Airman makes handcrafted bicycle frames

PAUL HOLCOMB/U.S. Air Force
1st Lt. Ken Cerreta checks the alignment on a handmade bicycle frame. Cerreta began building custom steel frames in 2014.
PAUL HOLCOMB/U.S. Air Force
1st Lt. Ken Cerreta poses with a nearly complete frame built over approximately 80 hours in his garage. Cerreta hopes to turn his craft into a full-time job when he retires from the Air Force.
PAUL HOLCOMB/U.S. Air Force
1st Lt. Ken Cerreta files a weld on a custom-built bicycle frame.
PAUL HOLCOMB/U.S. Air Force
Cerreta uses Vernier calipers to measure the top tube on a bicycle frame he’s building for a customer. Each steel frame Cerreta builds is fitted to exact customer specifications.
By PAUL HOLCOMB
75th Air Base Wing Public Affairs
March 2, 2017

HILL AIR FORCE BASE, Utah — During the day, 1st Lt. Ken Cerreta is a program manager in the F-16 System Program Office here. Off duty, he’s a skilled craftsman who builds handmade bicycle frames.

A former enlisted aircraft machinist and welder, Cerreta found that he missed working with his hands after commissioning.

“I enjoyed fabricating aircraft parts and wanted to continue fabrication as a personal hobby,” he said. “I always loved cycling so it was a good combination for me.” 

Cerreta started cycling competitively in 2009, but now mostly rides for fun. He got his start in frame building after attending the North American Handmade Bicycle Show in 2014.

“I was awestruck at the craftsmanship and talent of the builders,” he said. “I started researching how to build frames and realized it was not much different than fabricating aircraft parts so I began buying tools and built my first frame later that year.” 

Cerreta builds steel frames, a material which might seem outdated compared to modern, lightweight materials used by many major bicycle manufacturers today.

“In recent years, the production and temper of bicycle steel has progressed,” he said. “Steel frame tubing is a lot lighter than it used to be so you are not giving up weight like you would think. My steel frames are actually lighter than my carbon fiber ones.” 

Customers looking for handmade frames are those who want something unique, fitted to their exact specifications.

“It’s easy to go into a bicycle store and purchase a frame but with a custom frame builder you get something that is unique and specific to that person,” said Cerreta. “It’s a process that takes a lot of discussion to make sure the frame is being built exactly for them. It’s well worth it though, they are happy and I feel good about delivering something special.”

Building a custom frame takes time–nearly 80 hours per frame–and every detail is addressed. 

According to Cerreta, the process involves taking many different measurements to ensure proper geometry. It’s also important to determine exactly what the customer wants in the finished product. Once this is known, he orders the steel tubing and after it is received, the steel is cut, mitered and welded. From there, all welds are filed and sanded to create seamless transitions between the frame’s nine different tubes, then the frame gets painted.

“I learn something new with each frame because they are all different’” he said. “I’m constantly researching and asking questions to other builders so I can provide the best product to my customers.” 

While Cerreta gets satisfaction from working with his hands, he also feels that the time he spends working in his garage makes him a more resilient Airman.

“I am focused when I’m building,” he said, “and to me, there is no room for error. If I had a hard day at work I can go into my shop and clear my mind quickly. It’s a great way for me to transition from work to family life.” 

Many who meet Cerreta are surprised to learn that he builds handmade bicycle frames.

“Often times I get, ‘I didn’t know people did that’,” he said. “Most people want me to walk them through the process, and see pictures. They ask a lot of questions and are intrigued by the attention to detail that goes into each frame.” 

Cerreta plans to continue building his business, Cerreta Cycles, slowly and hopes to transition his craft to a full-time job once he retires from the Air Force.

For anyone who’d like to meet Cerreta and see his work, he’ll be at the North American Handmade Bicycle Show March 10-12 at the Salt Palace Convention Center in Salt Lake City. For information on the show, visit http://www.2017.handmadebicycleshow.com/.

“I’m happy to share my experiences with anyone who is interested,” he said.

(Editor’s note: If you’d like to tell your Air Force story, contact 801-777-4081.)

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