Wednesday, July 7, 2010

The bicycle maker

Sam Kroyer has been riding bikes for nearly his entire life and has been working on them ever since he was 13. He has always been good with his hands. He is the master mechanic at BikeNüt and knows his stuff.

Sam builds bikes according to the customers’ needs and wishes. This is not an easy job: these customers are exceptionally up to date, discerning about what they want, and have firm opinions about how they want their bikes to work. Sam is a valued and perceptive advisor and can explain what works, how well, and what doesn’t. He speaks softly but has a commanding presence, and others listen attentively.
Sam grew up in rural Vermont, a beautiful, occasionally harsh environment that has long been the subject for poets and painters. He had his own soul-searching, Jack-Kerouac moment, when he hitchhiked across Canada to the West Coast, supporting himself with occasional and occasionally back-breaking jobs. He kept moving for a few years, from Washington state to Hayward, California, Utah, and to art school in Portland. He returned to the Bay Area with a young daughter and settled in San Francisco. He supported his daughter and himself by working in a bicycle shop and going to school at night, until he landed a job at United Airlines in Oakland to fix their planes. He loved the work but soon returned to bicycles.
Why does he like bicycles so much? “There is something direct about bicycles,” he says. “All the parts of these machines are connected by cables.” There is no go-between to deal with. This kind of directness appeals not only to his aesthetic sense but to his ethical one as well. His entire life is centered on making things, making them with his hands, and making them well. He is selective about his food, brews his own beer, likes running and mountain climbing in addition to riding bikes, has set up a workshop at home where he builds his own bicycle frames. 

Sam specializes in brazing their joints, he clarifies, a much tidier process than welding and one that produces tighter tolerances. One has the impression that his workshop is spotless, meticulously organized, well lit, and very comfortable. He is aware of the broader social implications of  his own choices. There seems to be a direct connection between his mind and his body.
This is one of the frames he has designed and built. It’s well used, both on and off the streets. It’s extremely well made, and the tubes join one another seamlessly.

He arrived at BikeNüt a couple of years ago. He has found his place. He appreciates the freedom he enjoys within the shop’s culture, respects the people with whom he works, and especially likes that he’s constantly learning new things, such as unraveling the mystery of bleeding hydraulic bike brakes, for example. 

According to his 5-year plan, he’ll be doing exactly what he does now.

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