March 8, 2017

Face of Defense: Airman Crafts Bike Frames in Off-Duty Time


Air Force photo by Paul Holcomb
Bicycle making Air Force man:Air Force photo by Paul Holcomb

Air Force 1st Lt. Ken Cerreta, a program manager in the F-16 System Program Office at Hill Air Force Base, Utah, checks the alignment on a handmade bicycle frame, Jan. 28, 2017. He began building custom steel frames in 2014

Hill Air Force Base, Utah – During the day, Air Force 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.

The former enlisted aircraft machinist and welder said he missed working with his hands after he was commissioned.

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Cerreta builds steel frames, a material which might seem outdated compared to modern, lightweight materials used by many major bicycle manufacturers today.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

Exact Specifications

Customers looking for handmade frames are those who want something unique, fitted to their exact specifications, the lieutenant said. “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,” he added. “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. The process involves taking many measurements to ensure proper geometry, Cerreta said, adding that it’s also important to determine exactly what the customer wants in the finished product. Once this is known, he said, he orders the steel tubing, which he cuts and welds. From there, he files and sands the welds to create seamless transitions among the frame’s nine tubes, and then he paints the frame.

“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 he gets satisfaction from working with his hands, he also believes the time he spends working in his garage makes him a more resilient airman, Cerreta said.

“I am focused when I’m building, and to me, there is no room for error,” he explained. “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.

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