It is good to be a Black Sheep

Todd Heath and James Bleakely are the main men of the Black Sheep custom bikes brand and we had a few words with Todd Heath to see what is new and exciting at this very cool small brand out of Fort Collins, Colorado.

Slowtwitch: Thank you for your time Todd.

Todd: Not a problem, thanks for considering us.

ST: How are things at Black Sheep?

Todd: Business at Black Sheep is really good. Busier than we have ever been and making the best quality bikes yet. It’s given us time to allow the business end to meet up with the standard our bikes have set.

ST: Explain the name.

Todd: When James was working for Boulder Bikes in the early 90’s, they were out at Big Bear racing with their team. One of the racers came into the pit area, looked around at the larger companies represented by high-end vans and pit crews, and made the comment that we were the black sheep of this event. James filed it away thinking it had a nice ring to it. Eventually the pieces came together and he started the company with the tag line, “Black Sheep Bikes. Craftsmanship that stands out in any crowd.” Since then, the name has morphed to represent not only craftsmanship, but also our designs and desire to try new and different things.

ST: So who is the bigger black sheep - you or James?

Todd: I’m 6’4 and 175 lbs and James is 6’ and 170 lbs, so I think I win this one. We both have always chosen our own path, but our drive and talents complement each other very well. We both have incredibly supportive friends and family that make what we do at Black Sheep possible.

ST: You have been with the brand for almost 10 years now if you count your intern time. Does it really feel that long?

Todd: No, it doesn’t. Even after ten years it still doesn’t feel like a real job. Each day I get to hang out with my closest friends, express my creativity, build and ride bikes. Each year I get to observe the evolution of our time and talents. It doesn’t get much better than that.

ST: In the bike industry these days that kind of time span with a company is not very common.

Todd: I feel very fortunate that I was able to not only find my dream job at a young age, but also to recognize the opportunity at 18. I do admire many of the veterans of the custom bicycle industry that have been in the game 20 years and more. I can only hope that my luck continues, and I can keep building Black Sheep Bikes until I can no longer hold a welding torch.

ST: Could you explain what you do for Black Sheep?

Todd: I do a bit of everything. The bulk of my time is spent designing and fabricating, followed by welding as a close second. Since we are a small business, office work and management also falls under my responsibilities. I hope to carry the Black Sheep brand as far as possible.

ST: What do you think is possible, and do you think you can get too big for your own britches?

Todd: Our output currently is about 80 bikes plus various forks, bars, stems, and seat posts. There is always room to grow. We see ourselves getting slightly bigger, maybe 100 bikes, but don’t want to become a super big company. Neither James nor I want to ever be in the roles of only doing desk work. We both physically play a role in each bike that goes out the door and really enjoy that. No matter how many more bikes we produce we still like having a key part in each one. At this point we are happy with our output and the income it provides. If anything I would enjoy working a little less and riding more.

Todd: I do a bit of everything. The bulk of my time is spent designing and fabricating, followed by welding as a close second. Since we are a small business, office work and management also falls under my responsibilities. I hope to carry the Black Sheep brand as far as possible.

ST: How much time to you spend with James any given week?

Todd: I see James and Paul more than my own family. On average I spend about 60 hours in the week, but in hectic months it can be 100 hours or more. Luckily we all get along very well.

ST: NAHBS was good for you guys?

Todd: Absolutely. We won two awards, Best Experimental Bike and Best TIG Welded Frame. We were able to sell several bikes through the show, including the Long tail that went home with Dale from Oskar Blues Brewing. Sacramento was a great town to explore and provided the best audience yet. Our jaunt out to San Fran after the show was also amazing. Glad to bring the show to Colorado for 2013.

ST: Do these awards actually matte, or do you now in your heart that you have built a bike that matters.

Todd: We really don’t do any advertising other than these shows. Winning these awards does help sell bikes. The exposure from NAHBS is great. Shows also allow you to be judged by your peers and others in the industry. It gives us extreme motivation to put out products that meet the standards that the industry puts upon itself. The NAHBS awards do give our company accreditation. That being said I don’t think it is a requirement to win awards in order to sell bikes or to feel you have made a bike that is an amazing bike. I have made many bikes that I would not care to see win any awards. If the end result is something I am proud of and the person riding the bike is happy than I feel I accomplished my goals.

ST: Where is that 36” bike from the show right now?

Todd: Resting from my last trail ride and waiting for the next. I spend most of my rides with “the Darkness,” named after its burly stature and dark media etch finish. From our Thursday night trail rides to my daily commute, the 36er sees a lot use. I love that bike!

ST: Beyond this bike, does any specific bike stick out you guys have made?

Todd: All three bikes that we brought to NAHBS were the ones we were most proud of. Including the 36er, we had a 25 lb snow bike, and the approximately 30 lb longtail bike. All 3 were built as our own, personal bikes. They serve as a great representation of our Black Sheep craftsmanship and design. In the past we have built almost every bike you can imagine. Even when I say this is the nicest bike I have made or I love riding this bike I don’t need anything else, I always surpass my expectations. My bike list equation is always X+1. X being the number of bike you need.

ST: What is your X?

Todd: Right now I have 7 bikes I have made over the years. There is always room for one more in my quiver of bikes however.

ST: How much riding do you get done in a week?

Todd: 40 - 100 miles, depending on my workload. We like to do a lot of night time trail riding.

ST: Anything else we should know?

Todd: We feel truly fortunate to be able to do what we love every day. Our loyal fan and customer base keeps us motivated to constantly further our skill set and refine our bikes. Black Sheep is an ever evolving company. We strive to be able to create bikes that are nothing less than show quality. The future looks bright for the Black Sheep crew, and we hope to continue building the bikes that stand out in any crowd.

Below is one of the award winning Black Sheep bikes from the 2012 NAHBS,