Custom Frame Maker MSH1 Bicycle Works Turns Profit By Staying Small

The Hartford Courant

It takes weeks for Matt Klucha to produce a single, hand-built bicycle frame in the converted garage that doubles as his workshop and studio.

"I can build one frame every three weeks — if I have a really big backlog. But I don't like to work at that pace," said Klucha, owner of MSH1 Bicycle Works, whose custom designed, hand-built road and racing bicycles sell for $5,000 or more.

Klucha's low-volume, low-overhead approach means using a hacksaw to cut the chromoly tubing that will form the frame and cutting the threads with a special hand tool instead of using a lathe.

"It requires more endurance than strength. I just turn on some good music and go at it," said Klucha, a mechanical engineer who spent 11 years designing jet engine components for Pratt & Whitney. In his spare time, he built bicycle frames and saved his money with the eventual goal of starting his own business.

"Sitting at a desk for eight to 10 hours a day was driving me stir crazy," said Klucha, glancing at a computer monitor streaming live video from the Tour de France.

He quit his job three years ago and launched MSH1 with $25,000 in savings. The initials stand for Matt's Superb Hand-builts. Before chucking his paycheck, though, he plotted the potential pitfalls: "If you have something passionate you want to pursue ... go with it," Klucha said. "but the ideal is to see the potential catastrophe coming, and plan for the worst."

From the start, Klucha's plan was to create a sustainable, one-person business with a small carbon footprint.

"I did look at renting a property off-site and investing in large machinery, but that wasn't the business model I wanted to pursue," he said.

His business plan proved its merit this past year when demand for luxury items, including hand-built bicycle frames, shifted into low gear. Several hand-built bicycle builders that invested in expensive milling equipment or took on too much debt went out of business, Klucha said.

"I'm profitable because I've stayed small," said Klucha, who would not disclose details about the privately owned business.

Klucha has no plans to add employees or machines. Not only are those additions costly, but they don't fit his philosophy, which is "the more machinery a builder uses, the more detached he becomes from the frame."

"Many builders who say they make hand-built frames actually use a significant amount of machinery. I've never built a frame with any machinery. It's always been with simple hand tools,". said Klucha, 38, as he stood inside his small but pristine workshop.

Klucha's craftsmanship recently impressed Carl Schultz of Colchester. Schultz, 51, took possession of a hand-built MSH1 road bike three weeks ago. After a series of short rides, the retired state police officer took it for a 30-mile ride on Sunday.

"I had no soreness the next day," Schultz said. "Up to this point I've only owned department store bikes. Riding this bike is like going to an elite vehicle. It's set up more ergonomically. It fits like a glove."

Schultz, a marathon runner, wanted to add cycling to his routine. He found MSH1 as part of an Internet search.

At Schultz' first fitting, Klucha took a series of measurements: including his arm length, inseam, and the ratio of his leg length to his body length, then quizzed him about physical fitness and the type of riding he planned to do.

"I spent a whole year designing my product, testing my frames and tearing them apart — because of the training I had at Pratt & Whitney," Klucha said.

This spring, Klucha exhibited his frames at the European Handmade Bicycle Exposition in Stuttgart, Germany, where he met Neil Hassan, a Glasgow-based bicycle manufacturing consultant and a former bike frame builder. Hassan took home one of Klucha's hand-built frames.

"If you were to strip the paint off half-a-dozen frames and put them in a line-up, Matt's frame would stand out. It's because he pays attention to the finer details; how he shapes his lugs and fittings, the fine lines at the tube junctions," Neil Hassan wrote in an e-mail. "I've ridden super light, carbon race bikes just like those being ridden by Tour De France teams. I've ridden prototypes of exotic alloy-tubed frames... All are nice to look at and all would no doubt impress the 'weight weenies' and 'Lance fans'. But none of them can compare to the bike built with the frame Matt made for me. In short, he 'Gets It,'"

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