Hampsten Cycles: sign of the boar
Steve Hampsten uses a team of some of the best builders in the U.S., and his famous brother Andy's guidance, to create bicycles with classic design virtues and understated elegance.
Steve and Andy Hampsten are brothers whose talents and interests perfectly complement each other. In the cycling world alone, there are many examples of brothers where one of the pair eclipses the other, at least as far as race results are concerned: Miguel and Prudencio Indurain, and Stephen and Laurence Roche are just two examples.
Andy Hampsten was, of course, one of the bright lights of the Gilded Age of American cycling during the 1980s. Winner of the Giro D’Italia in 1988, the Tour of Switzerland in 1986 and 1987, and the Alpe d’Huez stage of the Tour de France in 1992, Hampsten was always a contender for overall victory in any stage race that had a decent amount of climbing in the parcours.
Andy (L) and Steve Hampsten. All photos courtesy Hampsten Cycles
Both Andy and his older brother Steve grew up with an interest in bicycles in Grand Forks, North Dakota. But when Andy’s racing exploits took him to Colorado, and later Europe, Steve stayed behind working and later becoming a partner in a Grand Forks bicycle shop. An interest in fine cuisine turned into a career as a chef, which brought him to Seattle in the mid-1980s. About the same time, Steve’s creative bent as a chef was applied to a new medium, metalcraft, and he developed and refined his skill as a welder, eventually parlaying it into a job building steel frames and forks for Match Bicycle Company. When Match eventually closed down, Andy’s bicycle touring business, Cinghiale Cycling Tours was taking off, full of riders who needed bicycles to suit their specific needs and body types. Out of this combination of demand and opportunity came Hampsten Cycles in 1999.
The brothers adopted the cinghiale, or Italian wild boar that is also the mascot of Andy’s eponymous Tuscany-based bicycle touring company, as the symbol for the bicycle brand, and every Hampsten frame features the sneering boar logo on its headtube.
The brothers Hampsten work well as a team because while Andy is the “ideas guy”, bringing his experience from years of pro racing and consultation with some of the legends of both racing and bicycle design like Eddy Merckx, Steve is happy being the nuts-and-bolts guy, taking care of all the quotidian tasks that are necessary to running a business. Much of Steve’s time is spent with customers: getting an idea of what they are looking for in a bicycle, turning their measurements into a bike design that suits them uniquely, and not shirking that task that many framebuilders are liable to do - making sure that he’s delivered the bike of their dreams. Based on the rave reviews Hampsten Cycles routinely receives, Steve delivers.
But as much as Andy provides some overarching precepts for the company ("build what we ride, and don't chase the latest trends"), Steve brings his own design aesthetic, honed from his many years in the bike industry, and his creative sojourns into culinary arts and metalcraft as well. "The metal work really got me to look at design, art, and architecture - mostly through furniture and sculpture but also including cars, motorcycles and certainly bicycles," says Steve.
There was a lot of proximal guidance at Seattle-based Match Bicycle Company, which proved fertile ground for Steve Hampsten's burgeoning ideas about bike design. "The builders who influenced me early on were the guys I was working with at Match - Tim Isaac, Martin Tweedy, Curt Goodrich, Kirk Pacenti, Mark Bulgier - followed by Dave Levy (Ti Cycles), Kent Eriksen, Carl Strong, Bob Parlee, Dwan Shepard at Co-Motion, and certainly Max Kullaway right here at HampCo. They all had varying degrees of influence over what I did and they all had good reasons for the approaches they each took and were never shy about sharing ideas and answering questions - it felt like the best graduate studies course in the world," he says.
Other bright stars in the handbuilt bicycle world provided Steve with additional inspiration. "Richard Sachs, Dario Pegoretti, Andrea Pesenti, Faliero and Alberto Masi, and Koichi Nagasawa, have all provided great examples of people trying to get it right in this niche of ours."
Unlike many framebuilders who struggle to keep up with orders, Steve doesn’t spend most of his waking hours behind the welder’s mask. In fact, his only presence in the shop comes when full bikes need to be assembled for customers. Instead, Steve has hired or contracts with some of the best framebuilders in each medium to create frames and forks worthy of the Hampsten name: Martin Tweedy builds lugged steel frames and forks in-house and comes from Match Bicycle Company where he worked with Steve Hampsten. Peter Graham, formerly with Mad Fiber wheels, builds Hampsten’s carbon frames in-house as well. Welded steel frames and paint on them comes from Seattle neighbor R&E Cycles. Titanium frames and paint are both from outside contractors with whom Hampsten has had long partnerships: Kent Eriksen and Brad Bingham from Eriksen in Colorado build all the titanium frames, and custom paint is by Russ at Air Art in Chico, Calif. or Adam at Now You’re Finished in Seattle. The list of past collaborators, with whom Steve says he’s still “pals” with, reads like a who’s who of the handbuilt bicycle world: Dwan Shepard from Co-Motion Cycles, Moots Cycles, Independent Fabrication, Dave Levy/Ti Cycles, Carl Strong and Parlee Cycles.
Hampsten Team Pro
Hampsten offers several different bike/frame model options, all of which can be combined or uniquely customized to suit the riders' needs and desires. The Team Pro is the traditional lugged steel frame option that features the popular Richard Sachs “Issimo” lug set along with matching fork crown and BB shell. The Team Pro uses Columbus’ Pego-Richie/Spirit-for-Lugs tubeset, selected for its light weight and reliability, and features a fastback seat cluster. The Max is for big and strong riders and evokes the spirit of the Belgian classics with its oversize Columbus Niobium MAX tubing and renders stability and comfort with a carbon fork and clearance for 28c tires.
The Gran Paradiso is Hampsten’s flagship road bike offering, coming in four different versions. The Minimus is an ultra-light steel frame for small and light riders built with Columbus Life and Spirit tubing. La Dolce Vita is similarly built from lightweight Columbus Spirit steel tubes, but can accommodate riders of all weights. The Titanio is built with 3/2.5 straight-gauge titanium tubesets by Kent Eriksen and Brad Bingham in Steamboat Springs, Colo., and is available with a bead-blasted, polished, or hybrid finish that Hampsten calls the “Best of Both Worlds”, and which resembles a dull, easier-to-maintain polished finish. And the Squadra is Hampsten’s carbon frame offering, built right in the Seattle shop with custom tube-to-tube construction for a ride that Hampsten says has “the stiffness and light weight of an aluminum frame; the plush ride of our favorite steel frames; and the strength and bomb-proof feel of titanium.”
Hampsten's titanium bikes feature the beautiful craftsmanship of Kent Eriksen and Brad Bingham.
Hampsten specializes in road bikes (Steve says that Andy vetoes “bad ideas” that come out of his head, including one for a Hampsten mountain bike), but the Strada Bianca and Il Mostro (“monster” in Italian) are their offerings for non-paved or mixed surface cycling. The Strada Bianca, named for the white gravel roads of the famous L’Eroica vintage bike ride in Gaole, Italy, is Hampsten’s choice for mixed pavement, gravel or dirt rides, with geometry that hearkens back to a race bike from the 1960s with clearance for wider tires (up to 38c), fenders, and the ability to carry a light load and fit lights. The Strada Bianca is offered as a lugged or welded steel frame built from Columbus Spirit/PegoRichie tubing, and also in titanium. It’s built for the use of longer reach caliper brakes from Shimano, Velo Orange or TRP, or it can be built for centerpulls.
The Strada Bianca, or any Hampsten, can be painted to match your truck.
Il Mostro takes the go-anywhere spirit of the Strada Bianca and takes it up a notch to serve the growing craze of gravel grinders and full-on adventure road bikes. Il Mostro is built for disc brakes and tires up to 45mm, in three versions: Tranquillo – the “skinny” tire/fast road frame, built with light tubing, which takes up to 32mm tires but offers no fender option. The Sterrato takes up to a 38mm tire or 32mm with fender, uses the Enve Gravel road fork, and is built with light or medium weight tubing. The Brutta is the brute of the line, with room for up to 45mm tires, fenders, a choice of rim or disc brakes and medium or stout tubes.
While both of the multi-surface bike models might appear to be a nod to a current fad, Andy Hampsten was riding his 7-Eleven and Motorola team-issue bikes on gravel roads around his Boulder, Colo. home long before it was the cool thing to do. Many of those team issue bikes were provided by Eddy Merckx, a builder long renowned for predictable, stable and, yes it must be said, heavier bikes. Why is the whippet-like climbing specialist Andy Hampsten such a fan of Merckx’s bikes then?
It comes from Merckx’s time working with the 7-Eleven and Motorola teams. Merckx, whom Hampsten referred to as the “best bicycle fitter ever”, constantly had to address requests for lighter bikes.
Gravel road rider for life: Andy Hampsten at Eroica California.
“Eddy told us [7-Eleven and Motorola riders] that we were spoiled by lightweight designs. He said we should stop moaning and just use a predictable, reliable bicycle that gets us to the finish line first,” says Andy Hampsten.
And it was Merckx, of course, who was mentored by famed Italian framebuilder Ugo DeRosa when setting up his bicycle business in Belgium in the late 1970s. So a direct line of influence from an old world Italian design ethos to current Hampsten Cycles offerings can be traced. How appropriate, then, for a bicycle builder that supplies many of the cyclists that Andy takes on tours throughout the beautiful Tuscan countryside.
Predictability, stability, reliability, longevity, understated elegance and even affordability. These are all virtues of classic bicycle design that are imparted into every Hampsten bicycle that leaves the Seattle shop under the careful guidance of Steve Hampsten, ready to take its lucky owner on a fantastic journey that evokes the spirit of the past and anticipates miles of pleasurable cycling for the future.