Inside Sklar Bikes
We passed through Bozeman, Montana, recently and stopped in to visit with Sklar Bikes, see a few beautiful rigs, and chat with owner/builder Adam Sklar about bikepacking, trail geometry, and what’s behind his signature curved top tubes. Here’s the interview, plus a lot of tasty bike photos and details on the new Sklar Sweet Spot hardtail…
While working on an engineering degree, 18-year-old Adam Sklar started building steel bikes in his parents’ garage with tools from the local hardware store. Sklar Bikes was born a couple years later as Adam lived out his obsession with building frames for friends, then friends of friends, and ultimately strangers. Fast forward several years and Sklar Bikes is alive and well, winning awards and creating some of the most sought after hand-built gravel, all-road, and mountain bikes in the industry. I had the opportunity to meet Adam and spend a very rainy day poking around his shop in Bozeman, Montana, chatting about the northern wilds and trying to grab a few outdoor bike photos between rain showers. Here’s the interview…
How old were you when you got into bikes, and when did it become your life?
I started riding bikes as a kid like a lot of people, but it really kicked in when I went mountain biking for the first time in high school. While growing up in Colorado, skiing, climbing, and camping were my “things.” The backcountry adventures we would create to get to those activities were a huge part of it as well. When I first tried mountain biking I got hooked on the ability to cover so much ground, and to do so quickly. I mean, have you ever tried riding a bike down a hill? I got into some NICA racing at the end of high school, but the main draw to bikes has always been the adventure and the outside aspect. I would say that still defines my life a lot more than bikes.
When did you start making bike frames and how did that come about?
I started making bikes when I was 18, the winter break after my first semester of engineering school. I had been riding a few steel mountain bikes that I really liked, and after buying a fork from a local builder my eyes were opened to the fact that people could build bikes at all. I got hooked and taught myself most of the skills until I found a mentor who also taught me a lot – Tom Jungst, who built frames in Bozeman in the 70s and 80s. Building bikes was all I could think about for a long time. Once I had made a handful for myself, my friends started asking for them, then friends of friends, and then finally strangers. Before I knew it I was running a business and the rest is history, I suppose.
The first frame I built was a lugged cross bike for myself. It went so poorly that I never even put parts on it. I had no idea what I was doing while building it in my parents’ garage with tools from the hardware store. If I hadn’t jumped into it so naively though, I’m sure I would be doing something different now.
You’ve won a few awards at NAHBS; is there one you are particularly proud of?
Winning best mountain bike was really nice nod from some of the old-time industry folks.
A lot of people might recognize a Sklar by the signature curved top tube. How’d that idea come to you and how has your aesthetic evolved over the years?
The aesthetic I have now evolved over a number of years and it is still changing. The curvy top tubes come from my friend Brae (currently the owner of All Sports Replay in Gunnison, CO) nagging me for a curved top tube frame. I told him if he paid for the bender I would do it. He obliged and got the first curvy frame and I got the bender that I still use today.
I like that you can recognize a Sklar frame unpainted. I think that’s important.
What else about your building technique/style makes a Sklar frame different from others?
The big difference with a Sklar is the intention. I only use the nicest materials for each frame, which puts you at a starting point that’s miles ahead of any mass-produced bike. Those materials are chosen for a specific rider and riding style, as is the geometry, component compatibility, and parts kit. Most of my customers relate to the fact that I ride a lot, and they relate to the way that I ride my bike as well – seriously, but not competitively, for fun. I can nerd out about technology and standards as much as anyone in the bike world, but I really try to keep it about the experience that these things are providing and not tech for the sake of tech.
Tell us a little about your 3D-printed yoke and why you did it.
The real challenge of building with modern-geometry mountain bikes is tucking tires and chain rings in close. There are only so many ways to snake a chainstay in between the two with short chainstays, but after many, many frames with heavily manipulated tubes or plate yokes I stepped up and designed and built these 3D printed chainstay yokes. 3D printing is incredible in this application because unlike any other form of metal manufacturing you can make pieces hollow and add internal structure for support. This means that these yokes are stronger, stiffer, lighter, and ultimately more effective than anything else out there, and that is pretty cool. I am having them made in stainless for my steel bikes and the first couple of Ti frames using the yokes are in production right now. It was a fun project to put my engineering skills to use and come up with something really cool and effective.
You seem to have a pretty good handle on the style of geometry you like in your mountain bikes; tell us about this.
Designing, building and riding hundreds of bicycles is a really great way to get a handle on geometry. It has been fun to always push the boundaries when building myself new bikes. Offering truly progressive geometry and being able to stray away from the norms is maybe my favorite part about being a small company. See the geometry of the new Sweet Spot mountain bike. It’s really not something you can get from a big company and it’s the most fun bike I’ve ever ridden.
Big picture questions: What’s your favorite tire size? And, carbon or aluminum rims?
Tire size: The one on the bike I am riding. Rims: I hate to say this because I know there is a really big price barrier to a lot of people, but carbon rims rule for durability’s sake. I’m hooked.
You share a space with Alter Cycles. How’d that come about?
Mason and Steve are some of my best friends and sharing a location together has been awesome. They had some extra space they weren’t using and it took months of begging before they let me build it out and start working there. We’ve both grown quite a bit since then, but they are great neighbors in a great neighborhood. Being next to a bike shop and seeing what people are riding and breaking (or not) has been really helpful in designing the best bikes possible.
How’d you get into bikepacking?
It just made sense. I liked bike riding, I liked camping, and it turned out I liked bike camping too. I was lucky to have some excited friends who liked the idea of it. I always like telling people that it is something really easy to overthink. Just hop on your bike and go!
What’s been your favorite multi-day trip, so far?
Hard to say, but my first big trip was riding the Colorado Trail with some of the old friends who got me into riding bikes in the first place. That was a really special experience.
I photographed four of the bikes you had on hand. Tell us a little about each one:
The klunker was a fun weekend project. Most of the tubes are out of the scrap bin, but it has become one of my favorite bikes to ride. It’s B+ with fun mountain bike geometry. I ride it a lot on the townie trails in Bozeman, on some big rides, and even some tours. Notable features are Flat out coaster cooler and the very first set of my bullmoose bars. Love that KS under-the-seat dropper post too.
Titanium 27.5+ MTB
This bike is for a customer in Bend. A super fun all-rounder trail bike that is a good example of how I apply my design philosophy to custom bikes, dialed in for this rider’s body dimensions and riding style. You can read the full specs and details here.
Sweet Spot 29er
This is my mountain bike and the prototype for my new stock-geometry mountain bike, the Sweet Spot. It features modern forward geometry and my 3D printed stainless steel chainstay yokes that allow for a 29×2.8″ tire and a regular boost chainline. It is the most fun mountain bike I’ve ever ridden and I am looking forward to riding it for a long time. More info and specs on the Sweet spot here.
Titanium gravel bike
My hybrid is a lot of things for me. I initially built it to ride the mixed terrain rides that I like a lot here in Bozeman. Rides of 5-10 miles of pavement, 10ish miles of dirt road, and then finally fun flowy singletrack. It is great for that with some MTB handlebars, though as pictured it’s set up with my touring bullmoose bar. Turns out it is a great bike for gravel touring, too.
What’s your lead time and what can someone expect if they order a bike from you?
My lead time is about 10 months for a custom titanium frame and about three months for my steel stock-geometry bike, the Sweet Spot.
Last (silly) question. If you had to build your last bike tomorrow, and it was going to be the only bike you could ride for the rest of your life, what would it be? Give us some details!
This changes all the time, but it would probably be a 110ish suspension corrected bike with forward geo and 29 x 2.8″ tires. I’d have a rigid and squishy fork for it and probably swap the bars and tires around all the time. Might have to make one of those…
Sklar Sweet Spot
While Sklar Bikes has been focused on custom bikes—and will remain so—the new Sweet Spot is the brand’s first “production” bike. Still handmade in Bozeman, Montana, the mission behind the Sweet Spot is to reduce wait time for a very popular style of bike, and one that Adam takes very seriously—a bike that’s completely in line with his mountain bike geometry philosophy. According to Adam, “The Sweet Spot has a well balanced design that makes for efficient climbing and confident descending on rides short and long. It is not a 6” trail bike that flies down hills but drags going up, nor is it an XC race rig that climbs like a breeze but lacks stability in descent. The Sklar Sweet Spot came to be through designing, building, and riding hundreds of different mountain bikes over the past decade. In that time Sklar has refined geometry and materials to create a mountain bike that truly does it all.”
- 150mm Travel (designed for 51mm offset, 551mm AC)
- 73mm BSA Bottom bracket Shell
- EC34mm/44mm Headset (Size M&L) 44mm (size S)
- Clearance for up to a 36T chainring (boost chainline)
- Stainless Steel 3D printed Chainstay Yoke
- External Cable routing
- Frame Material: Double butted, Air-Hardened Chromoly Steel. (Vari-Wall, Columbus and NOS True Temper)
- 148x12mm BOOST Spacing, Syntace dropout
- 180mm Post Mount rear brake
- Designed for 29” x 2.6”-2.8” tires
- 31.6mm Seat post (stealth routing)
- 3 bottle cages, one under the Down tube
The Sklar Sweet spot will be available in Small, Medium or Large, powder coated in Pebble Grey, Strawberry Pink, Umbra Grey, or Mint Pastel. Frame only will start at $2,850 with various builds going up from there. Learn more over at SklarBikes.com.