A Conversation with Kurt Goodrich

By Donkey Label

I’ve been patiently waiting to get my hands on the Curt Goodrich road bike I ordered more than a year ago. You may not know the name, but Curt hand builds lugged steel bikes in Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA and is a true master.

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I have broken three carbon road bikes in the past three years, wanted something that would last and that I would love. I wanted a road bike I could ride the snot out of, race, hang on my wall, admire and hand down to my son when I die (and not a day before). Seems like a lot to ask but, essentially that is what you get when you buy a bike from Curt Goodrich.

I approached Curt at his shop about documenting the build of my bike because I really want people to see what an amazing talent this guy is. I wasn’t sure if he’d say yes because Curt isn’t really the kind of guy that likes the spotlight. Fortunately he agreed. Early in the process I was trying to get in contact with him through text messages, but after all of them went unreturned I figured maybe he wasn’t so interested after all. I stopped by his shop and asked him about the unreturned texts, and he responded with, “dude, I don’t own a cell phone – you were texting my land line.” I laughed at his wry smile and thought to myself that in this day and age of social media, and fancy websites it is no wonder Google does not reflect his stature in the industry. Curt is truly on the DL [reference to Donkey Label's ethos – Steve] digitally and physically. His shop is tucked away in the lower level of a large industrial building in northeast Minneapolis. It’s not that remarkable as far as shops go, but if his story were written by Lance’s ghost writer it would be named “its not about the shop”. Somedays I find myself tracking him down by yelling his name up the stairwell on the third floor where he is sitting trying to access the building’s wifi.

I first met Curt a few years ago… I had just gotten into cross bike racing and couldn’t help but notice the blue Team Issue bikes at the local races. I asked around and found out that not only were the bikes local, but the Goodrich shop was just blocks from my office. It didn’t take me long to pay him a visit. A year from that first meeting I was on the Goodrich cross team and had my name on the top tube of a team issue Goodrich cross bike. I learned more about bikes in the 15 hours I spent watching him build my bikes than I had in the previous three years.

In 1990 Curt stopped in at Chris Kvale’s shop in Minneapolis to see what bike building was all about. Curt says that day changed him, he knew he wanted to work with his hands and build bikes, something I think anyone who loves bikes feels when they see one built. “At that time in Minneapolis, I wasn’t aware of any opportunities to learn to build, and I knew instinctively that I shouldn’t just strike out blindly on my own.” In those days the scene was better out west, so off to seattle he went in search of a job at a frame building shop. There is wisdom in his words that seems to have been lost in our current generation. Today striking out blindly seems to be an accepted practice, you can head to Portland for a two week frame building class and be back before the weather changed. Curt left for seattle and didn’t return for five years.

Curt Goodrich started building steel bikes in 1995 in Seattle, between 95 and 2000 he built bikes for match, Schwinn, Rodriguez and Rivendell. He built a reputation then as being an expert craftsman and a hard worker. After declining an opportunity to build Serotta TIG welded bikes, in 2000 Curt and family moved back to Minneapolis and opened his own frame shop. The first 7 years were spent building Rivendell customs and the occasional Goodrich. By 2008 requests for Goodrich frames became sufficient to stop working as a contract builder. Since 2008 Curt has focused on building only Goodrich frames. Curt has built over 1500 steel bikes, and he is just getting into a groove.

Curt in a way suffers from the artists dilemma, promoting your art feels inherently wrong, a good paint job and a great copywriter can do more for you than having 25 years of experience can. I remind him that some of the greatest artists were not afraid to promote themselves and to the fact that he is being out marketed by people who have built 17 bikes, to which he smiles and says, “yeah, that’s just not my thing”. I sort of like that he says that.

Curt puts a lot more into his frames than silver, brass and steel. He once said to me, that he had to take some time away from building because he was just not emotionally into it.

Before I watched him build a bike, I was a bit like; “yeah man, I don’t like to go to work every day either, but I still do”. Since watching him build a bike and walk me through not only the process but the; art, science, love, that goes into each physical and mental act – I feel awful for even thinking that thought. As my bike came to life in his hands, I understood what he puts into each frame and the pride he takes in the tiniest details, even the ones that the paint will cover up. “That there, you would never see it, but it is a matter of pride in my craftsmanship because I will know its there, so I do it anyway, probably dumb but it is just they way I need to do it”

I have not been around bikes that long, but I have been around shops and craftspeople my entire life. My dad was a shop teacher, through my high-school I apprenticed for a man who repaired race car transmissions, I have an engineering degree, in other words I know enough to be dangerous.

I say this because, in some aspects I feel like I am not the guy to write this, as I don’t have the background or pedigree. But I am a guy who understands people, who appreciates passion, and who has seen hundreds of different things being built, I am also a guy that is proud to know Curt and call him my friend, and I feel like his story needs to be told.

Part of my inspiration for this story is Malcolm Gladwell’s book “Outliers” that puts forth the theory that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to become truly a master at something. The Beatles practiced for 1000′s of hours in Germany, playing long sets at nightly festivals before coming back to england to explode, Steve Jobs and Bill Gates got in 10,000 hours [in computing]. Basically, that it is not luck or being at the right place at the right time, but hard work and repetition combined with determination, sacrifice and talent that separates the good from the masters. It got me thinking about all the people building frames, that after a nice paint job and slick website it is not that hard to make the new builders appear to be in the same league as the masters.

Richard Sachs says it well here:

“You can’t be a doctor after taking a surgery crash course or by reading ‘Doctors for Dummies’. These people get some tubes and a jig and they think they’re instantly a frame builder. Well, they’re not. Not until they make 500 frames and show, after a decade or two, that they hold up. Frame building, in a way, is like Latin. Nobody speaks Latin, nobody likes Latin, except for scholars.” Goodrich is a scholar.

Curt Goodrich has his 10,000 hours designing and building complete bikes by hand, one at a time. He has built between 50 and 74 [max one year] bikes every year for the past 18 years. Roughly a 1000 frames.

Hearing Curt tell me the hows and the whys of each step in the process, I realised the depth of his experience in the delicate dance between angles, techniques, tube selection, lug selection, assembly techniques, rider preference and bike handling. He has seen it all, done it all, and tried it all when it comes to steel bikes and there is no point in the process where he is guessing or hoping. Surgeons tell you how many times they have done the operation to instil confidence that when you wake up there will have been no surprises. To watch him braze a bike together is no different than a surgeon doing his work, confident movements, zen like demeanour, an understanding of the inputs and outputs of each joint, and how they affect the rest of the body. And, an understanding when to quit and when to double check. Curt has made every mistake all the new builders are going to make, all of his customers are reaping the sweet, smooth and responsive rewards.

About my bike from the man himself

I built your bike with Sax Max lugs which are from my friend Richard Sachs. Richard designed these lugs around a 36mm head tube (28.6mm steerer), 31.8mm seat & top tubes and 35mm down tube. I wanted to use some of the lightest tubes I could get, so I used Columbus Spirit top tube and chain stays, True Temper S3 seat tube plus seat stays and a Columbus Life down tube. The fork is an Enve 1.0 which is a super reliable and light carbon fork. The frame was designed around your cross bike with some modifications that are more appropriate for a road bike. One thing that I have been doing on frames with 31.8mm seat tubes is bonding in an aluminium shim. After the epoxy is cured, the shim is filed flush with the top of the seat lug rendering it nearly invisible. The advantage to all of this is one can use a 27.2mm seat post for which there are many choices. The additional weight is very small and it means that I can use a lighter tube for a seat tube because I’m not that concerned about the inside diameter of the tube at the seat lug.

The bike build

HED JET 4 wheels, SRAM Red, 3T bars, stem, seatpost and it weighs a touch under 17lbs. It handles like no bike I have ever ridden, smooth, fast, corners with a unique solid feel that, Curt explains is due to the lower bottom bracket, tube selection and geometry. I have about 300 miles on it at the writing of this story. I am selling my BMC race machine, and have not ridden any other bikes since. The way I do the math, my frame only cost me 30 cents for every hour Curt put into his trade prior to building my bike.

By Paul Krumich, aka Donkey Label

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