By Dan Pugatch
There must be something strange in the tap water from the Quabbin Reservoir that makes the Boston area home to almost a dozen custom bicycle builders. Many have heard of Geekhouse Bikes, Seven Cycles, or Dutch Bike Co., but the Boston Cyclist Union recently spent an evening getting to know the new kid on the block: Royal H Cycles. The man behind the torch is Bryan Hollingsworth, a Pennsylvania transplant who has taken up shop in the same building in Somerville once occupied by the now defunct Merlin Cycles.
At first he did not know he wanted to be a bicycle builder, said Hollingsworth. He was just between engineering jobs that were making him a bit sleepy when one of his friends asked him to drive to the West Coast. Hollingsworth decided to drive them out there, but while passing through the mountains along the way, his car was totaled, sparking a few major life decisions—going vegan and taking the tig welding and brazing classes at the United Bicycle Institute in Portland. After completing his courses and returning to Boston, Hollingsworth landed a job at Seven Cycles, starting off as a finisher, doing all the post welding work such as cleaning, prepping and decals. Still working the day shift at Seven Cycles today, he is head of the Carbon frame department making some of the sweetest and lightest bicycles on the market.
On the side Hollingsworth built frames for friends and family, having used the insurance money from the car crash in Oregon to buy his frame jig. Laughing about it, he said the insurance check was dollar to dollar the same price as the expensive but necessary jig, you just can’t build bicycles without one. In 2009, he officially launched Royal H to the public.
With the ultra lightweight Carbon Fiber bicycles he constructs for Seven Cycles being all the rage in the racing scene, you may wonder why Hollingsworth decided to stick to classic steel frames for Royal H. He cites the simple elegance of the process involved—he can work with hand tools instead of machines and that really appeals to him. He can push the material structurally and aerodynamically.
“I physically put my energy into making this,” he says with passion in his eyes like a painter starring at their masterpiece in a museum.
He attributes his desire to make bicycles that are not just utilitarian but also artful to his grandfather, a furniture maker, “making a bicycle is similar, it is all about craftsmanship,” he said.
Hollingsworth’s attitude toward bike building recalls the quote by Grant Peteresen, a bicycle designer for the now defunct Bridgestone Bicycles: “Think of bicycles as rideable art that just about save the world.”
His favorite bicycle of all time is a hand me down from his mother, a Raleigh Super Grand Prix 10 speed with bar end shifters that was too small for him.
As a new builder, Hollingsworth says he is excited to innovate. In fact only two Royal H Bicycles in existence are the same. Whether its a lightweight road racer, S&S coupler touring bike designed to come apart and fit in a suitcase, or a heavy duty commuting tank with racks for carrying a keg to the next party; he says your dream bicycle can be yours in only 2-4 short months.
Favorite music to listen to while making bicycles?
“Anything metal, especially Sleep or Ohm.”
Favorite bike ride?
A ride in the Berkshires for his dad’s 50th birthday: “It was Fourth of July weekend and we rode every day for a week it was the perfect time to spend with family and friends, and felt like an inspirational movie.”
Favorite place in Boston to ride a bike?
“Woburn through Winchester via Route 38 or anywhere in the Fens.”
Favorite custom bicycles?
Bishop Bikes; Baltimore, Maryland. “They use vintage tube sets and are very creative.”
If not building bicycles what would you do?
“Work for a small mechanical engineering firm that allows everyone to participate creatively making medical devices.”
If you were a bicycle part which would you be?
“A crank arm, its the first part of a bicycle I always notice.”