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For many of us, reminiscing to the warm spring days of childhood can be a tour adorned with dreamy bike rides through old neighborhoods or feverish races in back lot trails. But at some point, sadly, those plywood jumps crumbled, the mudholes dried up, our skinned knees healed, and ultimately, we bought cars and began our lifelong battles for parking. Well, at least some of us did. Others, such as the Oakland-based founders of Broakland Bicycles Jason Grove, Jason Montano, and Steve Radonich made biking their passion, zipping past the norm and into the bipedal future of urban transportation.
Handmade in Oakland, Broakland bicycles are fixed-gear bikes professionally designed to be sold for both the track and for everyday commutes. Reviving the triple-triangle frame made famous by GT Bicycles, the boys at Broakland have unleashed a uniquely Bay Area flavor of bike, complete with custom paint jobs by local graffiti artists. The old-school style and unquestionable quality of the work entrusted into these bikes dial them into that nexus where "great" separates itself from "good." But what really makes these cycles so special is the way the three unique personalities of Broakland's classically East Bay designers shine through in their finished product.
Jason Montano, also owner and chief mechanic of upbeat Oakland bike shop Montano Velo, is the numbers guy. He tweaks the fork rakes, offsets, bottom bracket drops, head angles, and seat angles, even if you don't know what those things are. He hasn't owned a car in eight years.
He's as unlikely to be behind the wheel of a car as he is behind a desk. He's more likely to be out riding his beauties or working on bikes at the shop. He admits that he doesn't fit the classic model of a businessowner. "I don't wear a suit," he said. "I am who I am. But if I couldn't live doing what I'm doing, I wouldn't do it."
So far, so good. The shop's been open for four years and is doing well. And the Broakland line, unveiled a little over a year ago, has been garnering great reviews.
The ridiculously talented craftsman of the Broakland crew is Jason Grove, who is also the man behind Emeryville's El Camino Fabrications. A welder who developed and refined his skills at the Seattle aerospace juggernaut Boeing, and he's been building bikes for almost 18 years. Armed with his TIG welder, Jason prudently fashions the Broakland frames from high-grade aluminum and titanium tubing, utilizing a technique that fills the tubes with argon during welds to ensure extra durability and a longer shelf life.
His solar-powered shop, which doubles as his studio apartment, is impressively clean. He claims that clean air helps the welds gel. Confucians claim that a clean house creates good energies that help the mind think. In that vein, Grove prides himself on putting good energy into his product. "It's all about good karma," he said. "And I think that goes into these bikes and makes them better for it."
Broakland's jack-of-all-trades is Steven "Stevie" Radonich. He's the energetic hype man who makes sure that the bikes are as stylish as they are functional. Stevie, rider and art consultant for Broakland, has brought in East Bay graffiti artists Soul from the TDK crew and widely-known Goser to create custom paint jobs for these rides. Sleek marble, quintessential custom flame paint jobs, or graffiti-style lettering topped off with a beautiful finish elevate these high-end bikes beyond transportation or sport: they ascend into the realm of art.
The prices on these masterpieces start with the Street Fighter model, a traditional track bike that runs about $1,350, including a base paint job. Things get pricier as you continue to trick them out. In the past, naysayers argued that spending so much moolah on a street bike is a fool's errand for gearheads and overgrown kids whose cash burns a hole in their messenger bags. But that was before gas hit $4 a gallon. Now it makes as much sense to shell out for a bike you love as it ever did to do the same for a car.
And these designers are making sure their products are worth it. "Our bikes have to live up to our standards," Montano said. "If we build a bike we like to ride, then other people will like to ride them too."
The Broakland crew unveiled their first design in San Jose just over a year ago at the 2007 North American Handmade Bicycle Show, the four-year-old exhibition of the nation's top designers and bikemakers. In February, the Broakland crew set up a display, including the cream-and-magenta-marbled Meat Wagon, now on exhibit in the window of Montano Velo, at the 2008 NAHBS in Portland, Ore.
When asked what these bikes mean to him, Jason Grove just laughed. "It's nice having a solid ride."
Check out Broakland's designs or pick up some gear at Montano Velo, 4266 Piedmont Ave., Oakl., (510) 654-8356, or at www.myspace.com/broaklandbicycles