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.

Carlos Velazquez: TIG Welder

Interviewer: Walk me through what you do at Stinner?

Carlos: Right now Aaron has me in charge of welding. Basically every single one of these titanium frames and chromoly steel frames have welded joints all around. So Devin will do most of the fabrication, do all the miters and he'll give me all the tube set-ups. We set these in the jig, make sure everything's clean and ready for welding, make sure all the miters are tight, double check all the dimensions, make sure everything's where it's supposed to be and then from there go on to tacking the frame in the anvil fixture, make sure everything's straight and level and from there go on with the TIG welding process.

Throughout the process checking, straightening the levelness of the frame and adjusting from there. Metal sometimes pulls depending on how the miters are set or how much heat is input into every single area, so it's not an exact science every time. Every single frame is a little different depending on what's going on that day, how much heat is input so I try to minimize that from everything I've learned in the aerospace industry.

We use complete purging on the inside of the frame so that means you don’t have the oxidation on the inside as you would with some other processes. That makes the quality a lot higher, especially with titanium frames. Titanium is very picky with argon flow so if you have a bunch of oxidation, it might look like a nice weld but it could be a very weak joint. We just try to keep the quality at the highest level even if it means that we need a little more argon.

Interviewer: So you obviously know what you're doing and you're very professional. What is it that you feel about what you do that matches your personality?

Carlos: Honestly I chose this profession because of bicycles. I knew before I started welding, like my uncle and my cousin taught me how to weld when I was like 15 but it was MIG welding on old 50's cars, whatever customs they had going on, so that was cool but they wanted me to be a pipe welder so I could work out in the docks with them and obviously make a ton of money but you're working on construction equipment. My big thing is I eventually wanted to make bicycles so I got into TIG welding school and just fell in love with it. It's just something about it, it's one of the last few manufacturing arts in my opinion that are left. Like painting, TIG welding, a few other processes that are pretty difficult and require a lot of skill and patience to do, so I was drawn to that a lot. I’ve never been an artist as far as drawing or painting but when it came to metal all the sudden it came together and I found something that I was really good at and excelled at really quickly. So just tying that all into bikes, it's been really awesome.

They wanted me to be a pipe welder so I could work out in the docks with them and obviously make a ton of money but you’re working on construction equipment. My big thing is I eventually wanted to make bicycles so I got into TIG welding school and just fell in love with it. It’s just something about it, it’s one of the last few manufacturing arts in my opinion that are left. Like painting, TIG welding, a few other processes that are pretty difficult and require a lot of skill and patience to do, so I was drawn to that a lot.

Interviewer: How important is your process and craft in what you do? So if you have anything else that comes to mind when you think about the craft of what you do, you definitely just touched on that a little bit as well.

Carlos: It's definitely crucial for frame building. Welding on alloy frames, there's an extreme amount of stress on there, so having a subpar weld on a frame, it makes or breaks a frame. It's super visible, especially with titanium frames so it's 50% aesthetic and 50% functional. Obviously you want it to look nice but you want it to be well-made to the point where you don't have cracking or failure.

Interviewer: Why bikes? What is it about bikes? I know you have an aerospace background. What do you love about bikes? What do you love about bike culture in general?

Carlos: Just being on two wheels, there's really nothing else like it. A human on two wheels on a bicycle is the most efficient machine on the planet and there's just something about that feeling. You can push yourself really hard, see things you wouldn't normally see through a car or walking, go a lot of awesome places, meet a lot of awesome people while at the same time being healthy and having fun. It's always captivated me ever since I was a kid. We just had a mob of 20 or 30 kids in the neighborhood where i grew up and we would all just ride bikes and at that time cause mayhem. But it was fun.

Interviewer: So tell me about your path to get here, how you arrived at Stinner?

Carlos: I applied to Aaron a while ago. I basically just emailed him, who shot an email to Steve, he was hiring. At the time he wasn't looking for a welder fabricator like what I'm doing now, he was looking for more of an intern for fabrication so being in aerospace that would have been like a major step down for me, especially coming out here because the cost of living is a little higher and stuff. I wanted something a little more for sure so we kind of just left on good terms, said I wouldn't want to do something like that. I was a little more advanced in my field already so some time went by and I continued with my job, continued making progress there, welding exotic metals every day, all day, pretty intricate stuff at times. One day he sent me an email saying they were expanding, he had more work coming in and he was looking to hire a full-time welder. I came out here, interviewed, and fell in love with Santa Barbara.

Interviewer: Where did you move out from?

Carlos: I was living in Long Beach and working in Torrance.

Interviewer: Okay.

Carlos: I was working for an aerospace company in Torrance. I came out here and it went really well.

Interviewer: The brand Stinner carries certain values with it such as craft, simplicity, a considerate approach and self-expression. Which value is most important to you personally and why of those four? There's craft, simplicity, a considerate approach, and self-expression.

Carlos: For me it would definitely be craft because I know the amount of work that I and everybody else puts into these frames, working as a team, just knowing that there's hard working behind these bikes and you get to meet them. These guys are all awesome at what they do, everyone here so just knowing that the level of quality here is so high but you can get it at such an affordable price in your area, that's huge for me. If I wasn't part of the team I would still strive to eventually get myself one of these bikes. It's awesome the fact that such highly skilled workers are making these things and they all ride just like us.

Devin Jones: Fabricator

Devin’s love affair with bikes started out on the dirt tracks of Riverside, CA. From there it spread to track and road and the rest is history. He’s constantly on a search to push Stinner’s build process further, making it more streamlined and efficient. Process is everything. For him it never feels like work, he’s just doing what he always wanted to do.

Interviewer: Tell me about what you do at Stinner.

Devin: I'm one of the fabricators, I guess you could call me the frame builder. I don't do any welding, but they hand me the tubes. I check everything out, cut the tubes, drill the holes, fit it into the jig, and then I pass it off to the welder. Basically, I take the tubes and make them something recognizable.

Interviewer: Before it gets passed on to the welder?

Devin: Yeah, and then he welds everything that I just put together.

Interviewer: How important is your process and craft in what you do? Obviously, this is something that you, as you mentioned, have a background in and went to school for.

Devin: Everyone does it their own way. When I went to school, I learned it a certain way from Yamaguchi. When I came here, Aaron taught me his way of building. Basically, everything that I've learned before was re-learned again when I came here. I think for the better. It's a streamlined process. I keep trying to better myself every single bike; I get a little bit faster, do it a little bit better. We do follow a procedure of this then that. The process is really important.

It is nice that everyone here kind of takes the time out of their day to actually do what they fell in love with to begin with, and not just focus on selling bicycles to people. I mean, it’d be cool if we just build stuff, too. I don’t really mind either way.

Interviewer: Why bikes? What do you love about bike culture?

Devin: Just the adventure of riding a bike, you can kind of go anywhere. You don't really have to spend any money except for the initial start-up cost, then also getting that extra fitness. I was a little bit bigger growing up, and riding around, just adventuring on my bike keeps me fit.

Interviewer: When did you first start riding bikes? Your earliest memory of bike riding?

Devin: I didn't learn to ride a bike until I was 8. I rode BMX in middle school, like little pump tracks and jerk jumps that motocross riders had built in Riverside, which is where I grew up—Riverside, California. I put it down and skateboarded through high school, and didn't pick it up again until the start of college. That's when I got into road riding and track riding and various disciplines, basically dove into all of it.

Interviewer: Cool. When it comes to Stinner can you tell me about your path to get here, how you came to arrive at Stinner.

Devin: I dove back into cycling around 2007-2008, when I first started college. I started riding fixies and then I got into road riding and just learned different compatibilities and parts, wrenching in my garage, and then I worked at a bike shop. I just kept going deeper and deeper, and then I figured out that I wanted to build frames. I attended Yamaguchi Frame building School in Rifle, Colorado. That's where I learned how to build frames and braze, not tig weld, but braze. I saw an Instagram post from Aaron, and he was looking for a fabricator, so I said what the heck. I had the same machine shop job for like 8 years while I was going to school, and I was kind of tired of doing that after I'd graduated, so I thought I might as well give it a shot. Using the education that I have and some of the skills that I learned along the way, and then they hired me. It was a dream job come true.

Interviewer: The fact that they're going out on rides and you're riding after work. Is that an important part of what makes the company special, that it practices what it preaches?

Devin: Yeah, it's pretty rad that everyone still takes the time out of their day to ride their bike, even though they take so much time making them. I know that some builders get lost in just building and they become constructors and say that they don't really ride bikes anymore, which is cool too, because you can become an expert in just doing that. It's pretty rad. Yeah, it is nice that everyone here kind of takes the time out of their day to actually do what they fell in love with to begin with, and not just focus on selling bicycles to people. I mean, it'd be cool if we just build stuff, too. I don't really mind either way.

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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