Custom bike: Drew Guldalian’s jaw-dropping titanium road racer

Engin Cycles builder makes a compelling case for metal

Most custom builders are quite content to craft most of their frames in-house, taking off-the-shelf items such as dropouts, lugs, and other premade bits and integrating them into their own designs – oftentimes modifying them to suit. Drew Guldalian of Engin Cycles is a little different, however. With enough equipment in his facility to make even dedicated machine shops seem sparse (and the skills to deftly operate them), he isn’t just a frame builder; he’s a bespoke fabricator who just happens to use his gorgeous bikes as a showcase for his work.

Once known for his artful steel frames, Guldalian recently shifted to primarily titanium production, citing the material’s incredible durability, unique ride quality, and long-lasting performance as ideal attributes for a high-performance bike. He’s also one of the more obsessive builders out there, poring over details that another builder might be content to take as a given or buy off-the-shelf.

The bare channel around the ends of the head tube highlight the machined-in reinforcement rings: the bare channel around the ends of the head tube highlight the machined-in reinforcement rings
The bare channel around the ends of the head tube highlight the machined-in reinforcement rings: the bare channel around the ends of the head tube highlight the machined-in reinforcement rings

Head tubes are machined in-house and incorporate beautiful reinforcing rings at the ends

That he mills his own head tubes and seat tube inserts isn’t entirely unique – there are other titanium builders that do this, too – but Guldalian also actually machines his own dropouts in-house, he butts his own tubing, and his optional custom seatposts even use heads that he designed himself.

In other words, if he can do it himself, he does, leaving only some special finishes and smaller fittings to third parties.

“My current bicycles have as much done by me as possible,” he says. “I make all the head tubes and dropouts. I form and bend all the tubes. I do my own butting. As noted I do not do the paint or ceramic work. If the bicycle is satin finish with etched decals I did do that. Along the lines of paint, I do not do any anodising of the aluminium parts I produce.

"The only other source for my bicycles is the small fittings and bottom brackets from Paragon Machine Works (now exclusively T47) and some small jobs done by my local waterjet folks (they cut the caps on the ends of the chainstays and seatstays). I have a five-year goal of getting a CNC lathe, which would bring more of the fittings in-house as well as open up a few more parts that I am working on.”

Engin cycles pioneered the idea of having a replaceable derailleur hanger that wasn't clamped by the wheel. according to builder drew guldalian, this not only makes for a stronger hanger but a stronger dropout as well: engin cycles pioneered the idea of having a replaceable derailleur hanger that wasn't clamped by the wheel. according to builder drew guldalian, this not only makes for a stronger hanger but a stronger dropout as well
Engin cycles pioneered the idea of having a replaceable derailleur hanger that wasn't clamped by the wheel. according to builder drew guldalian, this not only makes for a stronger hanger but a stronger dropout as well: engin cycles pioneered the idea of having a replaceable derailleur hanger that wasn't clamped by the wheel. according to builder drew guldalian, this not only makes for a stronger hanger but a stronger dropout as well

The dropouts are of Guldalian's own design

“A lot of people make their bikes by picking up the phone and ordering from somebody else," Guldalian goes on. "I can’t do that. It’s just not in me. I need my bikes to be unique. I need my bikes to exactly the way I want them and the only way they’re going to be that way is if I make everything myself.”

Guldalian’s dropout is a prime example of that do-it-yourself philosophy. While he wholeheartedly prescribes to the philosophy that titanium is the ultimate frame material (“I drank the Kool-Aid,” he says), he passionately dislikes the hooded dropouts used by most titanium frame builders.

“Most titanium bicycles today have hooded dropouts. I hate hooded dropouts. I loathe them. I can’t stand the way the quick-release works with them, I can’t stand the way they look, I hate everything about them. It was just one of those things where I was like, ‘I have to undo this’.”

Titanium is a gorgeous material on its own but it gets even prettier when covered in the right paint. this masked-off section on the down tube still lets the material shine through, though: titanium is a gorgeous material on its own but it gets even prettier when covered in the right paint. this masked-off section on the down tube still lets the material shine through, though
Titanium is a gorgeous material on its own but it gets even prettier when covered in the right paint. this masked-off section on the down tube still lets the material shine through, though: titanium is a gorgeous material on its own but it gets even prettier when covered in the right paint. this masked-off section on the down tube still lets the material shine through, though

Media blasted finishes are done in-house but ceramic coatings, anodised finishes, and all paint are done elsewhere

Guldalian’s solution was to machine his own dropouts from flat plate that not only provide what he considers to be a cleaner interface with the wheel but also a more logical way to provide a replaceable derailleur hanger. Whereas most replaceable designs feature a hanger that’s sandwiched in between the hub axle and quick-release end, Engin Cycles separates the two functions. The hub and quick-release have an uninterrupted surface on which to clamp, and the stout hanger is bolted on to the back of the dropout.

“The way 95 percent of [replaceable hangers) work is that the wheel bears on the hanger and it drives me crazy,” he says. “[Mine] is substantially stronger.”

Recently, Guldalian has also completed designs for mountain bike thru-axle dropouts with IS disc tabs and road thru-axle dropouts with flat-mount disc tabs.

The standard quick-release dropouts are showcased on Guldalian’s personal road bike – a featherweight traditional race machine that also features enormous 1in-diameter chainstays, a gorgeously detailed 44mm head tube, a custom stem and seatpost, and a stunning baby blue paint job. Despite wearing alloy clincher wheels, actual weight is just 6.67kg (14.7lb) – comfortably under the current UCI weight limit.

The kink in the chainstays leaves a bit more heel clearance than what you'd otherwise get with a straight tube: the kink in the chainstays leaves a bit more heel clearance than what you'd otherwise get with a straight tube
The kink in the chainstays leaves a bit more heel clearance than what you'd otherwise get with a straight tube: the kink in the chainstays leaves a bit more heel clearance than what you'd otherwise get with a straight tube

The chainstays are positively enormous with 1in diameters – possibly the biggest we've seen in titanium

Is that enough to pull people away from the draw of an ultra high-performance, mass-produced carbon bike? Perhaps, but Guldalian is far from worried about those kinds of numbers.

“I’m very unprolific. I make 30-35 bikes a year and they’re all exactly the way I want to make them because I’m obsessive about it. The people that are drawn to me like what I’m doing. I’m not a fabricator for hire. I’m making a product that hopefully people want to buy.”

For more information, visit www.engincycles.com.

James Huang

Former Technical Editor, US
James was BikeRadar's US tech editor from 2007-2015.
  • Discipline: Mountain, road, cyclocross
  • Preferred Terrain: Up in the Colorado high-country where the singletrack is still single, the dirt is still brown, and the aspens are in full bloom. Also, those perfect stretches of pavement where the road snakes across the mountainside like an artist's paintbrush.
  • Beer of Choice: Mexican Coke
  • Location: Boulder, CO, USA

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