Words: Matthew Beaudin | Photography: Shop photography by Caley Fretz | Bike photography by Dan Sharp | Date:
Simple craft, simple art
At about mile five of every hard climb above Boulder, Colorado, the pavement gives way to dirt. Mostly smooth, sometimes chopped up or washboarded. This element is what makes the riding in Boulder some of the best in North America: at the end of each category 1 climb (or HC) there are miles of dirt rollers.
Bikes, like people, are products of their environments. And Aaron Barcheck and his Mosaic bikes, six-years-old now, is a pure product of Boulder’s topography and cycling culture. Barcheck is a bridge between new and old guards in frame building. His steel bikes respect their elders, with classic internal routed brake lines and built in seat clamps. His titanium bikes look more to the future, with large tubing and invisible routing for hydraulic lines.
The Mosaic story states their creations provide an “…engine for self-expression, personal achievement and years of amazing miles. Mechanisms that rebuff the natural elements…”
Barcheck is as steady in his shop as he is on the road. The Mosaic shop is precisely that – a shop (for working), not a showroom. There’s the typical array of bike-industry knick-knacks and the requisite bourbon assortment. On any given day, hip hop will thump from the ceiling down to the floor, beneath the sound of milling and snapping and sawing. But we find some space and quiet to sit down for a beer or two and talk Mosaic Bespoke Bicycles.
There’s the old and new guard in frame building. You’re sort of the new. Is a passing of the torch happening?
I think it’s a generational thing. As the industry continues to evolve and more people get involved, you find new ways to define yourself as a builder. I can’t define myself in the same way that other people have. I don’t necessarily look towards other builders.
How did you get your start?
Like most people I just started riding bikes and being interested, and asking the question: “maybe I want to make bikes?” One thing leads to another, you’re making bikes, doing it as a career, asking another question: “How can I maintain this career in the bike industry?” And the answer for me was to start my own company.
You were at Dean, the titanium specialists?
I was, for six or seven years.
What did you take from that?
So many lessons; what was going on at the time in the industry, with titanium frames to carbon frames; business lessons and customer service; maintaining a certain level of quality and what that can do for you. And I had some really good mentors at Dean as well that helped me design how I wanted to build bikes.
Do you remember the first frame you built?
I still have it, yeah. The first frame I made — I went to the United Bicycle Institute in Ashland, Oregon. And I made a cyclocross frame. A titanium cyclocross frame.
How’d you arrive at the name Mosaic?
Mosaic. It’s something — a mosaic is both art and craft. And building bikes is the same way. It takes different pieces of craft, pieces of art, and putting them together.
What’s the biggest mistake you’ve made?
Ha. That’s a good question. Starting my own company? No, not really. I don’t really believe in mistakes. At Mosaic I think mistakes are something you learn from. Building bikes is so design-orientated that, ultimately, as a craftsman, you’re going to make mistakes along the way. And you just have to take the opportunity to grow from those mistakes when you make them. When you screw something up, don’t get down on yourself. Get better.
Is there a pressure in frame building? Putting something out there?
Absolutely. I still get nervous every time I deliver a frame to anybody, whether I walk into a shop to drop it off or have a customer walk in to collect. From the initial reaction down to how it rides and the longevity of the bike — I take all of that stuff really personally. But I take the reaction to that pressure — how I run the business, how I choose to make the bikes, the level of quality I strive to achieve — and just keep the level high.
Mosaic has grown a fair amount, right?
I think we’ve definitely set ourselves apart from a lot of smaller frame builders that are one-man shows. That was always the goal for me with Mosaic, was to be somewhat of a competitive, bigger company. I can build bikes by myself, and I can build really great bikes one at a time by myself, but it only has so much of a reach. And I think that the handmade bike industry can do better than that. I think we can go further. And I think more people should consider handmade bikes. And the way that you do that is to bring more people into the industry and teach them to do things correctly, setting the standard. Gaining scale has opened up so many doors for us. Bringing on more people, talented people and being sustainable.
Boulder has as much to do with Mosaic as anything else. I’m here. I moved here to go to school, to ride bikes, to have adventures. I can’t imagine starting it anywhere else.
Does it shape the kind of frames you make?
100 percent. If you come to Boulder and you spend some time doing some riding here, you’ll notice that we have some of the best riding there is, in any category. It can be a little competitive at times, for sure, but I think the style of riding that I’ve always done has been a little bit on the competitive side, so the frames end up being a little bit more performance orientated.
I want to make bikes that I can rip on. I want to make bikes that are durable. I want to make bikes that you can have for a while. And I want to make bikes that are also comfortable and you can ride on dirt, road and gravel — the whole bit.
Tell me about the Continental bike.
The Continental program, it’s about modern-classic; everything is mostly steel orientated. I think of classic lines, just black bikes with a hint of color. Nothing super flashy. Our RS-1 model was perfect. It’s a very classic steel bike, with a True Temper S3 tube-set that’s lightweight and super responsive. It just has all those attributes that you think of when you think of a steel bike. Some braze work, some tig-weld work, some internal routing, super high gloss black wet coat paint job. It’s a perfect match.
What did I forget?
I don’t know. You could extrapolate on some of those ideas. Put some fancier words in there…
It doesn’t seem necessary.
That’s exactly what Mosaic is. It’s simple, you know? It’s very simple.