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Peter Saucerman/

Making a Statement With Steel

One of the three bikes Tim O’Donnell of Shamrock Cycles brought to NAHBS is a city bike.

It’s obviously a carrier of goods, with a basket and rack, and the light-green paint job makes it stand out even more between the  jet-black, lugged road bike and the shiny blue, fillet-brazed cross bike. And it makes O’Donnell, the one man behind the one-man shop that is Shamrock Cycles, nervous.

Photo: Peter Saucerman/

The city bike is O”Donnell’s entry into the Gates Carbon Drive Frame Design competition. It’s the first bike he’s ever built on spec – it has no owner, as he puts it – “and it really makes me nervous,” he laughs.

After all, a typical bike takes O’Donnell about a day and a half to build, and given the combination of trial-and-error necessary to put a novel frame type together, and the complexity of building a frame for a belt drive, it represents about two weeks of work.

His attention to detail is evident, and people attending the show trace their fingers on the frame, guessing at the internal cable routing, some realizing the bike is also threaded with internal wiring for the lights.

“Everything’s internal,” O’Donnell groans. Even the rear hub is an 11-speed Alfine that Tim expects to show up on mountain bikes.

O’Donnell’s business is steel frames and forks, and he makes a statement about what steel can do when he builds. The road bike he brought is a lugged-frame bike that weighs 16 pounds with pedals, and it can convert people to believers in steel.

Shamrock Cycles produces 20-28 frames per year, and set up shop in 2003. O’Donnell’s career began with a penchant for wood and metal building when he was a teenager that developed into rebuilding British motorcycles.

Responding to an urge to build a bicycle frame, O’Donnell ordered a lugged frame from Nova (also at the NAHBS show), and produced a frame “crooked as polio,” as he puts it. So he took it back apart and put it back together. And he did the same for some friends. “Basically, a hobby became a business when I wasn’t paying attention.”

Shamrock Cycles builds bikes Tim O’Donnell himself would use, and as a former road racer and current cyclocross and mountain bike competitor, he leaves tandems and flat-bed cargo bikes to people who obsess with them.

“I build bikes I like and which I understand,” he says. His shop in Indianapolis, IN gets help from painter Mike Corby, who is at the show with O”Donnell. The bikes they produce are priced at $1,950 per frame and $350 per fork.

This is the fifth NAHBS show for Shamrock Cycles, and while new orders are good, O’Donnell’s here for the company.

“The biggest benefit to this show – and anybody who tells you different is lying – is the comeraderie,” he says. He likens the show to an 1880s-era fur trappers rendezvous. Most of the builders are small, one- or two-man shops, and when they get out of the shop to socialize, no one talks the same language.

Here at NAHBS, O’Donnell says, “You don’t have to dumb it down.”