Aaron Stinner's Mettle

Photography: Matthew Miller

Get ready to learn about the people of Stinner Frameworks. Their craft is what drives them, their connection with riding shapes what they create. This is the first part of an interview with founder Aaron Stinner.

Aaron’s life has always been surrounded by bikes, so it only seemed natural that Stinner Frameworks be born. What started out as a part-time passion project has since turned into a full-time obsession. To Aaron, bikes represent an overall lifestyle and sense of freedom that he would love to share with as many people as possible. Aaron strives to bring back American craftsmanship, one build at a time.

Interviewer: My first question is a little bit more of a softball, a little lead in question for you. You talked about some of this earlier but looking forward to hearing your answer on this one. What is it that you love about bike culture that drew you to it, from your earliest memories up until now? What is it about bikes?

Aaron: A little bit we just touched on before we started here. When I was younger, I grew up in a great family. There were a few rough things with parents here and there so bikes were definitely an escape for me. I grew up in Santa Rosa. Our house backed up to Annadel State Park so we had this massive mountain bike trail system that just was huge. I was playing soccer at the time for fitness and training. In the early years of high school, I would go ride my mountain bike through these mountain bike trails that were out of the back of our house. It was literally some of the greatest memories I have, and that sense of freedom that you have when you're 14. I think that definitely shaped a lot of who I am now and where I wanted to go with life. That sense of freedom was huge. Now, you spiral forward 10 years and I was still working on bikes, still riding bikes. I grew up racing bikes. I worked in a bike shop. Except when i was in school, everything else revolved around bikes.

It all started I think with that feeling of being young and being free. As I got older, everybody always wants to graduate from college and work on something that they're passionate about.

If nobody thinks I’m good enough to work at their company, I’ll start my own company and do what I think is right for the industry.

The idea of sitting in a cubicle, unless you're an accountant or something, is never really the most attractive thing to anyone. I really wanted to work in the industry. At that point in time, 2008, the industry was pretty much rejecting everyone. I more or less said, "Fuck it. I'll do my own thing and I'll build my own thing. If nobody thinks I'm good enough to work at their company, I'll start my own company and do what I think is right for the industry." Fast forward 5 years and I'm still working on bikes and still building bikes. It's been good. Now it's just so ingrained in who I am and what I do and how I view life and all of those things that I can't really imagine a life without riding or without bikes.

Jeremy Platt: Bike Builder

Jeremy hails from San Luis Obispo and grew up riding mountain bikes. Jeremy is the Stinner bike builder. He orders parts, fits customers, and does the final build. But, It wasn’t until he met Aaron that he got inspired to add road riding to his repertoire. He still cherishes the early braised steel bike that Aaron made for him shortly after Aaron graduated from frame building school. For the first time in his life he feels at home in a career and takes pride putting the finishing touches on each new build as it heads out the door.

Interviewer: All right. First question I have for you is, why bikes? What do you love about bike culture.

Jeremy: Yeah, I don't know. I guess I got hooked on bikes when I was young. As boy scouts, we used to do bike trips. I had tons of fun on them. Then I also started realizing that I was better at bikes than most kids, so it just really kind of solidified it for me. Yeah, so I was riding bikes through high school, then I move out here after high school.

Bikes, it's just a freedom thing. I love it. Get out there, get exercise, make yourself breathe hard, get from point A to point B. It's like an art form almost. That's how I look at it. That's why I like building the bikes. I like standing back, looking at it and being like, "Yep, that is something I can look at for a while", just like a piece of art. Then they get the extracurricular of being able to ride it, too and have fun on it.

Interviewer: Where are you from?

Jeremy: Atascadero. Just a little further north, San Luis Obispo area. I only did mountain biking then, nothing crazy, just cross-country type stuff. Then I came out here and only brought one bike with me, but it just kind of sat. I was more about, "Hey let's go chase girls around and get drunk." Then I found and started to hang out with another group of guys and they were really into bikes. One of them had a brother who was really into bikes, then I was like, "Well, I like bikes", and it just started kind of an avalanche from there. Then I got a full-on downhill bike and we just started running these trails every weekend for years and years. That really got me back into it because I was so stagnant for a good five years. Just nothing.

Then I really dove back into it, threw a lot of money into it. Then one day, a friend of mine who I'd met through a company called bike log, I don't even know if they still exist anymore. Anyways, we worked there together, hit it off and stayed friends even after we both left, and then I did a few odd jobs. Then one day he came, he found me and said, "Hey, I'm working at a shop. I need your help here in town. Are you interested?" I said, "Sure." Aaron was actually manager of that shop at that time. That's how I met Aaron, through my first bike shop, Bicycle Bob's.

Bikes, it’s just a freedom thing. I love it. Get out there, get exercise, make yourself breathe hard, get from point A to point B. It’s like an art form almost. That’s how I look at it. That’s why I like building the bikes. I like standing back, looking at it and being like, ‘Yep, that is something I can look at for a while’, just like a piece of art.

Interviewer: Your path you just talked about in terms of getting here, you guys worked at the bike shop together, Bicycle Bob’s. That's where you guys first met. So that was the connection that eventually brought you over to Stinner?

Jeremy: Yeah. We worked together at the shop. I think he just got back from frame building school when I started working there, so he was kind of making his transition into being a full-time frame builder. I never really did road, just mountain. But as soon as I found out he was doing frame building, I actually had him build me a road frame. I actually had one of the first, I'm pretty sure it's one of the first 15 bikes he ever built. I've had a Stinner bike for the last three and a half years now. I love it to death. I really enjoy working with Aaron, so it all made sense for me to come over here once he got this big.

Everything up to this, for me anyway, has been a job. For everybody here, this is their career.

Interviewer: You talked a little bit about the quality of the bike and stuff, but what is it, if you were to describe what is it about Stinner that stokes you?

Jeremy: Definitely the driving force is the people behind it. Aaron and I hit it off right when we started working together. I knew how passionate he was about bikes, and everything in general. I knew he would make me an awesome bike. Sometimes you just have to take a risk but i knew this wasn't going to be a risk. I knew he was going to pour all his labor and love into it. Now, at this point in time, I see James, who you'll talk to later. He also used to work at Bicycle Bob's. It's a core group of guys. We're very thorough about what we do. James is the painter and I worked with him at Bicycle Bob’s. He was a lead mechanic, so I knew he had that eye for detail. He always got it perfect. Then, same thing. Once he left, I took over head mechanic so they know I have the detail for doing final product. I think the whole Stinner thing is about the guys behind the scene. Everybody that knows who Aaron is, loves him to death. Everybody also knows who Gary is. He's an amazing rider beyond being really good at running a business in general. I think it's just the core values of the people who work here that really gets people stoked on it. That's why a lot of people, when they pick up their bikes, they'll travel from New York and all over just so they can hang out with the guys who built it.

Interviewer: As far as building out the final product and the process and the craft that goes into that, how important is that craft and that process of building the final bike to the point where you make the hand-off?

Jeremy: It's paramount, really. A lot of people, they'll look at welds and they'll go, "Oh, that's pretty", but they don't necessarily know what they're looking at, especially when it comes to bike people just because carbon has been such a big deal. I think when someone sees all the parts put together, the color schemes that are made, and put into effect, I think that's huge because that's what people really clue in on. It's like, "How'd that cable get rounded and how did this ..."

I had a customer just the other day. I felt like I took a little bit of extra time but I made sure the cables were run a certain way so they just had this nice aesthetic to them. He totally saw it. He was like, "Oh, wow. So glad you rounded the cables like that, looks so much cleaner." I think bike people clue in on the bike parts that are on it instead of necessarily the structurals, like I said, the welds and stuff. Granted, they are just as important, and you can make them look much better than someone down the street, but for me I think it's seeing that. How did they put the stem through the ... There's all these little small details, but they do add up, and I think people notice those, more than anything.

Interviewer: What element of Stinner Bikes do you really appreciate?

Jeremy: Simplicity is huge. I think especially in bikes. I think things are getting so convoluted. I used to work at shops. Of course I worked with these big companies, and they're all about making it have to do this one thing really well, like this bike has to be so aerodynamic. With that, the bike just became so complex that I think it just, yeah it looks cool, but the complexity of it is just too much for a bike. I think the simplicity is definitely one that most people can agree with. It's just like, wow. It's a bike, there's no extra added frosting to it.

A lot of people, they’ll look at welds and they’ll go, ‘Oh, that’s pretty’, but they don’t necessarily know what they’re looking at. There’s all these little small details, but they do add up, and I think people notice those more than anything.

James Bellerue: Head of Paint

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James Bellerue is our in-house custom painter here at Stinner. James was born in Thousand Oaks, California but his youth was spent on the East Coast, West Coast and all in between. He first fell in love with bikes while attending art school in Georgia. His passion for handmade bikes and their craftsmanship combined with his background in art are a perfect combination for his role at Stinner as head of the paint department. James spends his days creating custom looks with a keen attention to detail.

Interviewer: First question is a little bit of a warm up, just a general question. Why bikes? What do you love about bike culture?

James Bellerue: I think I was drawn to bikes mainly from a transportation standpoint. When I was going to art school, parking was hectic. Bikes seemed like a good way to go, and it just grew beyond control at that point. I was biking everywhere. By the end of my classes I wasn't focusing so much on class as much as the next bike I was going to build, and it just kind of became my life. I started working part-time at a bike shop and liked the interaction with people, helping everyone get from A to B, and enjoy cycling through their own lens. Yeah, it became my passion and something I had to follow.

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Interviewer: Which school did you attend?

James Bellerue: I went to art school at Savannah College of Art and Design in Savannah, Georgia.

James' paint station in the Stinner Workshop

There’s been an honesty in the craftsmanship, and that’s what gets me excited about working on the bikes, is putting your heart into it and having people appreciate it for that.

Interviewer: Tell me a little about your path to get here to Stinner. How did you arrive here?

James Bellerue: I guess I was working at the bike shop in Georgia, I always remembered the mountains of California. I was two years out of college, and I had a girlfriend who was just graduating from art school as well. She was ready for a change of pace, and maybe a little bit better job market, so we just decided to up and move, and we came to visit Santa Barbara. I had always wanted to come back, having lived here before, so we made the move out here. I started working at shops out here, just kind of trying to find my place in the industry.

Interviewer: So that’s where you guys first got to know each other huh?

James Bellerue: Ya, I worked there a couple years. I was service manager there, and grew a relationship with Aaron to the point where he was willing to teach me a couple things about frame building, which was my primary interest at the time, really just being part of this aspect of the bike industry. Eventually Aaron grew to the point where he needed some help and asked me if I wanted to try my hand at painting, given my art background. It worked, so here I am.

John Jones: Jones Precision Wheels, Wheel Builder

There is one name that comes up consistently when talking about custom hand built wheels: John Jones. The son of an engineer, John’s notion of mechanical concepts is innate. A consummate craftsman through and through, he still strives to learn and innovate. Wheel building with tensioned spokes has been around (in the words of John Jones) ever since they realized bikes could go faster than seven miles per hour. Lacing patterns and tension and spoke and rim and hub types all lead to a unique ride, and it is up to the builder to create an ideal wheel with the right combination. Through our partnership with John and Jones Precision Wheels, we’ve got you covered with a wheel that will perform, is trustworthy, and can be uniquely the rider's.

Andreas Herr, an Ojai based journalist, helped us with the Interview. 

Andreas: Why bikes, why wheels?

John: I don't think I ever wanted to work in an office, so I enjoy the structure of working in the bicycle industry. Bicycles themselves are a pretty amazing invention. They've served us well for a long time. They have the ability to almost heal the planet, really. If we ride them we don't pollute and we become healthier. If you live a healthier life, you live a better life.

I enjoy the intricacies of working on bicycles. My dad was an engineer, and so I think I might have some of that in my blood.

Bicycles are very clear. When you look at a bicycle, even with today's electronic systems, it's very clear how they work.

I like them from the point of view of using them for transportation. I like them from the point of view of working on them. I enjoy the skill that I've developed working on bicycles. They just hit all the buttons, really.

Andreas: The Stinner brand carries certain values with it, such as craft or simplicity, the idea of a considered approach and self-expression. Out of those four values, which one would you say is the most important to you personally, and why?

John: I think craft is probably the most important thing.

If you're a craftsman, if you're an artisan, if you're a maker of things, you really couldn't do it well without having a considered approach. I think it's part and parcel of the whole thing. Whenever I build a wheel, there's always certain steps to be done. You can't jump the steps. You can't get the steps out of sequence. There's definitely an approach that's important for us and I'm presuming this is the same for Aaron.

It's just keeping your eye on how good you want the final product to be. If you want the final product to be good, that means every single part of the process, every single stage of the creation, needs to be done in the right order and as well as you can do it.

Andreas: Wheels are very difficult to build well. I know you've been doing it for a long time. How important is process and craft in what you do?

John: It's the whole thing. It's so important, it's really the thing that makes it work. Just about anybody can assemble the various bits and pieces that make up a wheel, and it might look like a wheel, but it won't behave like a wheel. You've really got to have, should we say, an understanding of the inner workings of the wheel. You may join all the spokes to the nipples and the rim to the hub, but if you don't know what you're doing, if you don't have that craftsman's touch, it's likely the wheel will not behave very well.

Experience and intuition and repetition and proving one's craft every day is important. It makes the process good. It's really all about wanting to do it as well as possible every time. For me it's important that I never, ever assume that I know everything about wheels.

As soon as you think you've absorbed everything that you can about wheels, you should probably go and do something else because you're not open to the lessons that they're still there to offer you.

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