With just a few days until the North American Hand-built Bike Show, Bob Keller, from Bob Keller Frameworks answered a few questions about his fillet brazed, steel fat-bikes. He will be attending the show with a super looking fat-bike design that highlights his construction techniques with a cool paint scheme that shows a fine red finish on one side and a clear coat on the other so you can see the fillet brazed beauty. Look for it at the NAHBS!
How did you first discover fat-bikes and what was your initial impression?
I built my first frame over 20 years ago. My frames have included touring, track, commuting, mountain and fat-bikes. I work in steel and specialize in fillet brazed frames. I have been a professional automotive designer for over 30 years but have been a cycling enthusiast my whole life. I am not sure of exactly when I first discovered fat-bikes. It was probably related to winter biking. I have been known to commute to my day job year round in my area north of Detroit. My winter commute to work is about 20 miles round trip. Studded tires have worked great for me in slick conditions but I would really liked to have had those fat tires on days where there was a thicker layer of snow to deal with. I am eager to see what it is like to take to the trails and beaches on a fat-bike.
When did you build your first fat-bike?
I built my first fat-bike about a year ago for the brother-in-law of another customer of mine. He lives in the Traverse City area and was looking to add to his stable of bikes that included a production fat-bike. He is a very tall guy and was looking for a fat-bike custom fit for him with a 170mm rear hub and wider rims and tires. Working together was a pleasure and the result was a bike that has been his go-to bike year round regardless of the conditions.
What have you learned and/or improved since you built your first fat-bike?
I learned quite a bit on that first fat-bike. I took it slow and triple check everything to make sure that the bike would have proper clearances for those fat tires, especially down in the chain stay/crank area. I found a process that worked well for modifying the chain-stays to achieve the needed clearances.
My second fat-bike was built for the neighbor of the first fat-bike owner. He also knew what he wanted in a bike and we came up with a great looking bike that is a pleasure to ride. He went with the Clown Shoe rim which gave him an even wider tire profile. We also flipped the curved top tube around for a reverse curve that worked out great for top tube clearance (especially in deep snow) and that made for some great looking lines on the frame. His choice of an all white and black bike makes this bike really pop.
My third fat-bike frame is one that I am taking to the North American Hand-built Bike Show Feb 21-24, 2014 in Denver. I have been to the show as a guest but this is my first time as an exhibitor. I am very excited about the frame that I am taking to the show. I kept the reverse curved top tube and added curved seat stays that continue along the top tube and curve to an end at the down tube. For the finish of this frame I picked a hot red powder coat and yellow decals. I have been fortunate to find a local powder coater that is awesome to work with. His quality is awesome, and he is willing to develop creative finish schemes. Only one half of this frame is powder coated. The unpowdered side is only treated with a clear metal protectant to prevent corrosion. This way the quality of the raw fillet joints is visible. This frame may stay as a display. I will have to see if I can resist the temptation to strip and re-coat the whole frame so that it can be built up and ridden.
I have just about finished my fourth fat-bike frame. It is for myself. I can’t wait to finish it and get it built up. My next project is going to be another fat-bike for my 12 year old son. He has been bugging the heck out of me for one since he saw and rode the second one. He has ridden and had handed down several of the bikes that I have built, but this will be the first bike built just for him. I can’t wait to do some exploring on them with him after it is finished.
What are your thoughts on symmetrical frames vs offset?
So far, all of the fat-bike frames that I have built have all been 170mm rear hubs. On this next frame I still think that I will build it at that width but will probably use a spacer and build it up with an internally geared hub. I have some research to do on that. As a winter bike commuter I have come to appreciate the benefits of a sealed multi-speed hub. I have used Gates Belt Drives in the past on both a commuting bike of mine and on a track bike for my daughter. I will look into using that system on this next fat-bike too.
Any thoughts we didn’t touch on?
I really enjoy building fat-bikes and look forward to building many more in the future. I have had good experiences with every customer that I have had, but I must say that working with the fat-bike customers that I have had so far has been especially pleasurable. They have been very excited and we all really enjoyed the process of designing the frame of their dreams. I am regularly updated by them of their rides and races. For both of them their fat-bikes have become their ride of choice
I would welcome any interested inquiries.