Neuhaus Metalworks: Additive Performance
Neuhaus Metalworks is the moniker of Nick Neuhaus, a builder from Marin County, California. Since 2018, Nick has been building some beautiful hardtails with the latest additive manufacturing techniques. We had the chance to chat with Nick about 3D printing, production vs. custom bikes, and the future of bike building in general.
Neuhaus Metalworks is right up our alley: run by Nick Neuhaus and a few friends and located in Marin County (the birthplace of mountain biking)—Neuhaus Metalworks has had our interest from the moment we laid eyes on their Instagram account. We have to say, we love Nick's bikes. From a distance, they boast clean lines with an obvious eye on modern geometry. On closer inspection, you start to see details not commonly found on the bikes of most one-man shops. It took me a few minutes to understand what I was looking at when I first saw a yoke on the seat tube connecting the seat stays to the top tube on the Hummingbird, one of Nick's production models.
Pouring over the photos, I started to realize that Nick is doing a lot more than ordering some steel, slapping it in the jig, and welding it all together. He is utilizing some cutting-edge additive manufacturing techniques that aren't really associated with indie builders. This brought up a lot of questions around how this all gets done and what sort of impact it may have on the industry as a whole.
As always, we really appreciate Nick and the time he took to answer some of our questions. Let's Go.
How did you become a builder?
Ever since I raced BMX as a kid, I was in tune with how I like my bikes to ride and respond to me as a rider. I had a friend at the local BMX track whose dad always made his frames for him. I think I was around 14 when the true value of that began to sink in.
As I grew older, I moved away from BMX and mountain bike racing and began racing motorcycles. With the same desire to maximize my bike's performance based on my needs and style, I endlessly tinkered with the bike's suspension. At the same time, my brother and I would build race cars and rock crawlers out of our parents auto shop.
Around 2015, I found my way back to mountain bikes with an entirely new understanding of the relationship between vehicle and rider, along with an array of fabrication skills. As my fitness and cycling skills returned, it became apparent that I still had unique desires as a rider. In 2018 I built my first frame, and from there began to endlessly iterate searching for that mythical perfect formula. By 2019 I made that big first step towards professional framebuilding—liability insurance and registration as an LLC.
It wasn't long after that that a local rider named Daniel Yang contacted me about building a custom frame. He was looking for exactly the type of bike I like to make: an aggressive modern mountain bike but with a mellow, enjoyable side. Daniel, as it would turn out, has always had aspirations to make his own bikes and has a wealth of knowledge in additive manufacturing. We began working together refining frame designs and integrating new and cutting edge 3D printed parts to build more refined bikes quickly and with more accuracy. We tested parts, developed supply chains, refined geometries, and tested parts. We went all in on understanding and testing additive manufacturing and its use in bicycle construction.
That brings us to where I am now: three quarters of the way through the year with 53 frames built to date, two separate models each with 11 unique sizes available, and just over a three-month lead time.
Tell us about your motor sports experience. How does it translate into bike building?
My time spent racing dirt bikes and street bikes really helped sharpen my understanding of the relationship between rider and machine. I was very fortunate to have a number of established suspension tuners share their knowledge with me, and while the dynamics between motorcycle and bike differ, the foundational knowledge is the same.
How do you describe your bikes?
The most comfortable and compliant hardtail you'll ever ride—yet completely up to the task of handling whatever you want to throw at it. One of my customers said it best: “It is amazing how solid it feels in response to rider input, while it remains relatively indifferent to trail input.”
At a glance the Hummingbird and Solstice look very similar. How do they differ?
The ride feels very similar between the two, but the Solstice is a little longer up front, both in length and fork travel, a little slacker, and has a slightly shorter rear end. The Solstice is plenty happy getting to the top of the hill at a leisurely pace, while the hummingbird makes you feel like you want to push harder. Once at the top both bikes are capable descenders, but as the trails steepen and get rougher the Solstice will feel more at home.
On the flip side, if you find yourself picking your way over and around rocks or carving nicely groomed berms with small little hits and chutes in between, the Hummingbird will have the edge—thanks to its shorter wheelbase and increased agility. I always tell people, “if you don't know that you want the Solstice then you probably want the Hummingbird.” The Solstice likes the trails to be a bit steeper and rougher, the Hummingbird is going to cover the more mellow trails a bit more quickly while keeping things entertaining.
What does the end-to-end process for a custom build look like?
While I do offer full custom builds, the majority of my frames are one of the two production models with something we call Full Spectrum Sizing. The goal with Full Spectrum Sizing is to offer a near custom fit without any of the stress of feeling like you need some level of knowledge of what you want or need. As a customer I want to do business with companies that are easy to do business with, and that is what I strive to provide. If you can look at the models and geo charts and know what you want, an order can be placed through my web store. If you have questions and need help deciding what size and model is ideal for you, I welcome all emails and am more than happy getting into your exact requirements to ensure you are getting the best bike for you.
I take the same approach with complete bikes. I have put together two build kits at different price points, both consisting of parts I personally use and trust that add to my bikes, but I am more than happy to help you spec that full custom dream build if that is what you are after. Of course there are options for all frames: each frame can be built with either a T47 or a PF30 bottom bracket shell, ISCG tabs are available as an option should a bashguard be desired, and any combination of additional bottle, bolt on bag, and rack bosses are available. Of course the color choice is totally up to the customer and they can choose from thousands of powder coat color options. New for 2023 the Hummingbird can be ordered with sliding dropouts as well.
Who do you consider to be a crush-worthy builder (or brand) these days, and why?
Ooh, that's tough. I feel like I have to list a few. Brad Bingham because his welds are absolutely stunning. I'd also have to say Bastion Cycles. They have really pushed the envelope when it comes to additive manufacturing and get huge props for bringing their 3D printing in house so quickly.
What additive parts do you use on your frames? How does it work?
We print our chainstay yokes and seat tube yokes (Y yoke), the bottle bracket, dropper port and the associated port seal. The yokes are printed to improve frame performance while maintaining appropriate tire and chainring clearances. Each Y yoke is size specific and designed based on the tubing and (ultimately) rider size to maintain a consistent feel across all frame sizes. Each frame size uses a specific set of tubes to ensure that a 5'1" rider on an XXS has the same experience as a 6'5" rider on an XXL.
The bottle bracket is a part designed to allow for more dropper insertion into the seat tube. It also tips the bottle forward, giving more room for a second bottle on smaller frames. Every frame can hold a regular bottle on the down tube and at least a small bottle on the seat tube.
The dropper ports were designed out of an identified need for a cable entry port that actually seals water out and stays in place.
We work directly with our printer rather than going through a middleman. We are afforded this opportunity thanks to Daniels wealth of knowledge in additive manufacturing, and ultimately it gives us more control of the parts and processes.
What unique challenges do you have in front of you?
As a one-man operation I need to be as effective as possible with my time. While bouncing between fabrication, finishing, assembly, and shipping, I want to provide high quality handmade bikes as affordably as possible and figure out how to scale my business without drastically increasing overhead costs. I'm sure this will continue to be a challenge moving forward.
What can we expect from Neuhaus in the future?
More amazing bikes. Of course the Solstice and Hummingbird are here to stay, but I am really hoping to expand my product range over the coming year to include gravel and road bikes. The versatility and flexibility in design afforded by 3D printing provides a way to reduce cost while improving design and functionality. This means we can pivot quickly when new standards or designs dictate and create a workflow that lends itself well to constant evolution. The road to perfection is long and uncertain, but our design processes and use of modern technology will help us navigate it while making some of the best bikes around.
Oh, and titanium—I have a feeling that in the not-so-distant future all of your favorite Neuhaus Metalworks frames will also be available in titanium… but that's just a feeling.
When looking at small batch hardtails, the mind conjures up a scene of a shop, a builder, a welding torch and jig—a place and process where technology plays a very small part. Sure, geometries might change over time, but, in essence, hardtails imply a traditional sense of craftsmanship and a mindset that has ultimately remained untouched by technology.
But that's not Nick's story. His scene is that shop, but his approach is about adoption and open mindedness to new forms of fabrication. Even fresher is Nick's idea that using these technologies is much more than a marketing ploy: it's a way to improve products for people. Together, 3D printing and Nick's unique approach to sizing make his bikes way more flexible in their production. Not a common trait of small batch building. We applaud this; and hey, straight up, that Y yoke looks damn good.
Nick is definitely on the right path and his bikes are hot. We expect that we will be seeing much more of Neuhaus in the future, and we can't wait to see what that future is.