Keen observers of our Journal (or the decals at our store for that matter) will know by now that we are just about to add Argonaut Cycles to the Above Category stable. Argonaut have been building award winning carbon bikes in Oregon since 2007 and will be a great fit alongside Baum, Pegoretti, Mosaic and Pinarello.
The founder of Argonaut, Ben Farver, cut his teeth making steel bikes under the guidance of some of the world’s preeminent frame builders, but shifted focus in 2007 to custom carbon offerings. In Ben’s words, Argonaut bikes ‘fuse carbon’s nearly unlimited ride-tuning potential with our understanding of how to create a bicycle that is a blend of equation and instinct’. From our perspective we’re excited to have Argonaut at AC because Ben’s knowledge and experience building with carbon has allowed him to develop well designed, high performance bikes with outstanding handling characteristics – specifically designed for each and every customer.
We asked Ben if he wouldn’t mind sharing his history, experience and personal insights into the world of custom bikes with Above Category readers, which you can read below. He also goes into detail about what sets Argonaut apart from some other custom carbon bicycle offerings on the market and how he went about building AC’s first Argonaut, built especially for Chad, which is currently on display here in Sausalito. Take it away Ben…
photo: John Watson
I switched from making custom steel to custom carbon bicycles because I wanted more control over their design and fabrication. Sure, my steel bikes were pretty, and well made, and rode well, but they were SO similar to everything else in my niche. Pretty much all custom steel bikes satisfy most of these qualities, so selling them took a lot of handwaving and slogans like, “steel is real!”
Carbon interested me because I saw the material as an avenue to contribute something entirely unique, and entirely my own. I wanted control over every square mm of the frame, and to confidently argue the validity of every attribute. In developing the Argonaut custom carbon road frame my guiding principles were that the frame be unique, innovative, domestically produced, and driven by functional design.
The result of these guiding principles, or limitations really, is the current iteration of the Argonaut custom carbon road bike, which is domestically produced, made entirely from scratch using unidirectional pre-impregnated carbon fibre, and composed of bladder moulded frame sections. (Ed: Argonaut’s are entirely made in Bend, Oregon) These three things alone set Argonaut apart from other custom carbon bicycles manufacturers, but I am most proud of the resulting ride quality.
Photo: John Watson
Every build is custom, and every build is unique. The process begins with the customer filling out a questionnaire at Above Category that not only asks questions about how they want their bike to ride, it also asks questions about why the love riding a bike. Learning about your favorite ride – how long, what type of surfaces, how much climbing and descending – is much more helpful than how stiff you want your frame to be. In addition, rider size, weight, power output, and riding style are the key things that I look at when designing a frame. I tend to build quick steering bikes, but keep the center of gravity low, and the chain stays a little longer to maintain stability.
photo: Brian Vernor
For me, the most fun is designing the layup of the frame. From my experience with steel, I know that a well handling bike has an appropriate amount of flex. A frame can be too stiff just as easily as it can be too flexy…. too much if EITHER is a bad thing. But, just the right amount of flex results in a bike that responds to the rider rather than just sitting there like a dead fish. Designing with carbon is so much fun because it can be engineered to do so many things at the same time. By laying individual plies of unidirectional carbon on top of each other at varying degrees, the material retains or increases in stiffness when load is applied in one direction, while remaining flexible in a different direction. This translates to the ability to make a bike that is great to sprint on, yet comfortable all day.
Next comes easier decisions like paint and components. We offer bikes with either an integrated seat mast or to accept a traditional seatpost, internal electronic wiring or external mechanical, disc or caliper brake, and four different paint schemes in a variety of colors. Most importantly I want to build your favorite bike to ride, but it might as well be your favorite bike to look at as well.
photo: Jared Souney
I have to admit that I was a little overwhelmed at the task of building Chad Nordwall’s favorite bike. I’ve wanted to work with Above Category for a long time. Not because they sell a lot of high end bikes, but more because I knew they would take the time to really get to know my bikes and process. Most shops just look at margin and specs. “How much, how light, how stiff?” are the most common questions I get. Above Category knows that a great bike is so much more than that, and they’re willing to take the time to help customers understand why.
A bike built for Chad needs to climb well, AND descend well, and be comfortable on crappy roads. He and I are close in terms of power output, so I had a good idea there, but I also had to build his bike so that it could handle Marin County’s hairy descents. The road from the top of Mt. Tam to the dam is steep, twisty, and bumpy. He needs a bike that dives into corners easily, and doesn’t twist up when loaded up with lateral G-forces. But, the bike needs to be supple enough to absorb an unexpected bump.
On the aesthetic side both Chad and I wanted the bike to stand out, and we agreed that the design we decided on was risky. Not everyone is going to love it, but that’s okay. Most of the bikes we make end up matte black, which does a great job of showing off all the intricate layup work in the frame. I love a stealthy black carbon bike, but this design has become the norm in the high end market. I wanted to put forward something more unique, and with more aesthetic intention.
I love the composition of Chad’s bike, but I also know that not everyone will feel the same way. Sure, I want Argonaut to be known for building beautiful bikes. More, though, I want Argonaut to be known for pushing the boundaries of all aspects of bicycle design and fabrication.
To complement the frame (both looks and ride characteristics), we decided to build it with Campagnolo Record (mechanical), Campagnolo Bora 50’s and a Fizik cockpit. Chad will be writing in the future about how it rides, but in the meantime we’ll leave you with this picture of the finished product. We think you’ll agree with us that it looks pretty sharp and it a worthy addition to the Above Category family. Drop by the store sometime and check it out for yourself.