custom bicycles I only needed to step outside of it for a few months to realize how much I love doing what I do. A big part of my psychological resurrection was a result of the rekindled interest in steel frames, especially finely detailed lugged construction. It was full circle for me.

Hi I'm Brent. May I take your order? 2010

2013: It has been a busy year with mainly orders for road and cross bikes. Our customers love all the variations and themes between tig welded and lugged construction. Stainless steel frames are in the mix as well. Interest in light tig welded road racing bikes is on the rise.

Mitch Pryor and I have launched a collaborative project building a line of stock sized tig welded randonneuring bikes. Stay tuned for more on that, and also a new Steelman StageRace SL model is in the pipeline.

Thanks for reading this and I hope to meet you someday if you like what I do.

This gorgeous LE-10 frame was shipped to a customer in Istanbul, 2013

 
   
   





the young framebuilder getting advice from coach Matt 1985

Yes! Dura Ace AX 1985

Clement Paris Roubaix Seta 1984

the eighties! neon splatter paint job 1988

the Haven shop

We were a productive crew: Greg, John, and Brent 1998

Katryn applying frame decals


Bonding carbon is smelly and messy. 2005
Mitch Pryor and I working on our S&P project rando bikes, 2013

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 




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All photos are by Katryn Steelman unless otherwise credited.