Builder Spotlight: Brian Chapman

What inspired you to enter the Constructor’s Design Challenge competition?

It’s a challenge – I reluctantly admit that I’m naturally competitive. I got excited when the first Oregon Manifest came around; I had a customer who said I could use the bike I was building for him as my entry. I only build maybe 20 bikes a year, working for Circle A Cycles. This year the bike I’m building is for me – it’s the fourth Chapman Cycles bike I’ve ever built. It’s a personal endeavor and a fun challenge. I take it seriously, but it’s also kind of a vacation. It’s a lot more relaxed building a bike for yourself.

How far along are you in the design process?

It’s done in my head. I have tubing and parts gathered; I just need to dial in a few key factors. So it’s still in the process… I’m still one of those kids who does the school project the night before it’s due – for this it’ll probably be the last month.

The design criteria are aimed at inspiring new solutions and flexibility – how is this influencing your thinking? Are you taking it back to square one?

I’ll be refining. I think there are more innovations to be made, but I’m dialing in others’ innovations mostly. I’m not going to be breaking any new ground. I’ll just do the best I can to make it as functional as possible.

The competition stresses fresh and modern – how will that affect aesthetic decisions?

Not so much. I don’t know the West Coast trends… Here in Rhode Island, as far as a bike aesthetic, people want light touring. The frame/fork configuration is crucial to me, and the paint is very important – that’s what people see. I’m a painter, so that’s important to me.

What does true flexibility in a modern utility bike mean to you?

The customer has to be able to fulfill all their needs. My challenge is: Can a bike do that? And it must work for all customers, whether they’re using it as a touring bike or for commuting.

At its heart this is a competition – how do you feel about the competitive aspect? Will it drive innovation?

It does drive me – I don’t want to be seen as someone who just shows up for fun. I want to be taken seriously, and to impress people, and competition does drive that. But it’s also this year’s vacation for me – and vacations are supposed to be fun. My favorite part is seeing what other people can do.

With bikes, innovation seems to be incremental – shaving weight, finessing shifting – but this competition is asking for BIG innovation – do you think that’s possible?

I’m not going to say no – but if anything, it’s mostly accessories that can be big innovations. The specific criteria for this event are where the innovations will come. I don’t know what others will be doing, but I’m not going to reinvent the wheel.

Why do you think innovation is important for the everyday citizen cyclist? How can it change why and how people ride bikes?

We can try to make bikes more attractive, to make people want to ride. Bikes can be beautiful and fun – and that can convince people it’s worthwhile to ride.

What about this design challenge is inspiring you the most?

The lighting criterion. It’s the most exciting part for me. My bikes have always had battery-powered lights, so a dynamo model will be fun to work with.

Where is your workshop? Describe it in one short phrase.

Filthy. It has this oily kind of metal/powder/dust smell… But then, half of it has to be super-clean for painting… No, wait, I’m going to say it’s delightful. It’s fun to be here, and it makes me happy. Other people come here and it makes them smile. Yes, it’s delightful.

What do like best about building custom bikes?

The concept of making something – that’s very fun. It’s a start-to-finish thing; a customer comes in, we talk, figure out exactly what they’re looking for, and then I get to design it, cut the tubes, fabricate the bike, paint and detail it, assemble it… and hand it off and watch their face glow. It’s very small-scale, dealing with one person at a time.