Category Archives: sweetpea

Sweetpea Journey #5: It’s a Bike!

If you didn’t know, I’m getting a custom-made bike from Sweetpea Bicycles. Natalie Ramsland builds these bikes specifically for women, one of just two women frame builders in the United States (the other is Luna Cycles). Many people I know are interested in hearing about the process, so I hope to be blogging about it each step of the way. Read the series here. Now–the fifth installment. Away we go…!

This evening I was at the gallows about to go on at my first choir concert in a bazillion years when I got an email giving me some awesome news.

tacked frame in jig

Wait–I’m getting way ahead of myself. Over the past two weeks, as I have been busy trying to meet some deadlines, Natalie continued her hard work. (During this time, I also found a comic that made me think of her.) You may remember seeing the frame put together, but not yet welded, in the jig. Here we have some welding work:

brazed dropout-1

After the main triangle was together, Natalie started working on the chainstays. Here is a dropout:

chainstays mitered to bottom bracket

Here are the chainstays attached to the bottom bracket:

dropouts in slotted chainstay

Here’s a better photo of just how the dropouts go into the chainstays:

right dropout all shined up

After welding it all together, Natalie gave it a spit shine until it gleamed:

seatstays on

Oh! But now we’re getting back to tonight’s exciting email. The photos aren’t as snazzy, but the news really is! Natalie worked really hard the last couple of days to get the seatstays on:

ready for the lil' bits

And then–OH then! She trimmed down the head tube, putting some fancy-yet-stylish reenforcing rings on it, trimmed the seat tube, and put on the seat lug. Meaning….HEY! That’s an honest-to-God FRAME!

That’s right, kids! That is my bike frame! Yeeeee-haw! It needs some finishing touches before it gets shipped off to Colorado(!) for 4-6 weeks to get powder coated, but this bike is real enough that I want to go read Shakespeare to it and play peek-a-boo.

Next: Natalie puts the finishing touches on the frame. While it is being powder coated in Colorado, she and I get down to nitty-gritty about parts. What chainring to use? Which grips will I have? Does the Nifty Swifty have a cutesy enough name to be on my bike? Oh, and did you notice I didn’t mention what my final color is going to be? Bwa-ha-ha-ha!


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Sweetpea Journey #4: Lie Back and Think of England

If you didn’t know, I’m getting a custom-made bike from Sweetpea Bicycles. Natalie Ramsland builds these bikes specifically for women, one of just two women frame builders in the United States (the other is Luna Cycles). Many people I know are interested in hearing about the process, so I hope to be blogging about it each step of the way. Read the series here. Now for the fourth installment. Away we go…

This is the part of the process when I lie back and think of England. While I have been blithely going about my daily life Natalie has been rockin’ and rollin’ at Sweetpea World Headquarters. And sending me photos.

Last week she built the front fork of my bike. Originally she was going to use a carbon fork, but turns out that’s not really a great idea for a 650B wheel size.

Here’s how the magic happened (narrated by me, a person with no knowledge of either frame building or welding):

She took just a teeny bit of fork…

upside down fork crown

Added a dropout and sneezed on it…

droput ready for brazing

Welded it on…

brazed dropout

Got it to submit to her will using a medieval torture instrument…

Fork in a fixture

And voila! All forked up! She didn’t even have to go back to the drawing board once.

Fork drawing and pieces

The finished fork! Hurray Natalie!

Still life with fork and potted blueberry

An important part of the process was the quality control inspection, done of course by Sweetpea’s office manager Greta…

Greta inspects the work

You’ll be happy to know it passed with flying colors. Greta worked so hard she needed to snooze the rest of the afternoon.

After a restorative weekend break, Natalie started working on the frame of my bike.

Materials gathered? Check!

Frame materials

Jig set up for all my lady-like angles? Check!

Jig set up for your bike with biggest protractor ever

Insert tubing, CHECK!

mitered frame in the jig

We’ve got seat tube to bottom bracket CONTACT!

first joint brazed - seat tube to bottom bracket

It’s starting to look like a bike!

head tube miters

While Natalie has been working so hard, I’ve been reconnecting with my teen angst. Seeing these photos made me realize that I’m soon going to have a bike frame, all ready to go get powder coated. And when it gets shipped off to Colorado, I’m going to need to tell them what color to paint it. And what finish to use. ACK!

Next: A final color choice? A completed frame? I have no idea.

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Sweetpea Journey #3: All Mixted Up

If you didn’t know, I’m getting a custom-made bike from Sweetpea Bicycles. Natalie Ramsland builds these bikes specifically for women, one of just two women frame builders in the United States (the other is Luna Cycles). Many people I know are interested in hearing about the process, so I hope to be blogging about it each step of the way. Read the series here. Presenting the third installment…awaaay we go!


Less than 24 hours after my fitting, Natalie posted two design options on her project management site to peruse, based on two wheel sizes. When I took a look, suddenly I got a glimmer of what it must be like for a pregnant woman to get an ultrasound–my bike is going through a slow gestation process, and I could finally see it was real! (While that probably comes off as completely tongue in cheek based on this past post, at the time the feeling was very serious.)

As for the designs, the 650B bike looked well-proportioned, but because of the non-standard wheel size I’d need to be prepared at all times for a major flat, as replacement tubes and tires aren’t readily available. On the other hand, the 700 bike (above) had a standard wheel size but didn’t look as elegant. An important difference though, was that Natalie determined that structurally, that bike would work better as a mixte.

At some point, I knew I’d need to decide between a mixte and a regular diamond-frame bike, and I had been dreading it. Mixtes are certainly more fancy, but the structural strength lost in the angled top tube is made up by adding steel, increasing the weight of the bike. Mixtes do have a practical purpose for women though–you can ride a bike wearing a skirt! However, since I don’t wear skirts very often at all, this is not a huge issue. Oh yeah, and it would require a $100 mixte “upgrade.”

Over the next five days, I agonized over this crucial juncture in my Sweetpea journey. Did I want a mixte or a standard frame? And did I want a 650B or 700 wheel size? I consulted trusted friends, like James the super mechanic at Bike Gallery, April the mixte aficionado, and of course my only real friend in the world, the internet. It seemed only fitting to do due diligence before making such a major decision, to be fully informed on what I was getting myself into. After all, I don’t want to have any regrets or negative surprises when I finally get my dream bike, right?

On Monday, Natalie reminded me that I shouldn’t be wrestling with two separate dilemmas, but the bike style would be tied to the wheel size. This helped streamline the decision process. Meditation was making it clear my gut was leaning toward the 650B standard frame, but I wrapped up my due diligence by consulting my friend Beth, who works at Citybikes (they stock 650B tubes and tires!), and wonderful Theo, who has a 650B Kogswell, and even uses the same tires I likely will end up with, Rivendell’s Nifty Swifty.

After informing Natalie of my painstakingly researched and thoughtfully considered decision, about five minutes later she turned around a revised design of my final choice, including frame specs, and some additional features (pump peg, cable routing for a dynamo, etc.) I could add on for a fee. We’ve scheduled a phone call to review everything together tomorrow morning.

Meanwhile, I get to continue agonizing over the color of my bike. Last week I stopped by the shop to see the color of HW (Heliotrope Wonder), which was a super dark purple with multi-colored sparkles in it–fuschia and blue–that aren’t really visible via photographs. It’s lovely, and the base is very close to the color I originally thought I wanted. However, I had a slightly different idea in mind in terms of the finish, and upon inquiry with Natalie’s powder coaters in Colorado, it looks like they can do a work around for something that can usually only be done in paint. We’re probably going to have them do a water bottle cage as a relatively inexpensive test to see if the dream can be realized.

Last night I had a pretty lengthy conversation with my mom about the color of my bike. (She loooves that stuff.) I told her about a couple of ideas that Natalie and I had been tossing around. She was very helpful, and in passing even gave me a concept anchor, describing this bike “like a big berry rolling down the street.” I think that this is indeed the palette I’m going for, and I think the phrase helped solidify what this bike is going to look like just a little bit more.

One thing is certain: it truly takes a village to build a bike.

Next: Final design? Fun with powder coating? Components? Even I have no idea what’s next right now.

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Sweetpea Journey #2: Bike Fitting!

If you didn’t know, I’m getting a custom-made bike from Sweetpea Bicycles. Natalie Ramsland builds these bikes specifically for women, one of just two women frame builders in the United States (the other is Luna Cycles). Many people I know are interested in hearing about the process, so I hope to be blogging about it each step of the way. Read the series here. And now the second installment. Awaaay we go!

This afternoon I had the first of two bike fitting appointments at Bicycle Fitting Services. During this the two hour session, we discussed my bicycling habits and goals; looked at my body’s motion-related quirks, measured my flexibility in various ways, and took a special bike used specifically for fitting, plugged in my bars and slapped on my saddle, and played around with the adjustments until everything was as snug as a bug in a rug.

Fortunately my dear friend Yeltie was willing to come with and be the official Bookish photographer for the day…or at least for the first half hour, which is why photos from the next hour and a half are sparse. He was willing to help a friend despite being a little stressed out lately. Thanks, Yeltie!

Stephanie was my fitter. Not only was I excited to work with her because I already knew her, but she is apparently quite good at working with pain issues, such as those I’ve had on my bikes of the past.

After pleasantries and paperwork, we talked about my experience as a cyclist and my expectations for my new bike. As it stands, I use my bike primarily for commuting, but I have one motherlode of a commute: it takes me about an hour to get into the heart of the city. Additionally, I have been known to participate in bike moves, bike camping, and other events that result in even more time on the bike than just a simple commute. I usually carry quite a load, including my own body. My approach to the bicycle is very utilitarian–the reason it works for me is that I incorporate it into my everyday life, rather than using my bike just for recreational activities.

After the discussion, we got up to start some floor work. Stephanie had me stand in a neutral position while she and Natalie stood in front of me and talked about the minute differences in the skeletal structure of my body. A pelvic injury I suffered eight years ago, which I still have to visit the chiropractor regularly for, could actually be seen by them standing a fair distance away, by looking at where my hands were when asked to place my hands on my hips. As someone who is pretty insecure about her body, it was a little odd to have two people looking at me and noticing that my knees stick outward, or that my right foot and leg stick outward at rest. They then stood a fair distance behind me, almost immediately noted “do you see her ankles?” and it felt a little awkward. As they drew dots on my Achilles tendon as a teaching tool, Yeltie distracted me by taking photos of my feet. Just call me John Merrick.

Next, they had me perform a series of easy range of motion exercises. I learned that I have a long cranial-sacral mobile (I think that was the term?), which is why I’ve always been able to easily touch the ground when flopped over at the waist. I got to practice my tree pose mental balance technique in another exercise, and as I moved I felt my ankle tremble just before another exclamation: “look what her ankle is doing!”

Finally, as I layed on a squishy yoga mat on the floor, Stephanie manipulated my legs to get some numbers related to my flexibility. Once again, my old injury was easy to spot, as the numbers were way large on the right leg, and equally small on the left, as they compensate for each other when my pelvis is out of whack (I just got adjusted on Monday…?!?!)

We then transitioned over to the large mirrors and cycle fit area, where they put my current bike on the stand, I rode, and they analyzed my current fit. Pretty good, except for my arms are still at too obtuse of an angle (see above photo). They even did a seat post adjustment that should alleviate my recent knee pain. Afterward, they switched to the special bike used for fittings, putting my Brooks saddle and the bars Natalie had ordered onto a bike where literally everything was adjustable.

I didn’t think much about my comfort as I was told to dismount, remount, and ride several times, as I was expecting Natalie and Stephanie would be making the decision on what was correct based on what they saw. They did start asking me about my comfort, and suddenly I realized my forearms felt really tense. Or my elbow was kinda sore, and they noticed I was locking my elbows. I suspected that much like smelling too many samples in a perfume shop, I wouldn’t be able to tell if something was right as I’d be on muscle memory overload.

But then it happened.

Immediately after starting to pedal, I had a moment where it just clicked, and I knew that was it. Natalie and Stephanie liked what they were seeing, and we were mostly done. They wrote down measurements from the adjustable bike while I snapped a few shots.

As I watched them work from across the room, I took in the visual of the saddle and bars, and realized that my bike is going to be pretty classy. Since last week I’ve been able to close my eyes and actually start to visualize my new bike for the first time, and seeing the saddle and bars together sharpens that image a little more. As Stephanie was so kind to put my Brooks saddle on my old bike, Natalie and I chatted about other things relating to the direction this bike is going to go in, including the goal of the bike, and discussing some interesting paint options. She surprised me immensely when she said she would likely have some design options ready within days, although it sounds that because the frame needs to get shipped to Colorado for powdercoating, it’s pretty likely that I won’t get my completed bike until November. I was hoping to get it in October, my favorite month. Oh well!

Next: designs! (Hopefully)

See more photos from the session here.


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Sweetpea Journey #1: First Steps

If you didn’t know, I’m getting a custom-made bike from Sweetpea Bicycles. Natalie Ramsland builds these bikes specifically for women, one of just two women frame builders in the United States (the other is Luna Cycles). Many people I know are interested in hearing about the process, so I hope to be blogging about it each step of the way. Read the series here. And awaaay we go!

My Sweetpea journey started in Spring 2008 when I heard word that my credit union, Unitus, was going to start offering bike loans. A long-time Unitus customer, I agreed to be the guinea pig for the program, and when talking to the woman developing the program, said that if I could choose anything, I would prefer to get my bike from Portland’s own Sweetpea Bicycles. The woman said if I could convince them to sign on to the loan program I could do it, and one short phone call later, it looked like my wildest dreams would be coming true.

Meanwhile, as the details of my loan got worked out, I sent in my $500 deposit to Natalie to hold my place in her wait list, which at that point was approximately a year and a half. This was May 2008. Immediately after sending in my deposit, I wrote out a lengthy description of what I was thinking I wanted my bike to be, to do, and to look like.

Because the bike loan program was a pretty new idea for the United States, there was a fair amount of press I was in (including here and here). It gave me a chance to get some good attention for bikes, an awesome local bike builder, and my favorite credit union, all in one!

In the following months, I saw Natalie now and again, and sometimes conversation would touch upon my bike, but usually not. My bicycling enthusiast friends would ask me a couple of times a month how much longer I’d have to wait–so occasionally I would check in and try to get a time estimate. As much as possible, I tried to abide by their philosophy to “practice zen-like calm and patience,” but man is it hard when you see your builder and/or her husband on a regular basis. Meanwhile, Natalie got some national exposure in Bicycling Magazine and Outdoors, and her waiting list doubled in size.

Finally, when I was recovering from a cold in the middle of August 2009, I got an email from Natalie suggesting we set up an appointment for my first fitting, as it was almost go time!

When I scheduled my fit appointment at Bicycle Fitting Services, her preferred fitter, I learned that it’s actually a two-appointment process. The first appointment happens before your bike is fabricated. Over the course of two hours, as I sit on the top of a completely, totally adjustable faux bike, Natalie and the fitter (in my case, Stephanie) get all sorts of measurements and information. The fact that I have a wonky pelvis and sometimes my legs are two different lengths (as much as an inch and a half at times!) is important. The second appointment is done after the bike has been fabricated, for final fit and micro-adjustments.

Last weekend I biked the hour and a half from my house to Sweetpea World Headquarters, where Natalie and I drank tea, hung out and ended up chatting a bit about my bike. She had me try a specific set of bars she was thinking would work well, and they did–but she needed to order a pair before my fitting, meaning I’d have to delay the appointment a bit. In this process, I learned, it’s ideal to come to your first fit with the bars, saddle, and pedals (the three contact points) you think you’ll be using on the final bike. I already knew I’d be using a Brooks B17 Champion Special saddle, and flat pedals, because I don’t use SPDs and haven’t really enjoyed my experience with toe clips. Natalie ordered the Nitton all-rounder, which you can see on a bike here.

Soon after the bars got ordered, I got a flurry of emails from Natalie through her project management web site. I soon discovered this site is communication central, where ideas are tossed around between client and builder. Boilerplate information about paint is posted, JPGs of other bikes are uploaded to have a common frame of reference, and discussions about design ideas are archived in threads to make things as efficient as possible.

Next: my first fit appointment this afternoon. I’m bringing a camera, so hopefully I’ll be able to get a photo or two!

This is the first post in a series about the journey to getting my Sweetpea Bicycle.

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My Little Sweetpea

Sweetpea Agate
Sweetpea Agate (NOT MINE!)

After many months of salivating and fantasizing, last May I decided to get on the waiting list for a Sweetpea Bicycle, lovingly handmade here in Portland by Natalie Ramsland. Natalie is one of only a few women framebuilders in the US, and one of only two that only make bikes specifically for women. Besides my desire to support a local woman builder, I had also agreed to be the guinea pig for my credit union’s bike loan program. In the end, both Sweetpea and Unitus got some good press out of the deal, and I didn’t do too poorly either.

As for my bike, as soon as I got on the list Natalie asked me to tell her about my hopes and dreams, and we continue to develop the vision every time I bump into her around town. Right now I’m hoping the bike will end up looking a little like an old school Raleigh cruiser, with upright bars and a luxurious Brooks saddle*. I’m hoping it will be dark purple, either sparkly or with a green candy coat, providing a little drama on sunny days. It will be outfitted for my serious commute, sturdy but swift, with racks. As for accessories, I see it with one of the beautiful brass bells from my collection, sweet hammered aluminum fenders, and capable of holding an on-bike sound system so I can listen to James Brown during my hour-long commute each way. Chris King components in a complementary color, of course, possibly green. 

A little something like Elly’s “Farmers Market,” and yet nothing like it at all.

At last estimate, it looks like I won’t be getting my bike until around August. Probably later. This is why they ask you to start practicing your zen calm as soon as possible.

I will keep you posted as things develop, but in the meantime you can check out some of the other bikes Natalie has made here.

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