Handbuilt Bicycle News


July Bicycles

Paul Skilbeck

Thursday 04 July 2024

July: An Unusual Talent

The Covid shutdown of 2020 was pure opportunity for Ben Jurgensen, then a 33 year-old sculpture studio teacher at the Rhode Island School of Design. Freed from the routine of everyday life, he started on the path of bicycle frame building to create July Bicycles. He describes that time as “my sourdough."

July: An Unusual Talent
July's seat cluster. Those behind will know who they're following. Photos: July Bicycles & Brad Quartuccio/PBE

HBG reached out to Ben a few days after his successful public debut at Philly Bike Expo in March 2024, a venue where the exhibits of this highly talented new builder turned more than a few heads. We learned that if you want to buy one, you may have to wait a while: his pre-market bikes are being ridden by friends, but he's not quite ready to start selling them on the open market yet.

The bike Ben Jurgensen showed at PBE. It’s one of those bikes you’d like to get on and ride, just to experience the feel if nothing else

During the shutdown, with no studios to teach, Ben set himself the problem of finding the most efficient way that he could make a carbon fiber bicycle. His solution included designing and building a suite of custom fabrication tools that include a large-format 3D printer that is long enough for main tube mandrels; a 3-axis CNC filament winder; and a composites-specific frame fixture.

3D printer (left) and 3-axis CNC filament winder, both designed and made by Ben Jurgensen of July Bicycles

Making your own tools is not unheard of among carbon fiber frame builders, but it is uncommon. In Ben’s case startup capital was a factor. With limited finances available, he used open source designs and other documentation to make his tools, and in the spirit of growth-through-sharing he now intends to make an open source instruction set for others who have the gumption to make their own tools.

Those who've known Ben for a long while might have seen this coming. Making things has been the focal point of Ben’s education since his middle school years, when he was constructing a range of three-dimensional objects from clay or papier mâché. Next came wood and metal working, using casting and digital processes. “I didn’t work in one medium, I’ve always been trying to find the material that matches the idea. That’s what happened with bikes,” he said.

One of only 14 bikes so far produced by July

Cycling had been part of his life, mostly on an old Gios V107, so it’s hardly a stretch to imagine somebody with his background thinking of making parts, and even a full bike frame. His knowledge of materials and fabrication suggested carbon fiber as the medium with the shortest route to a finished product.

First he made carbon fiber shoes, then a saddle, and then in 2021 he made his first complete bike, based approximately on the geometry of his V107.

 The July show bike features a carbon fiber saddle, made in-house

By early 2024 Ben had made 14 frames, but he still was not quite ready to open his doors to the public. “They’re going to be expensive, and so I want to make sure everything is as good as it can be: the ride quality and craftsmanship,” he says.

So far his clients, which could be seen as either beneficiaries or guinea pigs, are friends and family. Although Ben says he’s had no formal frame building instruction, he names Matt Appleman as his biggest influence in frame design, and he’s also sought some advice from Brian Chapman, who lives not too far away in Cranston. That’s a high quality education. Appleman, for his part, is impressed by Ben, saying “He has a lot of knowledge, he’s a hell of a fabricator.”

He knows how to photograph a bike too

Quite where Ben will go with July Bicycles was unclear here as of early 2024, beyond making and selling carbon fiber bikes. This talented newcomer brings with him some interesting ideas for the marketing mix. His thinking then was to make enough traditional custom bikes to fund experimental research in bike-related art or sculpture and to offer short-run editions, like an artist would sell an edition with limited number. “I’d build a full bike as a conceptual motivation, if somebody is interested they could purchase it in their size,” he says.

Appleman’s 2XR cranks are getting around

At PBE24 Ben shared a booth with Matt Appleman. Ben fitted Appleman’s 2XR cranks on his bike, and on Matt’s gravel bike he fabricated a chainstay yoke that Matt designed.

Word is, it looks even better in person

It’s an unusual story about an unusual frame builder. For a largely self-taught builder with only 14 frames completed, his bikes very much look the part. The fact that Matt Appleman is willing to share a booth with him and trusted him to fabricate a chainstay yoke is in itself a considerable recommendation about his skill as a fabricator. One gets the feeling that, should the winds blow fair, July Bicycles could become a highly regarded name in the cycling world. The dark days of Covid were terrible for many, but every cloud has a silver lining.