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The Constructeur

Posted by leighann | December 5th, 2011 | Filed under Bikes, Design, Outdoor Sport

Photo by Jonathan Maus

Yes, we love bikes, and we also love people who build bikes, like our friend Tony Pereira. In just six years, Tony has built everything from utility and transportation bikes to randonneuring and touring rigs, road, mountain and cyclocross bikes. Inspired by the French Golden Age, his sleek, fillet-brazed steel bikes have won him awards at the North American Handmade Bike Show and, most recently, at Oregon Manifest’s Constructor’s Design Challenge where he took home top honors for building the ultimate utility bike.  He’s been called a “master of his craft.” And not only by us, but by Rapha who recently selected Tony to craft a one-of-a-kind bicycle for their master framebuilding collection.

We were lucky enough to catch up with Tony at his small shop in Portland to talk about—you guessed it—bikes.

OTG: You’ve been building handcrafted bikes for over 6 years now, everything from single-speed bicycles and randonneuring rigs to touring, road, cyclocross and transportation bikes. With all of these different styles of bikes, what is your overarching design philosophy that ties them all together?
Tony: My design philosophy is informed by two totally separate worlds. One is the early mountain bikes. I started mountain biking in the 80s, and the high end bikes at the time were out of California made by Tom Ritchey and sold by Gary Fisher. Those were all built using fillet-brazing. So when I started building, I was drawn to that technique. But on the other side—the road bikes, city bikes, touring and randonneuring  bikes—they’re all informed by the French Golden Age, the bikes of the 40’s and 50s. They established the form and style of bike that I’ve been so drawn to. And it’s a form that still works. I can build bikes in a style that is still useful. But if I was drawn to bikes of the 1890’s, they wouldn’t translate because the geometry and components have evolved. But by the 40s, geometry had stabilized, and they had figured out what worked well for riding quickly over long distances.

So fillet brazing is a kind of seamless process?
So the fillet is the shape of the joint. I’ve seen it used in manufacturing where there is a rounded edge on a surface which is what they call a filleted edge.

As opposed to lugs?
Right. Lugs are fittings that the tubes slide into. Then it’s a lap joint where you add filler between two pieces. So it’s a dissimilar metal that melts at lower temperature than the parent metal. You’re heating up the main tubes to the melting temperature of the filler, and just the filler melts. That’s what I like about it. It gives you that kind of sculptural flow between the tubes. The other more common lugless joining method that you see today is called TIG welding and that’s how most bikes are built. In the 80’s and before that, TIG welding was expensive. Then in the late 80’s, the cost came down enough that it started to be used in bike building. And ever since, it has taken over for steel and aluminum bikes. But a really good TIG weld, to a trained eye can look good, but to me it never looks as good as the fillet brazing. That’s why I have stuck with fillet brazing as my primary style of building.


Photo Oregon Manifest

In just six years, you’ve already earned a lot of accolades and recognition. You’re doing this collaboration with Rapha, and you won Best of Show this year at Oregon Bike Manifest. But I’m curious about the bike you built for Oregon Bike Manifest— the electro assist, sound system, lockable storage. Where did you find the design inspiration for this bike?
That’s a bike I have been thinking about for a few years. I’ve been intrigued by electro assist for about four years now. I thought that most of the electro assist bikes that have been made so far have been pretty ugly, and I wanted to try and make one that resembled a motorcycle. I also wanted lockable storage on the bike, so you could leave stuff with the bike and walk away.

Yeah, I think that’s one of the limitations of the bicycle. You show up somewhere and you have to take all of these bags off your bike and walk into your meeting or the store or wherever you are. You see bicyclists around and they’ve a helmet and a couple of bags, and they’re sopping wet dragging their things around with them wherever they go. With this bike, you can take your helmet off and leave your stuff behind on the bike. And it locks. With the sound system, I went with this idea of a car replacement. We’re used to having stereos in our car. It’s a little bit goofy— you’re riding down the road and your radio is blaring and people are looking at you funny.

And you had some statistic you threw out about bike commuting….what was it?
So 85% of all of the trips made by car in the US are under five miles.

Wow. That’s a lot.
Yeah, and it’s something like 50- or 60% of trips made by car in the US are under TWO miles. And I’m not the biggest environmentalist or policy wonk, but it just makes sense to me, that if we’re going to change the way we use fossil fuels, then we need to change the way we look at transportation.

Well, that leads me into my next question. I like this quote that you had on the Oregon Manifest’s website: “Most of the products being manufactured today are not meant to last very long. They are made in factories far away by people we will never meet. The modern craft movement —and I do think it is a movement— can help change what people expect from the tools they use and the items they adorn their life with.” So what do you mean by this and how is it going to change things?
Because the internet has made the world such a small place, we are all able to communicate with each other so easily that you can get exactly what you want no matter where you are. Prior to the internet, in order to find a hand-made anything, you had to seek it out. Now everything is more accessible. And it has spurred this modern craft movement. I don’t know if it’s widely perceived as a movement. But there are a lot more craftspeople out there who are able to exist because of things like Etsy. Hopefully it will keep some of the old techniques alive. Fillet brazing is sort of dead in manufacturing. I see it used randomly in things out there and I’m usually surprised

And that’s because?
Stuff is usually welded because it’s faster and cheaper. It doesn’t require as much skill. There are certainly some applications for brazing still, but it’s sort of obsolete.

Ok, one more question. So, let’s say your garage is on fire, and you have to save one bike from your entire collection, which one would it be?
The bike I call the roaring 29er, a single speed styled after a 1920’s cruiser bike. I feel like it’s the bike that got things rolling for me. It won two awards at the 2007 North American Handmade Bike show: best off-road bike and best fillet-brazed bike.  You know, I’m still proud of all of my bikes, but that bike, it’s kind of different.

2 Responses to “The Constructeur”

  • December 9, 2011 at 5:57 am | Jeff Della Penna says

    The bike I call the roaring 29er, a single speed styled after a 1920’s cruiser bike. I feel like it’s the bike that got things rolling for me. It won two awards at the 2007 North American Handmade Bike show: best off-road bike and best fillet-brazed bike.  You know, I’m still proud of all of my bikes, but that bike, it’s kind of different.
    Can we see a picture of this bike?

  • December 12, 2011 at 1:49 pm | leighann says

    @Jeff….Here’s an entire flickr page devoted to said bike: http://bit.ly/vAbrXy

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