I first saw one of Adam Sklar's bikes at a cyclocross race in Sandpoint, Idaho, in 2014. A friend had just received his new bike from a Montana frame builder and was putting it through its paces for the first time, so a crew of us took turns pedaling it around. The blue-purple faded powder coat, elegantly curved steel tubes, and light weight made it more memorable than just about any 'cross bike I've seen before or since. I'm a sucker for a pretty bike, and that frame was beautiful. My parking lot test proved that it was more than just good looks, and I wanted to know more.
A few races later, I overheard a mutual friend poking fun at a guy on a handmade mountain bike, saying, "Adam can't buy himself a bike, so he made his own."
And that's how I met Adam Sklar.
Adam is a 27-year-old tinkerer from Colorado with a goofy sense of humor and a deep love of the outdoors. What started as a college experiment grew to become Sklar Bikes and earned him a place among the best U.S. handmade frame builders. In 2017, Adam won the 'Best Mountain Bike' award at the North American Handmade Bike Show. Adam has as much tenacity and drive as you'd expect of someone who just decided one day, with no experience, that he was going to build himself a bike.
Sklar Bikes are easily recognizable by their signature swoopy lines, but even though he's defined his style, Adam isn't afraid to experiment with new ideas. All of his bikes are built for adventure, but some stand out as extra special, like this ski approach bike he built for Joey Schusler.
Over the last several years, Adam's building operation has developed from a little experimental project to a full-blown boutique brand. I reached out to learn more about the process.
Who are you? What do you like to do outside of riding and building bikes?
My name is Adam Sklar, and most people know me for the bikes I make for my bicycle brand, Sklar Bikes. For me, bikes are really just another way to be outside. I was lucky to grow up camping, hiking, skiing, climbing and doing all sorts of other outdoor things, but bikes really stuck when I figured out how far I could go and how fun they are to ride down hills. These days, besides riding, I find myself pretty fascinated by design and how things are made. That led me to go to college for mechanical engineering, as well as starting a few fun side projects. As far as outside activities, I have found myself slowing things down a bit the past couple years. I've returned to backcountry skiing after some time off, which is nice living in Bozeman, MT, where our winters last nearly half the year. It is a nice way to get outside, eat some snacks and see pretty things. I also enjoy building furniture and other things. My most recent quarantine hobby has been getting into ham radio with some friends. It's a totally outdated way to stay in contact, but kind of handy in the backcountry sometimes, and you get a sweet call sign.
Why did you start building bikes?
It is hard to remember if there was a particular reason that I started building bikes, but I know that as soon as the idea came to me I couldn't get it out of my brain. I think at first, I couldn't find the bike that I wanted. I suppose it was something on its way to what we are seeing with a lot of the cool metal hardtails out there today - something that was fun enough to pedal all day long and really fun to point down hill after all that work. It is pretty funny to look back at what I was building then, but I suppose that is why it has stuck. You learn so much every time you build a new bike for yourself. It is a lot of fun to get to experiment with geometry, materials and all that goes into a bike.
What was it like to build your first frame? How have the process, feeling, and motivation changed?
Building the first frame was so fun. I couldn't have had less of an idea what I was doing. I had some old outdated books to go off of and a couple of YouTube videos that I dug up. The very first one wasn't even worth putting parts on, but it got me in the door with a local bike builder, who set me on the right track. Going out on the first rideable bike was amazing. That feeling of riding something I made still hasn't gotten old.
I really got hooked on the process of building, testing, refining. Those first frames took weeks or even months to build. I was using a hacksaw and files to cut each tube, and my "frame fixture" was an old window frame. Eventually, I found that I was spending allllll of my money building bikes for myself and my friends. I decided to make an LLC just so that I could keep the bike money separate from life money. I was 20 at the time and really had no intention of making it a legit business, I just wanted to keep making bikes without going broke. I was posting photos of what I was making online, and before long other people started asking for them. I slowly gathered tools and more customers, but when I quit my engineering job to do bikes full time the motivation certainly changed a little. I still get to make things purely for fun pretty often, but running the business and taking care of customers is a whole different animal, especially the custom process is incredibly involved. My designs cater to each customer, so building for me and my friends is certainly a treat these days.
What are you most proud of over the years?
I like to joke that my biggest achievement is converting roadies to mountain bikers through gravel bikes. I have had quite a few customers order a gravel bike and then come back a year or two later for a mountain bike.
It is great to see people excited about my work and the brand as well - maybe meeting someone at an event who saw something I made that inspired a change to their bike, that is always fun. At the end of the day though, I still am just really excited about how bikes can help you to see the world, and anything I've done to get more people out there riding, whether on my bikes or not, feels good.
What are your favorite bikes to build?
I think I am supposed to say something like "the custom bikes that really solve a need" but honestly my favorite bikes to build are the ones for myself. I find something really satisfying in knowing the whole process. A lot of times, with a custom bike, it is easy for customers to ask for the moon, and I don't blame them. When I'm in the shop though, I get to see, "Oh, if I want that chainstay length I have to use this tube and I won't be able to clear this tire" or "I'm going to have to machine this custom part to make this happen - is it worth it?" Whatever it might be, you get to interact with the design and investigate how important each detail is to you. I feel like that is when you come up with the coolest ideas and solutions. It is how I landed on bikes like my non-custom Sweet Spot hardtail mountain bike
and the PBJ "Performance Basket Jammer,"
which is more of a bikepacking/XC all arounder. I also have a gravel bike in the works to round out the non-custom offerings, pretty much all based off of bikes I have built for myself that I feel like strike a nice balance.
What are some of your favorite experiences on bikes you've built?
That is a hard one. Since diving into the bike world, it seems that most of my close friendships and the places I have travelled have all been wrapped up in bikes, and really that is my favorite part of the whole thing. There are so many passionate people in the bike world and getting to see their world through bike rides is so cool. When you go somewhere, people always want to take you on the coolest, hardest ride it seems like, but I also love seeing the quick after-work spots or exploring some townie trails. I love the way bikes can get worked into your life. Some bigger experiences that stick out are my first big bike tour on the Colorado Trail 5 or 6 years back. It was with the crew that first got me into mountain bikes, riding through our home state. That was really special. Last fall I did a great trip through Death Valley as well that my friend John Watson put together. That was a really special trip. Bike touring is fun, you really get it all.
You used to make only custom bikes, right? How has the business shifted as you’ve grown?
That is correct. Custom lends itself well to small scale, and I am still just a one-person shop (with a little help on email from my friend Sasha). A couple years ago I started offering a few models that are "built to order." Customers get to choose their size from three or four options, their color and a build kit. The streamlined process keeps my lead time down (my custom queue has been over a two year wait until recently), as well as the price. The long lead times and heavy price tags are something that have shifted quite a lot as I have grown, and not necessarily in a way that I like. It is a privilege to get to take the time and make bikes that people hold in such high regard, but I am working on some ways to make some more approachable options for other folks as well. For now, anyone can still order a Sweet Spot trail bike or the PBJ bike-packy option with a 4 month or so lead time. I love being self-employed, and I feel lucky to be making bikes I am excited about. I really never could have imagined getting to do this full time back when I started out.
You work with both steel and titanium. What are your thoughts about working with those two different materials?
Steel and Ti are both great materials for a bike frame and they each have their advantages and disadvantages. Titanium is a really cool material. Obviously it has its weight savings and corrosion resistance which are nice, but it can also provide a really nice ride quality. Ti is a springier material than steel and it's pretty fun to be able to push a hardtail through a corner a little more. There's a reason so many steel bikes are still out there too. In a world of plastic bikes it is nice to be building really durable frames that can take a beating, whether steel or Ti.
What about 3D printing? How has that become part of your process?
3D printing gets so much buzz these days, but the truth is that the technology has progressed so much lately and we can make really nice parts at a pretty OK price. It is a great way to make parts that are not even remotely possible with traditional manufacturing techniques and being able to make intricate hollow parts really lends itself to bicycle design. My experience working in product design and engineering has been handy to draw a number of parts that I use on my bikes. It is cool to see what some designers are doing out there with printing, like printing nearly a whole bike. The engineer in me wants to be as efficient as possible, so I combine the printed parts with a lot of tubes and more traditional building techniques, but for things like yokes, brake mounts, fancy cable routing and stuff it can really take a metal bike to the next level and achieve things that are impossible otherwise.
How many bikes do you make each year?
I make about 40 bikes in an average year.
On another note, what's up with Dangle Supply?
It really started as a joke. The period I was learning to weld titanium just happened to coincide with pique bikepacking being cool on the internet times. I was tired of throwing away my welding practice pieces and one night, when a friend and I were making fun of people for dangling their camp mugs from their saddle bags, we came up with the great idea to dangle a bong instead and the DangleBong was born. We didn't think anyone would want to actually want to buy one, but we were mistaken. I welded the first 50 and that was really good practice for my titanium bikes. Lately getting them made overseas has been a nice way to learn that whole supply chain situation. It's a really interesting time to be in the cannabis-adjacent industry. Never thought I would be a successful bongtrepreneur, but here I am.
What hopes do you have for Sklar Bikes in the future?
If I get to keep making things that I am excited about then I will be happy. If those things help get people outside or help them step back and enjoy life a little more then that is even better. I hope in the future I can work on some projects that are more approachable to a wider audience and continue to collaborate with more talented and interesting people.