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Me and my bike: Aaron Stinner

James Spender
15 Nov 2017

Stinner Frameworks is the epitome of US framebuilding cool: born in California, raised in steel and hooked on cycling’s flamboyant side

'When I started I was too scared to build bikes for anyone but my friends, thinking they’d be the only ones dumb enough – I mean happy enough – to ride them,’ says Aaron Stinner.

‘I guess I had a pretty usual pathway into framebuilding. I raced as a junior until I was 18, went to college to do sports medicine, took a break to work in a bike shop as a wrench, and then set up this bike-fitting programme there. That’s where the framebuilding started – I just wanted to find out what made a bike work so I could understand fit and geometry better.’

At the time, Stinner was not the surname Aaron was using. ‘It’s my grandfather’s surname. He had a huge impact on me – made me mechanically minded. I was going through some personal stuff, so I changed my surname when I was really getting into building and it all just clicked. I started Stinner.’

That year, 2012, Stinner took Best New Builder at the North American Handmade Bicycle Show, and hasn’t looked back. Now his adopted surname adorns every down tube on every frame he builds, including this, one of the loudest bikes Cyclist has seen in some time. Well, 26 years and one Team Z to be precise.

‘That’s right,’ chuckles Stinner. ‘This bike is a homage to that Craig Calfee-built bike Greg LeMond rode back in the day. Unlike a lot of people of my generation I came to building from a road racing background, and as a 15-year-old kid those early 90s Tours were my era, so this project made perfect sense.

However, this bike wasn’t just Stinner’s idea. Rather, it was a collaborative effort with Sean Talkington, a designer who was the creative force behind South Pasadena-based clothing brand Team Dream, one of those new outfits market analysts like to throw the word ‘disruptor’ at, but which most cyclists would probably just describe as having fun.

‘Sean’s done loads of amazing designs, including a La Vie Claire kit homage, so there’s that LeMond thing again [LeMond rode on the La Vie Claire team from 1985-87]. The headbadge is the Team Dream’s mascot – the chubby bobcat – and the ‘Cub House’ design is his shop logo. Otherwise we’ve kept it as true to the original as possible. This one is steel, though.’

The original best

It’s odd to think of a retro-inspired bike made using a more traditional material than its inspiration, but that’s exactly what Stinner has done, as the LeMond bike was carbon fibre – the first of its kind (full carbon, not metal lugged)to be ridden at the Tour de France.

‘We do steel, ti and stainless, but when I started it was just fillet brazed or lugged steel. I made the switch to TIG-welded in 2013 and now that’s really all we do as it allows us to be more flexible with materials. So this is True Temper S3 with a Platinum OX top tube, one of the few tubesets left.’

It’s a big point of difference for a lot of US builders that while we Brits are wedded to Reynolds tubesets, and the Italians to Columbus, many US framebuilders go for True Temper
– or at least they used to.

‘We were building a lot in S3, so when Sean found out True Temper was going out of business last year he was like, “We gotta do this bike before S3 runs out!” It builds up to probably the lightest steel frame you can buy, at just over a kilo. The whole bike weighs around 7kg.’

It could have been even lighter. Talkington specced 30mm Challenge Strada Bianca tyres (which Stinner says push the limits of clearance to the point where the front tyre rubs under the brake bridge if it’s inflated past 65psi) and Mavic’s reinvented 32-hole Open Pro rims laced to Chris King hubs.

‘The new Open Pro was the thing that got us jazzed about building this bike, because back when I was racing, the Open Pro was the rim. Not just for training, for everything. This new one is such a great rim, double-eyeleted, 19mm wide, this finish just like the old ceramic coating but with the anodised Exalith coating. It would have been nice to go a touch wider, but that’s very French, y’know: the hesitation. They get 80% of the way and then stop when you’re urging them on!’

Purists will note LeMond’s bike rolled on Campagnolo hoops, but then as Stinner says once more, this isn’t meant to be a replica.

‘It’s funny, as soon as we put the bike on Instagram everyone was like, “It’s like a Fat Chance Yo’ Eddy,” or, “It’s like a Klein.” We’ve got the Campy stuff on here like LeMond had – it’s Super Record, the best – but this was always a homage to an era more than anything else. Hence the tanwalls – they’re definitely back, aren’t they?’

Look around your next club run and you’ll see Stinner’s probably right about the tyres. So here’s hoping he’s right about a return to eye-popping paint too. We can all get jazzed about that.

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