“Craftsmanship that stands out in any crowd”
“What if we were to just practice our craft? If instead of building more bikes we build the same amount of bikes, each one better and better.” That was the question posed by business partner Todd Heath to Black Sheep Bikes’ founder James Bleakely regarding their developing business model.
For James, it was an epiphany. Instead of scrambling to build more bikes, they could instead build the craft of their brand to secure a comfortable lifestyle. A lifestyle that allows for time to spend riding, time with family and friends, and importantly time to evolve designs for their custom hand built bikes that are uniquely built for each person. It’s an almost anti-production mindset that works for them.
“In racing, clearly, who gets to the finish first wins, whereas with a singlespeed race he or she who has the most fun wins”, says James. “Same thing with the standard business model, he who makes the most money wins, and I’d say that’s another model I can throw out. It’s the person who enjoys what he’s doing the most who wins.”
At Black Sheep Bikes they really are having fun, and it shows with the creation of frames that exemplify a next level of artistry which cannot be pre-ordered from a catalog. Building about 100 bikes a year with the intent of being able to take any of them to a show such as NAHBS, and have it say something about them is what’s important.
With an office full of awards, and two recent medals from the North American Hand Built Bike Show this year, the quality and ingenuity that goes into every Black Sheep frame, fork or handlebar is unquestionable. As Todd says, “each bike is not a specific model, but more about the specific person it was built for.”
Both Todd and James are bike lifer’s, albeit, from two not-so-different generations. In fact, both of them currently race, but it’s mostly for fun and to be a part of the community that supports them, notably the mountain bike community. James has six LT100′s on a singlespeed under his belt, and Todd is no slouch in the singlespeed class either. “I think a lot of what we’ve seen in our product is an evolution of our own riding”, says James.
While both started with bmx bikes as kids, James’ cycling with big wheels goes back to his college days at CSU in the late 80′s when mountain biking started taking off and Nishiki was still making steel frames (his first bike). In 1991, he took his first job with Boulder Bikes, and after a few years learning about welding and problem solving, he moved on to Advanced Alloys. There, he dialed his efficiency and ability to precisely weld different alloys with very tight tolerances. He also built what could be considered a first snow bike that used 24″ inch wheels with 3.0″ wide Gazzolodi tires, although it was really just a different mountain bike back then.
In 1999, James took the leap of faith to start Black Sheep Bikes, and has since built a solid reputation with their custom craftsmanship. Todd fortuitously got an internship while in high school in 2003 working in James’ shop, and was hooked. He went on to earn a degree in machining and welding at the local community college, and soon after was back at Black Sheep working full time. By 2008, James completed his last non-bike vendor contract job, and fully committed to just building the Black Sheep designs and brand.