Fire it up. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly
A couple of bikes. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly
A little bit of smoke from the welding. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly
Di-Acro Model 4 hand-operated bender awaiting orders. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly
Disco ball, a must have for every office. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly
Cutting metal. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly
A beauty shot of Cameron's personal Falconer. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly
Cameron's favorite tool: his hand-made chainstay subassembly fixture Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly
Cameron welding away. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly
Shavings from the milling machine. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly
The workshop whiteboard Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly
A well-used lathe. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly
Frame welding jig. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly
Cameron working away inside his shop in San Francisco's Bayview district Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly
While many bike frames are made with exotic materials these days, Cameron Falconer, of Falconer Cycles, uses good old-fashioned steel.
Located in the Bayview district, a stone’s throw away from the original Trouble Coffee company, Cameron is one of a handful of frame builders that calls San Francisco home, not to mention the dude’s quite a fixture in the local cross-country/cyclocross racing scene.
Instead of complicated tube shapes, which which have become the norm, Cameron is out to build simple and functional, TIG-welded steel bikes. They are precision-made tools that are meant to be used/ridden/abused day in and day out. That’s no BS.
It’s been three and a half years since Cameron got into building bikes full time. We met up with Cameron recently while he was working on a special non bike-related project for a buddy. But what the heck, we chatted anyway.
Five words to describe your bikes:
Simple. Practical. Forms follow function. Tools first.
Best part about the job:
The best thing is being able to do something creative and be able to constantly refine what I do in trying to improve it. I find it pretty rewarding, to see people riding my bikes and enjoying it.
Once I deliver the bike to somebody it’s theirs and they can do whatever they want with it quite honestly. They can cut it up and make pry bars, bongs out of it. That’s not really my business but I prefer, much prefer people to ride them. And they do. It’s always really nice running into somebody and having them do something cool and having a cool experience on something I made. That’s what keeps me going.
First thing you would do as a captain of a pirate ship:
Assumed I already only have one leg, I would make everyone brush their teeth, hygiene is important.
Uphill or downhill:
There’s no preference there, I like them both.
Describe your idea of a perfect holiday:
Ride a bike at somewhere interesting with people I like on mountain bikes … Bunch of real high places in Colorado. Oakridge, Oregon. I’d love to go to the Alps, never been there. A lot of places are just in the big mountains, pretty unique spots.
What’s it like at the transition from being a welder at a metal fabrication shop to a bike builder?
There were some challenges. I already knew the frame building trade from work at Ed Litton and a few other friends. I think you just keep getting better at what you do so I would never claim to say the stuff I made is perfect.
Ed Litton whom I worked for, Rick Hunter of Hunter Cycles whom I’ve raced for and still race on a team supported by him. I started racing for him in 1997. He’s been a super big influence on me. Sean Walling at Soulcraft. I am really lucky to have a lot of my friends around here who do this for a living. They’re really good folks and we help each other out, so there’s definitely a lot of cross-pollination going on.
As far as inspiration goes most of my inspiration are people who do stuff that I think is really well executed and really simple.
The local frame-building scene here is amazing. There are tons of talented people doing it.
How much would you charge to wash all the windows in Marin?
Let’s say there’s an average of 15 windows in a building, and how many buildings are in Marin County anyway … 100,000 at least? So a couple million windows give or take. Assumed that’s a few year’s work I would guess, it’ll be pretty monotonous so I want to see $150k a year to do that. Half a million would be cool. Someone would have to pay for my gas too.
Thoughts about the new wave of axle, bottom bracket standard and disc brakes? Does that affect you in anyway?
Yes it does. It matters. Thru axles are generally a good thing, particularly with disc brakes. The boost standard that’s coming right now is also potentially a good thing for real strength. Most of the new BB standards I think are a waste of time… Other than the new T47 standard. That’ll be a good useful standard.
In my world I think it is going to be adopted by a lot of people. There are benefits for people like me for sure but I don’t see it as a necessity in particularly for steel builders. If you’re building titanium where you need bigger diameter tubes there are some definite benefits to it. In steel, there are benefits as well. You can run different cranks and such. It’s easier.
Hardest part of the job:
It would be being responsible for every aspect of it. You’re the CEO but you’re also the janitor. So whenever something goes wrong or right it’s your fault. Whatever responsibility there is in here is all mine and it can be a bit much sometimes.
What would you cook for your friends:
Same thing I cook most nights probably. Big pile of vegetables and some sausages.
My girlfriend asked a question like that the other night. We were watching a skateboarding video at a friend’s house and she was like if you can speak every language or skateboard like these guys … and both my friend and I were like we want to skate like these guys. It’s like defying gravity. I see it as nearly a super power. I would love to be able to get on a skateboard and do super high-level skateboard tricks. It’s totally outside of my world. I am the world’s worst skateboarder. It’s close enough to be a super power for my taste.
Guilty pleasures? Not really. Honestly I don’t watch whatever housewives, Real Housewives of Beverly Hills or anything. I don’t even watch TV.
Favorite cocktail: Good proper margarita.
If you get to be any animal what would you be?
Maybe a marmot. Because they get to hang around in the rocks in altitude at beautiful places and sleep all winter.
Anything else you would like to add? Any tips for those who are looking into building bikes?
As far as people wanting to learn how to build bikes, don’t have any illusion to it … it’s a hard way to make a living and certainly not the best way to make money. It’s rewarding in a lot of ways but it sure as hell isn’t easy.
The stuff I make, I feel like if you’re buying from somebody you’re buying the tangible representation of what they think is important. So you should buy a bike from someone you get along with the best, regardless who that is, and whose world view in regards to cycling best matches yours.