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February 20, 2024 5 min read

In the realm where passion intersects with precision, Ellis Cycles stands as a beacon of artisanal excellence in the world of frame building. We have the privilege of delving into the extraordinary journey of the mastermind behind Ellis Cycles, David Wages, whose craftsmanship has garnered acclaim and admiration across the cycling community. From humble beginnings in the shipping department to becoming a revered artisan, our guest's story is one of dedication, innovation, and a profound love for the art of crafting bicycles. Join us as we uncover the inspirations, challenges, and triumphs that have shaped this remarkable career.


How long have you been building frames and what inspired you to start?

I began building frames approximately 25 years ago during my time at Serotta Cycles in Upstate New York. Initially employed in the shipping department, my journey into frame building was sparked during an evening when one of our experienced frame builders gave me a rudimentary lesson on torch usage and basic fillet brazing techniques. Intrigued by the artistry and precision involved, I devoted numerous evenings after work to honing my skills and mastering the craft. This initial encounter ignited a passion within me, propelling me on a journey of continuous learning and refinement in the realm of frame building.

Can you briefly describe your frame building process? 

My frame building process is meticulously tailored to ensure the utmost satisfaction for my customers. While the physical construction of the frame is undoubtedly crucial, I prioritize thorough consultations with my clients as the cornerstone of my approach. Before any tubing is cut or torch is ignited, I engage in extensive conversations with my customers to ascertain their unique needs and preferences. This personalized consultation allows me to craft a bespoke bicycle that perfectly aligns with their desires and requirements. By meticulously attending to every detail from the outset, I guarantee that the final product surpasses expectations, resulting in a truly exceptional riding experience for my valued clients.

Are there any unique or signature techniques you incorporate into your frames?

At my workshop, I take pride in integrating distinctive and signature techniques into my frame designs. One notable example is my proprietary dropouts, which I personally designed during the inception of my career. These innovative dropouts not only enhance the structural integrity of the frame but also add a touch of uniqueness to each build. Additionally, my renowned "Modern Classic" model embodies my commitment to seamlessly blending vintage aesthetics with contemporary materials and components. 


Are there any notable or memorable builds you’ve worked on that stand out? 

Among the many remarkable builds I've had the privilege to work on, one that holds a special place in my heart is the creation of the first Modern Classic model. This particular bicycle holds a significant distinction, having been awarded "Best Lugged Bicycle" at the 2009 North American Handmade Bicycle Show (NAHBS). What makes this build even more meaningful is that it belongs to my brother, Steve, who played a pivotal role in igniting my passion for cycling during our formative years.


What are some of the challenges you face as a frame builder? 

As artisans, we possess unique strengths and weaknesses that shape our approach to crafting exquisite frames. Beyond the workshop, however, lies a realm of responsibilities encompassing marketing, bookkeeping, and business management. While my passion for building, riding, and conversing about Ellis Cycles knows no bounds, I recognize the vital importance of attending to the day-to-day operations and promotional endeavors essential for sustaining and growing my business. Striking this equilibrium between creative craftsmanship and pragmatic business acumen is a perpetual challenge, yet one that underscores the dynamic nature of the frame building profession.


What are the most rewarding aspects of your work?

One of the most fulfilling aspects of my craft is the opportunity to engage with satisfied customers who are enjoying their Ellis bikes to the fullest. There's nothing quite like witnessing the joy and satisfaction on their faces as they share their riding experiences. Additionally, personally partaking in cycling adventures alongside my wife, Deborah, brings me immense satisfaction and reinforces the profound connection between my passion and my livelihood. 


Is there a specific frame design or model you’re especially proud of?

Among my repertoire of frame designs, the Strada Fango holds a special significance, epitomizing my dedication to gravel riding since the inception of Ellis Cycles. Debuting at the 2013 NAHBS in Denver, this model, inspired by the rugged terrain of Northwest Wisconsin's gravel events, showcased not only my craftsmanship but also my personal passion for the sport. Its versatility and performance were unparalleled, featuring 29x2.0" tires and a modified Di2 wide-range drivetrain. Over the years, I've refined the design to meet the evolving demands of gravel riding, culminating in the latest iteration optimized for bikepacking adventures, equipped with 29x2.6" tires, a SRAM Transmission mullet setup, and strategically placed mounts for gear storage. As gravel riding gains traction in the cycling world, the Strada Fango remains a testament to innovation and adaptability, offering cyclists an unparalleled blend of functionality and adventure.

What are your goals or aspirations for the future of your brand? 

My main goal is to amplify awareness surrounding my distinctive and meticulously crafted steel bikes. Events like the North American Handmade Bicycle Show (NAHBS), the Philly Bike Expo, and others provide invaluable opportunities for enthusiasts to witness my bikes firsthand, allowing them to grasp the intricacies and nuances of my designs. It's immensely gratifying when visitors to my booth return with friends, eager to share their newfound admiration for my bikes and uncover even more hidden details. 

Are there any new technologies or trends in frame building that excite you?

As a frame builder, I find the convergence of technologies and trends across various cycling disciplines incredibly fascinating. The blending of innovations from mountain biking, gravel riding, and bikepacking has sparked a wave of creativity and experimentation within the industry. Personally, I'm excited by the challenge of discerning and integrating the most valuable elements from each genre into my frame designs. This process of cross-pollination not only pushes the boundaries of traditional frame building but also allows me to create bicycles that excel in diverse riding environments. 


Is there anything else you’d like to share about your brand or your journey as a frame builder?

Reflecting on my journey as a frame builder, I'm continually reminded of the incredible individuals I've had the privilege to meet and collaborate with along the way. One particularly cherished memory is from the 2010 North American Handmade Bicycle Show (NAHBS), where I was honored to receive the prestigious "Best in Show" award. While the recognition itself was undoubtedly a highlight, what made it truly special was witnessing the sheer joy and enthusiasm of the bike's owner, who happened to be present at the show. 


As our conversation draws to a close, it's evident that behind every meticulously crafted frame at Ellis Cycles lies not just skill and precision, but a deep-rooted passion for cycling and a commitment to excellence. From the award-winning Modern Classic to the versatile Strada Fango, each bicycle is a testament of David’s creativity, innovation, and dedication. As he continues to push the boundaries of frame building, embracing emerging technologies and trends while staying true to their artisanal roots, the future of Ellis Cycles shines bright. 


Want to connect with David? 


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