It’s that time again, and we’re presenting Philly Bike Expo “Exhibitor Stories”, 2018 Edition. A profile of Bryan Hollingsworth and Royal H Cycles is long overdue, as Royal H has been exhibiting at the Philly Bike Expo faithfully since 2010. The modus operandi for these stories, is to send out some questions and based on how they are answered, (or not) craft a portrait that leads to an understanding of the exhibitor beyond what might be gleaned from “official” promo or a company website. Bryan graciously and thoughtfully answered all questions in-depth. So, here’s Bryan Hollingsworth!
PBE Was Philly the first show you exhibited at? And what is it about the Expo that has you returning each year?
BH The Philly Bike Expo was the first show I exhibited at, yes. I was definitely nervous about showing my frames so early in my career, but the whole atmosphere was inviting and supportive, so those fears were immediately assuaged. I think that’s why I came back- the mood of the early shows at the Armory was… fun! The indoor polo, bike fashion show, castle setting- it was a celebration and lacked any competition or judgement that would discourage a new builder. Even though the show is at the convention center now, that vibe remains and is why I will keep showing there every year.
PBE When/how did you decide on a career in bike building?
BH I think it was mostly a bad engineering job that sent me down the framebuilding path. I was trained as an engineer, and grew up in a cycling family (I remember learning about Nervex lugs around the time I first learned to ride), so a year too long at a ill-fitting job was enough motivation to head out west to the United Bicycle Institute and take some framebuilding classes (TIG and lugged construction). Striking the torch and making those first frames was the most satisfying thing I had ever done, and there was enough physics and metallurgy involved in framebuilding to appease my engineering side, so it seemed like a good thing to pursue. This was in 2006 and I was an outsider to the framebuilding world, so I applied for a job at Seven Cycles to get my start in the industry. That was the best decision I could have made, because it was such a great place to work and I made a ton of framebuilding connections/friends. I still work there part time!
PBE Who were your early influences?
BH Generally, I am probably most influenced by the Italians. I got my first proper road bike in the early 90s, so that’s the era of steel bikes I idolize. Steel was still being raced on back then, and those lean, steep Pinarellos and Colnagos will always resonate with me. When I started building though, Moyer Cycles was a big influence- clean lug work, creative use of polished stainless steel, nice colors and minimal branding. Circle A was a neighbor to the south, and their combination of creativity and pragmatism was a real influence. They also painted a lot of my early bikes, so I was in their shop a lot.
PBE What led you to strike out on your own as a solo frame builder?
BH I think for me it was less about striking out on my own as it was striking out with other similarly minded builders. For the first 12 years of doing Royal H, I have always shared a space with at least one other framebuilder. When I started, I shared a cramped corner of Marty’s Geekhouse shop with Ian from Icarus Frames. Three young builders all building and riding ridiculous fixed gears around Boston- the camaraderie appealed to me more than being solo in my own shop. Even though we each had our own companies, there was a communal air that permeated our work, and I valued that immensely.
PBE After your stint at Seven (titanium), what drew you to steel?
BH Partially the aesthetics, and partially the way the frames are built. Brazing steel is a lot slower and calmer than welding- you flux your lugs, pre-heat the joint, add the filler, distribute it, rinse and clean it. Welding is much quicker- things are melting as soon as you hit the pedal! So the pace was appealing. I also think that lugs are a great canvas for further customization. There are a lot of framebuilders out there, so a few unique cutouts or lug shapes can set you apart. The strength of steel allows for smaller tube diameters, and I find that in addition to looking better, it results in a more comfortable ride. The constant threat of corrosion is the only concern, but with a good painter and enough frame saver, you can hold that at bay.
PBE How did you come to choose your location? (Are you MA born and bred?)
BH I am not MA born and bred, no (I grew up in northwestern New Jersey). Work had taken me to Boston initially, and it was pure luck that there was a huge framebuilding scene here when I returned from UBI. At that time, Independent Fabrications was still in Somerville, Seven was in Watertown, and there were probably ten single person builders in the metro area. Now Indy Fab has moved north, and a lot of the single builders have scattered to the winds, but that moment in Boston’s framebuilding history was a great time to start a business in.
PBE What’s your favorite part of the frame building process?
BH I enjoy the design process a lot- as a lugged builder, it is satisfying to have a modern design in mind and find ways to make it work using traditional construction techniques. But my favorite part of the process is the part that got me hooked- firing up the torch and whetting out filler material into joints. Seeing capillary action pull liquid silver into a lug is still something that I find profoundly satisfying. The first thing you learn though when you start a framebuilding company is how little a percentage of the process the actual brazing is. Framebuilding is mostly emailing the client, tube cleaning, lug prep, and finish work. But that hour of torch time in the middle is definitely the most fun.