Race To NAHBS! A Very Special Geekhouse Bikes Shop Tour
“Our bikes are meant to be ridden.” – Marty Walsh, Geekhouse Bikes
Geekhouse Bikes is a three-man frame building operation based out of Allston, MA, specializing in TIG-welded steel. Despite their diminutive stature, they are, in fact, the third largest bike builder in the Boston area, right behind “The Big Two”: Seven Cycles and Independent Fabrication. Like all proper Boston frame builders, Geekhouse is somehow connected to the other outfits in town — Marty Walsh, founder of Geekhouse, worked at Seven for a bit doing bookkeeping. Walsh also apprenticed under Mike Flanigan, owner of A.N.T. Bikes, a former Fat City employee, and co-founder of Independent Fabrication. What sets Geekhouse apart from other builders in the area is their philosophy toward bikes and bike building, they see the bicycle as something to be used and abused; not hung on a wall or driven around on a roof rack. They are not elitists who think that track bikes are only to be ridden at the velodrome and that ‘cross bikes shouldn’t be used to commute on. As Walsh says, “There are a lot of builders who build bikes for people but they’re not riding them every, single day. Our customers aren’t the people who have a road bike and ride it on the weekend, they’re the people who are like ‘this is my race, transportation, touring, everything bike’.”
Another big difference between Geekhouse and other frame builders, local or not, is the unique customer service experience they provide. While they do sell through Superb Bicycle in Boston and NYC Velo in New York, they primarily sell direct, and customers are encouraged to come by and visit while their bikes are being made. “The customer can come here and hang out with us and do the fitting, and talk about their bike, and go dancing and drink a beer” Brad Smith, full-time Geekhouse employee explains. Often their customers become so attached to the Geekhouse crew, they have trouble leaving, “We’ve had customers cry when they left” Brad says.
The dudes from Geekhouse are incredibly nice guys.
And this nice guy approach doesn’t just apply to customer relations; it also informs how Geekhouse interacts with the what most people would perceive as their competition…
Boston has a strong handmade bicycle building scene, but, according to the guys at Geekhouse, it is a non-competitive one, “we all serve different demographics, everybody helps each other out” Marty says. He mentions the give and take relationship he has with Bryan Hollingsworth at Royal H Cycles. If he’s having trouble with something he’ll call up Bryan, and if Bryan needs something, like a particular tube, he’ll call up Marty. The guys from another local builder: Icarus Frames, actually started off building their frames in the Geekhouse shop before moving on to their own space. How good is Geekhouse’s relationship with Icarus? Well, Ian from Icarus had a Marty Walsh T-shirt made. It depicts Marty as a naked, winged, legless…something, sitting on a Doric column.
“Nobody comes to me and says, ‘I’m really in-between getting an Icarus and getting a Geekhouse.’ I think somebody might have said something like that to me once, and I was like: then you should go with an Icarus!”
“I want somebody that really wants one of my bikes, I don’t want to steal somebody from somebody else.”
It’s truly a mystery how he gets along with other local frame builders (or people in general), the guy is a Grade-A jerk. Really.
(If you didn’t get it, there was a big nudge and a huge wink in there.)
Photo cred: Heather McGrath
The owner of the above bike, a Raw Steel 29er, came all the way from South Africa to see his bike built (okay ya, he had other appointments too). The Geekhouse guys had to turn the bike around in record time, but it was worth the stress; the guy gave them one of the best reviews they’ve had for any of their bikes. The bike appears on the NAHBS website, but it will not, in fact, be there, It was long since sailed for its new home in South Africa.
Recently Geekhouse has put out a few “raw” frames — clear powder-coat over bare steel. The reason customers are into this aesthetic, according to Brad is that “They like to see what went into it, they like to see that discoloration, they like to see the symmetry of the welds. With TIG welding you can see the degree of temperature the tube was heated to, and that’s why you get those different color rings.” But Brad and Marty aren’t super into the raw frame thing. Raw frames require more prep-work and care, they can’t be left out in the open too long because they’ll oxidize, and while this isn’t a problem for a frame that is going to be sandblasted before it’s painted, it’s a big problem for a raw frame, “If there are any dust particles or oxidation on it, once you clear it, a day later you’re gonna start to see surface rust.”
The above frame is one of two destined for Blue Lug in Japan. Geekhouse was given free rein to do whatever they wanted creatively. They chose to surprise Blue Lug by creating a custom water jet cut of their logo and brazing it on to the seat tube. (Hopefully they’re not reading this…unlike Tom Waits, Bikerumor is not big in Japan.)
In keeping with their utilitarian philosophy, Geekhouse uses powder coat instead of paint because it is “greener” and more durable. Brad Smith, who runs Sugarcoat, Geekhouse’s in, er…house powder-coating service explains: “You lock it up wherever, it doesn’t matter, it’s not going to chip, it’s not going to ding as easily as paint would. A lot of people, if they have those elaborate paint schemes they don’t ride it that often. We’d rather you be on your bike.” Smith doesn’t just talk the talk either, he walks the walk (or “rides the ride”) — like the other two full-time employees of Geekhouse, he doesn’t even own a car. He also wear shorts year-round…in Boston…which is insane.
A Fat City inspired “Yo Marty” raw fork. Photo by Greg. More photos on Geekhouse’s flickr site.
When asked if there are frame builders that he looks up to Marty responds:
Obviously Vanilla, Indy Fab…as of a week ago, and Mike Flanigan. I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for Mike. He taught me how to do everything, taught me how to build bikes. He built a lot of tools that are in here, sold me machines, went and got machines with me.
Walsh apprenticed with Flanigan, A.K.A. “A.N.T. Bikes Mike” for one-and-a-half years before setting off on his own. Walsh had designed bikes and put them out under the name Geekhouse prior to that, but it wasn’t until after his apprenticeship with Flanigan that he welded the frames himself. The style of the above-pictured “Yo Marty” fork was something passed down from Flanigan. The segmented design goes back to the “Yo Eddy” fork produced during the Fat City days.
The Geekhouse booth will be right across from the Vanilla booth at NAHBS next month, a prospect that Marty finds “a little scary.”
Brad talks about how Sony pictures bought a Geekhouse for an upcoming messenger movie called Premium Rush, “A fast paced action story about a New York City bike messenger who is pursued by a dirty cop,” starring Joseph Gordon Levitt of Inception fame.
They don’t know how it will play into the movie, it might make it in, it might not. They said they have a few different people riding it throughout the movie, we don’t know what will make it into the final cut. Originally [the lead character, 'Wilee'] was supposed to get a new bike at the end of the movie, and it’s a Geekhouse, and he rides off with it.
It’s basically going to be Quicksilver II…
(I checked IMDB and they don’t list Kevin Bacon in the credits. If I were casting that film, I would at least cast Bacon in a cameo as sort of a Mr. Miyagi figure, a sage old messenger who teaches Levitt all his sick, bicycle-dancing moves.)
The Geekhouse “factory” Allston, Massachusetts
Walsh admits that the Geekhouse factory could be bigger , “The square footage of the shop needs to be expanded, like…now.” But When asked if he has plans for expanding Geekhouse the company he says “We want to keep it small, we want to keep it the way it is. We’re not hiring anyone else.” But Brad has different ideas…”I want to hire a Barista.”
Sounds like a serious schism that could ultimately tear this small company apart.
The names of many of Geekhouse Bikes’ models come from nicknames for Massachusetts towns or places: the “Wormtown” ( for Worcester); the “Mudville” (an area near the A.N.T. shop in Holliston); the “Rock City” (for Allston…lots of bands in Allston); the “Woodville” (a village in the town Marty grew up in). The “Fast Chance” stands alone with its play on the name “Fat Chance,” the flagship model of seminal New England frame builder Fat City.
When asked if there are things that Geekhouse absolutely will not do, Brad says “We’re a relatively new company, so we don’t like to say no,” but goes on to describe getting asked to build a Surly Pugsley style bike, “We’d have to get all the stuff from Surly anyway, it wouldn’t be a custom build; it’d just be a putting a bike together. We’d rather build you a one off than rebuild something else.” He also expressed some apprehension about doing a custom polo bike that would have wound up costing $2000 for the frame alone. Marty, when asked the same question, immediately blurts out: “NO tall bikes!” Marty has built a tall bike for himself (pictured above), but refuses to build them for customers. He also shies away from building full-suspension downhill bikes designed by engineering students, even though he raced downhill for 6 or 7 years. But would he ever consider it? “Oh my God, not even close!” Doing weird conversions on older frames isn’t really their bag either, “We did a conversion for this guy, it was like an old Shogun with 27” wheels and he wanted a 650B conversion, and we did it. I’m putting all this time and effort to make this look really nice, but no matter what I do, it’s still gonna look really crappy. Next time we’ll probably pass it along to somebody that might take it on a little bit differently.”
But, as Marty explains, there are worse things than building weird bikes and doing nightmarish conversions:
One time I had to make a plasma T.V. screen mount for a furniture shop down the street. I hated every second of doing it, because I was like, this is not a bike. It’s not a Geekhouse first of all, it’s not even a f—in’ bike. It was the same, exact process: I was using a hole saw to cut out a hole, I was TIG-welding something, and I was just like…’I wanna kill myself’.
Fortunately for them, day to day they mostly just have to deal with folks making regrettable color choices. “I know for a fact that salmon color is going to suck…”
Marty Walsh on how the name “Geekhouse” came about:
“Geekhouse came to me in a dream.”
“In high school I was the bike geek, I was just like super into bikes all the time.”
“And then I had this dream one night in college and it was like ‘GEEKHOUSE ROCKS!’ “I told my friends that the next day and they said you should name your bike company that.”
The rest is history.
When you visit the Geekhouse shop, one thing is as clear as the glass top on an obsessive compulsive’s coffee table: these guys all get along, they have a good time doing what they’re doing — they smile a lot, they laugh a lot, and they dance a lot. (Or at least they talk about dancing a lot…a lot. ) The first couple times Brad met Greg (the third full-time Geek-houser, above-left), he didn’t get a read on him, but, when it came time to get in the van to head down to New York for the Bicycle Film Festival, that changed. “We all got in the van and a Katy Perry song came on the radio and we all kind of looked at each other, and we’re like TURN IT UP! and we just jammed all the way to New York, and I was like, alright, this is gonna be good” says Brad.
Greg won Brad’s adoration (is that too strong a word? Oh well, it’s staying) and subsequently fell in love during the trip, with a woman who is alleged to have said “From the first time I saw you snake-boarding, to dancing on the van…I couldn’t take my eyes off of you.”
If that isn’t love, I don’t want to know what is.
Although Marty and The Martians (that’s what the rest of the guys like to be called…”The Martians.” Okay, that’s made up.) are opposed to the idea of expanding the business, they are not, however, averse to the idea of taking on new challenges and moving away from doing TIG-welded frames only — challenges like lugged steel, titanium, or carbon/steel-carbon/Ti combos. “If someone wanted carbon fiber seat-stays, we would do that now” Marty says.
I have to admit that I forget what question prompted the following response, but it pretty much embodies what Geekhouse is about (and makes for a great, freakin’ closer):
“It comes from being really into bikes and not being pretentious about it, we’re not like ‘our bikes are cooler then everybody else’s!’ This is what we love and we do it because we love it, and we try to make them as great as we can. We get along with a lot of other people that do the same thing and respect them, we try to be open and non-pretentious, and I’m just kind of a dork, so it works.”
Ya it works alright. It works until Brad’s raging desire to hire a barista tears the company apart.
Going back to BR’s previous Geekhouse Bikes post, we had a couple questions about “Chachi’s Rock City.”
The saddle on Chachi’s bike is a Tioga Spyder. It has a 150 lb weight limit and it is attached to a completely non-adjustable seat-mast (Marty has a more adjustable one in the works). Chachi probably won’t be able to change his saddle, because if he does, he is likely to change his saddle height. So not only is he married to a minimalist, un-padded plastic saddle, he is married to not letting himself go to the point that it won’t support his fat ass.
Now that’s commitment. Stay away from those KFC Double Down things Chachi, they are a one way ticket away from compliance with your Tioga Spyder’s weight limit restrictions.