A bicycle built for you: Old factory houses custom-bike maker

  • Alex Meade holds up one of his custom-made stainless steel bicycles, in his shop inside the former Lamson & Goodnow complex. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO/BEN BARNHART—©Ben Barnhart

  • A bicycle built for four, made by Alex Meade of Shelburne Falls. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO/BEN BARNHART—

  • Alex Meade makes custom bikes in his shop inside the former Lamson & Goodnow complex, at 49 Conway St. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO/BEN BARNHART—©Ben Barnhart

Recorder Staff
Published: 8/15/2018 7:59:58 PM

SHELBURNE FALLS — Like Goldilocks, you can’t be too picky about finding a bicycle that is “just right” — especially if you take it on a 750-mile ride.

That’s why the riders of custom bikes made by Alex Meade may spend a few hours on an adjustable “fitting bike.”

Some of Meade’s hand-built bikes have gone to cyclists who are more than 6-foot, 5 inches, or who have stiffness in their shoulders or back. Others have gone to people who want a one-of-a-kind bike.

“It’s a three-part business,” said Meade, a retired mechanical engineer who has been bike-building for about 20 years. “They’re for someone who knows exactly what they want and can’t find it in bike shops. Right now, a touring bike that can carry gear or a tent is also hard to find.

“Then there are people who are difficult to fit, because of their physical size or physical condition,” Meade said. “They’ll fly in for a fitting.”

The third type of client, he said, is the ultra-distance cyclist. “If you ride up to 750 miles essentially nonstop, the fit of the bike is absolutely important,” he said.

When Meade’s not making bicycles, he’s making custom tools. “I spent 35 years designing laser printers,” he said. “So I design and make tools. If I make a tool, I’ll put it on my website. These tools go all around the world.”

Meade also teaches people how to build their own bicycle frames. “They’ll come here and spend two weeks and come away with a frame,” he said.

Meade said most of his bikes or bike frames are made of steel, or light stainless steel. Besides being lightweight and easier to carry, the stainless steel bikes “are just cool,” he said. “I jumped on stainless steel early — about 10 years ago. It’s more difficult to work with, but I love it. There’s no room for error with stainless steel,” he said.

The actual bicycle construction takes between 35 to 70 hours. “Some customers want to talk through every detail,” Meade said. “Others leave everything to me.”

He recalls exchanging 400 emails with one customer.

“You meet some very interesting people,” he said.

Custom-made bike frames and forks cost customers from $2,500 to $4,500, he said. The cost of a complete bike ranges from $4,000 to $10,000.

“Most of my customers want some version of a road bike,” Meade said. “One customer has 35,000 miles on a frame I made him a few years ago.”

Meade enjoys making bikes for ultra-distance riders, partially because he is one himself. Across the ceiling, Meade has a bike race banner that reads: “Paris – Brest – Paris.” That’s a 1,200 kilometer, or 746-mile, round-trip race between the two French cities held every four years, since 1891.

“The year I did it, I was riding the whole way,” Meade said. “I did it in 55 hours, 49 minutes and slept about 30 minutes.”

Meade also does bike repairs and customizations. One of the most common, he said, is to install couplers on the bike frame, so the bikes can be taken apart for storage or airplane flights then screwed back together.

Meade is one of many artists and artisans now established in several small studios in the former Lamson & Goodnow cutlery complex. When he’s not building or riding bikes, Meade plays bassoon in the Pioneer Valley Symphony and serves on Buckland’s Conservation Commission.

“My work hours are call-me-up-and-we’ll-talk,” he said. His phone number is 859-351-8443. He can also be reached by email at: alex@alexmeade.com

Greenfield Recorder

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