For over a year now I have been planning to replace my battered road bike with something better. It wasn’t an amazing bike to begin with, but logging 150 miles a week in all four seasons eventually took its toll on the hardware. The frame creaks, the shifting sticks, and the bolts are streaked with rust. I wanted a new bike that would be fast but comfortable, light but durable, capable of sprinting but sturdy enough to tour with a loaded rack of cargo. I wanted it equipped with high-quality components without being flashy. I strongly favored a frame made in the USA.

The selection at the local shops was underwhelming. Most manufacturers presume you want one thing or the other: if you want a fast bike, you’re getting a lightweight but fragile racing bike. If you want a sturdy and long-lasting touring bike, you’re getting something big, heavy, and slow. If you want the quality components because you enjoy the feel of smooth precision bearings, presumably you also enjoy outrageously loud graphics, edgy frame design, and you’re the kind of poseur who counts grams of weight and never rides in the rain. A custom bike might eliminate some compromise, but my budget was not infinite. The situation seemed hopeless.

My fortunes changed when a chance encounter with a mad scientist-looking fellow on the train last winter led me to strike up a conversation. The unpainted mountain bike frame and fork strapped to his bag had been recently welded, and judging by the discoloration and texture of the joints I surmised that he was an expert TIG welder. (And who can resist a good conversation about welding?)

As it turns out, I was talking to Christopher Igleheart, a longtime frame builder whose name is well-recognized within the bike community. I explained what I had been looking for, and he said he could do it. For a cost comparable to that of some store-bought models, I could have a bike that would meet all of my requirements. Not only that, but the geometry and stiffness could be custom-tailored to accommodate my body size, weight, and riding preferences. It would be made of durable but modern materials right here in New England. He handed me a business card that advertised bikes “made by hand, powered by foot.” I agreed to go for it.

Continued in part 2…