- Rory McNamara
- WELL WROUGHT Jeremy Sycip’s renown as a custom-bike builder has grown, along with Santa Rosa’s reputation as a cycling mecca, since he moved his business here in 2000.
Bike builder Jeremy Sycip and his wife moved here in 2000 to escape the rising cost of living in San Francisco, not for the city's bike scene. "Back then, the dotcom thing was getting big and we didn't want to get pushed out of our shop space and the cheap lease we had," he says. "We looked at Marin but it was too expensive and eventually found Santa Rosa."
Sycip (pronounced "SEE-sip") was used to driving up to Santa Rosa to have his frames painted, but living there was an adjustment. "When we first moved to Santa Rosa, it kind of scared us a little bit," he jokes. "My first time mountain biking in Annadel [State Park], there was a big old truck with a Confederate flag sticking out. I was like, 'Where did we just move to?'"
But 17 years later, the move proved to be a good one, as Sycip celebrates 25 years building some of the industry's most sought-after custom bike frames.
As Sycip's reputation for elegant, highly functional road and mountain bikes grew, so did Santa Rosa's reputation as a bike lover's town. "It's just getting bigger and bigger, and it's great to see that," he says.
It was Ibis Cycles founder and Mountain Bike Hall of Famer Scot Nicol who first sold him on the area. Nicol, who started Ibis in Sebastopol before moving the business to Santa Rosa, was one of Sycip's first cycling buddies in the area. (Ibis is now based in Santa Cruz).
"Scot said, 'Santa Rosa seems like a small town but pretty much any direction you go there are beautiful cycling roads.' And it's true. And the mountain-biking is world-class. Annadel is right in the middle of town. What other city has great mountain-bike trails in the middle of town? It's pretty cool."
Sycip makes about a hundred bikes a year from his 500-square-foot shop behind his house in eastern Santa Rosa. He recently moved out of his 4,000-square-foot shop in Railroad Square after restructuring the company. And he couldn't be happier. While he misses some of the social aspects of his former space and the quick access to food and drink, the trade-off is no commute, no rent and easy access to Annadel and Hood Mountain.
The shop is exactly the kind of place you'd imagine it would be. It's loaded with hulking lathes, mills, jigs and other heavy metal machinery. Bike frames in various stages of construction hang from the ceiling while Sycip's cat Violet wanders in and out.
Walk into a bike shop, and pricey carbon fiber bikes occupy prime floor space, but about 90 percent of the bikes Sycip makes are steel, an old-school material that he says is coming back into fashion as the tubing gets lighter, and riders appreciate its supple, forgiving feel. He also makes frames of aluminum and titanium. While he's known for his classic designs and traditional materials, he continues to innovate and builds everything from cargo bikes to around-town cruisers.
Sycip is celebrating his 25th year as a frame builder with a limited run of 25 road bikes patterned after the first bike he built, with lots of geek-worthy details, like a sterling silver head badge and flowers hand-painted by his brother, Jay, who did the artwork on his first frame.
He jokes that it's too late for him to change careers but he clearly loves what he does.
"Everything is done one at a time. It's individual, for each person makes a big difference to me. It's not a mass-produced thing. I get to meet the people who order the bikes, build them what they want and see them riding off on it and enjoying the bike. It's an art piece and very functional. That's what's appealing to me and why I keep on doing it."