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For the past eleven years the home of Seven Cycles has been in a somewhat non-descript industrial park just outside of Boston, in Watertown, Mass. Inside that 15,000sq.ft. building 35 employees with a collective 250+ years of fabrication and industry experience have built Seven to become the largest exclusively custom frame builders in the world. We sat down with Seven founder, Rob Vandermark and learned how it’s still one bike and one customer at a time.
I am 42 years old. I was born in Warwick, Rhode Island but our family moved to the Boston area when I was really young. I got into bikes as a kid and started working at a bike shop during the summers. Customers were great but I loved being a mechanic and I did that through junior high and high school. That’s also when I started racing crits, a little bit of road but crits were more popular. Every weekend my father drove me all over the place to race.
For as long as could remember I was going to be an artist, that’s what I thought I was supposed to do in life. What I really enjoyed was illustration, I wanted to draw comic books. The stories were cool but I was mostly interested in the art. I thought I already knew everything about illustration, or at least I thought it couldn’t be taught, so when I went to college, first at Mass Art and then at the Boston Museum of Fine Art, I studied sculpture. These schools are on two different ends of the spectrum, Mass Art was all graphics and design and Boston Museum was uber art, true art. I loved working with my hands so sculpture felt right.
When I started Seven Cycles.
During my second year at college I got an opportunity to work at Merlin. They had just started making bikes, and at that point they had made something like only ten or twenty frames. When Merlin showed up on my radar it was perfect, it was the meshing of sculpture, and bikes, which was also about working with my hands, and racing. Merlin had a much stronger mountain bike environment, a lot of those guys came from Fat Chance, so I really got into that. Racing road and crit requires tactics but mountain biking is all up to you, and I liked that. I was there for 10 years until January of 1997, when I left to start Seven.
I used to think that racing and training was the most important component to designing bikes, I think it took me a decade to realize that while it is important, it’s not the single most important thing. That realization is one of the reasons that I backed off of racing. That and I couldn’t work 90 hours a week and race competitively. I also realized that there were so many better things I could to build the company. Seven has great teams of racers who I can work with for feedback and fine-tuning, and in some ways it’s better that way because racing and designing for myself is very different than designing for other people.
Whatever the customer wants.
The experience is whatever the customer wants it to be. At Seven we can execute whatever it is that customer is looking for. Sometimes it’s a very collaborative experience with specific tasks. Other times it’s someone who doesn’t understand the building process at all, they don’t know what to ask or what is even possible. The important thing for Seven is that we work with customers, however they want. There is no preexisting bike for us, we can do anything.
Like when we first started talking to Steve Francisco about building his Rapha Continental bike. At first he really wanted something close to his current bike which he feels fits him very well. But we thought we understood what Rapha was doing with the Continental project so we pushed him because while he liked what he had, he was really very open. So his position and the way the bike will ride really evolved through the process.
Frame design is impacted more by component change and technology rather than tube shapes and new materials. One of the big things I see changing every few years is component interface. Like right now you have BB30 and dual headsets, some of it is marketing driven planned obsolescence which is really frustrating. But some of it is really exciting and changing the way the bike performs.
A much broader thing.
I really loved racing but now I think bikes in general are engaging, whether it’s commuting or designing and building. Bikes have become a much broader thing; about the planet, alternative transportation, fitness and health or even style. One of the things that I love about Seven is that we do such a broad range of bikes. We get criticized about it all the time, but it’s all-good, why wouldn’t we want to build all kinds of bikes.
There’s not a day that I don’t enjoy coming to work. The manufacturing process is fun and our team is great. When it’s all working, the whole process - when a bike is going through and it’s all going well - that’s really cool. And it can always go better. We can always find ways and materials to make it work better.
Epic is a shared thing.
I don’t think I’ve ever done an epic ride alone, ‘epic’ is a shared thing. When I was racing I enjoyed group rides and now I enjoy the solitude of riding alone like when I commute. But I don’t think I’ve ever done an epic ride by myself maybe because I wouldn’t do a 200 mile ride on my own. I get a really strong sense from the Rapha Continental that the rides are about camaraderie and positivity regardless of how bad the weather is or how long the route. You can see that it’s destined to be a good day because you’re with people you like.
For more information visit: sevencycles.com