Framework bottom bracket

Behind the Curtain: Framework Bicycles

An old idea reimagined for the modern age.

James Huang
by James Huang 13.02.2024 Photography by
James Huang
More from James +

Have you heard of a restomod? It’s a popular term in automotive circles that describes an older – heritage, even – vehicle that’s been reimagined with contemporary hardware. Like say, a 1960s Volvo P1800 coupe with a turbocharged four-cylinder engine with 4 1/2 times the power of the original, or a 1970s Mini Cooper transformed into an EV using guts from a Tesla Model S. It’s the aesthetic of yesterday combined with the functionality of today. 

Hamilton, Ontario-based upstart bicycle brand Framework Bicycles builds its custom frames with carbon fiber tubes bonded to aluminum lugs. For those of you who have been around long enough to remember, the look is more than a little evocative of the original Specialized Allez Epic, the Alan Carbonio, or a TVT 92. Only this is no tribute to a time gone by for the sake of nostalgia. 

Those lugs are designed using a clever parametric CAD program, they’re made entirely by CNC machines, and then they’re treated with gleaming nickel-plated surfaces to combat the galvanic corrosion that doomed all of those other mixed-material frames of yesteryear. The carbon fiber tubes are also made using modern methods, filament wound on another computer-controlled machine before being cured under both internal pressure and external vacuum. Glass beads in the bonding agents add further resistance to galvanic corrosion while also maintaining a consistent – and predictable – bond gap for alignment and reliability. 

And needless to say, you won’t find any cables or rim brakes here. Routing is fully internal through the custom-made headset parts, there’s a Universal Rear Derailleur hanger out back, and the made-in-house crankset rotates on cartridge bearings that are pressed directly into the shell with no additional cups required. 

Quite remarkably, all of this – and save for the nickel plating, I really do mean all of it – is done by Framework founder Jonathan Kennedy, inside a modest space tucked into the end of an industrial building situated a stone’s throw from the train tracks. Kennedy certainly isn’t the only one-person bike brand in the custom business, but what’s maybe more intriguing is his philosophy behind it all, and why the brand is “Framework” instead of “Kennedy Cycles” or some other eponymous variant.

“It would be totally impossible to make what I’m making, at the price I’m making it for, utilizing outside vendors,” Kennedy told me during my visit to his shop a few weeks ago. “Good luck finding a CNC shop that can mill those lugs. You’d be in the CA$300/hr range for the shop rate, and they would charge to reprogram everything for each different part (i.e. every single bike). So I could outsource that machining, but the bikes would be CA$20k. The time and effort I put into building the parametric model, designing the bike so it can be machined, and making the generation of the g-code automatic, is what is truly special about how I’m doing things.”

Calling the brand “Framework” centers the work more than the maker. “I want to be judged solely on the merit of what I make, and not the stories I tell about it,” he told me. “Likely, that’s a totally naive hope in this industry. It seems like that’s what most of a successful bike company is. 

“I certainly don’t want the brand to be about me, or high standards. I’m trying to build a process and system for which those results can be guaranteed independent of the people involved (within reason). This involves an integrated approach to designing the products to be made in the context of how it is going to be made. Most boutique brands seem focused on the skill, talent, experience, or artistry of their teams. It’s an unpopular opinion, but I think that if your manufacturing business depends on highly skilled people, you don’t have a manufacturing business; you have a talent agency that makes things to pay the bills. 

“I don’t think I’m doing anything particularly groundbreaking. It’s still just a bike with two wheels. My hope is that I’m considering the manufacturing challenge of constructing a bicycle from a slightly different background and perspective and arriving at a slightly unique result to both the design and execution. But I’m really proud of what I do, and I really hope to build a sustainable business around it.”

But are the bikes any good? They’re beautiful and apparently exceedingly well made, but how do they perform? Kennedy is open about his relative inexperience in the field – he’s only built a couple dozen frames so far – but also realistic about expectations.

“You might ride my bike and say it’s shit and chalk that up to inexperience on my behalf,” he said. “That is completely acceptable to me. It’s ostensible that one builder’s style simply speaks to your sensibilities as a rider or consumer, and really it has nothing to do with who is better, or more experienced, or more ‘right.’ Everyone is going to have their story. I just don’t make much of a fuss of it because it’s not something I can back up with testing. For me, it is relatively simple to course correct and change aspects of ride feel based on the construction methodology. Of the 20 or so bikes I have on the road, I have yet to receive any universal feedback indicating something that needs to be improved.

“I’m not implying the bikes are perfect, or won’t be tweaked, but to use the cooking analogy, I’m starting with really excellent ingredients,” he continued. “Yes, it is totally possible to combine them in a manner that leaves something to be desired, but it also doesn’t take much to make really good ingredients taste good. Just keep it simple and tweak some small things here or there if a change needs to be made. When customers have come to me wanting to buy a bike but are extremely focused on ride feel, I try to politically talk them out of the purchase unless they are willing to travel here and test a bike. In my opinion, there is no way for any frame builder to guarantee that they can make the perfect bike for any customer, no matter how much experience they have. “

Call Kennedy’s creations a throwback if you feel the need. But he clearly isn’t just doing things at Framework the way they used to be done, and just like that Volvo P1800 restomod, you’d perhaps be wise not to make assumptions based only on outward appearances. You remember that old saying about assuming things, no?

You’ll have to wait just a bit longer for my full review of the Framework to hear how it performs, but in the meantime, here’s a detailed look at how they’re made. 

What did you think of this story?