A few weeks ago we caught up with Chris McGovern of McGovern Cycles as he prepares for NAHBS. In our conversation, we asked Chris who he was looking forward to seeing during the show this year, and his answer was Peter Olivetti. Olivetti Bicycles is located in the mountains of Boulder, Colorado. Peter left his job as a full-time photographer in Northern California to pursue his current career as a full-time frame builder and exchange one passion for another. With the Rocky Mountains as his playground and testing field, Olivetti is building bikes meant for big days and good times. We are excited to catch up with Peter as he is putting the finishing touches on his builds for this year’s show in Hartford.
When we talked to Chris McGovern he mentioned you as one of the builders he was looking forward to seeing this year in Hartford. How did you and Chris meet?
Chris and I met at Pro Peloton hosted by Aaron at Mosaic. Chris was taking over a spot at Donnelly/Clemente while his predecessor was headed over to WTB. We just kind of introduced ourselves to each other, at which point I realized I was talking to Chris from McGovern Cycles…So cool! I had been following Chris for a while on Instagram and dug his builds and his support of the cycling community with events like Lost and Found, as well as his support and work in the CX world. We also had a lot of mutual friends from when I was out in Northern California.
Do you feel pressure when another builder picks you out of the group to build something special?
Yeah, I think there is a little bit of pressure. I mean, Chris has worked in basically every material and done amazing work with each material. So, when you get a really established builder pointing a finger at you going, “Yeah I think that dude will do something interesting,” I was a bit like, “Oh, Shit! Alright, lets make sure this thing is interesting.”
Fortunately, I already had my design done when you let me know he mentioned me, so at this point I can’t stress too much about it. It’s a real honor to have someone like Chris mention me, I just hope it’s not more credit than I am due. Ha!
Above: The Thunder Pig. “This bike is my attempt at making a bike that just looks fun to ride. It definitely is influenced by all the bendy folks out there, especially the builders that are trying to bring a kind of throwback look. But really a 29+ (optimized for about a 2.6-2.8 ish but can just clear a 3.0). I wanted to see how much of the bendiness I could do in house. I was able to get all the tubes except James at Black Sheep helped me with the chainstays. I learned a ton about where stuff needs to land to make everything fit right for plus bikes if you are going to bend that stuff yourself. It was also my first fork build. Whit Johnson from Meriweather was super helpful in walking me through it. Scott from Porcelain Rocket made the custom tank bag for me, and again Jay from Angry Bovine helped me with the Thunder Pig logo and overall colorway and visual design.”
How long have you been building and what made you decide to pursue this craft?
Well, I have only really been building full-time (which I think is an important distinction) for just shy of 2 years. I built my first bike at UBI, I think in 2001 or 2002 when I took the Ti class with Kish and DeSalvo. But yeah, essentially 2 years, I am just starting bike number 15 now.
The decision to work towards being a frame builder is probably a rather long story. But in an effort to keep it on the shorter side and be a bit more pointed, I would say my story is probably less glorified than the mythological (in my mind) passion-driven “need” to build. To some extent, I wanted to bring what I love about bikes to other people. The amazing rides, the high fives, laughs, crashes… all the stuff that makes riding so great. Also, all the work I have done has had a component of making a finished product. That said, I also come from a bit of self-taught business operations background. I had my own photography business in San Francisco for a bit over 10 years (I was one of the last full-fledged film studios, and only brought on digital when I knew it could match what I was printing on paper in the darkroom). On either side of that business, I helped people run their bike businesses. I put a lot of emphasis on building systems for them to be profitable and to be a mainstay in their communities. In that sense, I didn’t come into this blind as strictly passion project. I think that is dangerous for anyone and an easy way to lose a lot of money and time. I have a wife, a kid, a house, you know regular real life shit I have to be conscious of. It was a lot of thinking, planning, and understanding that there are some goals that have to be hit.
So to sum up, yeah I did get into frame building because I wanted to pursue something and most of that stemmed from my history riding bikes and having a great time doing it. But I also know that if you are smart about it you can carve out your piece of the market and make a life and viable business out of it.
How does living in Boulder influence the way you build bikes?
That’s a pretty interesting question. I really starting riding mountain bikes seriously out here when I was in college at CU, then I moved to Marin County, California for almost 14 years where I rode a ton. I really really got into it, and did a fair bit of racing and met a ton of people that have a long history in bikes. About 3 years ago, my family and I moved back Boulder. So, I’d say Marin influences me just as much as Boulder. There are a lot of similarities between Marin and Boulder, but I think in terms of bike designs I kind of end up with a cross-pollination. From a personal standpoint, I have a bit of a XC background but also really like to challenge myself on technical riding, so again kind of a mix.
A good example is when I moved back out to Colorado, I was riding some local trails that aren’t crazy techy but rocky nonetheless. I could ride them well and fast, but was thinking, “Dang! I am getting the crap kicked out of me.” The bike I was riding was pretty turbo XC with 100 mm Float 32 on it. So I decided I needed my own version of a “trail” hardtail. It ended up being a mix of the things I liked about being able to move the bike around quickly when I was riding in the woods in Marin but also took the edge off when doing high-speed wide bumpy trail that I find more common around here.
I even think on road and gravel, I kind of use a mix. The last gravel bike I sent to Marin for a client, I put a dropper on it. People were like, “When would he ever use that?” In Marin, most of the time you would use your gravel bike would be hitting a fire road that is pretty boring on your mountain bike. On your 700c bike though, they are kind of entertaining, and you could probably get a little rowdy if you passed a trail you wanted to poach real quick, or even just going really fast down a fire road it’s nice to get low. Again, Boulder is similar but different. Unless someone asked for it, I probably wouldn’t do a dropper on a 700c bike here. 90% of the time we are actually riding real gravel country roads, so a “true” gravel bike design is great for out here.
Is there a secret society of Colorado framebuilder’s clubhouse? If so, who gets to design the headbadge?
Ha! There are definitely places were the bike folks end up meeting for beers, but I think a clubhouse is a pretty great idea! I definitely feel there is kind of a secret handshake of sorts, but I think that it is really more of a builder to builder thing and has more to do with folks knowing you have skin in the game and not just fucking around.
There is definitely a good community of builders out here. Burnsey (Oddity) currently has a solid regular clubhouse meet up. I still haven’t made it up there for his gig, but am planning to once Nahbs is wrapped up. But more to the community point, with all the history here there are a bunch of styles. The FOCO crowd doing all these wild fun bendy designs, Aaron and Mosaic making super clean purpose/performance driven bikes, Chris at Reeb doing all sorts of things. I hung out with Mark Nobilette for a good year when I got out here and he does all sorts of Rando and classic 700c stuff, then you have Guerilla, Lenz, and Alchemy pushing some really great suspension bikes. I am definitely forgetting a ton, but the point is to try to think of a symbol (headbadge) for the clubhouse would be tough, just such a diverse group of builders. My vote anyway would be to have Jay at Angry Bovine design it and have Jen Green make it. But I’m partial that way.
Above: Justin’s Dirt Kan. This bike was my first attempt at doing a custom lugged bilam construction on a bike. Having spent a good deal of time watching Mark Nobilette build bikes, I wanted to give it a shot and Justin was really wanting a unique lugged bike for a gravel bike to ride Dirty Kanza. So I tweaked my Gravel Traveler design (my standard gravel bike) to be more suited to a super long super hard gravel riding style. Basically, it’s a bit longer wheelbase, slightly more BB drop and a taller head tube than my usual design. In that sense, it became a stock design since more and more people are doing these super long endurance rides. Anyway, the lugs are meant to be a Nervex throwback design. I made the head lugs completely from raw tubing. The seat lug and BB are modified Richard Sachs Sax Max lugs. On the seat tube, I wanted the points to be a little longer since the Sachs ones are kind of short, so I clipped off the noses and brazed on longer pointier ones.
When you’re working in the shop is there music and what have you been listening to lately?
I am all over the place. I listen to a lot of podcasts. S-town was amazing, but I also listen to stuff like The Build Cycle, American Bike, How I Built This, 99% Invisible, entrepreneurial stuff and/or designs stuff. Music-wise, things just go in rotation, I guess. Last week was a pretty long pull of Built to Spill. I really like to look up live shows of bands on Youtube and have them run in the background. There is a pretty good The National show from Sydney that I have listened to a couple times. I guess it ends up being mood dependent. I listened to some old Tribe stuff a few frames ago when I was welding and I swear my welds looked better.
What do you feel makes the perfect mountain bike?
Whew! There are so many variables there. I think the main things are what you like to ride and how you like to ride. There are other things obviously, but those two dictate a ton. A bike that can take you where you want to go and do what you want it to do is really what makes it ideal. Perfect is such an impossible benchmark. Like the quiver killer. There is always going to be some situation that is not ideal for what you are doing. A good personal example of that was when my friends and I used to race Downieville, I pretty much only had hardtails (I’ve had squishy bikes but always fall back on the hardtail) and I wasn’t going to buy a full suspension bike for the 5 days a year I ride/race Downieville or went up to Tahoe. So rather than make it easier, we just made way harder and would race it single speed. If it wasn’t going to be ideal on a hardtail, at least make it way simpler. I don’t know actually if that was a great “example.” but whatever. Point being, the bike designed for what you do 95% of the time, that fits right, and has parts on it that do what you need them to do is really about as perfect as it gets. Smiles per mile really.
Any current building trends you would like to see go away or any that you really like?
I really would like to see companies stop pushing totally specific designs that are probably not even a new idea and saying it’s the next big thing. Fatbikes blew up in the mainstream companies’ faces. Or how many people need a “Tour Divide” bike. Which, when you boil it down, is a 29r with old school XC geo and drop bars. Also, the quiver killer is a unicorn if you are a bike dork. Folks that know the term “quiver killer” are probably deep enough into biking that they have a quiver to cover their bases, and probably don’t want to kill their quiver anyway. So I guess blatantly-marketing-driven design would be what irks me the most. Some people also complain about standards, some of which are great some of which are meh, but that stuff is just a function of building bikes, and hopefully, you can keep an eye on the ones that will be in it for the long haul, and try not to adopt the ones that are bunk. The tough part is, going back to the above, a lot of companies try to drive what you “need” and not necessarily what is best or best practice. And probably lastly is getting stuff too “bedazzled.” I like pretty bikes for sure, but (I should probably whisper this) wrapping your frame in snakeskin if pretty fucked. Drifting too far away from the fact that a bike is a utilitarian tool for transportation gets a little ridiculous. Make it look nice if you want, but really going over the top is a bit nutty. Granted, I braze old silver coins on lots of my bikes so who am I to say.
What style bike are you building the most of these days?
Like your earlier question about Boulder’s influence, I am pretty deep into the gravel stuff these days. Some variant of that anyway. It’s cool with me though. These bikes are a great way to get out there and grab that low hanging fruit while having a great time as well. They are super good for exploring too.
Anyone’s work you are looking forward to seeing this year in Hartford?
Sure! Well just to bounce it back to Chris, I know he has been working on some new designs/refinements so I am looking forward to checking that out. Brian Chapman really scratches my classic bike itch. His construction is so meticulous and he does his own super clean paint. Carl from Vicious was probably one of the first builders I kind of followed before there was Instagram and Facebook so I am glad he will be there. Sklar is bringing a 2-speed kickback bike that I am really fired up to check out, just because it kind of strikes the right chords for me, but he’s also just a flat-out good builder. James and the FOCO crew for sure. But I suppose I should stop because I could probably think of something from everyone.
Be sure to look for both us and Olivetti Bicycles at the NAHBS show in Hartford, Connecticut this weekend!