TALENT — Carbon fiber and aluminum are standard materials for mountain bike frames, but a Talent builder who continues to use steel is doing just fine, thank you, and has a waiting list of customers for his $7,000 to $8,000 bikes.
Fred Cuthbert's Wolfhound Cycles is a one-man operation that still embraces older construction techniques such as fillet brazing — similar to soldering, except at a higher temperature — and lugged frame joining, in which metal sleeves are used to hold the bike tubes together.
"Steel bikes are becoming more and more rare," said Cuthbert. "They have a strong cult following."
Avid cyclist Izaak Van Horn of Medford has two Wolfhounds but no other custom-built bikes in his fleet.
"The classic adage of 'the feel of steel' still rings true," said Van Horn. "You can't distill it in a word or two, but you can feel it."
Unlike aluminum, which can transmit every impact through the frame, steel has what might be described as a "lively" ride quality, said Cuthbert.
The builder doesn't avoid all modern technology. Each bike is drafted on a computer first as Cuthbert works with customers to develop the bikes they want. Most are mountain bikes, but he has built about 10 road bikes.
"It's not so much racing bikes, but (ones for) avid enthusiasts," he said. "They are made to be fun and comfortable and rideable in a lot of conditions. They are kind of like an all-day adventure bike."
Van Horn said the custom nature of Cuthbert's work lets customers help create the right bikes for their needs.
"The first frame he made for me … wasn't going to lock in to only doing one thing like mountain biking," said Van Horn. It's now set up for touring, and he put 55 miles on it in a week.
Cuthbert has developed his own look and feel in his bikes.
"Curving tubes are known as one of the signatures of my style," he said. Attachment lugs also can be sculpted in a variety of ways.
Another popular feature is control cables run through the frame tubes. Tiny holes are cut into the tubing and conduit is snaked through. Placing cables inside means less chance of damage from a spill.
All of the bikes have a Wolfhound Crest and a "W" worked into a frame tube. Fred's wolfhound, Duncan, who died from cancer, inspired the name. Katie is now the resident wolfhound at the operation.
Cuthbert graduated from Southern Oregon University in 1998 with a degree in health.
"I just really got into the mountain bike thing after college, then became interested in building shortly afterwards. A repressed craftsman in me took over," he said.
Cuthbert attended Ashland's United Bike Institute in 2001 and began building bikes shortly thereafter. He's been at it ever since, with the exception of a two-year hiatus when he lived outside the valley.
Production averages eight to 10 bikes per year, but Cuthbert said he is approaching the time when one per month will be realistic. That's because he has accumulated a variety of tools, many self-constructed, that are needed to meet the varying requests of customers.
"It's taken me from 11 to 12 years to develop my tools," said Cuthbert. In 2004, he acquired a 200-square-foot trailer that is his mobile shop and allows him to move his operation. The trailer houses welding equipment, frame jigs, a milling station, a blasting cabinet, a tube bender and other tools of the trade. An air compressor is mounted on the trailer's front.
Van Horn said he and other Wolfhound riders in the valley have a special appreciation for the bikes.
"You are riding art made by a local artist," said Van Horn. "When you are out there, it's performance art."
Tony Boom is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Reach him at email@example.com.