DENVER — The bike aficionado is constantly drooling over the fine selection of sexy hand-crafted bicycles at the North American Handmade Bicycle Show (NAHBS), where one of the most common questions is: How many bikes do you own?
But for Shane Haberland, the new in-house painter for Alchemy Bicycle Company, the more appropriate question is: How many Volkswagens do you own? The car/motorcycle-painter–turned-bicycle-painter has four VWs in his quiver. They are a ’59 Bug, an ’87 Golf, an ’86 Jetta, and a 2008 Rabbit.
And he’s selling most of them to move to Colorado and be part of the Alchemy team. Haberland formerly lived in upstate New York and was recently hired to start painting under a start-up sister company called Chroma Fab. Alchemy President Matt Simpson said Chroma Fab will do the finish work on Alchemy’s custom bikes as well as commission paint jobs from other builders within the handmade industry.
Haberland has been pushing hard since January to set up the paint booth and finish six bikes for display at NAHBS this weekend. Despite the laborious work and his personal high standards for perfection, he burned the midnight oil and was ready for the 2013 show held Feb. 22-24 in Denver.
“It was a learning process for me because I came from Serotta where everything was already established,” said Haberland, who worked at Serotta handmade cycles for a total of about three years prior to accepting the position at Alchemy. “We had to figure a lot of stuff out. It was trial and error. There were a lot of runs to Home Depot.”
Simpson said the management decision to bring painting in house stemmed from his personal pursuit to start Chroma Fab a few years ago. One of the greatest demands from builders in the custom bike industry is painting. Simpson met with Alchemy owner Ryan Cannizzaro at NAHBS three years ago, and they ultimately agreed to launch it as a sister company within Alchemy.
Simpson expects the in-house painting operations to do well, especially based on reaction from builders at the 2013 NABHS. “Honestly, I’m scared after today. We’ve had about 12 to 15 builders who asked us to start painting their bikes for them,” Simpson said. “Clearly the need is there, which we knew two years ago.”
Haberland is the right person to have on board to help make the in-house operations successful, according to Simpson.
“Shane is awesome. It is a brotherhood in the building. All the guys are incredibly hard working. Guys like Shane deserve to get recognized for how hard they work for us,” Simpson said.
Haberland learned about Alchemy after his buddy, Jeff, accepted a position with the company. Alchemy had relocated from Austin, Texas, to Denver and the company was looking to do its own painting.
“I sent him a couple pictures of some bikes I painted,” Haberland explained. “They wanted to fly me out and check out the shop. I met the guys. They were really awesome. They made me feel like I was part of the family…. They offered me the job, and I hopped in my car and drove out.”
He arrived the first week of January and lived at the shop for three weeks while he built the paint booth. After the holidays, he started working on the six bikes for NAHBS, including his favorite, a stainless steel commuter that Haberland highlighted with a rich, retro-looking blue (a combination of four colors). Another of his favorites is a road frame with a holographic-looking Alchemy watermark against the black carbon.
“Every bike is different. You don’t really know until you get into it. You just start working on it, and you see different little things and you’re like, ‘OK, I gotta do this and I gotta do that.’”
For cross racer Nicole Duke’s bike, Haberland laid down a decal of the word “Alchemy” over the raw black carbon and painted the bike a crisp matte white. Other design elements, such as Duke’s name and the Alchemy logo, are contrasted the same way throughout the frame, and Haberland matched the letter and design elements on the fork with a charcoal color.
Two other bikes featured a Colorado-style “flag” with the Alchemy logo in the center. Haberland said he spent an entire weekend doing only the flags—masking and painting, untaping and repeating the process four times for each color he applied.
Before he can paint, Haberland hand preps the frame. Carbon fiber, for instance, requires sanding and applying a clear urethane coat a few times over to level out any of the carbon weaves and lays around frame joints.
Details are Haberland’s specialty, though. He doesn’t even balk at the thought of having to re-tape, re-mask, re-paint several times to get it right.
“You really just want to take your time till it’s perfect. That’s one thing I learned at Serotta. You re-do it 10 times until it’s perfect. It’s a high standard,” he said. “I take pride in my work, too. It’s got my name on it so I want to put it out there and make sure it’s right and make sure it looks good.”
And it’s the fine little details that “really bring out a bike” he says, which is one of the big differences from working on cars.
Haberland is getting used to Colorado life and will move his girlfriend and dog out in April. After riding his custom Serotta—which he painted an eye-catching, blood-splatter theme—in “sunny Colorado,” he even dared to say he may stop driving his VWs in exchange for collecting bicycles.