Everyday Cyclist: Glen Copas Custom Made Elephant Bike Frames

THE FBC SUMMER full moon rides now attract over 150 cyclists with every kind of bike you can think of. What’s it take to get bike geeks to notice your ride in this crowd? How about the Elephant brand frame with backwards forks.

The bright colored Elephant framesets attracting attention at the FBC were made by Glen Copus, a self-described “non-artist” who makes “an attempt at artistic expression,” with the fixed gear framesets that he builds in his south Spokane shop. According to Copus, with fixed gear bikes, “you can really do something different and still have it be a completely functional bike.”

Copus knows about functional bikes. He’s been responsible for the building of “thousands of framesets” throughout his career. He was a Product Manager for frame building for Bontrager; he brazed frames in New York while working at Serotta; and he “was in charge of everything” when B.C.’s Rocky Mountain launched their first run of aluminum framesets in the mid-nineties.

In the mid 1970’s, when Copus was 13, he got his first job at Wes’s BMX bike shop in Scotts Valley, California, where he hung out so they finally put him to work. On his first day, he learned how to assemble, tension, and true a BMX wheel. He built about 40 BMX wheels that day. By the time he was 16, he was racing BMX and spending all of his income on a “new trick bike every month.”

In 1982, at age 17, Copus moved to Ashland with the goal of going to college, but instead, ended up working in a bike shop that was the only shop in town selling mountain bikes. Copus continued to race and the shop sponsored him. He ended up racing in the professional mountain bike circuit, though without much success. “I was like the worse pro ever. If money went to 3rd place, I was 4th; if money went to 10th place, I was 11th.”

When he was about 19, Copus moved back to Santa Cruz and began hanging around the local frame builder’s shop. One of the main revenue streams for the small frame builder was rolling down 27” Super Champion bike rims into 26” mountain bike rims. Soon, Copus began rolling rims and helping out in the afternoons around the shop. The builder showed Copus how to braze and soon Copus was brazing bits of frames together. The frame-builder was Keith Bontrager.

He then went from race team mechanic, traveling all over US and Europe, to builder for Serotta in New York, getting married along the way.

At Serotta he had a hand in brazing hundreds of frames. The shop’s typical output was about 20 lugged and brazed frames a day. One year, the Russian National team arrived in New York to race a local stage race. The team time-trial bikes were shipped to the wrong place, so Serotta picked up the order to build 20 custom time-trial bikes in one day. They skipped the lugs, saving about six hours a frame, and TIG-welded the entire set of bikes in a day. According to Copus, Serotta “was a great place to work. Ben was a great guy to work for.” Unfortunately, the climate was a deal-killer. Copus and his wife couldn’t stand the humidity, the deep snow, and the awful summers of New York. When Copus mentioned this during a phone chat with Keith Bontrager, a job offer followed and he returned to the West Coast in 1992. After a year or so at Bontrager, he went to Rocky Mountain Bikes.

Rocky Mountain was rolling out their first line of aluminum bikes and needed someone to run production. Copus had never welded in aluminum before and took a single day crash course. Copus went on to deliver the first aluminum bikes for Rocky Mountain in 1993 while cutting production time in half. This huge accomplishment came at a big cost; he was working late, still riding, building bikes on the side, and driving between Vancouver and Spokane as he went through a separation from his wife. He ended up burning out: “I think I just fried up.”

He quit Rocky Mountain and moved to Spokane where his wife lived. He ended up getting a divorce and staying in Spokane and remarrying.

Through a friend, he connected with Tipke manufacturing, which is a custom and contract fabrication business in Spokane. He’s been happily building and welding stuff for Tipke for 18 years.

And on the side, he’s still building and repairing bikes. He started using the Elephant name when he was in Vancouver nearly 20 years ago. There are three Elephant cyclocross bikes in town, all of them share the same distinctive look: orange with blue panel and block lettering. Now, Copus hopes to start building some more bikes. For the moment, he’s focusing on pretty, yet functional fixed gear bikes. He’s also got a batch of cyclocross bikes in the hopper.

Want to get in his queue? Fixed gear framesets start at $850 with a custom fork. Email Copus atelephantbikes@gmail.com.

John Speare grew up and lives in Spokane. He rides his bike everywhere. Check out his blog athttp://cyclingspokane.blogspot.com.


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