If 10,000 hours of practice is the magic number to greatness as Malcolm Gladwell proclaimed in his book the Outliers, Curtis Inglis would be a master of his craft five times over. With a quarter-century of bike building experience, Curtis has seen dozens of other builders come and go, and trends pop up then fade away. The one thing that has remained a constant in allowing him to keep his passion for the craft is a life balance that prioritizes more than just building bikes, but riding them too.
In his Napa, California, workshop, Curtis splits his time between his namesake brand, Inglis Cycles, and the iconic Retrotec brand with their unmistakable curved tube design. Each has its own look and style. The Inglis brand is “a more traditional bike”, while Retrotec, on the other hand, “is based on the styling of a beach cruiser”, says Curtis.
Those of us that happened to be around the NORBA National mountain bike race scene in the early-to-mid 90s will undoubtedly remember the spectacle of Bob Seals and the very beginning of Retrotec bicycles. Curtis worked with Bob Seals to build Retrotec’s image in a quickly changing segment of the sport, and eventually took over as Seals turned his attention outside of cycling. In 1996 Curtis added Inglis Cycles as a way to offer a traditional design without impacting the heritage of Retrotec.
Over the course of the years, the sport has shifted in what’s popular and how people are riding, but a couple of mainstays in Curtis’s building philosophy have been to not jump on every industry trend, and to future proof his designs. “Trying not to chase every single thing the bike industry throws at you is a necessity. Sometimes it’s just new stickers on an old design – I’ve always been of the mindset that if you’re going to make a change, make it count”, says Curtis.
Even prior to the gravel segment gaining popularity, Curtis has been building versatility into his road bikes even if the customer doesn’t know they need it. “My road bike is the prime example. It’s a traditional road bike and can be used with a 25c tire, but you can also run a 32c tire. I try to build each bike so the person doesn’t come back in six months and want more.”
Curtis sees the biggest changes right now happening with gravel bikes, which takes him back to his early days when mountain bike designs were rapidly evolving. “The limitation for a gravel bike, or what can be done on a gravel bike, has been the tire size. What’s going to bite you is the tires rather than not getting the saddle out of the way. I always build a bike around the fork, and we’re finally now able to get the clearance to go bigger than a 43c tire. Then you add in a dropper post and the bike becomes so much more capable — you’re dropping off a pile of rocks and riding faster. That means that the frame needs to follow and the front triangle needs to be built even stronger. I’m essentially building old school XC bikes with drop bars.”
This kind of knowledge is gained from Curtis’s own riding experiences. “I don’t ride a ton compared to some, but way more than others. I’m on the bike three or four times a week and have enough balance that it doesn’t encompass my entire life, but it’s enough to get out and dream up what the next bike might be.”
Curtis was part of ENVE’s inaugural Builder’s Round-Up last August where he displayed a Retrotec Gravel build, then promptly got it dirty on the following day’s Grodeo ride — which proved that both he and his bike were more than capable on whatever terrain the Wasatch Mountains could serve up. Be sure to see what his build of choice is for this year’s Virtual Builders Round-Up on July 28-30. Follow Retrotec and Inglis Cycles on Instagram at @retrotecbikes.