Handmade Bikes Built in the Blue Ridge

While bike companies make a limited number of frame sizes every year, the individual dimensions of the human body aren’t so uniform. For the perfect ride, a bike needs to fit like a custom suit, and fortunately the Blue Ridge has a new tailor.

Aaron Dykstra is the owner of Six-Eleven Bicycle Company—a one-man operation building handmade bikes out of a basement shop in downtown Roanoke, Va. Dykstra opened the shop in 2008, indulging his passion for a select trade in a small underground scene. He estimates there are only 125 full-time custom frame builders in the country. Only 18 Six-Eleven bikes currently exist.

“It’s a tight knit community because there are not many of us out there,” Dykstra says.

Dykstra builds fillet-brazed steel frames completely by hand. The only power tool he uses is a drill press. As a result, each bike is completely unique—a refreshing option in an age of mass production. With a labor-intensive, small-scale operation, he can only build two or three bikes a month. After a detailed consultation with every customer, he takes body measurements. He then learns each rider’s style and hand-cuts every tube to match.

“When you go custom, you dial in quality details,” he explains. “It’s very much like a custom suit. The magic of a custom bike is when you become one with it.”

His hard work and attention to detail are paying off. One of Dykstra’s sleek frames won him a “Best New Frame Builder” award at this year’s North American Handmade Bike Show, where the country’s best custom builders congregate annually to compete for top honors. It’s an exclusive group with most reputed frame-smiths living on the West Coast. Established builders like Sacha White of Oregon’s Vanilla Bicycles and Richard Sachs have multi-year waiting lists for new frames. As word spreads about Dykstra, he already has a five-month wait list for new builds, and he’s even received an order from Hong Kong.

A Roanoke native, Dykstra left home at 17 to join the Air Force. The lifelong biking fanatic remembers sketching frames during his desert deployment in Afghanistan. After completing his service, he worked as a bike mechanic and later for a cycling advocacy non-profit in Chicago. Then Dykstra’s wife landed a job back in Roanoke, so he seized the opportunity to give frame building a real shot and expose the trend in the South. After studying with master Japanese builder Koichi Yamaguchi, he opened the shop.

The name Six-Eleven comes from a famous Norfolk and Western steam locomotive, the 611. The iconic train built in the 50s still sits in downtown Roanoke. Dykstra uses the aesthetic of the train as inspiration for his bike designs.
“There’s an appreciation for bikes and trains that people share,” he says. “I want my frames to feel like a similar icon of the region.”