Interview: Curtis Inglis

The man who makes Retrotec and Inglis bikes talks to BikeRadar

Marcus Farley catches up with one of the cycling industry’s most enigmatic and charming figures. Curtis Inglis is one of the finest living frame builders, and his bikes have garnered many awards and a devoted following.

He builds two brands from his Napa, California farm. The first is Retrotec, the original brainchild of Bob Seals, who wanted a cruiser that he could ride and race. After being turned away by everyone he asked to build such a bike, he started working on building it himself. Inglis carried out his apprenticeship with Seals starting in 1993, and has been running the brand himself since 1996. Bicycles made under the Inglis Cycles banner are made in more traditional straight tube designs (although there are some decidedly wonky lines going on there, too!)

BikeRadar: Tell us about how you started making frames, and how you first got to know and work with Bob Seals? Are you still in touch with him?

Curtis Inglis: I was going to school and working in a shop here in Napa, California. Coming from a road bike family, I got into mountain bikes a bit late, around 1992. Once I tried mountain biking, I was hooked. I ended up at a race that Bob was showing his bikes and I was amazed at what you could do with a bike that looked so good. That was it. I finished school, begged Bob for a job and moved to Chico.

Bob and I still talk from time to time. He is really into his music these days.

BikeRadar: How long does it take you to knock a frame out? Are you a perfectionist? Can you talk our readers through the process of design, testing, fabrication and completion?

I build one bike a week. I am a perfectionist in most areas of bike building but I don’t like to go over board. I try to not spend a zillion hours on just one detail of the bike. Once a customer is sized, I make a full scale drawing of the frame and start working out the different curves of the bike. I try to make the bike flow from head tube to dropouts. I like to have a very nice, even flow to the bikes I make. I think that is what I am known for, besides riding in dresses from time to time. Bob was into Speedos, I like dresses.

BikeRadar: What’s your carbon footprint like?

I don’t really know. I don’t have to drive most days. I can do most of my errands on my bike. I don’t let stores give me bags. I like cars, I just don’t like to drive them most days. Most of my driving involves getting to mountain bike rides. This is a source of much inner turmoil. We try to ride longer than we have to drive in a given day. I do have a few big hits, I own a Lambretta scooter and some vintage cars. I do braze, weld and make some dust. I am guessing it is not too bad. I hope I save a tree and some natural resources by the end of my life.

BikeRadar: How important is handmade design to you? Would you ever outsource the building of your frames? Or have you considered who to pass on the Retrotec mantle to when you hang up your welding torch?

I think handmade design is very important. I have thought of outsourcing, but it is a slippery slope. I think I make a much better frame builder than product manager. I think I am going to be doing this for a long time.

BikeRadar: You work exclusively in steel. Have you ever been tempted by aluminium, titanium or carbon?

On the Inglis side of things, I use the Reynolds seat-stay when a customer wants some carbon in their bike. So far, I think it is the best one out there and I get to use Paragon dropouts with them. Paragon is another California company. It is fun to support your friends as much as you can. As for Retrotec, they are all primarily steel. We have made a few titanium ones working with Jim Kish.

BikeRadar: What’s the deal with singlespeed bikes? Are they about a return to childhood, minimal impact on the landscape or about being cheap to fix?

I don’t know, there is something about riding up a hill as far as you can and then getting off and walking. I still own and ride geared bikes. Some trails just feel better with a one speed.

BikeRadar: Being a fine exponent of facial hair, is it essential to have a beard to be a singlespeed aficionado?

I don’t think so. My wife only lets me grow facial hair a few months a year so I have to make it count.

BikeRadar: What’s the weirdest request for a frame you’ve ever received?

I built some bikes for a friend who puts large radios on them. He makes sound systems for bikes and I have made some really strange bikes for him.

BikeRadar: Where’s your favourite place to ride?

For the last few years it has been Annadel State Park in Santa Rosa. There are some great trails over there that really bring a smile to my face.

BikeRadar: Who has inspired you the most?

Bob Seals really set this all in motion for me. He is a very creative person and he taught me certain asthetics for the classic Retrotec.

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