Building Bespoke

Enthusiasm is the oil to the spinning chain of life: it helps everything run that little bit smoother. And master frame builder Ken Ecker is one of those people who seems to never let the chain run dry. The Canadian is talking to Rapha about the process of building up a bespoke bike for a customer, and his passion is infectious:

“Someone will reach out to me and say: ‘Ken, I’m thinking about building a bike, what do I need’ and I’ll get excited and say ‘let’s talk about it’. That energy and excitement between us drives the design process. I want them to get up every morning super happy and say ‘I wanna ride this bike because I love it’,” he says.

Ken’s Vancouver bike shop Le Domestique [whose film you can watch above], is not your average off-the-peg emporium, with customers more than welcome in the workshop – a domain usually only privy to the mechanics. But then again, Ken isn’t your average guy either. A career as a professional tennis player preceded one in the film industry before building frames became his primary occupation eight years ago. He is fascinating company, with strong views on his specialist subject, from online bike ‘porn’ [‘I just hate it’] to bicycles as ‘art’ [‘A bike is a machine to be ridden, not hung on walls’].

“My approach to frame building is different to the traditional metal builders,” he says. “Often when you see videos of the best guys, the old Italians, everything is fillet brazed and you read words like artisanal and craftsmanship but that doesn’t really explain what I do in here. My shop is more like a lab. I really enjoy the mathematics of building a frame and that goes from the thickness of the tubes to the geometry, and so on. I really lean towards and love the numbers more than anything.”

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This year, Ken has every reason to be more excited than usual: he is treating himself to one of his own creations to take riding on an equally bespoke Rapha Travel trip with friends in the Italian Dolomites this August. “It’s inspired by the trip and called the Dolo,” he says of the recently finished bike. “Kind of a contradiction: stainless steel frame with Columbus tubes from Italy but full carbon everywhere else. The Dolomites, man they just shoot straight up, so I’ve made the bike equally aggressive, with steep angles.”

The ‘Dolo’, featuring a white, grey and blue paint scheme representative of a mountain, includes a 72 degree seat tube angle to represent the 18% section of the Mortirolo pass that the trip will take in, and hooded dropouts shaped to mimic the two lakes at the summit of the Gavia, which the group will also climb. The bike’s name is written along the top tube in the same font used on the mountain summit signs in the Dolomites too.

The Rapha Travel team, led by Brad Sauber, have developed for Ken and friends an itinerary taking in some of the world’s most dramatic climbs – as mentioned above – while the accommodation includes stays at the dazzling Hotel Eden in Bormio and Hotel La Perla in Corvara. “Our Bespoke trips allow people to craft something very personal to them,” says Brad. “This year we have organised a trip for a group of Indonesian friends to come to the Tour de France and a honeymoon trip in Italy among others. Creating these trips isn’t dissimilar to having a bespoke bike built, actually…”

As Ken prepares for riding in the Dolomites this month, he ruminates on the Dolo, a bicycle worthy of such a trip but not one he’s likely to spend too much time admiring from afar. “It is kind of everything I’ve ever wanted in a bike, it’s my home run strike. I can’t wait to put her in that environment and just ride.”

Find out more about Rapha Travel Bespoke trips here.