Sam Whittingham of Naked Bicycles resides on Quadra Island, BC and that is where he and his wife Andrea create beautiful handmade bicycles. We had a few words with Sam to learn more about this Canadian brand. As for "Time To Get Naked," that is actually the domain name of Naked Bicycles.
Slowtwitch: Sam, welcome to slowtwitch.
Sam: I’m happy to participate. I have been a great fan of the site on and off over the years. Good stuff!
ST: I guess it is time to get naked.
ST: How old is your brand now?
Sam: I started building frames in 1998. Quite slowly at first as I learned my craft and asked lots of questions of those who have come before me. I have been booked solid since about 2004.
ST: Who are some of the folks you have asked questions?
Sam: I have asked quick and dirty questions of just about anybody I came across that might have built a frame. My main source was the main builder at Marinoni, by the name of Luc. I still like to get info wherever I can. The internet is so easy for this now. It was a struggle when I started.
ST: Could you explain the inspiration for the name?
Sam: Sure, I raced and rode and worked in shops through the late eighties and nineties and this was time when bikes started to be branded with a lot of BS technology in my mind. I think is still true, but I like to give my customers credit for being smarter than that. Naked is about being honest, I try to make the best bikes I know how and I work very closely with each client. I don’t pretend to make the perfect bike but I will strive to make a bike that is perfect for each individual. Of course this is impossible to achieve completely but I do my best to get a little closer with each bike I make.
ST: Do you think a smaller frame builder is immune to BS?
Sam: Ha! Definitely not. A lot of large bike companies manufacture marketing BS to stand out and gain market share. I think a lot small builders end up doing things just to be different with no logic behind it. I’m all for doing things in a new way but it needs to come from a place of common sense. I think working one on one with most customers helps keep me grounded.
ST: Along those lines, another North American Handmade Bicycle Show is in the books. Does that mean you have a bit of breathing space? Maybe kind of the lull many brands used to experience after Interbike.
Sam: Ha! I haven’t come up for air in years. Luckily I do this because I love it and it happens to pay most of the bills. I certainly don’t do it to get rich. Most trade shows are about selling product and there certainly is that side but what excites me most about NAHBS is the artistic expression allowed and encouraged by the show. It is a chance to experiment, show off, meet other builders, fellow bike nuts and maybe, just maybe sell a bike or two along the way.
ST: We know you rode to the show in Sacramento this year. What have you learned from that experience?
Sam: I think the big thing I learned is that it is ok to be vulnerable. If you are honest and do your best and are competent 99% of the time then it is perfectly ok to admit your shortcomings and mistakes when they do happen. We were quite open with how we went about this project and really let everyone in. This was scary at first.
ST: Will that be an annual ritual now?
Sam: Hard to say. It certainly was fun but I don’t think riding to Denver in the middle of winter will be. I’m always striving to move forward with ideas, hone my craft and hopefully open people’s eyes to different ways of thinking about building and riding bicycles. I should be clear that I do not strive to be different for the sake of being different. There must be method. Rejecting standards already set, only make sense if it is an improvement. In the same way, tradition needs to be questioned constantly to be the “old ways” are still viable.
ST: How about grabbing an award there? Or is the reward the finished project?
Sam: Interesting question. In many ways neither is as important as the process. The challenge of sorting out a problem is in the doing. The finished product is validation that I can solve the problem. Awards are simply validation that I’m not nuts!
ST: Talk about your building philosophy.
Sam: I may have touched on this quite a bit already. First and foremost I don’t see bikes as objects. I see them as a means to a very profound experience. But it really comes down to helping people capture that magic feeling of riding a bike, just the way they dream it. I try to get them a little closer to that feeling by working closely and listening closely to who they are. Many big companies make very well engineered bikes, but something fundamental is missing. The problem they have is that they have no idea who will ride that bike in the end. I know exactly who each of my customers is. Big bike companies can build bikes for people but I can build them the whole experience.
ST: Can you talk to us about your crew?
Sam: The core of Naked Bicycles is myself and my wife Andrea. We have run the company since the beginning. Currently we also have a very good worker by the name of Aran Cook who does lot of a little bit of everything.
ST: If I were to order a bike from you now, how long would I have to wait?
Sam: Current wait time is about 6-8 months.
ST: What is your daily rider?
Sam: Depends what I’m doing! I have two bikes I ride a lot though. One is a stainless road adventure bike that allows me to mix in on any road ride anywhere but is a little more comfortable than your standard road bike and has the ability to explore the occasional trail and gravel road as well. My other companion is my signature 29er SS in steel. So much fun. I spent years road racing and track racing but I don’t do this so much anymore. Too much fun mountain biking!
ST: Anything else we should know?
Sam: I am the current land speed record holder for human powered vehicles at 83mph. I originally set this record in 2000 and have broken it several times since. I have been racing these since 1990. I think it is my time spent working with these very different bicycles that has allowed me to think more freely about the bicycle in general. The rules where simple: How fast can you go on human power alone? My goals are still similar but even more distilled I think: How can I make the best bicycle I can to achieve the desired experience?
ST: So what is the fastest you have gone that isn’t in a record book?
Sam: About 20 years ago we where training in the speed bike on an unknown road that suddenly went downhill. My bike computer stopped working at about 85mph......
The bike below is not the land speed record bike, but rather one of his beautiful other creations.