It seems like every custom frame builder has a story about getting into the craft that’s completely as unique as the bikes they roll out of their shop. That’s definitely the case for Thomas Callahan of Horse Cycles, who learned by trial by fire after deciding that rather than buying a new bike he’d just make his own. Fast forward a dozen years and Brooklyn-based Horse Cycles has created their own very unique style that blends the artisanship Thomas honed as a conceptual artist with a performance-based frame design.
Before building bikes, Thomas built sculpture and was part of the New York art scene. He was always exploring new materials in his studio and his love of bikes led him to explore the art of frame building. “I was in the market for a bike but rather than buying a frame I spent the money on the tools I needed to build my own”, Thomas said. After building a few frames people really responded to the work and started asking me to build them bikes, that was the beginning.
In the years since Thomas started Horse Cycles, the industry has seen a shift in frame designs, or more specifically, the type of bike that people are wanting to ride. As the demand for skinny tire, drop bar bikes remains flat, the opposite is true for the fat tire, drop bar bikes, which is something Horse Cycles fully embraces.
“There are a lot of gravel bikes out there now, but to make something special, unique and well rounded, you have to have the skills as a frame builder and the skills as a designer and the skills as a painter. It’s about successfully bringing all these aspects together that makes a beautiful bike that will last forever,” said Thomas.
Up until about seven years ago, much of the frame demand for Horse Cycles were city bikes, but now it’s all about designs that offer greater versatility and allow all-road capabilities. “My focus has shifted toward getting out of the urban environment, exploring what else is out there and building bikes that can take me anywhere i want to go. I find myself building the kind of bikes i love to ride; gravel frames that can fit larger 2.25 tires, focus on strong climbing and confidant descents. Nothing beats a 2-to 3-hour gravel ride and not rolling over any pavement.”
According to Thomas, it’s finding what you’re personally passionate about and bringing that to each and every build. “After over 10 years of building, that passion tells a story. That story can be told through the bikes I build. The drive to make the best bikes possible push design and innovation and is what places builders at the forefront of the bicycle industry.”
Even though Thomas has his own vision for Horse Cycles and the aesthetics that fit his style, he still draws inspiration from what others are doing. “I really like what Curtis Inglis is doing with Retrotec. He has a strong distinct style that separates him from the field. He’s been at the forefront of the new standards, pushing bottom bracket width and rear-end spacing. Bellé Cycles from Spain is another one that’s killing it on the gravel and helping that scene keep coming up from the mountain roots. He’s got a unique style and a strong technical ability. His story is different to mine but a similar flavor.”
Even with frame building being the main focus for Horse Cycles, Thomas still crafts a number of other items, such as his camp knives. The similarities between a steel frame and a knife might not be immediately apparent, but once you hear Thomas describe it, then it makes perfect sense. “I’m predominately building steel road bikes that give you a killer ride, and knives have a similar metallurgy. It’s learning to work with the metal to get the mechanical properties you want, whether it’s a frame or a knife.”
Check out some of the latest designs coming out of Horse Cycles.