Moots, Baum, Mosaic, Prova… since our humble beginning of AC, handbuilt titanium bicycles have always been at the core of what we offer. We’re certainly not exclusive to it, we truly are open to all materials a skilled and proven builder chooses as their medium. There’s just something about titanium—be it the killer ride quality, the unmatched longevity, or the industrial aesthetic beauty—that keeps us coming back. And today, we’re pleased to announce our latest titanium partnership. No22 bicycles, built by hand in New York, are now available here at Above Category.
Did we really need to bring yet another titanium builder into the mix at Above Category? Honestly, no, we did not. There was no void we were trying to fill, no quota we were trying to meet. While we’re always keeping our eyes on what’s out there, it’s seldom we feel the need to actually bring in something new. But when we realize that a builder brings something a little different, a little extra to the table, it gets our interest piqued.
Why No. 22?
So what exactly then brought us opening or doors to No. 22? We'll let Chad, our founder, share some insight to this addition of these metal tubed machines.
I’d heard of No22 cycles before, but honestly I made the assumption that it was just another titanium tubed bike company that liked to use a bit of anodization to make the bikes look pretty but other than that, didn’t offer anything that warranted a deeper look. What do they say about assuming again?
Just before COVID started, one of the founders of the company came into the shop to get a few tweaks done to his bike while on a trip here in California. I didn’t get a chance to talk to him or take a look at the bike that day but Robert, our service manager, really liked what he saw and made the suggestion that we should take a closer look.
I spent a good chunk of the next day or so reading every line of copy on their website, looking at every picture and watching every video on their blog. So I then knew a lot more about No22—the models that they produced, the company philosophy, who the team consisted of, etc. One thing that stood out right away was how much of the frames they produced in house. I love that and sent an email to one of the founders to find out more and ended the conversation by ordering my own No22 Reactor.
We always want to try out a company's bikes ourselves before making a decision to bring them into the fold. It’s not only about whether we like the way the bike looks or how it rides, but also the experience of getting the frame made. The interaction, the punctuality and the professionalism among other things. While I was waiting for the frame I had a few more long conversations with them and learned a bit more about what they do and what they are working on. They just launched one of the coolest looking coupled travel bikes (something that's been needed for a long time now) and they're currently working on something else that should open a lot of eyes as well, but more on that in the near future.
In the end, we love working with companies that push the boundaries of their chosen craft and I’m adding No22 to that short list of people that do so. You should too.
Due to air quality over the past couple of months I only have 600 or so miles on my new Reactor and am loving it! We’ll talk about this bike soon, but I wanted to take the time to write this note introducing the team at No22 to you and welcoming them to our family!"
Behind the Brand
For many, selecting a custom bicycle goes beyond the product itself, it equally comes down to the people and ethos behind the brand. It is the human element that makes a handcrafted bicycle handcrafted, after all. We took a moment to check in with No22 co-founder, Bryce Gracey, to help you all gain a glimpse into the personalities driving the force behind the titanium steeds.
Relatively speaking, No22 is a fairly new company in the handbuilt bike sphere. Despite that, you’ve had some notable success as far as NAHBS awards, press, becoming a well established company. What would you say has led to so much success as a young brand?
While we're indeed a younger player in our sphere, we didn't exactly start from scratch. The core of our fabrication team have significant amounts of experience having cut their teeth at the storied Serotta factory. In fact, our three original employees, our director of operations, head welder, and head machinist have a collective 53 years experience between them. Coupled with the rest of our talented fabrication team, and our unconventional approach to the material, we definitely had a lead out of the starting gate.
That's quite a lot of experience to have under your belts! Bryce, you were an architect and your co-founder, Mike, came from a law background. How did those two paths end up leading the two of you to starting a custom bicycle company?
For some background, I came into road cycling in my late teens and was pretty passionate about it up until starting my Master of Architecture program which left me with little to no time to sleep, let alone ride. Mike Smith, my partner in No. 22, got his start ripping on mountain bikes as a kid, picking-up part time work in bike shops to support his habit. He ventured pretty heavily into road biking as well before undertaking a joint JD/MBA degree. Fast forward to 2012 when school's out and Mike and I both dove back into cycling and had been riding together for a couple years in Toronto, Canada. Mike was about to set on a ride from the coast-to-coast of Canada and needed a bike for it. I suggested titanium as I had recently been reacquainted with the material having had a track frame built up for my daily commuter. We used the overseas fabricator that built my bike for his and he hit the road for 3 months. When he got back he proclaimed that, "we have to do something with this material" and No. 22 Bicycle Company Inc. (named after the periodic # of Ti) was born.
My design background has led me to take on the role of creative director for the brand, overseeing our brand identity and managing a great deal of the parts development from concept through to fabrication. Mike's experience in law and business has definitely been an asset running a business between both sides of the border. Mike is also very mechanically savvy and it is the holistic collaboration between he, I, and our operations director, Scott Hock, which creates the synergy that has allowed us to be so successful.
Well I think a lot of people can relate to coming up on bikes in their youth and coming back to it later in life once they whirlwind of school and young adulthood has settled down. Your professional backgrounds really make sense as to how they'd benefit starting a new company. These days, it really feels like the list of custom frame builders is endlessly growing. What do you feel sets No22 apart from the rest?
Our mantra is: Contemporary Performance. Artisan Precision.
We always have an eye on the innovations within the cycling industry at large - not just what's happening in handmade metal bikes, which allows us to keep pushing the boundaries of what a titanium bike can be and do. We were amongst the first in our industry to adopt broader industry advancements such as flat mounts disc interfaces, T47 bottom bracket standards amongst other innovations. We aren't satisfied with just pulling ubiquitous parts off the shelves of common suppliers making our brand only differentiated through a fancy paint job - a No. 22 is intrinsically identifiable in the sum of its parts. We are constantly honing our product, even for the most marginal of gains - but those moves all add up and continue to propel us ahead of our competition.
You touched on this a bit earlier, but what is it about titanium that keeps it your singular focus? Has your team ever considered branching into other materials?
It was our intention to start a titanium bicycle brand, not just a bicycle brand that fueled us to take on this endeavor. Simply put, its performance potential coupled with its unique ride quality make it the most enjoyable material to ride. While we may employ some other materials in areas of our bikes, such as our carbon fibre seat masts, we'll always be fundamentally a titanium bicycle company.
No22 has always sought to do things your own way, like designing your own double hooded dropouts and carbon forks, to designing your new incredibly innovative travel bike coupler system. What would you consider to be No22’s key innovations and what fuels that fire to keep up those new developments?
This comes back to always wanting to hone our product. If we have an idea that can improve our bikes, but it isn't readily available, we'll take it upon ourselves to make it happen. There is obviously great risk, time, and expense that come hand-in-hand with this approach, but we're fundamentally committed to building the best bikes we can. I think you've hit on some of the key innovations - we were overwhelmed by the response our new coupler system and by our hydraulic brake line disconnect received. We scratch our heads as to why a dry brake line coupler wasn't readily available in the cycling world; we're happy to have made that happen. I may also add to the list our titanium seat mast topper which is formed through titanium casting; a process not typically used in Ti bike fabrication, but offers the most elegant solution to the creation of that part we could find. We are also experimenting with custom hydroformed tubing which has us incredibly excited.
Now that you mention it, I can't really recall any other cast titanium part. Your seat toppers are certainly a highlight of the Reactor/Aurora models. That's really interesting about hydroforming, too. I'm no metallurgist, so I don't really know the limitations of the material, but I've always wondered why we only really see people doing that with aluminum and not other materials. I'm pretty excited to see where your team brings that!
Having formed in 2012, No22 is nearing its ten year anniversary. In this time, what do you feel have been your most monumental achievements? What are goals No22 has its sights set on for the next 10 years?
Hard to believe it has been ten years - time flies when you're doing what you're passionate about. Generally, I would say our greatest achievement has been to bring the happiness and excitement that comes from riding a great bike to so many people around the world. More specifically, producing our 1,000th bike in 2019 and having what must be one of the winningest showings in NAHBS history that same year were massive milestones to carry us through what we all know has been a wild 2020.
It's hard to say where the next ten years will take us, as that will be inextricably linked to developments in bicycle design in general - but we will undoubtedly stay true to our mantra of offering the highest quality, best performing bikes we can. I can say that we have a project that is now about a year in development that will be a game changer in the world of titanium frame design and should shift the paradigm of how the material is utilized and perceived in relation to its air-slippery carbon peers. We'll ensure Above Category is amongst the first to get a glimpse...
Well, that certainly has us intrigued to see what you have coming! I really appreciate you takin the time to chat with us, Bryce. Before I let you go, I've got one last question for you—In your expansive line up of models, which bike is your personal go-to ride?
I've surprised myself by having the best season on the road, performance-wise, since my late 20's. I think I've channelled my existential crisis of turning 40 through the cranks, so the Reactor has been my 'go-to' to keep up with the younger racers.
We've already built up a couple of No22s for ourselves and for clients, and thus far we've been delightfully impressed. We're excited to have more of these incredible builds come through our workshop and we're really looking forward to seeing what kinds of exciting innovations they bring to the handbuilt bike world next. For any questions on the brand or to discuss a build of your own, don't hesitate to give us a shout.
To learn more about No22 and their range of titanium bicycles, head to their product page here.