7mesh lies at the heart of the Sea-to-Sky Corridor, stretching from Horseshoe Bay near Vancouver through Squamish, Whistler, and into the Pemberton Valley beyond. Though the character of each community varies, they share exposure to the beautiful geography and geology of the region and the expansive Canadian wilderness beyond. The unusual Coastal/Mountain character of the Sea-to-Sky has attracted an amazing collection of craftsmen and creators who are defining their own niches in their chosen professions. “CORRIDOR” showcases the creativity and artisanship of the men & women that inspire us.
Mike Truelove has been welding mountain bike frames for close to 25 years, creating cyclists’ dreams for some of Canada’s most well-known brands, as well as producing frames bearing his own name. We visited his backyard machine shop in Squamish where he was hard at work on Chromag Bikes’ latest creation.
We felt a bit like pioneers. People were pushing the envelope on bikes and we were trying to make bikes of a good enough quality to handle it.
When did you start mountain biking? Road biking?
In 1978. I was one of the few kids who actually rode a bike to school (my brothers 10 speed). I didn’t get on a mountain bike until 1983, it was love at first sight. The next year I was working in a bike shop that sold high end Italian road bikes. Some of the guys who worked there were road racers. I would go on the Sunday training rides. That was the first time I bonked!
What drew you to welding?
Mountain bike racing. I got to know Paul Brodie from the the local races and he hired me as a helper. It was a while before I actually got to wield a torch. Learning to braze was awesome. The flame, the molten brass. I was also drawn to the precision and intricacy of the whole process.
And from that how did you decide to get into building frames?
After moving to Squamish I had space for a shop. Spot Brand bikes needed someone to build their frames. It was a great opportunity.
Besides your own frames, which brands have you built frames for?
I built for Brodie and Rocky Mountain and Syncros (stems) in their factories. In my shop I’ve made frames for Chromag , Calgary Cycles, Kissing Crows Cyclery, Mighty Riders, Lumberjack, Crema Cycles (Germany).
You’ve been building frames for a long time. What has changed? Is the approach to building a full suspension frame different than a hardtail?
I only build hard tails, but things have changed a bit. Forks are longer. Tires are fatter. Nobody uses cantilever brakes any more. Headsets are bigger. Bottom brackets are wider. Seat post sizes have changed. Don’t get me started on wheel sizes!
So, from a builders perspective, the details have changed, but the overall process is pretty much the same.
What was it like to be building bikes when Mountain biking was in it’s infancy?
It was great. There was a lot going on in the industry in Vancouver . Everyone knew everyone else. if you saw someone on a bike, chances are you knew them. Light weight steel frames were state of the art, we sponsored racers. The races were big social occasions , Brodie and DeKerf threw some wicked parties in the frame shops. We felt a bit like pioneers. People were pushing the envelope on bikes and we were trying to make bikes of a good enough quality to handle it. It was a new sport. I got to see it when it was fringe, quirky, it was kind of a counter culture. It was reflected in the hairstyles, clothing, choice of music.
Every metal has its own characteristics. The real thrill is in learning how to work it. If you can do that , they’re all good.
What’s your favourite metal to work with and why?
I love steel. chromoly or something similar, for bike frames. Tough , versatile, resilient. I like welding aluminum, but I don’t want an aluminum bike. I’ve worked with stainless steel quite a bit. Love welding it, never made a frame out of it. Fillet brazing involves melting brass, which is fun, but it’s a lot of work to file it smooth. I also use silver to ‘braze’ on cable guides, it’s like brass, just runnier. Every metal has its own characteristics. The real thrill is in learning how to work it. If you can do that , they’re all good.
Is there a frame you haven’t built yet that you would like to?
Maybe a cargo bike
What’s your favourite trail to ride, and why?
I like the easy trails around Squamish, Entrails is probably the steepest trail that I’m comfortable with. Comfortably Numb in Whistler does have a special place in my heart. It’s long, technical and feels remote.
Does it help to have the network of Squamish trails at your doorstep?
Does that influence what you make?
It shouldn’t. I try to meet the needs of the customer first and foremost. As a mountain biker , I can appreciate a sturdy frame. I will generally choose strength over light weight if I can.
What’s the greatest aspect of the Squamish cycling community?
It’s amazing. The trails, SORCA, the Twoonie races, the bike shop rides, the after parties. It’s created a bike culture here that not only spans across socioeconomic levels and different disciplines but age categories too. There are so many ways to participate in bike related activities here, it really brings the community together.
Where’s the best riding you’ve done on a road trip?
Well outside of Whistler/ Squamish/ North shore, I haven’t been many places. The Sunshine Coast is nice. Kamloops/Kelowna /Penticton is good. Of course, the island. Moab is interesting, kind of the exact opposite terrain from Squamish. I did a trip in Baja, the miles were long and hard, but the locals were friendly.
What frame have you built that you’re most proud of?
Tough question. There have been literally thousands so it’s hard to pick just one. Some of the first ones I made for myself maybe. I get a charge out of seeing a frame I’ve built actually being ridden. Most of them leave the shop unpainted and anonymous, so to see them actually in use is great.
What’s the biggest mistake you’ve made in building a frame?
Your kidding right?
If you could add one capability to your shop, what would it be?
Space! I need more space.
You’re not welding as many bike frames now? what are you focused more on these days?
I’ve been upgrading my welding certification.This has involved some school and some testing. Also learning how to weld big, industrial things. It’s quite demanding. I feel like the more i know, the more i don’t know. I have been lucky to work with some really talented welders, and I have a long way to go to even compare with them. So I’m learning new things, taking on new challenges.
Do you see yourself getting back into it more?
Well I’m astonished that I’m still welding steel hard tails after 25 years. I never would have guessed that. So I don’t want to make any rash predictions. I think I’ll always build bikes, but I enjoy the variety of welding other stuff too.