Chris Igleheart is a bit of an older gentlemen who looks a little like a mad scientist at first glance. He started at Fat City building mountain bikes back in the day. When you first meet him he seems a touch socially awkward or uncomfortable, like maybe he hasn’t had a lot of visitors or hasn’t spoken to humans in a long time. You quickly realize that’s not the case at all, Chris is just lost in his work, focused and like an old truck or a cyclist over the age of 30, he simply needs some time to warm up. Once in gear, he’s funny, self-deprecating, smart, warm and charming.
We stopped by Chris’ shop that’s in the garage attached to his house an hour north of Boston to talk while he put the finishing touches on one of the Continental bikes. With a quick last tig-weld and a tightening of the screws that hold oval shaped wire head badge he’s done and ready for a beer and a chat.
We look for a path to leave the shop, which is harder than it sounds because its crammed from floor to ceiling with every manor of bike part, tool, fixture and machine that he’d ever need to fashion or repair anything ever made. His shop is part museum, part storage closet, and part ‘Doctor Who’ set with a bicycle-related synthesis of magical weirdness and industriousness.
What’s the deal with Dan’s Continental bike?
Chris: Almost everybody wants the lightest, greatest, whatever. But the people that buy from me expect steel because that’s what I make. They know I can fix steel if anything goes wrong with it. They know that it’s a great frame material. The Continental bikes are just durable road bikes on which you can ride anything New England has to offer without rattling your eyes and teeth. They run on pretty short wheelbases, the stays are pretty short, but there’s enough metal in the longer seat stays to soften-up the ride a bit. The tubing is certainly stout enough, it’s called “Life Tubing” and yes (laughing), the tubes have a lot of life to them.
What is a Continental bike, what did you look to for direction or inspiration?
I’m inspired by each new bike I build, I try to be open to new attitudes. Sure, I have my way of doing things but I’ve been building for a long time. I got my start at Fat City building mountain bikes and now I make 29’ers, Cross bikes and Road bikes, so I’ve been messing with angles and custom fit for years. That’s the nice thing about buying a custom bike, I make what you want, not what I want. I put my two cents worth in but I don’t push you too hard towards something you don’t want.
I get upset in the long run with everybody being so precious about the bike when it’s really about the ride. That’s what important to me. I mean, you can have all the cutouts and fancy details you want, but how does it ride? Some bikes get loaded with so many gewgaws and tchockees, they get over-cooked. I like to keep things simple and let my workmanship speak for itself. More power to the builders that take it over the top, and to the customers that want that. But for me and mine it just gets to be too much at some point. Besides, all that admiration and overcooking is time away from riding.
Speaking of riding, what about it, is it important to you? Where and how do you roll?
I try to ride at least an hour a day during the week, cause that’s usually how much time I have–maybe an hour and a half. On Saturdays I’ll ride to Boston to visit my girlfriend, and that’s a couple hours there. I usually head back the long way on Sunday, which makes it five or six hours. I don’t watch miles, I just look at hours. I like to ride with my friend Andy because he keeps me young. He’s amazing; he just rode La Ruta last year.
La Ruta is a pretty grueling mountain bike race. I’ve heard stories and I met a guy, who knows a guy, who saw a guy who rode it a few years ago. You ever doing anything like that?
I rode Three Peaks in 1985. It takes place in northern England, in the Yorkshire Dalles, over three mountain peaks. It’s the world’s toughest cycle cross race. I was in the area on vacation in ’83 and happened upon it. I was so jazzed, I decided I was going to come back and race it. I ended-up with a sponsor of sorts, Muddy Fox, they manufactured mountain bikes, awful bikes, but I raced one in the Mountain Bike division. At one point I was leading but didn’t know it until I bonked wicked hard and got passed. I had my first cup of coffee, ever, atop of one of the mountains. The downhill, on ancient Roman cobblestone roads was a gas. Keith Bontrager has done it. Tim Gould a world-class mountain biker, top 10 at one point in the 80’s, got his start racing Three Peaks. He won it five years in a row.
Your roots are mountain biking and your friend Andy rode La Ruta, do you guys ride mountain bikes together, what’s the riding like around here?
New England is all glaciated land. Before the glaciers left they were over a mile thick. Their slow retreat left a trail of debris called glacial drumlins and eskers. Drumlins are large hills and mounds, and eskers are like railroad embankments made of rocks and sand and glacial till. A lot of trails here run along the top of eskers, snaking through the woods, all buffed out gravel. Bay Circuit Trail runs from Ipswich all the way down to Cape Cod, it’s kind of stitched together but it runs the whole 58-miles. Yeah, it’s like it all starts with rocks, everything does.
For more information visit: www.iglebike.com