"We don't make fucking show bikes," Aaron chided, taking another sip of bourbon.
Aaron Barcheck is the founder and head welder at Mosaic Cycles, one of America's ever-burgeoning group of custom bicycle framebuilders. Since his start at Dean and UBI education in the early 2000s, Aaron has approached building bikes with not just the passion necessary for success in this far-flung corner of the bike industry, but an entrepreneurial one as well. Welding race frames exclusively out of titanium and steel, he knows this is an uphill battle in a world of carbon wunderbikes and culturally besotted "Show Bikes", often built as side projects by large non-industry firms or near-hobbyists in garages without real-world capability.
"This," he shouts over the whir of the motor "is my favorite tool." Aaron is holding what appears to be an oversized electric toothbrush with a long sanding belt where there should be bristles. It's a handheld belt sander, he explains. "This is so much faster than filing," he lamented. "That can take hours." He finishes the job cleaning up the brazed dropouts of the new TrueTemper S3 RS-1 steel frameset in five minutes. It's a model for how he's run the business. He could tig weld the dropouts much faster, he explains, "but then it would just look cheap". Efficiency and purpose married to artistry, which Aaron explains is the root of the company's namesake - a mosaic. Everything at Mosaic exists for a reason, creative or practical, standard kitsch be damned. And it works.
Mosaic Cycles was founded on a $15,000 family loan seven years ago. Every ounce of profit since then has been, in true start-up fashion, dumped back into the business. Now, it occupies a 3000 square-foot industrial space on the outskirts of Boulder, Colorado, employs four full-time employees, and adheres to a tight production schedule most custom builders can't begin to dream of. As of this writing, leadtime from the time the order is put in on a custom titanium Mosaic is six weeks, steel is eight (paint outsourcing tacks on the additional two weeks). An added bonus? They actually stick to it, somewhat of an anomaly. It's a model for what a sustainable, growing, and grassroots custom builder can look like. Custom Mosaics are designed for each individual rider, with tubeset selection centered around rider weight, style, and measurements, an advantage a Mosaic has over production frames. They have been able to build a frame too rigid before, even, dispelling the notion that Ti is a "soft" material compared to modern carbon. A young racer client requested the stiffest bike Mosaic could build, with no regard to comfort - he ended up selling it a few months later because it was too stiff.
When you first talk to Aaron, you get the distinct impression he's holding back. The passion, the frustration, and the resulting energy bubbles just beneath the surface, enough to catch a whiff of it when he's behind the torch or showing you the heavy stock titanium headtubes are lathed from. Get him with his wife, Liz, or around a glass of neat top-shelf whiskey, and he opens up. He's proud of what he's done, and he's proud of his work. He decries the lack of skill and professionalism that permeates his niche of the industry. Few other titanium builders even bother to use butted tubesets in their high-end frames (a crucial element to saving weight and tuning the ride of the bike), opting instead for flashy aesthetics and straight-gauge Ti. "They build simple bikes," he says when I mention another up-and-coming builder with similar construction, ornate graphics, long wait times, and an adoring internet fanbase. That some companies actually shoot for huge lead times and wait lists on framesets is a concept foreign to the tight crew in Boulder.
Mosaic is the no-nonsense, blue collar, purpose-built everyman's bike, designed to last a lifetime without complaint. There is no pretension, no illusions of grandiosity, just titanium and steel pushed to their limits. Looking at Mosaic and listening to its maker describe the why and how, like welded-on seat collars, internal brake lines, 44mm headtubes, and seatstay diameter choice is akin to what I imagine asking Carroll Shelby about the purpose behind the Shelby Cobra is like. There's always far deeper beauty in the unintentional, when form follows function, and it's the heart and soul of Mosaic. It's what makes Above Category proud to have them as a partner. No, they don't build "fucking show bikes". They build honest, fast, sustainable, and incredibly beautiful custom bikes with remarkable quality, traits many other builders are perpetually seeking but often come up short on. Chapeau, Aaron and company. Here's to your success.
Note: We interviewed Aaron Barcheck of Mosaic Cycles earlier this year when he came to San Francisco for a visit, give it a read here.