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Bikes Handcrafted: Interview With Speedvagen’s Sacha White

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[leadin]’Time with a torch in my hand is centering, the business still needs to hum, but I am happiest when building a bike.’ – Sacha White[/leadin]

Photo: John Watson / The Radavist

From a workspace off Powell Blvd. in Portland, Ore., Sacha White runs a 12-person team building some of the best bikes in the world.

The brands, Speedvagen and Vanilla Workshop, are composed of high-end and custom steeds for road, cyclocross, urban riding, and beyond, most with price tags that hover at $5,000 and up.

“What we are doing is analogous to a tailor or a surfboard shaper,” said Sacha White, who founded the company in 1999. “You can wear a suit from a department store, or ride a production surfboard, and they will work fine but will not be truly great.”

Our test bike: Speedvagen 2016 Horizon Road, shot at Mount Tabor, Portland, Ore.

On a visit to Portland last month, I got a chance to put down a few miles on the Speedvagen 2016 Horizon road, a speed demon and work of art in one. I later caught up with White for an interview on the state of Speedvagen and the business behind building and selling custom bikes.

Interview: Custom Bike Frame-Builder Sacha White

Tell us about the bike I tested. It was a killer ride. What should the readers know about it?

Sacha White: One hundred percent handmade in our workshop, including design, fabrication, paint and final build-out. We make our bikes specifically for each rider. You tested our 2016 Horizon road. Horizon refers to the paint scheme on the bike.

All Road models start with the same initial design elements. Some folks opt for a carbon seat tube upgrade or disc brakes, electronic shifting, race wheels. We also offer either standard geometry, or tailored geometry, where we’ll fit the rider and design the frame from the ground up.

Photo: John Watson / The Radavist

What makes Speedvagen different from other custom shops?

Every little piece of the frame is made for us, or by us, rather than using a bunch of standard parts that are available to the masses. Any detail on its own won’t make a big difference, but add them together and you get something special. It’s the sum total of man hours and design detail that sets us apart.

The level of detail spans beyond the frames themselves to everything that we do, including how we take care of our customers, how we pack/ship the bikes and how we are as an employer.

What features distinguish your bikes?

Strategic use of stainless steel in high-wear and tear areas. The tubing is made of a new, high-tech steel alloy. The result is a material that is five to six times stronger than standard steel and the thickness of just a couple pieces of paper.

People come to us for the look of our bikes and for our reputation, but what they are really hit by, once they have their bike, is the ride quality, which is a combination of performance, liveliness, and comfort.

Who is the common Speedvagen customer?

It’s someone who’s been riding seriously for five-plus years and is ready to go from their off-the-shelf bike to something made specifically for them. They like Speedvagen for our combination of commitment to excellence and also not taking ourselves too seriously. These are core principles for us and for the Speedvagen community.

Photo: John Watson / The Radavist

If you order a bike this week, when can you expect to be riding it?

Fifteen days to four months, depending on the bike. We have been working for years to bring the wait time down, our new OG1 will ship within two weeks (or full custom in as little as eight weeks). We have ramped up our production schedule this year to get folks on bikes faster without sacrificing the quality.

What is your biggest challenge running Speedvagen?

Slowing down. There are a lot of exciting things that we could do. The challenge for me, because I love doing cool stuff, is to be disciplined and to make sure that we’re only taking a project on if we can nail it 100 percent.

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What’s new this year with the brands?

We’ll be doing fitting tours in Malaysia and Indonesia, as well as Europe and the East Coast. We’re also getting ready to launch the 2016 Surprise Me scheme and we’re launching a new stock bike, the OG1 (Original Gangster), that will be a super attainable, truly handmade bike for people who are getting into serious riding.

What are you excited about right now?

I just came back from fitting customers in Taiwan and Japan, so at the moment, I’m excited about being in the workshop and making some bikes. I love fabrication, it’s why we do this. Time with a torch in my hand is centering, the business still needs to hum, but I am happiest when building a customer a bike he or she will truly love.

Beyond your brands, what trends are you seeing (good or bad) in the bike world as of late?

I see lots of conservative/upright fittings on road bikes, which is a bad trend. On the good side, “exploration” is big again; folks want a bike that can take them further, in places a road bike can’t go. They also don’t want a mountain bike. “Adventure cycling” is all the rage right now.

Photo: John Watson / The Radavist

Where will Speedvagen be in five years?

More of the same. Taking good care of our customers, pushing the level of excellence within our shop and making great race machines that are different from anything else out there. Expect us to continue our Fitting Tours and find new ways to be out in the world and meet new cyclists. Of course, we will always support the local Portland cyclocross community and our team. We just want to keep making great bikes.

Speedvagen 2016 Horizon Road

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