Bike builder enjoys success of small business

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Brad Cason, owner of KirkLee Bicycles, creates handmade carbon fiber bicycles in the garage behind his home. Cason will showcase his bikes at this weekend’s Texas Custom Bicycle Show.

Photo Credit: Trent Lesikar | Daily Texan Staff

Brad Cason knows the devil is in the details.

He is a man who takes pride in his workmanship, something he views as a bit of a lost art form. And he hopes his work will visible at this weekend’s Texas Custom Bicycle Show.

Cason is the man behind KirkLee Bicycles, a company that creates custom-made carbon fiber bikes. He builds them according to arm length, leg length and even shoe size, all in a quaint workshop in the garage behind his home. He leaves the garage door up, welcoming friends and customers to ride by on their KirkLee bikes and say hello.

“I never thought I would do this for a career,” Cason said. “But when I’m in my shop and I’m building, I’m absolutely at my happiest.”

Cason began KirkLee Bicycles in 2008 but has been building bicycles since his college days at Texas A&M, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in engineering and later a master’s degree in business. He spent time working with a corporate tool company in Las Vegas, but when the opportunity to start KirkLee presented itself, Cason couldn’t say no.

“I could handle the corporate world again, but I don’t see KirkLee going anywhere,” Cason said. “This was a challenge because I thought I’d start my own sporting goods company and do it my way and see if I can, and I feel like I’ve done it.”

Cason’s wife, Cecilia Burnside, who has been with him since 1999 and through the creation of KirkLee, said she has seen how fulfilling creating bicycles is for Cason.

“He puts an unbelievable amount of detail into his work and a lot of time,” Burnside said. “It’s kind of the best of both worlds for him because he has a very artistic side but also a very mechanical precision side.”

A cyclist since 1995, Cason has had a passion for cycling for a while now. But it wasn’t until 2001 that he considered building his own. He was in college and while he lacked money, he had the time to look into building things. First it was his own surfboard and then his own mountain bike. He began researching how to build bikes and decided that even if his first bike fell apart immediately, it was something he had to try.

“One of my favorites is probably the first mountain bike that started it all,” Cason reminisced. “I had hundreds of hours in it and well over a thousand dollars, and I didn’t even know if it was going to work. But you can’t be afraid or you’ll never get anywhere.”

While his first bike rests peacefully in the rafters above his workshop, Cason’s love for bike building has driven him to build bikes for friends, professional cyclists (including Olympic rider and gold medalist Tyler Hamilton and Swiss cyclist Christian Heule) or anyone who asks.

Cason’s bikes start at $4,600 and go up from there depending on the paint job and other factors. Customers are sent to an expert fitter and then bring the measurements to Cason. He says paying for the fitting is “the best money you will ever spend” in terms of getting the perfect fit. They discuss what type of bike the customer wants, and Cason makes it clear, he doesn’t have limits.

“I do not have limitations in my geometry, so we can connect two tubes together at any angle we want,” Cason said.

In what Cason called a “me too” culture where “everyone has the same jeans and the same pair of tennis shoes,” he knows customers value the attention to detail and the uniqueness of each bike.

“Most [customers] want a bike, but at the same time, they want a conversation piece,” Cason said. “I don’t know, maybe there’s a little mystique with them. I mean when you go into doing everything just for that person, there’s definitely a difference.”

Cason, along with the help of good friend and artist Darin Wheeler, has created some very special bicycles. One of Cason’s favorites was painted to look like mahogany wood and the letters were burned in with a branding iron. The KirkLee “Starry Night” bike, inspired by the Van Gogh painting won Best Paint at the 2011 North American Handmade Bicycle Show. Wheeler recognizes the work Cason does to get this type of artistic freedom from the customers for bikes.

“Brad definitely trusts my artistic judgment, and that’s fantastic on my part,” Wheeler said. “Usually when it comes to the customers, he does a good job saying ‘Hey, just trust me. We’ll take care of it.’ So it’s just kind of a perfect mesh.”

Understanding the dynamics behind a bike has given Cason a whole new appreciation for riding. And like he said before, Cason plans on building KirkLees for years to come.

“As much as I love my bikes, the same mentality affects me in other things where I’ve been starting to think I can build my own motorcycle,” Cason said. “I’m thinking maybe this winter I can start putting together a carbon fiber motorcycle and just pushing my knowledge and where I can go.”

Printed on Thursday, October 13, 2011 as: Bike innovator enjoys success of small garage business