After riding Montañas Vacías, I enjoyed the opportunity to visit Rubén in his workshop before he moved.
We rode to an old, large building. I didn’t get it, it looked more like a rave-party than a cycle workshop: booming music, lots of people partying, all sorts of artists, painters showcasing their skills… I felt like an intruder trying to follow Rubén with my bike through the crowd.
Then at the end of a overflowing beer-garden, he opened the door of what appeared to be a secret place.
How did you learn to build bike frames?
Well, when people ask me about this I usually answer that I have not learnt yet, because I think this is a never-ending learning process and all the masters out there will tell you the same.
I started just doing what I thought made sense. I didn’t get any education or attend any workshop, I just started to look up on the internet, a few books and lots of lots of Instagram and social media of the frame building community. Nowadays everything is out there if you have the time and you are willing to look deep into it.
Nothing is free, it has been REALLY hard, much harder than I expected… Lots of hours in the workshop, lots of money spent… I even have scars to prove it!
Of course I have asked for help, ideas and knowledge. I’m very grateful they let me in, some have become friends… And it has just begun!
So what got you into building bikes?
At the time, I thought « Ok, what if I make my own next bike? Wait, what if I start building bikes for me and my friends? » Quickly, I was deep into the water and the other shore was closer than the one I jumped from!
Tell me about the first bike you made!
The first bike I built was a fixed gear classic bike, lots of mistakes in the geometry! I made the frame without having the fork which is now a big NO. Everything was cut and filed by hand, I still keep that first piece of cut seat tube.
It was a beautiful bike for a beautiful person.
I remember the process with affection, it was like a baptism.
In these times of lockdown, our local shops need us more than ever. Not only bike shops, but all the small businesses we care about!
What can we do to help?
Order your bike parts from your LBS instead of big internet stores
With all the events being cancelled or postponed, there is no hurry to get those parts anyway!
Pay it forward
Support your favourite cafés and pubs by paying now the coffee or beers we’ll have together when we’re allowed again! Take a look at www.sosbusiness.nz for example. There has to be a similar website in your area!
You can also buy a voucher from your LBS and collect your brake pads, sealant and tyres later in the year, when you need them.
Get it delivered
Many smaller businesses offer to deliver your goods to your door, even if they never used to. Check out their social media, they must mention it!
Discover your local shops
Many cities have put up a webpage featuring special lockdown offers. Get your favourite coffee beans delivered, take an online lesson… Have a look at www.edinburghlockdowneconomy.com for example! (Hats off to the poetry typer!)
The obvious: ask them!
Maybe just give the places close to your heart a call and simply ask “What can I do to help?”
More than ever, spending your money wisely will help keeping smaller businesses alive.
Is framebuilding your main activity?
Well, it’s the activity I do most of the time because my other job is not very continuous. I’m a sound recordist and I’m involved in shootings a few days every month.
I’m well suited for intense and long days at work, either in the workshop or the filming location.
What’s your approach to building bikes?
First thing to say is that my bikes are meant to be ridden. Each one is a great tool, something that serves a purpose: Having an awesome time riding!
I’m not into fancy bikes with lots of beautiful yet useless details…
When I design something for my frames, first question is
“Is this an upgrade? Is it worth it? Is it lighter? Is it better?”
and only then I try to make it look good.
Most of the times I manage, but in exchange I have to pay in working time. For example, my own dropouts: designed, welded, and finished in house to accommodate bigger chain stays, laser cut stainless steel plates with a welded wing. It’s much easier to buy something ready, but it’s not personal.
Right know I’m working on some bottle boss reinforcements. They are harder to braze and more time consuming than regular ones to make them shine, but they fulfill a function. And in the process they look great!
Who are your main influences?
With all this philosophy it makes sense than my main references are the Italians, always looking to build lighter faster more performing bikes, the easier the better…
Of course there we have Zullo, Pegoretti (and his team, that now runs the workshop) and other names following them as Bice, Fabrica and Legor.
Legor is my main inspiration, I guess because he has helped the most from the beginning.
An inspiration not only in framebuilding, but also in lifestyle.
He lives in the outskirts of Barcelona, 500m away from his favorite trails. He has a couple of chickens, a little orchard… He and his wife (Franka, Maad Cycling) lead such an honest way of life! I somewhat daydreamed about such a lifestyle, then I met them and saw it is possible to live like this. But again… It never gets easier.
Kris from 44bikes has something similar and it’s also a big reference in my work too: an awesome workshop next to his house in the middle of the woods, perfect weldings, a very clear way of doing things, looking for excellence in the process.
Prova Cycles has a more advanced and techy approach, his designs are stunning and he mixes the ultimate 3D printing technology with the same steel tubes we all use to make great bikes.
Firefly, Horse, Naked, BTR… I love their work too.
I would like to make a special mention to Simone D’Urbino, he is the framebuilder at Masi. I have visited him a couple times in his workshop under Vigorelli Velodrome, he only makes classic lugged bikes. They are nothing close to what I do, but in some way his way of doing things -keeping as simple as he can- touched me too.
That’s a lot! If you could have your next bike made by any of them, who would it be?
They are all great builders. Having a bike from any of them would be great… Why choose? N+1 always!
By the way, what kind of cyclist are you? Track, MTB, gravel, road, endurance, bikepacker?
My main bikes are road and gravel. I use them almost 50/50 and I enjoy them both, different routes, different company with each bike. I don’t know why but I’m better at gravel. I use my MTB when I need a short, explosive and fun ride. I try to make a bikepacking trip at least once a year. Two years ago I went to Grinduro Scotland and made a trip to the Isle of Skye after the event… It was awesome. I was planning to go to Montañas Vacias on Eastern holidays but I guess that trip will have to wait now… [Due to C-19 lockdown -ed.]
Since when do you ride?
I have been cycling since I was a kid -like everyone I guess- but since I moved from my neighbourhood to the city center 6 years ago I started to get slowly into the fixed gear scene of Madrid. I started to meet great people, getting into alleycats (I even won a couple of them), then criteriums…
Then came the lycra and the jerseys, I started to train a bit more seriously so I got my first road bike… And without noticing I was cycling at least 3 days a week around 300km.
Now I cannot think of my life without my bikes. I use them every single day… I’m forgetting how to walk, it’s so slow!
Tell me about the bike you’re the most proud of!
This usually is the latest bike I build because with every bike comes an improvement, a better weld, a better finish.
The most recent bike I built for myself was the MTB you saw when you came to my old workshop. It came out really good and I’m happy with it because I used some new things on it -like custom chain stays and new thru-axle dropouts. But the ones I started working on before the lockdown will eventually come out very sweet.
Tell me about this former workshop I visited!
Yeah, my old cave… An oven in summer and a fridge in winter. I have worked in temperatures way over 40º and way under 0º over there…
The place was in an awesome building in the city center of Madrid, really old like 1700 something. It’s full of artists, musicians and artisans. A place were I was able to start with the support of some friends! Fortunately I had the opportunity to move forward a few months ago.
My first workshop was a ciclo officina, a community workshop where people can come and fix their bike.
What a mess it was!
So what is your workshop like, now?
My new workshop allows me to have much more freedom, it’s a nice place to receive customers. I settled up everything the way I wanted with the past experience.
The neighbourhood is nice, it’s still near the city center, near my house, and I have a good pizza shop 2 minutes away!
What kind of bikes do you make?
I build custom bikes, all my frames are made to measure I do not stock any sizes.
Each bike is made from the very beginning after you order it under your desires and necessities.
You can order a calliper or disc road bike, MTB, gravel, CX, touring/adventure, urban, track… Anything! I will work in order to make the bike best suited for you.
Regarding the bike fitting, we can work with a professional bike fitting which is always great or we can start with your body and actual bike measures.
One way or another, we’ll chat about what you want to achieve with your new bike, what you like and dislike about your actual bike.
And whenever possible, I like to go for a ride together.
What kind of tubes do you use? Any preference? Do you mix and match them?
I mainly use Columbus tubes, mostly Spirit/HSS and Life alloys but I use Zona too. I usually make a mix of families for every frame. I also use custom Reynolds chain stays for the new gravel models.
I was about to order the first two sets of XCR stainless steel for a couple of projects before this craziness started… Let’s see what happens!
What techniques do you use? TIG, brazing? Why?
All my frames are TIG welded. All the top builders use TIG, it’s the way to go if you want a top performing frame. It’s fast, it requires good skills and leaves very little space for mistakes. You can achieve invisible tube joints. And the most important, the behaviour of the frame is completely different from a fillet brazed one. A TIG welded frame (if you do it right) will be more vivid and lively, stiff but with a character.
I only use silver brazing for all the small bits, cable stops, bottle bosses, bridges and so on.
All my seat stays and most of my chain stays are bent in house to achieve the desired bend for every use and size. Stock curves don’t always fit for a desired tyre clearance in a specific size. Again, it gives personality to my frames.
My favourite builders all weld with TIG.
We all have a signature welding pattern defined by our machine settings, hand movement and style.
It is like handwriting: we all write the same words with a different calligraphy.
Talking about tools, frame building tools are very personal. Do you have favourite ones?
Damn… We are sick people, we love tools!
I love to use the right tool for a specific job, even for the dumbest job like cutting zip ties.
One of my favorite tools are my T47 BB taps. Chris King made the first one after they developed T47 BB standard and sent them to some builders, the first ones using this new BB. One of them was Mattia (Legor Cicli) and he sold it to me when he got the Silva T47 tool… A massive, expensive, incredible dream tool. Gosh I would love to have one!
Tell me about this eccentric dropout! That’s really creative!
Well, based on Syntace dropouts which allow fine tuning the rear wheel alignment, and mixing it with an idea from Zullo, I designed this dropout.
The eccentric insert is just to fine tune the alignment. It is silver-brazed and unlike Syntace’s, my stainless insert cannot be accidentally moved by customers or mechanics.
Like my road dropouts, it’s made of 6mm thick stainless steel laser-cut plate with a wing welded in house.
What’s the most satisfying about your job?
Frame building has given me a lot of headaches but also lots of good moments.
I love going riding with my customers for their first ride on their new bike. Or seeing friends’ photos of my bikes when they are out riding, traveling and having fun!
And what do people expect when they come to you?
The people who come to me usually meet me at some cycling route/event. They ride with me, they see my bike, they ask about it… I guess a personal connection is very important for the “non famous” frame builders. Most cyclists look for someone to talk to about their dream bike, and I’m really open to that. You can come to my workshop for a visit!
As far as I know I’m the only one that uses TIG around here, and -as far as I know again- there is no other builder around who actually rides. I guess it makes a difference for people.
Where does the name Rizzo come from?
Well, you saw my head… When people who don’t know my name want to talk about me, they always say “yeah, that guy with the curly hair, big beard… -Oh yes, I know!”
You got it: Rizo means curly in spanish.
What are your future plans? Any goal you want to achieve? New bike, new parts, new trip maybe?
Future plans… Well, I had some but right now everything looks blurry… Right now -like in this very moment I’m writing- I should have been welding a stainless gravel super bike for a rad show… I even have some parts already, ordered before the lockdown…
The show has been postponed, crossing fingers it will happen eventually, maybe this autumn? I don’t know…
I have been thinking a lot lately… We have been forced to stop and think. What are we doing? How are we living? Where are we heading? And I hope that, when everything ends, people go back to their lives but with a great positive lesson learnt…
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Pay Ruben a visit if you’re in the neighbourhood!