I recently got in touch with Newmarket, New Hampshire based custom bike frame company Independent Fabrication for an interview to see what makes them tick. Chris Dornbach, their lead frame designer, stepped up to the plate and delivered a home run of an interview (sorry, just got done watching the Cubbies beat the Nats). Learn how Chris and Independent Fabrication tackle custom frame building as well as drool over some of my favorite IF mountain bikes.
How long have you been a frame builder?
Chris: IF Has been around for 20 years as of this year. Happy anniversary! Most of us here have been involved with making custom frames in one aspect or another for around 10-15 years. Personally, I’ve been designing / building for 7. Phil and I are the babies here.
What training have you guys been through to build frames?
Chris: The crew here at IF that are making the frames either started with IF back in the early years and moved there way up or started at Merlin where they did the same thing.
Why did Independent Fabrication decide to start their own handmade bicycle company?
Chris: IF started in the vacuum created when Fat City closed it’s doors. With nothing better to do then to keep on carrying the torch that was passed on from Chris Chance, IF was born. If not for passion alone then out of rebellion!
If you weren’t a frame builder what would you do for an occupation?
Chris: All of us here have had a pretty varied past. Without IF having entered our lives, some might still be building frames under, some might be on tour rocking in the free world, while others might be rivaling Elon Musk with some sort of capitalist adventure. One thing’s for sure though, If anyone of us walked away tomorrow, in one way or another, bikes will be part of our future.
What inspires your frame designs?
Chris: Inspired frame designs 1st come from the client. There are always two distinct geometries. One that is driven by the riders physical needs and the other is driven by the intended use and components that will make the frame. One thing’s for sure though, if the frame doesn’t fit, the client won’t enjoy riding it, and that would be a shame. In one word inspired design comes from “balance”.
What are some of your founding principles you live by for creating bikes?
Chris: Bikes are intended to be ridden. Remove the fluff and gimmicks and design a bike that fits and works perfectly.
What do you feel is most important for clients to understand going into a custom bike frame build?
Chris: At the end of the day we’re working together to build a bicycle. Perhaps one of the best bicycles that can possibly be built but at the end of the day… it’s a bike. Relax and enjoy the ride.
What trends in mountain bikes are you seeing right now? Do you agree with them or not?
Chris: Fatter, fatter, and fatter. Axles, tires, people you name it. I’m in the middle. Some things are for the better and some things are just overkill. Usually the answer lies in the middle. Current trend I like, while I dig the beef look of fat bikes I find myself drawn into the plus size tires that are starting to come into the market. If something works well and fills a need, it speaks to me.
What trail / where do you enjoy riding the most?
Chris: I’ve really been bitten by the gravel thing and NH is a prime location with all of the rural dirt roads we have. After that Fort Rock has always been a place I’ve held dear for it’s mix of technical sections rock gardens. Willowdale State Forest is tops for it’s fast rolling terrain. Lynn Woods for Air! We’re all big fans of Kingdom Trails and Millstone up in VT too. So many great options around us.
Favorite bike you’ve ever built?
Chris: LOTTA as in Whole Lotta Rossie. It’s a 29er Plus Deluxe Phil and I designed. It’s actually his bike. It looks wicked sharp and rides even better than it looks. Snow, mud, roots, or rocks. The added tire volume performs and you don’t have to sacrifice the handling to make the tires work with the frame.
Who do you admire as a frame builder / who would you want to build you a frame?
Chris: Sooo many wonderful builders out there these days. It may sound canned but seriously most of us here would take total pleasure in firing up the mills and getting involved with our own builds. After being in the industry for a while I find the comradery most satisfying. That and a hot new group with a shiny new set of wheels!
If you’re a builder and would like to be interviewed, email me to get in contact.