Custom bike builders are the artisans, entrepreneurs, and trendsetters of the bicycle industry. Many mainstream trends–from gravel bikes to belt drives–were popularized thanks to the bold spirit and innovative artistry of handmade framebuilders. Gates visited the MADE.bike handmade bicycle show in Portland, Oregon, from Aug. 24-27, to photograph the most beautiful and advanced Gates Carbon Drive equipped bicycles and eBike on exhibition.
From the titanium triple tandem of Schwift, to the retro-inspired eBike of Chris Works, to the full-suspension MTBs of Viral and Machina, the belt-driven bikes of MADE are functional works of art on wheels. Gates salutes the craftsmanship of custom bike makers everywhere–and we hope you enjoy the images and stories below.
Ahearne Cycles is a highly respected Portland framebuilder who was an early adopter of the Pinion gearbox and Gates belt drives. At Made.bike, Ahearne exhibited a Pinion Commuter created for a customer in Salem, Ore., who wanted a sturdy and low-maintenance bike for commuting and touring. The swooping tubing of the custom rear rack adds visual styling, and the custom racks and fenders add visual styling and functionality. It has a SON dynamo-powered headlight integrated within the custom front rack. The Ahearne headbadge with a monkey adds a touch of fun.
We spotted a second Ahearne at Made.bike that was not on exhibition but was being used as a workhorse. This one is a cycletruck with a stout platform for carrying a cargo box. A beautiful and practical bike for heavy hauling, with a Gates belt for all-weather simplicity.
Circa Cycles exhibited an aluminum belt drive commuter at MADE. Circa is a Portland based brand that is rewriting the book on how to build bike frames. Circa specializes in bonded aluminum frames that have no welds. Founder Rich Fox came up with the proprietary system while seeking methods to create a stronger and more unique frame that could be assembled without the need for welding. He fits the tubes together with CNC machined joinery and aerospace grade epoxy that creates a frame that’s as strong as or stronger than a welded frame.
“When I started the company about 10 years ago, I wanted to bring my background in product design and product innovation to something I am really passionate about, which is manufacturing, the local economy, and bicycling. I’m a lifelong cyclist, so it just made sense. I had been helping companies innovate, and I decided it was time to eat my own cooking. We glue airplanes and race cars together, why not bikes?”
Fox developed the CNC machined lugs that hold the tubing together. Circa also does away with the need for paint by anodizing his tubing. “Anodizing is harder than paint, lighter than paint, and faster to do. And then we discovered that we can laser-etch into that anodized surface and do cool custom graphics.”
Fox loves the Gates Carbon Drive system. “Being in the Northwest, a super low-maintenance weather tolerant system is a good fit for us.” Instead of a frame split, Circa has bolt-on seat stays that enable the belt to be added. “Our experience with the Gates belt has shown that we don’t need a super-fancy dropout. The belt is a great compliment to our overall design and philosophy.”
Chris Works founder Chris Anderson exhibited one of the most stylish and eye-catching eBikes at MADE, a retro motorcycle inspired rig with a Gates Carbon Drive system and Bosch motor. Anderson drew up the bike four years ago but never got around to building it. “The pandemic hit, I was twiddling my thumbs, and I thought ‘It’s time to build this.’ It took about a year to dial in the drawings and geometry.”
Anderson worked with North American Bosch distributor VPL to engineer the Bosch and belt drive integration. Curtis Inglis of Retrotec made the stylish truss fork with its curvaceous metalwork that adds class and style to the overall design. It uses a Bosch Performance Speed motor system mated to a Rohloff E-14 electronic shifting hub via a Gates belt. “I love the way it rides. So smooth and quiet with the Gates Carbon Drive.
This is an eBike that screams style. It has a golden twin top tube for a continuous flow, custom fenders and a custom belt case, as well a gold-colored custom wheel stand. Anderson says he got a flurry of interest in the bike at MADE and is now building two more.
Co-Motion Cycles based in Eugene, Oregon, is one of the nation’s largest and best-known custom bike builders in North America. They exhibited a Metolius tandem eBike with double batteries and a Divide Co-Pilot touring bike with S&S couplers for disassembling the frame for international travel.
The Metolius tandem has a Bosch Cargo Speed motor with assist up to 28 miles per hour for flying down the open road. The range is about 110 miles for the average tandem couple. “We set it up with two batteries to eliminate any range anxiety,” says Co-Motion President Dwan Shepard. The system draws power from both batteries concurrently to maximize battery life. “Bosch provided some special programming for us to integrate the system into a tandem.” The Metolius as pictured sells for $17,595.
The Divide Co-Pilot is one of the finest belt drive touring bikes on the market, equipped with a Pinion, disc brakes, and a Steerstopper that locks the top tube to the steerer assembly, locking the front wheel in place and replacing the need for a kickstand. S&S couplers on the top tube and downtube allow touring cyclists to split the frame and put it in a travel case for international transport—and low-maintenance adventures far from home.
Machina is a Canadian brand based in Whistler and founded by Sion Gwynn and Tom Moffatt. At MADE, they exhibited a carbon fiber full suspension Pinion and Gates enduro MTB with a custom belt guard and belt tensioner. “We wanted to create the best enduro bike we could,” Gwynn says. “The gearbox and Gates Carbon Drive give a nice smooth and silent ride experience, and you move weight from the rear wheel to the middle of the bike for better balance and performance. I was going through two traditional chain drive transmissions per year. I get on a chain bike these days and it just sounds terrible.”
Omnium is a Danish cargo bike brand that is distributed in the United States. For the MADE show, VPL retrofitted an analog steel Cargo frame with a Bosch Cargo CX motor and Gates belt drive. VPL also added a 3×3 internally geared hub with a mechanical shifter to highlight the ease of shifting under heavy load. VPL also added a front rack extender to increase the volume of cargo that can be carried. With a Supernova front and rear lights, this is a car-replacing electric cargo bike that’s ideal for use by families or small businesses seeking low-carbon transport solutions.
Nicolai is an iconic German brand created by Universal Transmission founder Karlheinz Nicolai, who was instrumental in helping Gates bring the Carbon Drive system to market in Europe. The VPL booth featured a Nicolai Saturn 11 GPI full-suspension bikepacking/rugged touring bike equipped with a belt drive and Pinion Smart.Shift C1.12i electronic shifting system.
Pinion’s Smart.Shift replaces the grip shifter on the company’s analog shifting system with instantaneous trigger shifting powered by a battery that will enable 15,000 to 20,000 shifts (or an entire season of riding) before needing recharging.
In addition to the Pinion and Gates components, the Saturn GPI was specified with a DT Swiss suspension fork, DT Swiss rims and hubs, and Magura hydraulic disc brakes. This is the bike for individuals considering a long-distance bikepacking tour that travels far off the beaten path.
Portus is a German custom bike brand that was an early adopter of Gates belt drives and Pinion gearboxes. The Portus was displayed at MADE in the VPL booth, which featured multiple belt drive eBikes integrated with Bosch motors and low-maintenance drivetrain components. With its oversized front and rear racks, this is an eBike for cargo hauling and getting work done. In addition to the low-maintenance and strong Gates Carbon Drive, the Portus features a 3X3 internally geared hub created in Germany that is distributed in the U.S. by VPL. The suspension fork smooths out roads when riding fully loaded at speed, and the 20-inch front wheel lowers the mass and provides stability when carrying heavy cargo. It’s a functional piece of art for getting the job done.
We spotted this SaltAir Cycles rigid singlespeed with swept back bars on the last day of MADE. It was one of the many belt drive bikes we saw at MADE that were being used by exhibitors for local transportation around Portland. Based in Salt Lake City, SaltAir specializes in custom steel bikes.
In terms of bold concepts, the Schwift Sch:Long exhibited at MADE in the VPL booth was about as audacious as it gets. It’s a quadruple belted, three-person titanium tandem eBike with three Bosch batteries. VPL co-founder and eBike mad scientist Zack Krapfl designed the bike to be used by his wife and daughter. He says the bike is valued at $100,000.
The titanium frame is a thing of beauty. It has strategically placed couplers that allow the long frame to be disassembled and stored for transport and travel. The engineering and design of the drivetrain are next-level ingenious. The Bosch Cargo Speed drive system in the rear of the bike is mated to a Rohloff E-14 electronic shifting hub for seamless and smooth shifting. The three Bosch batteries provide 150+ miles of range. Tying the entire system together are four Gates Carbon Drive belts, including a limited edition 74-tooth belt that connects the middle seat’s cranks to the drivetrain.
Look for this incredible electric tandem on the roads near VPL’s headquarters in Paonia, Colo., and at bike trade shows for years to come. And if you have an extra $100,000, this eBike could be yours.
Viral is the brand of legendary bike designer Steve Domahidy, who specifies belts and Pinion gearboxes on all Viral models. At MADE, Viral exhibited the Optimist 160, a belt drive enduro bike with 160 mm of travel in the rear and a 170 mm fork on the front. The Optimist 160 was designed to use the new Pinion Smartshift electronic shifting system that eliminates the grip shift used on traditional Pinion setups.
The bike has 3D printed titanium lugs with carbon tubing. “It’s a single pivot suspension design with a flex stay and linkage for the shock leverage ratio. It’s built around 115 percent anti-squat at 30 percent sag,” Domahidy says. “It’s full-on enduro radness.”
Domahidy says the Optimist 160 will be ready for market in early 2024. “I can’t say yet what the pricing will be, other than that it will be expensive. It’s 3D printed ti lugs, and carbon tubes, and its made in the USA one at a time by me.”
Wolfhound Cycles exhibited this eye-catching belt drive singlespeed at MADE. The swooping curvature of the frame and the bright green color made it a show favorite. The Gates belt drive brings the bike to the next level of beauty and low-maintenance simplicity. Why wreck such a lovely frame with a greasy chain? The shiny front sprocket guard adds some bling factor. Sometimes the most beautiful bikes are the simplest.
Oregon Timber Trail Bikes
Two bikepackers from Alaska, Cameron Sanders and Mike Yuhnke, recently rode 460 miles of the rugged Oregon Timber Trail in 18 days prior to exhibiting their custom bikes at Made.
The first is a full-suspension singlespeed steel frame from Smyth Cycles of Durango, Colo. “I was an early adopter of Gates belts,” says Cameron Sanders of Anchorage, Alaska, who had the bike outfitted for rugged riding in the wilderness. This bike is a truly one-of-a-kind rig made for durable and low-maintenance riding in the roughest conditions.
The second bike frame is a Handz made in New Hampshire with a Live Free Ride Harder tag on the belt stays that is a play on the NH state motto of Live Free or Die. Owner Mike Yuhnke of Anchorage outfitted it with custom bags from Jack’s Sacks. “The bike was built around the components,” Yuhnke says. “We wanted to make a long, slack, hardtail and we built it around the Gates belt and Pinion. The drivetrain was critical to rolling through rough terrain without any worries. For me, this will be my international bikepack touring bike for more adventures. I’m eyeballing Trans Ecuador, Bolivia, and Latin America. No derailleur, no problems.”