Dave Wages, owner and founder of Wisconsin-based Ellis Cycles, has a traditional, American backstory to his rise to become a highly-respected custom bicycle builder.
Wages started out working in bike shops before beginning his frame-building apprenticeship and tenure at Serotta Cycles from 1994-2000. From 2000-2008, Wages honed his skills and polished his sterling reputation for craftsmanship at Waterford Bicycles.
In February 2008 – “right in the depths of the economic doldrums,” as Wages puts it – he hung his shingle out as Ellis Cycles.
While it’s probably incorrect to describe any bicycle-builder’s rise to prominence in Horatio Alger, rags-to-riches terms, Ellis Cycles has seen positive, steady growth in business since Wages branched out on his own.
“Every year is a positive step forward,” he says. “NAHBS is huge for us. Half of our website traffic results from leads generated through NAHBS.”
At this year’s show, Wages is displaying a stainless steel randonneur bike that pays homage to the work of the mid-20th century French constructeurs - builders like Rene Herse and Alex Singer – whose output is currently seeing a renaissance in attention and a whole slew of emulators.
Les constructeurs had a holistic approach to bicycle design. They built whole bikes – not just frames- meant for the long haul. Strength, utility and comfort were favored over light weight and fleeting fashion. Each and every component was an apotheosis of singular precision meant to integrate flawlessly into the whole unit.
It might be tempting to label constructeur bikes as precious pieces of nostalgia meant to linger in museums; the work of retro-grouches even in their own time.
Wages corrects this misconception. “The constructeur guys were cutting edge. They were constantly pushing the envelope of technology.”
With this example in mind, the Ellis rando bike is configured for Shimano Di2 electronic shifting, includes S&S couplings, and uses the latest in stainless steel tubing technology.
But it’s out on the road that any bike finds its true meaning, and Wages does his part in to be in touch with current cycling event trends. He loves to ride in gravel road epics, and he’s currently training for a 100-mile gravel ride – the Monzo – held in nearby Minnesota later this summer.
He’ll be using an Ellis road bike specifically designed for use on gravel roads, with 35c tire clearance, and even the ability to run studded tires during the long Midwestern winters. It’s a type of bike he’s been making more and more of for his customers.
“The gravel road bike doesn’t limit you to pavement, and it encourages riders to explore varied terrain,” says Wages.
Les Constructeurs would be proud.