At the shop in San Carlos, CA. ©1984
Brief Steelman history from Brent's
Born in 1960. Discovered bikes in 1964
and was wrenching them by 1965. Before I was 6 years old my cousins
and I were tearing down, rebuilding, modifying, and tweaking
our various bikes, trikes, scooters, you name it. Pre and early
teens were all about Sting Rays (this is pre bmx era) which we
constantly tore down, repainted, and modified. At 12 years of
age I was imprinted for life when I saw a sparkling new cobalt
blue Ron Cooper Nuovo Record road racing bike. There is a lot
I am leaving out here, but started hanging out at bike shops
around 1973. Rode everywhere. My high school had a phenomenal
vocational program and I took all the classes (except auto shop...was
not into cars at all). Machining, sheet metal, general metals,
brazing, welding, plastics, woodworking, and even sewing. My
Mother was very supportive of my bicycle fanaticism and helped
me buy my first hand built racing bike made by Tom Ritchey in
1977. Rode my bike everywhere. Got into bicycle racing and loaded
Was 18 or 19 when I began working at Garners Pro Bike Shop in
Redwood City. Mike and Rick Garner had both built some frames
and had jigs and torches and files! So I begged them to let me
help, pleeeeeeeeeease. They finally caved and set me loose. Working
on the frames was natural, as if I had done it before. Reynolds
531 and Columbus SL felt so comfortable in my hands. Maybe it
is in the genes.
More riding, racing, and also working as
a carpenter. In 1982 my Mother (and other very important people)
helped me set up my first frame building shop in Mom's garage.
January of 1983 Steelman Cycles was officially underway. After
a few months in Mom's garage, I moved the shop to an incubator
light industrial space in nearby San Carlos. That proved too
small and within a year I moved again to a bigger space down
the street in Belmont.
Track bike built for a Pen Velo
Milling a headtube in the San Carlos
shop. ©1984 Dick Sangalli
Lugged frame for Andy S. 1984. Dig
The early 80's were a great time for cycling
and I was busy with work. Everyone was excited and orders seemed
to come on their own. In addition to my own frames, I built mtbs
on contract for Gary Fisher, painted some for Tom Ritchey, and
built quite a few lugged steel frames on contract for other companies.
A few of the early frames ended up winning some major races.
All very cool stuff for a young bike builder. Moved the shop
to a raw 4200sf live/work space in Oakland with my wife-to-be
Katryn. She is an artist so she understands my brain. She even
filed lugs for me when the heat was on. Our daughter was born
and the bohemian industrial space eventually proved too much.
So we moved the shop, this time to a space shared by framebuilders
Albert Eisentraut (the Godfather of American framebuilders) and
Ed Litton at 2200 Adeline Street in Oakland. I have fond memories
of working alongside these guys in an iconic building that was
a nexus of Oakland artists and craft based businesses.
In 1989 things changed. Following
the naive temptation of expansion a new business partnership
was formed and we moved the shop to Campbell, CA. It was the
usual story: the partners provide fresh capital, management,
and marketing savvy, I provide the goods. Cranked up production
and had some great racers riding the bikes. We had a nice crew,
produced some very cool bikes, and got good press. Sometimes
"money and marketing savvy" make life unbearable, so
I left the partnership in 1991. My tools, fixtures, and machines
were left behind and vanished into the ether.post partnership bike with freshly designed
The Campbell shop © 1991 John
1997 Redwood City shop
Production frames ©1998 Dick
Time to retrench, retool, and start over.
Worked as a carpenter again with my mentor James Docker. Very good times building homes
in Sea Ranch with James.
photo: James Docker
Kept the torch going back in Oakland thanks to Ed and Albert.
By January of 1994, with the unbreakable support of my wife Katryn,
my mother, and close friends, we had fully retooled and setup
shop back in home town Redwood City. The Haven Ave location became,
and remains, our best equipped shop ever.
The Redwood City shop ©1998
After reopening the shop in '94 I focused
on only custom work, but by 1996 for some reason I was itching
to do more production again. With two stellar employees we ramped
up production. I designed four models of stock sized steel frames:
StageRace (road), Manzanita (mtb), Eurocross (cyclo-cross racing),
and CycloCross (fat tire/pre 29er mixed use). Selling through
dealers and direct our volume increased. We maintained an inventory
of 150 unpainted frames in all the various sizes and models.
This worked for a while, but carbon, ti, and aluminum soon came
on the scene and our steel frame sales decreased.
Brent wearing his SOPWAMPTOS Golden
Toity award with David diFalco and Bruce Gordon at Interbike
Greg, Chris, Brent and John at a
Surf City cross race.
Brent (yes I'm fat) and John at the shop in 2000
By 2002 the Steelman shop consisted
of Katryn and myself again. With steel bike popularity still
in a slump, I decided to begin working with carbon fiber and
offered custom lugged carbon frames. These were a hit with the
customers, but eventually I discovered I really did not like
working with carbon. It was a tactile day to day thing. Nothing
against the material, but I have steel coursing through my veins
not resin impregnated fabric! Fortunately, my desire to quit
working with carbon coincided with a resurgence in the popularity
of hand crafted steel frames!
Building frames is fun, just ask
Our booth at the North American
Hand Built Bike Show in San Jose CA, 2006.
Romancing the Lug, 2010
Roger and I bonding a lugged
carbon frame 2004
2007 found me in a funk. I was depressed
and felt like we were going nowhere fast. My outlook dimmed to
the point of trying to sell the business and start fresh with
something else. I spent very little time at the shop and did
not accept new orders. After eight or nine months of hiatus I
had an epiphany and suddenly felt hungry to create bikes again.
Having spent over half my life building custom bicycles I only
needed to step outside of it for a few months to realize how
much I love doing what I do. A big part of my psychological resurrection
was a result of the rekindled interest in steel frames, especially
finely detailed lugged construction. It was full circle for me.
That brings us to the present. All the
frames that leave our shop are crafted from steel. Our customers
love all the variations and options between tig welded and lugged
construction. Steel forks have really made a comeback too. Motivation
is at historic levels and it feels like there is some kind of
young blood flowing through my veins. Thanks for reading this
and I hope to meet you someday if you like what I do.
Hi I'm Brent. May I take your order?
the young framebuilder getting advice
from coach Matt 1985
Yes! Dura Ace AX 1985
Clement Paris Roubaix Seta
the eighties! neon splatter
paint job 1988
the Haven shop
We were a productive crew: Greg,
John, and Brent 1998
Katryn applying frame decals
Bonding carbon is smelly and messy.