Richie Ditta isn't a stranger to the Velodrome. It's Tuesday night, the last night of race season, and he's standing on the sidelines, talking to just about everyone who walks by. People notice him, partly because his red hair and black-and-white Las Vegas cycling cap are easy to spot, and partly because they recognize him from Mash SF, the 2007 documentary featuring bike messengers doing tricks, racing through traffic, taking calculated risks, rolling down the steep hills of San Francisco and touting the merits of fixies (fixed-gear—single-speed—bikes that don't typically have brakes). Mostly, though, people stop to chat with Ditta simply because he's a super-nice guy.
As Ditta passes the packed wooden bleachers, where bikesters talk about their Bianchis while half-watching the races, kids slap him on the back to say s'up. One lanky guy even goes in for a kiss. Ditta dodges the advance, saying his lips are chapped from being at a bike conference in Vegas, and the guy launches into a story about how the helmet Ditta gave him a few weeks ago may have saved his life. As an official old-school fixie rider, a lot of what Ditta ends up doing is giving fixie virgins advice on how not to get killed.
But when Ditta isn't doling out advice, or working his day job at Adams Avenue Bicycles, he's doing what he loves most—hand-building steel bike frames, creating what he calls “rolling art.”
“So, these are two of my bikes,” Ditta says, pointing to a good-looking pearl-white bike and a tough-looking red-and-black bike leaning against a railing.
“This one is my first one that I made in 2000, and I spray-painted it with Krylon cans. I actually painted the bike based on the color of the hubs I had, and then I got the seat, and then I just kind of went with the black-and-red theme. Eventually, once it's financially possible, I'm going to change the cranks to black cranks and put a red trimming on there, and it's going to be fully color-coordinated. Do you consider that art?”
When it comes to details on the bikes he builds, Ditta can be meticulous. For his most recent bike—the seventh he's built—he hand-carved stylized number sevens exactly seven millimeters from the end of the lugs (the metal joints that connect components of the bike). The bike was for a friend and client who wanted a Las Vegas theme, so Ditta carved in details like dice and a line of playing-card suits. He often hand-mixes the paint—in this case, blending the exact pearl-white he wanted (for the “Ditta” logo that goes on the bikes he builds, he uses his own hand-cut stencil and custom-blended shade of red).
Ditta also cuts and welds the bikes' steel tubing, too—something he learned to do at a bike-building school in Ashland, Ore.
“The function goes over the form,” he says. “These angles,” he continues, pointing to a portion of the Vegas bike, “I chose these because he wanted to use it as a street bike. And the angles for my bike are different because I built that bike for San Francisco.”
Ditta's relatively new to the frame-building business, but he's already producing custom frames that rival the classic Japanese and Italian ones the bike-obsessed masses fight over at bike swaps. For now, though, since it's just Ditta doing the work, and the time he puts into each frame is significant, the cost of a Ditta Cycle starts at $1,500. As it stands, his clientele is small—but dedicated.
“If I just built a bike that looked like everyone else's and had no artistic value, then, yeah, I'd probably sell more bikes,” he says. “But then they wouldn't have that characteristic, and that's what I think it transfers into—not just a bike, but it becomes a piece of artwork.”On the web: www.dittacycles.com.
Retro and refurbished
It looks like a scene out of the '50s: Gabe Salcedo is sitting on his front stoop in a paperboy hat, white shirt and cuffed jeans, polishing an old bike part. Salcedo works two jobs, each within biking distance of his South Park apartment, and in his spare time, he restores and refurbishes old, mostly Italian and Japanese, steel bike frames and parts, piecing them together to create road bikes for the serious cycling crowd.
“I wake up early these days,” Salcedo says. “Shining, cleaning, craigslist, eBay—looking for parts, frames, bikes, whatever, to work with.”
Salcedo's apartment is filled with mid-century furniture and relics from the past. Piles of newer ReadyMade and Waxpoetics magazines sit next to an Italian cycling magazine from 1985. An old atlas of Japan rests on his coffee table, retro soul, funk, Latin and hip-hop records are stacked across the floor near the kitchen, and in a built-in curio cabinet, a Bianchi water bottle that looks like it was made in the '70s sits next to other thrift-store and swap-meet finds Salcedo has deemed worthy of display.
“I've always been into vintage stuff,” Salcedo says. “I've always been a digger, you know, like records, vintage clothes—and there's just something about classic steel bikes, handmade bikes. There's something about it—a mystique about it.”
Salcedo learned how to turn his obsession into a business and piece together his vintage bike finds by watching his dad work on his bikes when he was young and asking the older guys who work at Peddle Pushing Bicycle Shop questions about the mechanics. Salcedo's first build was for his girlfriend four years ago. He had an old black Bianchi bike frame that was the perfect size. He shined it up, painted it baby blue, found a leather seat at a thrift store, scored an old bike bag at Peddle Pushing, then added new brakes, chains and tires and surprised his girlfriend for her birthday. Since then, Salcedo's been hooked.
He's gets more and more serious about custom-bike building every day. He's got a blog, bicibella.blogspot.com, and he's working on a website. He just sold all the bikes he had, and he's continuing to take orders.
But if you want one of Salcedo's Bici Bella bikes, be prepared to wait. The 27-year-old San Diego native is an admitted perfectionist, and he can't let a bike go until he's absolutely satisfied, which can take a few months. And even then, after he lets the bike go, he may call you up to exchange a thing or two.
“For my bikes,” he says, “it's always a work in progress. I'll switch parts out and do different color schemes, and if there's a part I'm looking for, I'll still look for it and switch it out if I eventually find it.” On the web: bicibella.blogspot.com