BRO: What made you decide to start building your own bikes?
HOULGUIN: We love bikes, and we’ve ridden all kinds of bikes with all the latest technology, but at some point, we started questioning all the hype surrounding these bikes. If you’re competing at an elite level, maybe you need all that stuff. But how much technology do you need to ride trails? With Smoke Bikes, we’ve tried to get back to the simplest form of riding possible.
BRO: Is that why you only build singlespeeds and fixed gears?
HOULGUIN: Definitely. When you start adding stuff to the bike, there’s so much that can go wrong. Fixed gears are our passion, because you take the machine out the equation. You’re actually turning your body into the machine. Your body propels you, your body stops you. Your body dictates exactly how you ride every piece of that trail.
BRO: Honestly, how difficult is it to build your own bike?
JOHNSON: The beauty of it is that anyone with reasonable mechanical skills can build their own frame. Gabe and I are just average dudes that have enough confidence in our abilities to figure out frame building. But it was definitely a learning process. It’s taken us three years to get to the bikes we’re building today.
HOULGUIN: We did a lot of research before we built our first frame, but we figured, instead of spending thousands of dollars on another “latest and greatest” bike, why not invest that money in some frame-building equipment and build our own bike? Of course, the bike industry doesn’t want people to think that way.
JOHNSON: Definitely not. It’s big business. Look at any trailhead in Pisgah. There’s a lot of money on those bike racks.
HOULGUIN: Yeah. The last thing the industry wants is for people to start building their own bikes in their garage. But the truth is, for under a grand, you can get started building your own frames. After that, it’s only a matter of deciding how many bikes you want to have.
BRO: Is Smoke Bikes the next Litespeed?
JOHNSON: I don’t know about that. We want to sell frames, but primarily, we’re just “rolling our own.” For us there’s a certain pleasure to pedaling through the woods on a frame that was built by our own hands. It gives new meaning to the term “Soul Ride.”