Framebuilder Profile: Cody Baron, Clark Davidson, and Cole Thompson of True Fabrication
Posted Apr 15 2009 12:02am
Editor’s note: This article is a continuation in a series of articles we are doing to profile Texas handbuilt framebuilders.
A few weeks ago I stopped by the north Austin workshop of framebuilders Cody Baron, Clark Davidson, and Cole Thompson, the team behind True Fabrication, one of Austin’s great local bike brands. I spoke with them about founding the business, their current building process, and the future of True Fab.
16 hours trapped in a car yields a new business
In the summer of 2005, Baron, Davidson, and Thompson were driving from Austin to Colorado to do a mountain bike vacation together. Out of that long drive came the idea for True Fabrication and that by the following summer, they would all return to Colorado to ride again except this time on bikes they had made themselves. They decided on steel as a material for its longevity of strength and its relatively low cost of entry. The material also seemed to match their style. “Before I got into framebuilding, I had a friend over looking at my collection [of 9 bikes], and he said ‘Cody, do you realize all of your bikes are steel?’ I hadn’t noticed until then that those were the bikes I was drawn to,” Baron said.
Clark Davidson, Cole Thompson and Cody Baron
Thompson was already experienced in TIG welding as a welding professor at Austin Community College and Davidson had some experience MIG welding. They had a lot of enthusiasm but needed to learn the trade, so Davidson attended the steel TIG welding framebuilding class at United Bicycle Institute in Oregon.
The unusual variable geometry frame that was developed but never used for testing.
After building a frame for themselves, the trio wanted to learn more and experiment with geometry before unleashing themselves on the cycling public. They found ten friends to build prototype 29er mountain bikes for and asked each to ride the heck out of the frames to put them to the test. During this period, the group also experimented with the idea of a frame that would allow you to vary all the possible geometries including head tube angles and bottom bracket drop. They still have the concept frame hanging in their shop, but found the ten prototypes to be a more efficient form of testing.
Each partner learned the whole building process from start to finish and built some of the prototypes, but Davidson clicked on the TIG equipment one day and became the main welder. “It’s like knitting with steel,” he said excitedly. “It’s a lot of fun!”
The guys also had the support of one of framebuilding’s legends, Don Walker, the organizer of the North American Handmade Bicycle Show. Walker, who lived in Waco before moving recently to Indiana, helped True Fabrication out with advice and the donation of old framebuilding equipment. He also gave feedback on early prototypes allowing quicker honing of the product. This supportive network of builders I have begun to experience myself seems a unique part of the industry and certainly aided in maturing True Fab. By July of 2007, True Fabrication was ready to hang up a shingle and let the Austin cycling community enjoy what was being produced.
Part Time Job, Full Time Passion
None of the partners at True Fabrication build frames or run the business full time. In fact, they all have full time jobs separate from the company. This could be seen as a disadvantage to some, but they believe it is a strength and part of what has built their brand. “We do this as a passion, not to pay the bills,” Baron said emphatically. “The customer benefits from this.” They believe by making their trade about the bike instead of the business they can remain focused on producing what the customer wants and avoid following fads.
Each person at True Fabrication has a specific job that emphasizes their talents. Baron handles all the customer contact and works with Davidson on design. Thompson cuts and preps the tubing while Davidson does the welding and alignment. Be they also see a fourth person involved, the customer. “We want to be a partner with the customer in building their bike,” Baron continued. This means extensive interviews with customers to figure out what has worked for them before and what they want different. It also means the builders try to keep as open a mind going into each project so every bike is truly custom. “Give us something different, challenge us,” Thompson said.
There are some down sides to this approach however. Keeping lead times down has been a constant challenge with the current wait to begin work on a frame at 9 months then 4-6 weeks for the frame to be completed. This means you’ll be ordering a frame now to be ridden next season. Also, due to all of the other work the trio do, they don’t get to see a lot of each other. The time I spent with them at the workshop was the first time in months all three partners had been together in the same room.
Still, they are completely up front with their customers about their situation and the customers seem to understand getting a unique bike tailored to you is not a turnkey operation. Most of their customers are replacing a frame or adding a bike to their collection, so they are not in desperate need of new bike to ride right away.
Keeping True to True Fabrication
Many framebuilders eke out frames on the side until they can raise enough money or break through to full time work. Baron, Davidson, and Thompson all seem to be very content with where their business is right now and want to continue within the same framework.
Their main challenge is not growing more or raising more capital, but maintaining the interaction between the three that has made True Fabrication work and built a well regarded brand. Each person in the group has had different things temporarily pull them away from building whether it is the demands of their other jobs, a new family, or an injury. Ensuring they are flexible enough to take up each other’s slack is a challenge but one they seemed to have handled.
It’s is also important the three to keep the passion “without an attitude” style they’ve kept to date. They want to put out a great product that is of greater value than the price tag. “Our goal is to see True Fabrication bikes out on the trails and road being ridden,” Baron stated. “We just like bikes.”
Davidson echoed Baron saying “The best part of the work for me is giving the finished bike to a person and seeing their face.” It doesn’t get much truer than that.