Made in Utah

For a Good Road Trip, Build a Bike and Ride It

One of the most efficient ways to travel is by bike. And one of the best ways to amplify a bike journey is to build your own bicycle.


Matt Nelson, founder of SaltAir Cycles. Photo by Ryan Trimble.

One of the most efficient ways to travel is by bike. And one of the best ways to amplify a bike journey is to build your own bicycle.

Designing and fabricating a bike is a creative journey sure to extend and enhance any road trip. It’s a way to whet the wanderlust. And if you can’t build a bike yourself, collaborate with someone who can. In Salt Lake City, that someone is Matt Nelson, founder of SaltAir Cycles.

Matt builds custom bike frames within a weathered woodshed in his backyard. An architect by trade, he first built a bike frame in 2011 while training at United Bicycle Institute. He rode and raced and fell in love with that frame, which prompted him to build more, mostly for friends. In 2014, he registered a business and purchased insurance. The expenditure increased his incentive to build. It also increased his opportunity, giving him wholesale access to parts and supplies. In January of 2016 he split from the architecture firm and began building bikes full-time. One year later, he received the Best New Builder award at the North American Handmade Bicycle Show. This year he won the President’s Choice award.

Photo by Matt Nelson. Work in progress.

Here’s how it works. “Someone will contact me and let me know what kind of riding they do,” Matt explains. Then Matt will take the customer through a fitting, which is like getting measured for a tailored suit. “From there I develop a drawing,” he says. Every step of design and fitment is a consultation. Matt then takes the input and begins fabricating. He’ll select the optimal diameter and thickness of steel tubing, miter each piece, then place them in a jig and tack the frame. He spends days sanding, filing, and brazing. Finally, the customer is consulted about finish and components.

“The goal is to give customers a personalized experience that results in a bike that not only fits them physically, but also has their mark on it—custom paint, color, their name—something they’ll have until they stop riding,” Matt says. From contact to delivery takes about 3 months—mostly because of lead time.

Interested in traversing the state on byways and backroads? A solid touring frame might be the answer. Or maybe you want to hop from town to town, resort to resort, with little more than a credit card and a Camelbak. Perhaps you’d like to wend the Wasatch Range, get a Rocky Mountain high on some of the world’s best mountain bike trails. Maybe you’re a desert rat, itching to inch across the state’s southern reaches. Or maybe you just want to experience your hometown more intimately, save on gas, melt fat, reduce impact.

Whatever your journey, there’s a bike for it. Material, geometry, size and shape can all be customized to give you a freewheeling two-wheeler and put a smile on your sweaty face.

“A man on foot, on horseback or on a bicycle will see more, feel more, enjoy more in one mile than the motorized tourist can in a hundred miles,” wrote Edward Abbey, Utah’s adventuring and aesthete godson. He was right.

So if you’re hankering for a choice trip through Utah this summer, toss your tinny trailers and motorized man caves, don your boots, saddle your horse, or sit your butt on a bicycle. I recommend the latter, for the bike is self-propelled, can go about anywhere, and requires no feeding.

And it won’t give you a blister on your big toe.

Visit their website, or call 801 930-0062

Custom built bike. Photo by Matt Nelson.
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