Remember back to the mid-90s through the early 2000s when bold styling, stiffness to weight ratio, and economy made aluminum the go-to material for performance road and mountain frames? Klein and Cannondale took design to the next level with herculean tube diameters that gave their frames an unmistakable identity in a world of otherwise small diameter steel and titanium tubes. That era only existed for a relatively short time before composite frames usurped much of the aluminum market and the majority of U.S. frame manufacturing was sent overseas.
Even though carbon has overshadowed aluminum as a frame material this doesn’t mean that it’s a completely lost art, and there are still a handful of builders left that believe in the performance and value U.S.-made aluminum frames can deliver. One such builder is Andrew Low of Low Bicycles. The San Francisco-based builder got his start in the fixie scene and over the past nine years has expanded his line of handbuilt frames to include cyclocross, gravel, and road bikes. Andrew’s route to framebuilding was rather circuitous, but his inspiration was quite clear.
“I was into the aluminum bikes from the style aspect. I liked Cannondale, what they were doing in the 90s, so they were a big influence”, Andrew told us. “You end up wanting to make the things you covet, so for me it was natural choice in frame material.”
Before ever laying a weld or shaping a tube, Andrew’s passion for design first came from an entirely different realm outside of bicycle framebuilding. During his time at The University of Colorado Boulder where he was studying art, Andrew worked at an off-road modification shop designing roll cages for rock crawlers. “I had a brilliant boss who taught me to build roll cages that added form, not just function. It was about adding style to the build; that was where I got into welding and fabrications. I did that for a few years and it opened up the idea of frame building,” Andrew said.
Three years after a framebuilding class at United Bicycle Institute and bucking trends in order to forge ahead using aluminum, Low Bicycles was officially born in 2010. Andrew explained, “I rented out space in a shared metal shop in San Francisco, kind of an art collective of people building things for Burning Man, built a heat treating oven and rolled out my first model, a pursuit bike with throwback styling. I was taken in enthusiastically by the San Francisco messenger community as well as the track bike scene so I just went with that and spent the next few years grinding out track bikes.”
With a desire to grow the line of Low Bicycles, while looking for opportunities to fully utilize aluminum’s properties to deliver the best dollar for dollar performance, Andrew expanded beyond the fixed gear with the addition of a road bike.
“When I decided to build my first road bike I really started looking at how to use the advantages aluminum provides in terms of both compliance and stiffness. It’s easy to put a lot of stiffness into the bike if you want it, but it’s also a soft material so you can tune the compliance through shaping the seatstays and chainstays, which makes a big difference in achieving a nice ride quality.”
Another key addition to the ride quality is Low’s commitment to using ENVE forks throughout the line, which as Andrew puts it, “Creates a nice balance with the value of alloy surrounded by carbon. It gives you the best of both worlds and makes a sexy bike that’s attainable and practical.”
At this year’s NAHBS, Low Bicycles showed how successful they’ve been in expanding and evolving their line, showing off two new models, the MKii Road Disc bike and a new gravel bike. “My baby is the MKii Disc road frame that was displayed at NAHBS–to me, that’s the flagship bike for the company, while the gravel bike was a response to the direction of how riders are using bikes, but the longer I’ve been involved in the project the more I appreciate it. I thought about how a gravel bike is going to be used, notably, how differently it would be ridden than a ‘cross bike that’s designed for tight, winding technical courses and not necessarily doing fast descents. Knowing it needed to be more versatile, I gave it a lower bottom bracket and higher stack to be both more comfortable and stable. It also has tons of tire clearance; a 650b will clear a 2” tire, and while a 700c can fit a 45c.”
The fact that Low Bicycles is able to deliver a U.S.-made aluminum frameset at a price that potentially introduces a new customer to the world of handmade bicycles is something we at ENVE are proud to partner with.
For more information or to see the line of Low Bicycles, go towww.lowbicycles.com.