Ian Sutton on his time with Koichi Yamaguchi, the reason he crafts his frames from steel, and why he’s in no rush when it comes to building his frames.
– ian sutton
My name is Ian Sutton and Icarus frames is the culmination of my training and experience in the frame building world. I began building when I left college to attend the Yamaguchi Frame Building School in Rifle, Colorado. The training was 100% one-on-one with one of the greats in frame building, working with Koichi Yamaguchi learning the basics from start to finish, along with the art and nuance too. Later that year I visited builders I admired and wanted to work for to talk about the industry and decide if I should work on my own or gain more experience with a high-end custom builder. I was offered a job working for the esteemed Seven Cycles in Watertown, MA.
I left everything behind to take that jump into the frame building world and worked first as a finisher and then later advanced to a machinist. I finished and machined hundreds of frames adhering to Sevens’ rigorous quality standards. After hours I started building my own concept frames and I called it Icarus, setting up a studio in the Geekhouse shop in Allston. There I was able to further experiment with design and transfer my ideas to real world use.
Your first bike?
I know it wasn’t my first but the one I can remember specifically was a Magna mountain bike with the grip shift when I was 8 years old.
How did you get interested in building bikes?
I became interested while in school for engineering and was riding a lot. I decided that I didn’t want to just design things, I wanted to fabricate them too. I have always had a hard time finding the cool vintage frames in my size so it made sense to learn to make them myself.
For those of us not familiar with Koichi Yamaguchi, can you tell us about him and what it was like to learn from him?
Koichi Yamaguchi is THE master frame builder. He started out building for 3Rensho in Japan and works with a low-heat, low-stress building style that was the opposite of what the Italians were doing. He was the lead designer and builder for the US Olympic and national teams back when they still rode steel. I was intimidated to work with him one on one (I was the only student at the time) but he is a humble and patient teacher. He taught me the skills and tricks to build strong, straight frames with the simplest tools and I still use those techniques today.
After attending Yamaguichi’s school, you then went to work at Seven Cycles in Massachusetts. What was that experience like, and what did you learn while you there?
I was really fortunate to land that job at Seven Cycles. I started out as a finisher which meant doing all the final machining, Titanium/Carbon bonding, frame alignment, polishing and decals. Its a steep learning curve and for the first few months, the inspector would send every frame back to me with a list of minuscule defects for me to fix. Everything had to be flawless before it could be shipped out and that taught me to scrutinize my work at a whole new level. I was also part of the A6 Carbon program there but after the first year, I moved to the machining department and became proficient in operating lathes, milling machines, hydraulic benders and frame jigs. I think that process increased my ability to multi-task and work with tooling faster.
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