Image credit: David Rome
BUILT: From the Velodrome to Custom Carbon, Sugarloaf’s Steve George is Following a Different Muse
At some point in any racer’s career, the thought of retirement begins to cloud the horizon. What to do with life, after so many years spent pursuing athletic excellence with monastic devotion? It’s fair to say that not everyone thinks that they’ll be building custom carbon fiber bikes, one at a time, by hand, as their retirement plan.
It’s also fair to say that for Sugarloaf’s Steve George, meticulous one-off custom framebuilding wasn’t the first thing he wanted to do following his race career. What Steve wanted to do was come home to Brisbane and open a bike shop. But not just any shop.
Having raced professionally on the track in Australia, medaling in the Pursuit at the Beijing Paralympics (piloting a tandem with Bryce Lindores), as well as a few years road racing in the US, Steve had spent a lot of time thinking about what he wanted to do next. “The life of a pro cyclist is not a very complicated one. Downtime is something you have heaps of, and for me, I spent a lot of it dreaming about what I thought a bike shop should be,” Steve recalls. “When my racing career came to an end, I used what savings I had to open Crankstar Bespoke.”
Crankstar Bespoke was to be the culmination of everything Steve loved about cycling; a gathering place, a social outlet, a fashion showcase, top shelf service, and a highly curated bike fitting and purchasing experience. And coffee. The list of framebuilders who worked with Crankstar is long and notable. “I had the opportunity to work with some amazing builders,” Steve says. “Parlee, Independent Fabrication, Moots, Stinner Frameworks, Alchemy, Argonaut and Mosaic Cycles. I had the chance to work closely with most, but it was the closer builder connections that naturally converted to more builds. I was able to grow close relationships with Alchemy, Argonaut and in particular Mosaic which reflected in the number of builds that rolled out the door.”
The more he worked aligning his customers with their dream rides, ensuring they had the perfect fit, painstakingly sourcing just the right components, the more Steve thought about how to take this approach even further, to curate an even more custom experience. He also began to notice areas where he felt the whole soup to nuts aspect of building to order could be improved. “I naturally found myself continually gravitating toward the build details and becoming more and more involved in the design aspect of each build we did,” Steve notes. “Some builders would view custom fit/geometry differently to others, some had little understanding of it at all. At the same time, I was constantly questioning delivery process from raw material to end rider. Add to that the complexities and additional costs of importing these bikes into Australia and you quickly see that this path is too complex.”
And this is what led to the birth of Sugarloaf. This is the ultimate expression of the bespoke ethos that Steve began exploring when he opened Crankstar. “For me, the build doesn't start with a set of tubes. It starts with the initial consult, fit and BCAD. It is the foundation of a truly custom build. And it should be a part of the process the rider has input on. After all, most customers will form a deep connection with this bike, and that connection should start as early as possible.”
The Sugarloaf process begins with an extensive consult, profiling not just the customer’s physical shape but also their riding style, terrain, and desired handling traits and ride characteristics. The eventual bike is then carefully mapped out, from geometry to carbon fiber choice to component selection, before construction begins. Working entirely with carbon fiber, Steve then begins the build. Custom composite lugs and 3D printed carbon dropouts are mated to specifically selected carbon fiber tubes, allowing for a huge range of ride characteristic options, before each joint is wrapped with a combination of woven and unidirectional carbon fiber, all sourced from suppliers within Australia. Even the 3D printed titanium seat topper is made “relatively locally” in Melbourne.
The end result is a fully custom ride, designed and then built specifically to meet the individual needs of its rider. This is the “tailored suit” approach to bicycle ownership. Building one-offs like this may lack the ultra-high tech sizzle of bleeding edge monocoque construction, but it provides a nuanced and highly personal touch that is becoming increasingly rare in today’s world of molded mass production. Steve wouldn’t want it any other way.