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NAHBS 2017 Builder Profile: Tom Donhou

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Name: Tom Donhou
Donhou Bicycles
Years Building:7
Website: www.donhoubicycles.com
Social media:
twitter and Instagram and Facebook
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What was your first bike- not the first one you built? How did it come to you?
My first bike was a little Mongoose Minigoose, raced my first BMX race on it and would jump ditches on the local building site until I was far too big for it. It even had a spell of being set up as a “speed” bike when I flipped and laid flat the bars for more aerodynamics! Was a Christmas present when I was young.

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What was the last bike you bought that you didn’t make, and why?
Last bike I bought was a NS Snabb to replace my dangerously fatigued and over repaired 1999 Kona Stab, that I had been using since I raced downhill on it back in the very early 2000’s. I’d broken it and “made do and mended” it for 15 years. When I noticed a new crack forming during a downhill race last year I decided it was time I needed to replace it before I injured myself. Was super sad to see it go. The Snabb was the first new bike I’d bought in 15 years!

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When did you decide to start making frames of your own? What influenced you to do so?
I was actually out on the road in China, riding from Ulaanbaatar in Mongolia to Singapore. I’d ridden out across the Gobi desert and on into to China. As I was riding I was redesigning the bike I was riding, essentially designing the perfect expedition bike. That led onto how I was going to make it/have it made and as I lay in my tent one night on the side of the road in China it came to me, I’d start building frames and build it myself.

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What was the last odd job you held before frame building?
I was a product designer.

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Did you have a mentor when you started, or do you still have one?
No, I’m fully self taught. If I had to say I had a mentor I would say that Paul from Burnham Auto’s was a key guy, he opened his doors to me as a keen kid. I used to hang around at his hot rod shop and picked up a lot of what its like to run a custom shop, that was a key inspiration for starting up Donhou Bicycles.

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What do you listen to when you’re working?
All sorts, although it does tend to swing mostly between old time music or synthwave. For the darker days, a lot of punk rock gets played and when all else fails Swans go on. Right now I’m listening to Keith Lovett, a genuine travelling folklorist I met in Moab after the NAHBS show, we don’t get people like that in the UK and I was touched to meet him.

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What’s your favorite tool in the shop and why?
I like my ten inch round second cut file. I use it a lot for filing fillets and I guess I just like its simplicity over power files, the control I get from using it.

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Every builder seems to have an “Ah Ha” moment where they figure out some way to do a weld different or set up a jig for that one type of braze-on, what was yours? And did it come easily to you once you figured it out?
You get a few of these and it’s nice when they appear! The last one I had was during the design process of our new CX model, while designing the seat lug for it. I always thought it would be a cool idea to include a seat lug in the design of my bikes, but when I realised how many design problems it over-came in one go, it was a real ‘ah ha' moment!

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When designing or building a bike for someone, what is your thought process? What sticks out most about a build/design that you need to tackle first?
The start point is always the customers fit details, that lays out exactly what we have to work around and then we go from there. Tune the geometry and tube choice for the type of use the bike will get and how the rider likes a bike to feel, then we can start adding some personal touches with paint or bi-lam construction or some of the things we can offer as a custom builder. It just happens with a lot of discussion with the customer, try and gleam as much info as possible and rely on my design background for reading between the lines, to be able to offer what sometimes a client can’t quite visualise themselves.

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What’s your go to bike when you go on a ride?
Right now my go to bike is my 853 pub bike. Looks like a total beater but it’s a real sleeper and I love it. Single speed with CX tyres, it gets on/off road action, I will go out to the forest for a ride with the dog, commute on it and even race CX on it. Now the weathers getting better again, will start bringing out some of the other “better" bikes but its definitely the go to right now.

Donhou Bicycles, NAHBS 2017