My name is James Bleakley, and I’ve been an avid cyclist since an early age.
I grew up in Louisville, Kentucky, and moved to Boulder, Colorado in 1980. BMX was my first experience with bicycles, and I rode to and from school, and as my transportation as a teen. Cycling represented freedom to explore my surroundings, as well as an opportunity to develop a skill set riding freestyle with my friends. Shortly after moving to Fort Collins for college at Colorado State University I discovered mountain biking. I rode first for transportation, then started riding urban trials, and trail riding. This seemed to be freestyle, with a purpose. I graduated in 1990 with a Bachelor’s Degree in Construction Management.
My first experience in the bike industry came from a company named Boulder Bikes, which manufactured full suspension mountain bikes. There I learned assembly, and later machining and welding. I left in 1994 to pursue precision welding and fabrication at Advanced Alloys, a company doing work in medical, helicopter, computer and cryogenic vessel fabrication. It was here that I deepened my understanding of work with exotic materials.
I started Black Sheep Bikes in 1999, as a way to reconnect to my passion for building bikes. This was a chance to apply all that I had learned in precision welding and fabrication to bicycles. At first, contract work in the bike industry made up most of my bottom line. I welded tandems in Denver for Da Vinci Designs, mostly steel, followed by aluminum, and Titanium. I also welded titanium for Dean Bicycles in Boulder, which gave me a couple thousand frames under my belt in a few years. There were several projects I undertook for various companies as I grew the brand Black Sheep to the point where I didn’t have to rely on other work to fill my schedule. It was in these early years that I first had interns and employees to share in the trade I found so rewarding.
Many of whom have gone on to make careers themselves in the bike industry. By 2008 I was too busy with Black Sheep Bikes to do any more contract work for other companies, and shifted my focus to building my own brand full time. This was the first year I attended the North American Handbuilt Bicycle Show (NAHBS) and was rewarded with the honor of “Best Titanium Bicycle”. The next few years brought more recognition at NAHBS, and in 2011 a move from my shop at home to a 1600 SF shop near Old Town in Fort Collins, where I currently build. Every bike is still custom, and built for an Individual, not in standard, or stock sizing. I continue to grow and learn, and teach my trade to people interested in learning to build bicycles.