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Longtime musician and teacher Will Scharen connects a bicycle he is building to a service rack in his store in Ashland. The pandemic, in part, prompted him to turn a hobby into a business. Andy Atkinson / Courrier Tribune

Andy Atkinson / Mail TribuneWill Scharen in his Ashland bicycle shop.

Andy Atkinson / Mail TribuneWill Scharen fills the tires of a bicycle he is building at his shop in Ashland.

Andy Atkinson / Mail TribuneWill Scharen fills the tires of a bicycle he is building at his shop in Ashland.

Musician Shifts Into A New Career By Building Custom Bikes

It might come as no surprise to learn that a trombonist is an expert in tubes, but Will Scharen has taken the interest to a whole new level. He makes custom bikes.

The 45-year-old Ashland man quit his job at the end of 2020 as operations manager of the Rogue Valley Symphony Orchestra’s administrative team to start a new business, Scharen Cycles. It was a major life change, driven in part by the pandemic.

He started building custom bikes in 2013, a year before he auditioned for the second trombone with RVS. He was hired and still plays with the orchestra.

“It was a hobby,” he says. “But I have always had dreams and aspirations to build professionally. I built almost exclusively for myself, my friends and my family.

Shortly after joining RVS, he took up a part-time position as an orchestral librarian. He did this for two years before being offered a full-time administrative position in 2016.

He wore a lot of hats at work. He was responsible for ordering office supplies, communicating with the direction of visiting artists and coordinating their schedules in town, as well as coordinating equipment needs and schedule details for the three RVS locations. at Ashland, Medford and Grants Pass.

“I also managed the content management of the RVS website and many other details within a small team,” he said. He continued to build bicycles during this time.

The pandemic has proven to be difficult for arts organizations around the world, and RVS was no exception.

“While I admire how the organization made the best of the situation, it’s no surprise that we all struggled to figure out what to do for many months,” said Scharen. “I was already on the verge of not being able to sit at a desk job eight hours a day, and the pandemic has pushed me over the edge. I needed to go out and do something, to be more active.

Playing live music was not an option during the period, nor teaching in person, although he did start offering lessons via video conferencing.

His six-year hobby of building bikes made him wonder if he should try to sell his frames commercially.

“Starting a business was such a daunting concept, and it took the pandemic to give me the courage to go for it,” he said. “I quit my office job at the end of October 2020 and started my new business in January 2021.”

He has been riding from a young age. In junior high he began to get into horseback riding more seriously and began mountain biking in high school and college.

“Eventually my way of thinking changed, and now I firmly believe that recreation and utility are the most important uses of the bicycle,” he said.

Shortly before moving to Oregon, he attended the North American Handmade Bicycle Show, an annual trade show for bicycle manufacturers. The show was in Denver, where he was living at the time.

He didn’t know what to expect, but curiosity motivated him to attend.

“It completely blew me away that people can build bicycle frames for a living,” he said. He was energized and inspired by what he saw. “I wanted to do it too.”

His first stop on arriving in Rogue Valley was the United Bicycle Institute in Ashland, where he completed a two-week crash course in frame building. UBI is a renowned training school for bicycle mechanics and frame builders.

“I took the course focusing on brazing steel, steel being the material of the bike frame and brazing being the method of joining the tubes.”

Brazing is done using a gas torch, which is used to melt a bronze or silver alloy filler rod into the junctions of the steel tube, creating a chemical bond. Welding is also a technique used in structural construction. It’s different in that it uses the same material as the frame as the fill.

“Welding is a valid method for building a bicycle frame, but I like brazing because it is an older, even classic technique,” ​​he said.

Scharen’s work since college has focused on music and teaching, although he worked as a bicycle mechanic for two years at Marty’s Cycle in Medford. The skills learned there are useful in his new profession.

Custom bike artisans are called frame builders because they make the frames, forks, stems, and racks. These are the parts of a bike that they build from scratch. The rest of the bike is made up mostly of parts bought rather than built.

Scharen mainly uses tubes and brazing alloys which have been developed specifically for bicycles. “However, I also use a type of steel originally designed for aircraft chassis,” he said. “A lot of these parts are modified by me before or in the process of being transformed into a bicycle frame. “

When it was still a hobby, Scharen built 10 bikes in the years until 2020. So far in 2021 he has built five. “I hope I can build 20 to 30 bikes a year,” he said.

It is cheaper to buy a branded bike directly from the rack.

“By far, most of the world’s bikes are made in China and other countries with cheap labor,” he said. “I have to charge more, but there are several reasons for buying myself a bike. “

Among the reasons he cited, the first is to have a unique product, unlike anything that can be bought in the store.

“I can take your fit preferences into account and make your bike the perfect size for you,” he said.

“Buyers can also choose custom colors, from basic to wild. And buyers like to know the person who built their bikes. I am happy to discuss my design philosophy with them.

He says customers also like to buy locally, thereby supporting local businesses.

Scharen focuses on the manufacture of gravel bikes and hardtail mountain bikes.

“I have also built road bikes and commuter bikes,” he said. His goal next year is to build himself a cargo bike, a sturdy bike designed to carry heavy loads and often two or more people.

“I haven’t built an electric bike yet, but I probably will soon. They are very convenient for so many users.

It takes him 30 to 40 hours to build a frame, which starts at $ 2,200 with a single-color powder coating. The frame and fork start at $ 2,600 and complete bikes start at around $ 4,500.

“Depending on the options, they can be cheaper or a lot more expensive,” he said. “The last two bikes I built for clients were a $ 3,000 speed cruiser and a $ 6500 Cinder, the name of my gravel bike model.”

Scharen bikes are different from most store bought bikes.

“They are at the forefront of the geometry of the frame for a specific type of use,” he said, “namely riding in the mountains”.

As an independent builder, it can adopt new technology as it develops, whereas large companies may not do so for a year or more.

“Plus, very few high-quality production bikes are more made of steel, and almost none are brazed,” he said. “Most of the midrange to high end bikes made today are aluminum or carbon fiber composite. A small percentage is made from steel and titanium, he noted.

Scharen is gradually building its Ashland store by adding tools of the trade. His initial investment was a frame attachment, a large, adjustable tool that holds all the tubes in a frame in place in order to join them together. In the construction process, he uses an oxygen-acetylene torch, hand files and a bench vise.

“I keep collecting more tools,” he said, “but the wish list never seems to get shorter. Eventually, I hope to have heavy machinery like a vertical milling machine and a lathe.

He markets his business through social media and word of mouth, and plans to attend trade shows. He also recently partnered with The Handlebar, Ashland’s newest bike shop.

“They are going to be carrying the Cinder, my gravel bike,” he said. “They have a demo bike on the ground that you can see or test drive.”

He says he’s not busy enough now to be a full-time bike builder, but he’s optimistic for the future. “My plan is for Scharen Cycles to be my main occupation,” he said.

He still plays the trombone with the symphony and can’t wait to join RVS in January for the next Masterworks concert.

“This will be the biggest group of players we’ve had on stage since February 2020,” he said, “and also the first time single tickets have gone on sale again.”

In early January, he will play with an Elvis tribute band at Seven Feathers Casino. And he regularly meets a Renaissance quartet playing on period instruments.

But these days, the sound of metal on metal and the sizzle of the soldering torch is music to his ears, too.

Contact Ashland writer Jim Flint at [email protected]


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