Step into Georgetown’s Equinox Studios, a ramshackle blue warehouse on Fifth Avenue South that bills itself as home to “Fine & Heavy, Arts & Artisans,” and you may think you’ve stepped into Bohemian Seattle’s answer to Santa’s workshop.
There are metalworkers, woodworkers and blacksmiths here, along with artists operating in various media. And then there’s Cyclefab, crafters of bicycle trailers, baskets and custom-made frames, some of them wildly eccentric.
Past products have included a pink covered-wagon dog trailer. The purchaser intended to bike from Indiana to California with three canines in tow. Then there was a trailer that Seattle composer John Teske commissioned so he could cart his enormous double bass around town.
Works-in-progress include co-owner Colin Stevens’ personal tandem bike, with one reclining and one upright seat, plus an unusually large cargo-carrying capacity. There’s also a pontoon-equipped bike trailer, still in the design stage, whose purchaser plans to use it to pedal around Lake Washington.
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“The bike clamps on top,” Stevens explains, “and integrates with a drive train that runs a propeller. So your trailer turns into a boat.”
A more typical purchaser was David Shapiro, a philosophy teacher at Cascadia Community College in Bothell.
“I’m a pretty fanatic bicycle commuter,” he said recently. “But having a bike trailer, it’s pretty amazing. You can carry just whatever you want. … It’s a little bit of an overstatement to say it changed my life, but it certainly changed my attitude about what could be carried on a bicycle. … I never drive. I do all my shopping by bike. I do all my errands by bike.”
The most festive of Stevens’ contraptions may be the pedal-powered parade float, with a fully functioning transmission, he sold to Webster Walker at Seattle’s Central Co-op a few years back. Utilizing an old truck frame and powered by eight pedalers, it has turned up at the Pride Parade and at other public events.
Cyclefab started off as Stevens’ one-man operation, dubbed Haulin’ Colin, and is now run by Stevens, 31, and his two partners, Garth L’Esperance, 25, and Michael Nazaroff, 34. Along with its bike-related work, Cyclefab does a variety of machining, fabrication and welding jobs.
Stevens came to his trade by an oddly counterintuitive route. He grew up on the Oregon coast, interested in computer technology.
“We kind of lived out in the middle of nowhere,” he says. “It was fun playing in the woods … but it was really fun, when I was a teenager, to discover the Internet.”
He came to Seattle in 2000 to study computer science at the University of Washington. But the field, he discovered, wasn’t for him.
“It didn’t feel like I was building anything real,” he says. “I do appreciate things that people are doing with computer technology. But I just, at the time, found it impossible to concentrate on making things that didn’t have a physical finishing point.”
Not long afterward, a friend of his bought a welder and said they should learn to weld on their own.
“So we did — and made a lot of really sketchy stuff,” Stevens says. But he honed his skill by getting an internship with a bicycle-frame builder. When the frame shop went out of business in 2006, its owner sold Stevens his milling machine. Stevens and some friends then rented a small space at Equinox Studios. Nazaroff was one of those friends.
“His dad was a retired diesel truck mechanic, so he just brought in the welder and this whole toolbox full of nice quality tools,” Stevens recalls. “I wasn’t doing it as a business then. I didn’t have a business license. I was just coming down here as a hobby and sometimes making things for friends. And then the more I made, the more people heard about me and the more people wanted stuff.”
By July, 2013, he, L’Esperance and Nazaroff were formally in business.
“We’re all in business together now,” Stevens says. “We all get paid the same regardless of who works on what here. … We’re all basically the same amount broke.”
Cyclefab’s products, along with the Haulin’ Colin bike paraphernalia and frame repair services, include a Bonerguard popular with bicycle-polo players. (The Bonerguard isn’t quite what it sounds. It’s a shield protecting the disc-brake rotor on the front wheel of a bike.)
In addition to bike-related work, Cyclefab takes on a host of odd jobs. One unusual item is a Complete Hoof Care Work Station, designed by Leslie Emery, owner of Vashon Island’s Evolutionary Hoof Care. It’s a cluster of aluminum tubes, each custom-sized for a specific farrier’s tool. In its center is an adjustable cradle that holds the hoof. The work station spins around so the farrier can grab whatever is needed.
Another vital source of income is machine-shop work for other companies.
Stevens holds up one example: a stainless steel pipe-fitting that needs to have its threads adjusted. The job is for a Seattle company that makes big natural-gas and propane equipment.
“Every once in a while, or actually fairly often,” Stevens notes wryly, “they get a whole batch of parts that are a little bit wrong from a factory in China or whatever, and they’ll send it to us for us to fix them, because we have fast turnaround.”
Most of the equipment Cyclefab uses dates from the late 1970s, just before computer technology crept into manufacturing. But Stevens and his partners are inching toward the digital age, recently purchasing a metal lathe that Nazaroff is revamping.
Stevens doesn’t just work on bicycles — he lives the bicycle culture, commuting to Equinox Studios from his home in the Central District. He’s even helped friends move house by bike.
“Things that you couldn’t even move in a car, like a queen-sized mattress,” he laughs. “Just throw it on top.”
Business grew for Haulin’ Colin even during the great 2008-09 downturn.
“Maybe when people can’t afford a car,” he theorizes, “they turn more to bicycles and see what’s practical to do by bicycle. So, yeah, I continued to sell stuff throughout that.”
Still, it’s a modest living.
“Any big company that thinks they’re going to make a bunch of money making any bike stuff is delusional,” co-owner L’Esperance says dryly. “That’s why it’s nice that we also do the straight-up machine-shop contracting, because it’s a mix and we don’t have all our eggs in one basket.”
The trade-off for long hours and low pay is the freedom of being self-employed.
“I can just sleep in if I feel like it,” Stevens says. “I can also work until 11 o’clock at night if I feel like it, if I’m being real productive. So I do often come down here seven days a week, but I might roll into work at noon. … We just love coming down here. If I didn’t have a moneymaking project that I was excited about working on, I’d just work on one of my own projects.”
Michael Upchurch: firstname.lastname@example.org