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Lugs Not Drugs: A Frank Endeavor

Lugs Not Drugs is a brand from Michigan created by Frank Rotondo in 2016. Frank’s stickers, shirts and other products combine his passions for art, design and culture with a love for bikes. We sat down with Frank to chat about the whole enchilada.

Lugs Not Drugs: A Frank Endeavor

A few months back, while strolling past my local community center, a locked-up bike grabbed my attention, as special bikes often do. I take pride in my knack for deducing the type of person based solely on their choice of ride. This particular setup, a unique blend of vintage parts on a single-speed 26er, clearly wasn't assembled by chance. What truly caught me off guard, however, was a sticker adorning the top tube, provoking an unexpected burst of laughter from me in public—a rare occurrence. It read: “my other bike is existential dread.” Instantly, I sensed that the bike's owner and I could be fast friends.

Often, our interviews materialize through recommendations from our friend Nick Vacca of Send It Safely, who casually drops suggestions like, “Hey man, you should talk to so-and-so.” Recently, he pointed us in the direction of the individual behind Lugs Not Drugs, a brand and Instagram account I've long recognized but never fully explored. Initially skeptical due to the lack of information or an "about'' page on their site, my curiosity piqued as I delved deeper, uncovering references in LND’s products that resonated with me. It became clear that the creator draws significant inspiration from art, design, and music.

These interviews are invariably full of surprises; I never quite know what to expect. This time was no exception. Unraveling the mystery, we discovered that LND is the alias of Frank Rotondo from Farmington, Michigan, who prefers to remain (visually) anonymous. This interview revealed a kindred spirit, reminiscent of the owner of the "my other bike is existential dread" sticker (a Lugs Not Drugs original, by the way). I felt a strong sense that, behind LND, was someone with whom I would like to get to know.

So, let's do that...

Can you give us the skinny on Lugs Not Drugs?

I started using the hashtag #lugsnotdrugs around 2013 as a silly idea for posting pictures of lugged bicycles on Instagram. Bicycles have been a significant part of my life ever since I learned to ride my first two-wheeler at the age of 4. It wasn't until 2016, with encouragement from Megan Dean of Moth Attack, Jeremy Schlachter of Gallus Cycles, and Julie Ann Pedalino, that I created the IG account and began making patches with the Lugs Not Drugs motto. From there, it gradually gained popularity as I occasionally designed new patches and expanded into making stickers, reflectors, bungee straps, bags, tees, hats, and stem caps. My inspirations mainly come from art, design, music, and movies, with art museums being my favorite places to find inspiration. Through Lugs Not Drugs, I have had the fortune of meeting incredible, creative people and working with them on all my projects, building meaningful and lasting friendships.

For the most part, I like to remain somewhat anonymous because it’s all about the bikes and the community. I rarely post pics of myself, not to keep it mysterious, but to keep the focus on the bicycles and the people behind them. This approach has been a great tool for raising money during difficult times for different causes, from bail funds and abortion funds to Palestine. Honestly, I’m very appreciative of all the support I’ve received for my eccentric leanings over the years. I’m always floored when people I meet tell me they follow my account or show me one of my own patches or stickers on their gear.

What does Lugs Not Drugs mean?

Lugs Not Drugs is just a silly play on the Hugs Not Drugs motto I remember seeing in the 1980’s. I think segments of the cycling world take themselves too seriously and we need to be able to loosen up and laugh at ourselves while sharing our love for all things that pertain to bicycles.

Is LND a full time gig or a side hustle?

Side hustle for sure! I would be houseless if I relied on this for income. Lugs Not Drugs is a creative outlet for me to work with friends and design fun things for fellow bike nerds to enjoy. For many years I led an improv jazz group, but I stopped performing live music in 2007. I continue to make and record ambient music on occasion and LND has been another way to remain creative. Thinking of new things to design gets me through the day at my factory job where I’m a welder. Furthermore, using IG to post my stuff has been a mixed bag. The past few years have been difficult with the algorithm. A post will receive hundreds of likes and the next post will be seen by less than 50 people. A lot of my outreach and sales have been through word of mouth and people posting my stuff in their stories which has been greatly appreciated.

Lugs Not Drugs also paved the way toward the creation of the Ann Arbor Handmade Bike Show. This year will be the 4th event that I've put together with Sic Transit Transit Cycles of Ann Arbor and the first show after a 5 year hiatus. It’s a free show for both exhibitors and the community to showcase smaller builders and makers that can’t afford to do the bigger bike shows. We start the event off with a 30ish mile mixed surface ride and then everyone heads to the shop for the handmade bikes and goods that are on display for the afternoon. It’s a really fun community day.

You’re a welder! Ever think about building frames?

I actually studied framebuilding with Doug Fattic ten years ago. The three week course was intensive and what I learned during that time has helped me shape a great deal of my thinking around bikes and gave me the idea for Mitten Works. Unfortunately, with the cost of tooling and equipment, I found that it is less expensive to send my geo sheet and tube sets to friends and have them build a frame and fork for me. Around four years ago I took a bicycle fit course with friend and expert fitter Maxine Bratus of BikeFitMi. She is a wealth of information and it helped me build on what little I already knew about fit procedure.

Any advice for young entrepreneuring-types that may be going down the same path?

Don’t do it! But if you do, treat it as a hobby because it has never been about making money—the connections I made with the bicycle community are most important. Use it as a creative outlet to share your passion and if that passion shows, others will enjoy it as well. I also wish I was young!

Who is the turtle mascot and what does he stand for?

Huckleberry is all about traveling light and enjoying the simple things in life. Unfortunately, we are all in a hurry and working ourselves to early deaths in this society. Huckleberry is a reminder that we need to relax and enjoy ourselves. Originally, my old friend Matthew Gordon designed Huckleberry from bad sketches and ideas I gave him for a head badge design. In 2017, I was working on a couple of prototype 650b all road bikes that were made by Gallus Cycles for my Mitten Works line. As much as I wanted to do a run of these bikes I found that it wasn’t financially sound at the time. A few months after the bikes were completed I decided Huckleberry would make a great patch and sticker. He became my mascot. I cannot emphasize enough how happy it makes me that people have embraced Huckleberry as much as they have.

What’s your best selling product to date?

Probably the Ride Bikes and Listen To Steely Dan sticker, which was designed by my friend Mitchell McArtor of Still Life Editions. Another silly idea of mine that I thought would appeal to only a handful of people! Who would have thought there were that many Steely Dan fans that are also bike nerds!?

Where do you get your product ideas?

Mostly from music, art, movies, nature and the design world. I worked retail for many years (which I do not recommend) including 3 record shops, a book shop/art gallery, a soccer business, and two bike shops. My experiences in retail have given me several ideas and I sprinkle in the occasional early 80’s sci-fi fantasy movie (Krull) reference or avant garde artist (Duchamp). From there, I annoy my friends and act as if they are a focus group for my ideas.

Frank’s Current Playlist

Favorite framebuilders...?

There are so many and I know I’ll forget a few of them. In no particular order: Bishop, Chapman, Johnny Coast, Gallus, Schon, Ahearne, WZRD, DiNucci, Moth Attack, Retrotec, Jamie Swann, Peter Weigle, Thompson, Bantam, Nobilette, Ellis, Royal H, Mariposa, Demon, and Black Sheep to name a few.

With so much screwed up in the world…how do you keep centered and sane?

Hanging out with my amazing wife and our giant goofy dog. We visit art museums, share music, and take nature walks. Staying connected with friends, old and new is a big one for me. The bicycle community has been an amazing support network and it’s good to know that so many people care. And of course, riding and camping when I can, which is never enough.

Thanks, Frank! 🙇‍♂️

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