With the North American Handbuilt Show (NAHBS) quickly coming up in March, we know that many builders are out there methodically or not so methodically designing, constructing, and finishing their bikes for this annual event. This year the show takes place in Charlotte, North Carolina, and while we are very excited to see the work of these east coast builders, there is no denying that we are looking forward to spending time with some of our favorite builders who have become staple artists in this annual show. One such builder is Curtis Inglis of Inglis and Retrotec Cycles.
Curtis Inglis has great taste in shoes. His sartorial acumen for fresh and interesting designs is highly regarded in the custom bike building community, and the tennis yellow oxfords he wore to Denver last year were just one example in a long line of foot forward fashion statements. When the collected builders weren’t talking about all the brightly colored bikes on display we were talking about Curtis’ shoes. There was quite a buzz and he liked the bright Wimbledon yellow so much that he had his current CX bike painted to match. Curtis’ talent for unique and impressive design doesn’t stop at the ground and to borrow the definitive phrase from David O. Russell’s “American Hustle”, Curtis’ aesthetic is built “from the feet up.” As the bifurcated builder of both Inglis and Retrotec bicycles, he is able to apply his design talents to some of the most recognizable frames in the industry.
Curtis was born and raised in Napa, California. He has deep roots there; his parents now live in his grandparent’s house just a few miles away from his home shop. Don Inglis was the family’s cycling instigator, in the early 8o’s he commuted to work aboard his Schwinn Continental in his Levis. He would later claim, “If I knew about lycra, I would have invested heavily in it.” A few years after he began bicycle commuting, he was transferred further away from home but that didn’t deter him, he just kept riding. He was hooked. Soon enough Curtis’ mom, JoAnn realized that she was losing precious time in her husband’s life to bicycles and she soon picked up the sport. According to Curtis, “they have done a ton of amazing rides. They have raced the Davis Double on their tandem and have done Cycle Oregon a bunch of times.” In the past couple of years Don has had to give up riding for health reasons, but he is still able to get on his trainer for an hour or so each day. Curtis remains close to his family and counts riding and finishing the Death Ridewith his father as his all time favorite cycling memory.
As a young man Curtis followed his parent’s lead and started riding bikes early. “My first job in high school was at a bike shop. Man, am I grateful that job wasn’t at an aquarium store or a law office.” He was into bikes but it wasn’t until he rode his first mountain bike, a blue and black speckled Diamond Back Apex, in 1991 that he got hooked. At the time he was finishing up his drafting certificate and the thrills of mountain biking had set the hook deep. At a race in Northern California he met Bob Seals and was introduced to Retrotec bicycles. Curtis had to have one. “I went to Chico to work for Bob, thinking I would work for the summer and then have my Retrotec, I ended up staying for 3 years.”
Bob Seals, the enigmatic founder of the Retrotec, was known for racing his beach cruiser inspired single speeds throughout California wearing only a skimpy Speedo. “Retrotec was basically away to market Cool Tool. Bob would show up in his Speedo on this swoopy tubed single speed and blow people’s minds,” recalls Curtis. “At the time, single speed was a complete novelty. Bob loved the way that cruisers looked and in the Techno, Burning Man, post-Bush 1 era of the early 90s, the combination topped with a Speedo was too much to resist.”
Bob would go on to invent the Klean Kanteen and leave the bike industry, but not before working out an agreement to let Curtis carry on building Retrotecs. “Bob’s first bikes were just cannibalized beach cruisers, he would replace the bb shell to fit a threaded bottom bracket, or change the seat tube out for something lighter, eventually he built a complete bike, he always loved the relaxed curves of beach cruisers and these remain Retrotec’s defining characteristics.”
In addition to building Retrotec, Curtis launched Inglis Cycles in 1996. These frames present a more subtle and stripped down style, a yin to the Retrotec yang. In a way the Retrotec design is the frame design version of a single speed and a Speedo, anachronistic and attention grabbing. The Inglis frames are like a pair of beautifully sophisticated shoes paired with a t-shirt and some slacks, more explicit extension of Curtis’ personal style, subtle, thought out, and completely cool.
Curtis has recently become a proficient poster on Instagram, sending out photos of his current builds, artifacts from his early mountain bike days, and candid moments of his life as a frame builder. If you don’t already, I suggest you give him a follow to see what’s going on, @curtis_inglis. Whatever you do be sure to stop by if you see him at the show or out ripping some of the fantastic trails around Napa. With a knack for being ahead of the curve and curiosity that continues to define his frames, I for one am looking forward to watching where his shoes take him next.