Chris Zias

Chris Zias
"Zias Cycles"
Manager, Great Lakes Cycling & Fitness
frame builder, Zias Cycles

Tottered on: 11 June 2007
Temperature: 82 F
Ceiling: sunny
Ground: growing grass
Wind: N at 16 mph


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TT with HD: Chris Zias


[Ed. note: On January 1, 2007 the name on the door of Great Lakes Cycling and Fitness, right after the word 'proprietor', changed from Hank Bednarz to Oscar Bustos. Oscar and his wife, Lindsay Bustos, now own the shop. New store manager is Chris Zias (say /zye-as/), a graduate of Michigan State University's mechanical engineering program and the United Bicycle Institute's frame-building school.]


CZ: I'm fresh from the trail!

HD: Yeah?

CZ: Yup.

HD: Did you have a good ride?







CZ: Had a great ride. Went to Fort Custer--are you familiar with Fort Custer at all?

HD: No!

CZ: It was very popular back in World War II, or at least very busy back then, but it's now public land or something like that. Basically it's just got this awesome network of trails on it. I tend to make it out there a couple times a year ...

HD: ... so this is out by Battle Creek?

CZ: Yup. Just past Battle Creek. When I lived in Chicago, I used to go there a lot, because it was about two and a half hours from Chicago. So when I lived in Chicago, I spent a lot of time there.

HD: So this was during your messaging days in Chicago?

CZ: Yes, yes it was! Worked in a bike shop and whatnot. There was no real place around Chicago to ride, so we'd travel up to Wisconsin or to Michigan.

HD: So what kind of ride was it today? Was it more technical trail or sort of overland double-track stuff?

CZ: No, it's all single-track. And the thing about Battle Creek, it's pretty fast, but it's got some tight, twisty stuff, and the guys out there, they have done a lot of work on it. It's got some eroded areas, but they've done a really nice job as far as putting in cement blocks just barely above the surface so you get nice good traction on the up-hills. It was a lot of fun. My buddy, Bill, and I went out there. It was the first time he'd been up there to ride recreationally, so.

HD: That's the first time he'd been out there?

CZ: They have a race there called the Fort Custer Stampede every year. But he'd only done a portion of the trail for that. He hadn't done the areas of the trail I took him on. That was a good time. We did about three hours out there. You gotta spend as much time riding as you do driving, because it's kind of pointless otherwise! So it's like an hour and a half out there and an hour and a half back.

HD: So what were you riding today?







CZ: I was riding a dual-suspension mountain bike. The Giant Anthem is what it's called. It's a real fast, cross-country dualie that I have a lot of fun with.

HD: Is that this model year?

CZ: Yep. Brand spanking new, thanks to the lovely folks at Great Lakes [Cycling and Fitness]--well, actually the lovely folks at Giant--I get to ride it for free for six months.

HD: And what happens after six months?

CZ: I can buy it, if I want, or I can basically sell it and get another one. It's a demo program--part of the lovely life I lead is being able to do that.

HD: So what would full retail on that be?

CZ: About 4000 dollars.

HD: Wow.

CZ: Yeah, it's pretty nice. [laugh] I got it today, and I was like, I love my job! because I get to do that. So that's a pretty good deal.

HD: But couldn't you just weld one together for yourself, though?

CZ: Dual suspension is preetty tricky. I mean Giant spent about four or five years and a bunch of money developing their virtual pivot point. And the thing about dual suspension is that the placement of everything is very critical. If you don't do it the correct way, you basically get a pogo stick that rides like crap. And the other big thing is that dual suspension tend to get used with a lot of aluminum, just because of its stiffness and weight ...









HD: ... now, do you work with aluminum at all, or just steel and titanium?

CZ: Steel and titanium. Technically I have the capability--my welder welds AC, would be aluminum. I've messed with aluminum and it's different. It's the same kind of concept but a different kind of feel. I actually cut up a department store bike up that was aluminum, and just tried to mess with it. Didn't really like it that much. I much prefer the kind of feel of steel and Ti. And the market that I'm aiming for is much more attuned to that. Steel is still a very viable material as far as small manufacturing is concerned. We've been making bikes out of steel for hundreds of years now--well, a hundred and twenty years or so. You know, they've definitely developed a lot of good alloys now that are approaching competition weight.

HD: So where do you get the steel and titanium that you use to build frames?

CZ: There's a couple of different suppliers. There's a couple of companies out there, True Temper being one of them, Columbus being another one. They're big companies that actually make the tubing. And there's a couple of domestic suppliers that I get them from. There's this guy--Henry James is the name of the company--Hank Folsum is the guy who started it. And if you call them up you get to talk to Hank. And Hank distributes True Temper, which I've kind of been a big fan of recently. The last couple of bikes I've built have been different alloys of True Temper. It's a domestic company, which I kind of like, not that I don't like Italian tubing or anything like that. But Hank is an older guy, old and crusty, been around forever, and you call him up and you end up talking to him for half an hour or forty-five minutes about what's going on in the industry. It's almost not like you're buying a tube set, you're buying ...

HD: ... so when you're purchasing the metal, you're buying a set of tubes that's intended to be put together into a bicycle frame? You're not buying a big long 12-foot length of titanium?

CZ: Titanium is a little bit different. Steel, they have the butted tube sets, the butting being the thicker material in the ends where the stress occurs. The big thing is that the lighter weight tube sets are going to be butted more radically, thinner walls in the middle, but they're also going to be more expensive. I mean a basic tube set will run you a couple hundred dollars, but some of the higher end steel tube sets, will run you six hundred dollars because they're much higher grade of steel, they're much more difficult to butt into the profiles they use. A lot of times they're shaped for stiffness along different axes ...

HD: ... so not just circular cross sections, but elliptical ...

CZ: ... yeah, or triangular, or diamond-shaped. So those obviously are a much more labor-intensive process to draw the tube sets out to that kind of shape, and therefore the cost reflects that. When I'm working with titanium, it tends to be a lot more straight-gauge stuff. The thing about titanium, and a lot of the materials, is because of the industrialization of China, they're just eating up a lot of raw material. They just need as much metal as they can get their hands on, which has driven the price up, and run the availability a little bit thin as far as bike tubes are concerned. There used to be a big manufacturer out of Detroit, and the vice-president was a real avid cyclist, so he made sure that the tube sets were available for biking. [He left the company] and the company lost interest in the cycling aspect of it. Actually they went out of business a couple of years ago. There's a couple of different suppliers you can get the Ti from. The way I was taught is that the American Ti, as far as the purity and the quality, it's much better. There's Russian Ti you can get. I've seen cheap Chinese forks, fail and stuff like that. It's especially important with titanium, because it's much more aggressive in the way it wants to get contaminated. Steel is really easy to work with, because you just need to purge the outside of the tubing with the argon, and the argon bathes the weld, the inert gas keeping the oxygen from bonding with it. With Ti, you not only have to purge the outside of the tube, you have to back-purge the inside of the tube, to get all the oxygen out of the inside. You have to use acetone, and make sure that there's nothing at all ...

HD: ... so there's a lot of prep work involved before you can think about sticking the tubes together?

CZ: Exactly. And if you run a weld with steel, you run the bead and it's fine. But if you pull the gas lens off before it cools with the Ti, you run the risk of compromising the weld. So it's much more labor intensive process. Not only the material is usually more expensive than steel, but just the extra work that I have to do is much more intensive as well. The actual welding of Ti, I find, is much easier. Because it's a lighter metal and tends not to collapse on itself. As you become a better welder, you start to recognize the signs of what's happening. Steel will kind of swirl and then all of a sudden just kind of collapse in. Ti, because it's so much lighter, will actually kind of give you an extra half a second, two seconds, before it starts swirling. So the actual welding with Ti is much more pleasurable, I guess. But it's also the fact that if you roach a downtube on a Ti bike, you just ruined 350 dollars worth of stuff ...

HD: ... so I guess I'm a little disappointed to discover that the tubing you get comes in essentially bicycle-like lengths already.

CZ: Mmm hmm.

HD: In other words, you're not getting 12 foot lengths of titanium tube delivered to your house.

CZ: Right, right.

HD: And you understand why it's disappointing to me, right?

CZ: [?] Because I'm not cutting up 12-foot tubing?



HD: Well, I wouldn't want you to cut up the 12-foot tubing. I was thinking about what it would be like to make the Teeter Totter 2.0 out of titanium.

CZ: See, but you can do that, though! I mean, you can get that. Basically one of the main suppliers that I get tubing from is the school that I went to, ...

HD: ... and what school was that?

CZ: United Bicycle Institute. They're out in Ashland, Oregon. They're a great bunch of guys. The teacher is a guy named Jim Kish and he's been doing this for about 10 years. He actually lives in San Luis Obispo [Califiornia] and drives up there twice or three times a year to teach his class. They teach mechanics and other stuff there, not just frame-building. But it's one of the schools that does it. But because they're trying to support this and have the money, they actually will buy Ti tubing in bulk, and you can buy it by the foot. So basically they have twenty foot sections of Ti tubing. You'd just have to order it and have it shipped. So technically, yes, if you wanted to, you could indeed! However, just be prepared, Totter 2.0 if it's Ti, is going to be quite pricey!

HD: Well, I was hoping to get a ballpark idea of what that would be. The tubing is what, around an inch and a half in diameter? What would a typical diameter be?

CZ: That's the other thing about bicycle tubing, you don't really get huge Ti tubing. I would have to probably talk to the guys at UBI and see what they have, an inch and a quarter a lot of times being some of the biggest stuff you're going to get.

HD: So, say an inch and a quarter. So this is about a foot wide--and it needs to be narrower based on the feedback I've gotten from people [laugh]--so if we made it 10 1-inch diameter tubes wide, by 12 feet?

CZ: Thousands and thousands of dollars!

HD: Well, I mean three thousand is 'thousands and thousands', but 15,000 is 'thousands and thousands', too.

CZ: I would say somewhere closer to three thousand.

HD: And my second question is, Would that actually be strong enough?

CZ: Technically I think it would be strong enough. The problem is that--just from an engineering standpoint--a tube is not the greatest thing to make this beam out of. With titanium especially. Because what makes titanium good for bikes is ...

HD: ... it's flexy ...

CZ: ... it's flexy, right, it's light, it doesn't rust, it's pretty, you don't usually have to use a finish. But a bicycle is two diamonds welded together, so it's basically a rigid structure. Something like the teeter totter, you would really have to really reinforce that along the axis somehow. And in my mind, you know, I'm kind of running over it, and I really think that would probably be too ...

HD: ... it could be a three-thousand-dollar failed experiment?

CZ: Exactly! Which I'd be happy to take the Ti off your hands, after you're done with it! [laugh] But once again, I think there are more appropriate materials I think we could explore. Or you know perhaps different configurations. Perhaps like a Ti I-beam or something like that.

HD: I'm enamored of integrating titanium into the second version of the teeter totter somehow, just for the two T's, if nothing else.

CZ: Titanium Teeter Totter, there you go! I like that!





HD: Now you mentioned that titanium doesn't require a finish, and it's pretty, but the bike that's on the Great Lakes Cycling and Fitness website as an example of a frame you've built is painted green.

CZ: Yep.

HD: Why would you want to go and paint titanium green?

CZ: Well, I tell you what, Spectrum does an really nice job. The bike is painted green--I'm a Spartan, I went to Michigan State, you know.

HD: Oh! Okay. And Spectrum is the painting company?

CZ: Spectrum is actually a power-coating company, so it's actually a much more durable finish. And if you look at the bike, the logo is actually brushed bare Ti. Then the chain stays are actually bead-blasted Ti. So it's actually three different finishes. I had actually been riding that bike for about two years with just the bare Ti that I hadn't had finished yet. I just wanted to do something that looked pretty cool, and I debated about it and went around and around. Finally one night I was just like, Let's do that! And I think it came out really well, because they did a really nice job on it. And certainly it does add weight, but I just kind of like the green color.

HD: Well, surely paint adds weight, but not a significant amount, right?

CZ: It can be a couple of ounces. And when you're spending that kind of money on a bike--you know, four ounces is a quarter pound. And that does make a difference, especially in this biking world where they're getting production bikes down to like 13 pounds.

HD: What is the [pro cycling competition] weight minimum now?

CZ: It's still 14.998 pounds, I think is what it is exactly. They have it in kilos, but that's what it breaks down to. Gilberto Simoni, I believe it was, a couple of years ago--he's a little Italian guy and he rides like a 47 [cm] frame or something like that--the Cannondale team wore prison stripes and their campaign was, Legalize my Bike! because it was actually like 14.7 pounds or something like that. So they had to put a couple of water bottle cages on it to get it past that 15-pound weight.





HD: So you've been over at Great Lakes along with Oscar and Lindsay [Bustos] for almost six months now.

CZ: Yes, since the first of the year.

HD: Pretty well settled in at this point? Feels like home?

CZ: I think so. It really does. It's wonderful. It's right near my house, and I get to ride to work every day. We've got a great crew over there and it's going really really well!

HD: One new thing I know you've instituted is this 7-Day Service Guarantee. You're on the hook for that, because you're specifically managing the Service Department, right?

CZ: Well, I'm managing pretty much the whole store, but yeah! It was just ridiculous, because you have people who had to wait two or three weeks to get their bike back in the past. It's summertime and people want to get their bikes in and out. So we basically one night when Oscar and I, we were talking about our strategy, we said that we'd adopt this, and if worse came to worst, we'd just stay late til 10 or 11 o'clock to make sure all the bikes are done, but.

HD: So part of the guarantee is that if you don't get it back in 7 days, it's 20% off the bill? Is that the deal?

CZ: Yep!

HD: Have you had to pay that out at all yet?

CZ: Nope! We make sure that we're caught up, and we've been doing really well. We've had a significant increase in our service numbers, because word of mouth is starting to get around, I think, that we have the best service department in the city. It's going really, really well for us. We're getting a lot of good feedback from everybody and getting more and more people coming in. So we're excited.





HD: So BikeFest is coming up this Friday. You guys doing anything for that?

CZ: We are a huge part of BikeFest. Jess, well you know Jess ...

HD: ... Jess Richards?

CZ: Yeah, Jess has been working very closely with, ahh what is her name ...

HD: ... oh, yes I know who you mean, and I'm struggling to come up with her name, too, I just exchanged some emails with her, ahhh ...

CZ: ... Erica! Erica Briggs!

HD: Right, Erica.

CZ: He's been working very closely with Erica Briggs [getDowntown Director]. I'm actually going to be in charge of the track stand competition. I'm a big fixie fiend.

HD: Now do they have a separate division for fixed gear and non-fixed gear bikes? Because it's just not a fair competition a fixed gear against a free wheel, right?

CZ: I would agree, I would agree! But you know, I think that if you're going to be in a track stand competition, you should probably show up on a fixed gear if you want to win! [laugh] Depending on how many people show up, we'll see what happens. I'm probably going to play it a little bit by ear. We're getting the jumps back this year. I don't know if you know Thomas Hosford? His dad owns Hosford's Machine Shop--it's down off of Main Street near the M-14 on-ramp--he's a great guy. Were you down there last year?

HD: I was down there for the very start of it.

CZ: Well, they set up these jumps ...

HD: ... well, Great Lakes Cycling built them, right? And he [Thomas] stored them then?

CZ: Well, Thomas has like forty acres out off of Whitmore Lake and they're still out there. So we're bringing those back and we're putting those up, and we're putting on a maintenance clinic. We're definitely doing a big part of this. I think it's great the way that Ann Arbor supports cycling.

HD: So you going to have to close down the store an hour early to get down there?

CZ: We're actually going to close a couple hours early. We're going to send down a couple of people to get started. But everybody is basically required to bring their bike and ride down to BikeFest.

HD: So it's going to be like a parade?

CZ: Yeah, well, a very small parade, but a parade nonetheless on the way down! [laugh]







HD: You built a bike around the first of the year sometime, for someone who, as best I can tell, is a part of the roller derby scene? Does that ring a bell with you?

CZ: Mmm, yeah, my friend Billy? His wife is a roller derby participant, I guess?

HD: I don't know. I started with your MySpace page and several clicks later I was right in the middle of the Detroit Pistoffs, and I was trying to retrace how exactly how I got there. As best I can tell, you built a frame for someone. So are you dialed into the roller derby community?

CZ: I am. I'm not sure I'd classify myself as 'dialed in', but certainly I'm a derby fan, and a derby 'groupie' I guess I'd be.

HD: So you actually go to the derbies on a regular basis?

CZ: I do. I think I missed two bouts in the last year and a half, because I was actually out of town.

HD: Now where does this take place?

CZ: At the Masonic Temple is typically where. It's flat derby--it's not like the 70's derby with the banked track. They actually have a flat track that they put out. And it's amazing the kind of response they've gotten, too.

HD: I had no idea there was this kind of thing still going on.

CZ: I know! It's girls in skirts on skates beatin' the hell out of each other. How can you go wrong with that?

HD: [laugh] Do they use the old skates with the four wheels ...

CZ: ... yup, yeah, they're not blades. But these are not the old skates. My friend Jen--whose derby nom de guerre is 'Bikini Killer', after Bikini Kill, the band--they spend probably 300 dollars on skates, and go through wheels pretty quickly. So it's like anything else: you can get into it. And they have practices, and ...

HD: ... so just to be clear, they're not in-line skates, they're still the four ...

CZ: ... no, they're the four wheels, the old-style roller skates ...

HD: ... just with better technology, better rubber compounds, trucks and whatnot ...

CZ: ... and handmade Italian leather boots and stuff like that.

HD: Is there wagering involved?

CZ: Not that I've ever seen. It's basically just a bunch of people sitting in this room at the Masonic Temple, watching girls skate around. And they've got a deal with Pabst Blue Ribbon, so they're selling PBR there. They've got like three periods--the rules of derby are kind of hard to explain unless you see it, but basically there's a whole point system and strategy, and you really get into it. And it's fun. You'll get on the danger zone--it's like right around the corners--and you'll just be sitting on the ground right on the outside and then ...

HD: ... they go flying into the crowd?!

CZ: They do go flying into the crowd! The whole concept is they have two jammers, one for each team, and the jammers they do one lap, and once they do one lap, every person they pass from the other team, they get a point. That's just kind of a synopsis, but there's other things that go into it. You know, the other girls are trying to keep them from doing that. They're going around blocking, and they'll try to skate by, and they'll usually try to knock them on their butts.

HD: So three periods, are they determined by the number of laps completed or?

CZ: It's time, it's all time-based.

HD: And how long are the periods?

CZ: I believe they're twenty minutes long.

HD: Holy crap, so people are going full bore for 20 minutes and ...

CZ: ... well, no because they'll stop and change. It's a lot like hockey, they'll typically have ...

HD: ... so subbing people in and out ...

CZ: ... well, they'll have jams, where they'll last two or three minutes and they'll stop and switch jammers. They have a fairly large team, so it's not like they're doing it for 20 minutes straight. It's pretty crazy, I'd definitely recommend checking it out if you get a chance.

HD: Now where is the Masonic Temple?

CZ: It's in Detroit. I can get there, but I can't tell you how to get there! [laugh]

HD: [laugh] So it's fair to say, nevertheless, that these girls are extremely fit?

CZ: Ahhh, it'd be more appropriate to say that most of the girls have tattoos. You know certainly there's some girls who take this very seriously, and who are very fit. And certainly there's some girls who take this very seriously, not so fit, but are enthusiastic.

HD: But you yourself though, you're plenty fit. You lead the--what is it, the store rides?

CZ: Right, the Sunday morning rides.

HD: But Thursday's as well?

CZ: No, that's actually a guy named John is doing that. I'm trying to go out and do what's called the Thursday Night World's out at the Potawatomi [Trail] where a bunch of local guys get together and try to slap each other down on the trail. Just for the bragging rights for the next week.

HD: So that's not a store ride.

CZ: No that's just sort of informal. We are having John, one of our local guys, who bought a bike from us, actually running some rides from the store on Thursday nights, so we're hoping to get some good turnout for that.

HD: Well, listen you have anything else on your mind?

CZ: I like the teeter totter! It's pretty cool. I mean, I tell you what, it kind of helps the flow of the interview go along. I never quite, and just think, President Clinton sat right where I am! [laugh]

HD: Yeah, um, sure. [laugh]

CZ: No, I'm just glad to be here! It's a pretty cool concept.

HD: Alright, well thanks for coming over!

CZ: No problem, Dave!