Factory Tour: Caletti Cycles’ Handmade Steel, Titanium Bicycles
John Caletti’s bikes have always impressed me at NAHBS. Not because they’re super trick showstoppers or full of hidden features. But because they’re always elegant looking while being entirely rideable. You know, the way a bicycle should be.
Following NAHBS this year, I paid him a visit just before Sea Otter to check out his workshop and see how it all comes together. Caletti builds in steel, mostly, and titanium. Every frame is full custom, from the geometry to the sizing to the tube selection. Even basic custom paint is included in the price, though wild jobs can quickly escalate your expenditure.
The photo above shows where the magic happens. Every bit of it. It’s a small workshop, with everything in its place and just one bike under construction at a time. His process is very straightforward and without frills, but he knows his stuff inside and out. Scroll through to see his process…
Every bike starts with a design drawing. Then tubes are selected and grouped together in a box. They’re cleaned, measured, marked, mitered and cut, then they’re ready to start being assembled.
I watched parts of a steel frame come together. Click any image to enlarge.
The metal is mechanically cleaned (left), then wiped with rubbing alcohol (acetone for Ti). It’s placed into a clamp and flux is brushed over the surface. Another clamp grabs on to hold the cable stop in place.
heated to heat up the metal parts and boil the water out of the flux. The silver braze will flow towards the heat, so the flame is kept where it’s needed to join the cable stop to the tube. Caletti says it’s not dissimilar from gluing the parts together, except its all done with metal.
Generally, on steel frames welds are pretty clean, but when the braze ons (bottle cage mounts, cable stops, etc) are added, you get heat marks, silver alloy and flux all over the frame. Once it’s done, the flux is simply washed off.
The end result is a tube that’s ready to be polished and prepped for paint.
Normally, he’d place all these small parts on the bike after the frame is completely built so they’re in the right spot. The cable stop attachment shown so far was done purely to showcase the technique for us.
The fixture is set up with the customer’s measurements. His Anvil jig works for all types of bikes, including titanium thanks to the purge lines and couplers. Tubes are put in the jig, usually starting with the front triangle.
Once everything’s in and tacked together, it’s taken out and checked for alignment on a massive granite surface plate. It’s precision ground to a 0.0002 flatness that’s very temperature stable. That provides a good point of reference for checking a frame’s straightness. If its good, and Caletti says it usually is, he’ll weld it in a few spots, check alignment again, and repeat the process segment by segment until the front triangle is done. Then it goes back in the jig to complete the rear end.
He bends his own stays, which allows him to fine tune the shape and tire clearance depending on the size and geometry of each frame. He even bends the seatstay bridge on disc brake bikes (standard rim brake road bikes get machined brake bridges from Paragon). Above are just a few of the cutting and mitering tools he uses to get the tubes to fit flush against each other.
Check out how tight the tolerances are between his tubes. These are chainstays going into a bottom bracket shell.
Look closer…and notice the subtle bends in the tube for better tire clearance.
And even closer. Such precision helps make sure the frame is tight and welds can be prettier, like these:
Once the entire frame is fully welded, alignment is checked a final time, then all the brazed on parts are added. Above are parts of two complete bikes before and after cleaning, but before any finish has been applied.
The headtube and bottom bracket shell are reamed and faced, then it’s cleaned up and prepped/masked for either bead blasting or powdercoated, both done by Spectrum Powderworks. Caletti picked up this brown one from Spectrum earlier in the day.
A couple more frames await final prep and masking.
Current lead time is 6-8 months, and frames start at $1,675 for steel and $2,600 for titanium, all with full custom geometry, tubing and colors. Check out more at CalettiCycles.com.