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A Woman’s Touch

The cycling industry isn’t known for its proliferation of women, and the handbuilt world is no exception.  So when a bicycle is constructed by a woman, it tends to be a rare bird, and even rarer when that bike wins a NAHBS award.  Isis Shiffer of Bilenky Cycle Works has managed to achieve just this feat with her gorgeous lugged specimen, which also took home the Best Lugged Frame award at the 2013 NAHBS.

When asked what sparked her interest in frame building, she said, “I graduated from the Pennsylvania Fine Arts Academy with a degree in sculpture, and found out that there aren’t a lot of jobs out there for sculptors.  But I am also a huge bike geek, so getting to design and build them was a great fit for me.”

Photo: Jayne Liu

Photo: Jayne Liu

Carving lugs is Shiffer’s favorite thing to do , though not her only task at Bilenky, where all builders share equal parts of the work. “I also did the lugs for this bike,” she says pointing to a much more traditional road model, “and I polished the weld joints on that one,” ‘that one’ being their unpainted fillet brazed frame.  She also helps with marketing, writing copy, and anything else one could think of at a  frame building operation.

“The lugs for this particular bike were really fun,” shares Shiffer.  “First, we knew we wanted to carve them from scratch, so I made some plain lugs by fitting tubes over the frame tubes, then mitering, TIG-ing them together, and grinding down the welds.  Then, I took my inspiration from a vintage English builder, Les Ephgrave, who carved extremely ornate lugs.  I wanted to do a tribute bike to him, and then went from there.”

The fork also received some special attention.  According to Shiffer, they found an old vintage double crown fork, and modified it to go along with the rest of the bike.  All told, Shiffer estimates about three weeks worth of work went into carving the lugs alone.

“We usually do a bike like this once or twice a year, and usually for the purposes of a show,” she explains.  Customers have to pay an upcharge for ornate lugs, though if they request it, chances are they already know it’s worth it.