Steve Hampsten, of Hampsten Cycles, works with his brother Andy to design, manufacture, and fit customers with clean, simple, and functionally designed custom bicycles. In addition, Andy runs Cinghiale Cycling Tours out of Italy.
We have been friends of Steve and admirers of the craft and quality of Hampsten Cycles for some time. Steve has always been generous with feedback, and enthusiastic with support and inspiration for EH Works. When we had our first rolls ready to market, we brought them to Hampsten Cycles, hoping to partner with this great group and another Seattle-based company. Being too small to support an entire booth at a national show, Steve took our rolls to the North America Handmade Bike Show where he sold all 20 rolls on the first day. Our connection to people like Steve and Hampsten Cycles is one of the most satisfying aspects of what and why we do what we do.
How long have you been operating Hampsten Cycles?
Andy and I started the company way back in 1999 and it became my full-time job about 2005.
How did you get started making bikes?
It was a long-time interest of mine, probably dating back to 1977 when Peter Massen (personal frame builder for German racer Deitrich Thureau) offered me an apprenticeship in Frankfurt. I declined, not speaking the language and being a grumpy 16 year-old. But when I moved to Madison, WI, I talked to local builder Mike Appel and applied at Trek in Waterloo – no go on either account but I was getting closer…In 1998 I heard that Match Bicycle Company was opening in Woodinville and I pretty much forced Tim Isaac – who would have been PM at Trek when I applied there – to hire me. Match didn’t stick around long but long enough for me to get hooked on the idea of making high-end bicycle frames.
What was your first frame?
Our first model we called “Cinghiale Pro” – it was welded, standard dimension tubes, mostly true Temper/Reynolds tubing blend, and the geometries had been pretty well worked out by Martin Tweedy and myself. These were not built as custom and the head tubes were on the short side, but otherwise they’re not very different from what we currently make although we use larger/thinner-walled tubes now and the welds are certainly prettier.
How is it working with family?
It’s great! Andy and I get along well and we seldom disagree and he shoots down my more questionable ideas. He tests the new models and sells frames and whole bikes to his tour customers and leaves the rest of it to me.
What is one of your favorite local rides?
I have a loop that takes in Martha Lake/Brier/Perrinville/Edmonds and skirts Alderwood Mall. It has some of the best and worst roads around – but mostly best.
What are some of your favorite American or locally made products and/or craftsmen?
Locally, I like Bob Kramer knives, Il Corvo Pasta, Sodergren Chairs, Cadence Wines – and EH Works, of course!
How would you describe your customer? How does this effect your product assortment?
I’m afraid we build the bikes we like so they end up under people like us. “Casual die-hard riders” might be a good description. We ride what we build and vice versa – so no cyclocross, sweet fixies, or fat bikes. And mountain bikes are better left to smarter folks than us but road bikes we do all day long.
What’s the most satisfying part about building a custom bike for someone?
Seeing pictures of the bike set up exactly the way the customer rides it and hearing their happy comments – it really is a moving experience.
Why did you decide to build bikes specific to a customer rather than build and sell in your shop?
We tried the non-custom approach initially and then the phone started ringing and people were asking for custom frames. Mama didn’t raise no fools, if you catch my drift, but I keep trying to get the non-custom thing to work.
What’s in your tool roll?
Tube, patches, levers, business cards, $20 bill, CO2 and dispenser, throwing stars. Ok, maybe not the throwing stars.
Anything in the works for the future?
Yeah, there are a couple of projects I’m excited about. Primarily Maglia ROSA, our new line of less-custom/more-racy road frames and whole bikes. We have Superissimo, our high-zoot steel race frame, built in-house, and we’re pairing that with Il Carbonario (no one seems to get that joke but hope springs eternal…) which is our Columbus Tubi-designed/Asian-sourced carbon frame – so two nice models right there. in addition, Peter Graham – former production manager at the now-defunct Mad Fiber wheels, a Seattle-based company that made some pretty spectacular carbon wheels – and I are working on producing our own custom carbon frames. The learning curve is long on this project but we’re seeing some good results and hope to be riding the first frames by spring. Beyond that it’s the usual blather about jerseys, water bottles, and tee shirts but I’ll believe the rumors when I see the schwag. And we need stickers for toolboxes and barroom bathrooms everywhere.
Visit www.hampsten.com and learn more about their expertly-made bicycles.