Building a Dream Bike with Rudi Jung
Artisan Frame Builder Cranks Out Beautiful Rides in Santa Barbara
Thursday, May 15, 2014
There are two answers to the question why Rudolf (Rudi) Jung fabricates bicycle frames. The first is that he stands a lanky 6‘3” tall. While people with bodily dimensions that aren’t too far on either extreme of the bell curve can usually find an off-the-shelf bike that fits well, Jung never rode a bike that felt right until he up and made his own. The second reason, and more telling answer, is that Jung is the type of person who, if he grew up in Alaska, would forge his own dogsleds out of used tomato soup cans.
Jung did not grow up in Alaska, however. He grew up a BMX grom in California, and now he races regularly on the SoCal cyclocross circuit. So he builds bikes. When I asked Jim Cadenhead, the owner of Cranky’s Bikes on State Street, why he feels comfortable recommending Jung to customers, he referred to Jung as a “savant.” Aside from making frames under the moniker Gold Coast Bicycle Manufacturing, Jung paints his bikes himself and etches head badges out of used cymbals. He also restores motorcycles, print-screens T-shirts, and designs his own Gold Coast racing kits, available for sale at Cranky’s. “Anything Rudi sets out to do,” said Cadenhead, “he learns to do perfectly.”
It was Cadenhead who first suggested that I talk to Jung. At first, I blanched. A handmade frame is a worthwhile investment but not a cheap one. Well-regarded builders can easily charge upward of $5,000, to say nothing of all the components necessary to make a fully functional bike. As a relative newcomer, Jung commands more modest prices, but after seeing how much labor he put into the frame that I eventually bought, I actually felt as if I cheated him.
By Paul Wellman
RAW MATERIALS: This pile of tubes, tabs, dropouts, and bosses will soon cohere into a complete bicycle frame.
For whatever reason, I couldn’t kick the thought that Cadenhead had planted in my head. The benefits to having a custom frame are practical (tubes sized specifically to your body dimensions for maximum comfort and efficiency), idealistic (supporting a local craftsman who builds with American-made steel), and superficial (getting to choose your paint color!). Then one day, I happened upon a modest windfall — my long-forgotten winnings from the 2012 Santa Barbara Independent NCAA Tournament pool, the cash in an envelope buried in my messenger bag. When I saw that envelope, I took it as a sign that I should splurge on my next bike.
Jung can also thank a bit of serendipity for the start to his fledgling enterprise. He had dreamt of fabricating bicycle frames for eight years by the time he finally, in 2010, saved enough money to take a course at the United Bicycle Institute (UBI) in Oregon. But just before he left on his pilgrimage to the starting place for many a U.S. frame builder, Jung, who still primarily supports himself by working construction, was offered a job on a lucrative project that he couldn’t refuse. So he ate his UBI deposit, stayed in Santa Barbara, and decided his dream would have to wait for another day.
On the jobsite, one of the other workers drove his truck over Jung’s saw horses. In the ensuing confrontation, Jung learned that the worker had been a hobbyist frame builder himself. To make it up to Jung, the worker donated his old jig and tools. All of a sudden, Jung was in business.
By Paul Wellman
Measure Twice, Cut Once: Jung fashions his head badges from old cymbals.
Bad news for Jung, because while he was working on my bike, I would sometimes stop in on him unawares. I could chalk it up to documenting his process, but even the non-journalist customer gets updates from Jung, who regularly texts photos of his progress while fabricating a frame. Much of the work, however, is done before a drill bit touches a piece of metal. The process starts with a discussion about the type of riding you do, the bike you envision, the features you’d like. For instance, I wanted provisions for racks and fenders, because I’ll be using this bike for my daily 20-mile roundtrip commute. Then it’s on to measuring your extremities, from your forearm to your femur. After all that, Jung renders a drawing of the bike and goes over it with his customer before ordering tubes. For my bike, he used True Temper steel. (OX Platinum for the bike geeks.)