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Meet the guy who ran away from Wall Street to build bikes

interview spcarbon custom bike builder shawn powell 007

The glossy, organized SPCarbon workshop looks right at home in the financial district.

It is the NYC home of the fresh luxury sport bike brand founded by President Shawn Powell. The company recently made a bike for Red Bull Racing Eyewear, and Powell just launched Blueprint bikes, beautiful planned builds conceived in the SPCarbon design house.

Powell’s passion is evident the moment he starts talking bikes. A lifelong cyclist who rode in the 1992 UCI World Championships, Powell made the move from the finance industry to creating “rolling works of art” a few years ago.

“I would lose sleep at night because I was like, what am I really doing? Everything [in finance] was sort of imaginary.”  Powell told DT, “I like making something that’s real, that blends my passion for art and my passion for cycling.” He started as a mountain biker, but now he commutes to the SPCarbon showroom on a custom race bike with the company colors in iridium-coated paint.

Red Bull Racing Eyewear noted this artistry and approached SPCarbon prior to the Vision Expo with a unique demo plan. Red Bull had people try on frames in front of a green screen and get their picture taken. The key was visitors got to do it sitting on a full carbon Red Bull bike, made by SPCarbon, which has Red Bull glasses available via its website as well.

But Red Bull Eyewear is just one of the brands SPCarbon has worked with so far. The company is also in the midst of prepping bikes for Galore fashion group, for instance. They also work with several bike teams and organizations like Asphalt Green’s triathlon team and New York Cycle Club.

“That’s the customer that comes to see us. They have an idea of what they want.”

This weekend, May 13 and 14, SPCarbon will take a few of its works of rolling art to the NYC Bike Expo in preparation for the 5,000-cyclist-strong Grand Fondo. This year marks SPCarbon’s fifth participating in the Expo.

Gran Fondos are challenging in general, and this one — 100 miles from Manhattan to Bear Mountain and back with about 8,000 feet of climbing  — is no joke. You want the right ride for a trip like that. The SPCarbon rider can expect sky’s the limit quality and attention to detail on a custom build. Blueprint rides offer the same quality without the crazy custom color schemes and super-high-end components like Shimano Di2.

Powell explained, “I like to say we’re everyone’s second bike.” The joke is you are allowed (N +1) number of bikes, where N is the number of bikes you currently own. “Like, you buy the cheap bike at the bike store, and then it goes two ways: you either love the sport, or you’re not really into it. If you love the sport, then you get annoyed because your friends are flying past you. That’s the customer that comes to see us. They have an idea of what they want.”

And what they don’t want is something a thousand other people have. “The worst thing in the world is to go to Central Park and see 10 of your bike circling around,” Powell said.

No one wants to wear the same shirt as the other guy.

One woman in particular had a unique design in mind, a hybrid with grip shifts. For those just getting into biking, a carbon hybrid with grip shifts is a little outside the norm — flat bars usually have a trigger shifting mechanism you flick with your thumb instead of one where you twist the grips to shift gears. But SPCarbon made her requests reality. It was for her 50th birthday.

“It was her first new bike in like 25 years,” Powell said. “It was supposed to be a 105 build but we ended up doing a whole SRAM Rival build with 11-speed mountain bike shifters (grip shifts), so it was like a mountain bike front clipped to a road bike rear.”

Powell noted one of the other brilliant creators behind the scenes at SPCarbon is about the same height as the client, so they were able to size the bike to fit before it left the workshop. The client picked it up directly from the company, at a show close to her home.

He enjoyed getting to see his art in motion. “She jumped on and she was flying around and, just for a moment, she was a kid again … We don’t normally see that.” Nor do customers at the average bike shop normally get that kind of service.

Even better — riders can bring their bikes to SPCarbon’s NYC financial district workshop for specialized maintenance service. With bikes and bike gear growing increasingly technical, being able to literally return to the manufacturer for maintenance is a rare and precious gift. It means avoiding the hunt for a qualified “mechanic,” or rather a technician with the skills to service your new cutting-edge gem.

For instance, some SPCarbon rides use the newest wireless shifting group, which not every mechanic knows how to service. “Di2 has become so reliable, especially now with the Ultegra version … they run for 3,000 miles between recharges. But now we’re on to completely wireless shifting using SRAM eTAP.” ETap is SRAM’s top-of-the-line, newly released Bluetooth shifting system, a competitor for the Shimano Di2 wireless shifting system, which has been around a little longer. The eTap battery packs sit right on the derailleur gears (instead of hiding in the seatpost and cabling to the derailleurs as with Di2).

Of course, SPCarbon is already thinking about the next steps with eTAP. Powell pointed out that now all we need are brakes without cables, so “frames won’t need holes in them anymore,” another indicator of forward-thinking that makes SPCarbon a company to watch.

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Aliya Barnwell
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Aliya Tyus-Barnwell is a writer, cyclist and gamer with an interest in technology. Also a fantasy fan, she's had fiction…
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