Titanium bicycle frames

A natural inclination toward outdoor sports led Indiana native Mike Augspurger to come up with several inventions that would help the disabled to enjoy the sport of competitive cycling. 

Augspurger, born in Fort Wayne, Indiana in 1956, is an expert cyclist, a skilled machinist, and a designer and builder of bicycles. Founder of One-Off Titanium, Inc., Augspurger is a specialist in custom titanium frame bicycles, including the first all-terrain handcycle designed for wheelchair athletes.

Augspurger was introduced to the world of vehicular sports at an early age by his parents, who were avid go-cart racers. Later he became interested in motorcycles and bicycles. He had a Schwinn as a young boy, which he was happy with, but he wished it was lighter, for the bike weighed more than he did. Motor power would be even better, he thought. Eventually he bought a motorcycle and began competing in “trials,” which required maneuvering over very rough, rocky terrain.

After high school Augspurger studied motorcycle mechanics for a year at the Indiana Institute of Technology and took courses at the University of Evansville. Later he got a job in a machine shop as a buffer, polishing metal, but he also learned about machining. He set off for higher education at Hampshire College in Massachusetts and graduated with a BA in 1981. He took a job soon after as a pattern maker in another machine shop in Boston. While working there, he bought his first mountain bike, which he set about improving on with his new knowledge of machining, engineering and industrial materials. Soon he began building his own bike frame. He took a job working for a bike factory in Boston so he could learn more about bicycle construction. He became an exceptional mountain biker and cyclist, and in 1985, he won third place in national bicycle trials in Reno, Nevada.

That year Augspurger married Leni Fried, an artist he had met in Boston, whose creative work would eventually include custom painting her husband’s bicycle frames. In 1987, Augspurger, with his wife and two partners, founded Merlin Metalworks, Inc. in Somerville, Mass. to manufacture bicycle frames and racing wheelchairs. It was one of the first companies of its kind, using titanium, a very strong, lightweight, corrosion-resistant metal that is more flexible and resilient than steel. Merlin Metalworks designed and made titanium mountain bikes and other bicycles that quickly gained attention in the cycling world, and annual production shot up into the thousands in just a couple of years. The Merlin staff got to know Bob Hall, the first person to enter the Boston Marathon in a wheelchair, and began making titanium-racing chairs for him, too. In 1988, Bicycle Guide Magazine named a Merlin Metalworks model as "one of the ten most innovative bikes of the year."

A year later Augspurger left Merlin to found One-Off Titanium in Florence, Mass. where he creates experimental and custom-designed products, mostly related to bicycles. Among his designs are a fully suspended mountain bike frame in steel and titanium. He also worked on the development of a better handcycle for wheelchair athletes for several years, looking for ways to experiment with the position of the rider, for example, to make him or her faster, as well as safer, on a racing course. The models he had seen all had the rider in a sitting position with legs stretched out in front. But paraplegic riders can't use their legs to shift their body weight to ease the impact of bumps in the road while they pedal the bike with their hands and arms. The biggest problem was figuring out a way for the cyclist to crank with the arms and steer at the same time.

Finally, Augspurger came up with the innovative design that many of the world-class wheelchair racers in the world use today. In this design, the cycle allows the rider's legs to be folded back and strapped into supports. The rider’s upper body can then lean forward, with arms extended down to reach the hand cranks and the chest resting on a pad. There are handlebars in front that can be used for steering when the cycle is going downhill; on uphill or flat terrain, arms must be used for cranking. Additionally, the sternum pad, which pivots and is connected by cables to the steering mechanism, can be turned left or right by moving the chest. Brakes and gearshifts are located on the handlebars. The near-prone position of the rider allows body weight to be used more effectively, and hand cranks, which are connected to the gears and chain, are mounted so that when the rider pushes down with one arm, the other can pull up, maximizing the rider's muscle power. Also, handlebar and sternum steering solves the dilemma of cranking versus steering. The cycle’s main frame is made of painted steel and most other parts are titanium.

The main company is now named One-Off Handcycles, with a decoration subset that is still called One-Off Titanium, and is located in a 150-year-old barn in Cummington, Massachusetts, where Augspurger creates bicycles, handcycles, and other titanium-based products. One-Off Titanium is currently run by artist Leni Fried, who decorates the bikes in the upper level of the store.