Wants & Desires | Cielo Sportif Classic

Go into any bike shop in the U.S. and you will likely find the same three or four big brands that dominate the retail landscape. There’s not necessarily anything wrong with buying a bike from any of those big companies, but it’s important to remember that there is an “independently made” alternative. Portland, Oregon based component maker Chris King’s line of Cielo bicycles are a worthy alternative and a good place to trade your hard earned dollars for a good looking and well made bicycle.

The Cielo Sportif Classic, which is pictured here, is high on my list of things that I need to own. In an age of carbon fiber, the Sportif Classic is designed with the nostalgia of steel framed road bikes of the 1970’s and 1980’s. That steel frame means it is going to be heavier than a lot of bikes out there, but it will also mean that the ride is going to be comfortable and enjoyable. All that said, the bike is great looking and made right here in the United States. The Sportif Classic incorporates many of the quality US-made components that, over the past three decades, have made Chris King such a well regarded manufacturer. The Cielo quality also extends to the styling –each bike is painted entirely in-house with a low VOC (non-toxic) liquid paint without use of any decals, and each detail is masked and painted by hand.

Big company versus independent raises the question: is it worth spending more on higher quality goods that are manufactured transparently? To me, yes it is. I’d rather buy less, but buy better. Does this mean that a similar bike made in Taiwan is less fun to ride or isn’t as good looking? No. I’m reminded of a saying that used to get tossed around the car dealership I worked at in high school: “There’s an ass for every seat.” In my case, I’d rather buy something (even if it costs more) that is made by the little guy who knows how to make great product, not just because of a strong market position and a mastering of economies of scale. But there is also a guy out there who just wants a cheap bike and doesn’t care. That doesn’t necessarily make me better and him worse, it just makes us different. But I have to think that a world with a focus on quality is better than the alternative.

Chris King says it best on its website: “We are fiercely independent, incorruptible by passing trends or fads. Careful consideration drives our actions. We practice patience with new product and process introductions. We recognize our efforts are just a few points in a universal continuum. We are underpinned by quality craftsmanship and premium material selection. Uncompromising fit and finish standards support our lasting brand appreciation.”

Comments on “Wants & Desires | Cielo Sportif Classic

    Jeff on May 1, 2012 2:43 PM:

    I don’t even ride bikes and I think these are awesome

    mat on May 1, 2012 3:13 PM:

    handsome beasts for sure. it’s always best to by within your limits, if you can afford to support the indi’s then why not. it’s better all round

    Pat on May 1, 2012 3:24 PM:

    that leather bar tape and saddle look fantastic.

    Brian Miller on May 1, 2012 3:28 PM:

    This is a subject about which we at 18milesperhour.com are very passionate. Ultimately, if someone gets out on a bike – any bike – it’s a good thing. But there’s something smart and sensible about riding independently-built steel. Because, well, if you’re riding carbon for too long it’s going to fail and that’s not something I wish to experience. Steel, at its worst, cracks and bends, giving you plenty of warning before ultimate failure – which is rare. It’s pricier, sure, but it’ll last and last so it ends up being worth the cost. I’m loyal to Independent Fabrication (been riding it and my Fat Chance – it’s forefather – for years) myself but it seems like every neighborhood in Portland has an indy builder these days, all with a 6 year wait list. Frustrating, but a good sign. For great reading on independent steel, check out Grant Petersen at Rivendell Bicycle Works. Great writer. Master builder. Godfather of handbuilts.

    cork grips on May 1, 2012 3:30 PM:

    Nice to see Cielo on ACL Michael. Definitely on my list of “one day I’ll have a custom bike” builders. Though it may not be up your alley it should be noted that they also make some gorgeous mountain bikes too like this one

    Good Haven House on May 1, 2012 4:25 PM:

    Love the fenders!!

    Mark Paigen on May 1, 2012 5:37 PM:

    Beautiful bikes on their own, and all the more so because of independent small scale production. My only addition would be lugs. I know they are not necessary, but they really enhance the appearance of classic steel bikes.

    Its great to buy stuff when you can feel some connection to the maker. Business can be personal.

    Michael Coxen on May 1, 2012 7:22 PM:


    KIm on May 1, 2012 8:00 PM:

    I am obsessed with bikes and I love these. Mission Bikes in SF are also GREAT.

    steven wade on May 1, 2012 9:42 PM:

    beautiful. i wish the frames were lugged for that extra bit of classic look, but the aesthetic is spot on. i have used chris king headsets for years and based on the quality of those, i am sure these are great frames.

    Kerry N. on May 1, 2012 11:43 PM:

    Not to nitpick or derail the thread, but someone mentioned Rivendell as being built by “master builder” Grant Peterson. He is merely the founder and head marketing guru of the company. Many of their bikes have been built by “master builders”, but those folks go by the names of Joe Starck, a builder at Masi California in the 80s, and most recently by various folks at Waterford Precision Cycles in Wisconsin and Mark Nobilette.

    All that said, this post is about the great frames from Cielo, under the watchful eye of Chris King, a super nice dude, and much less of a turd than Grant Peterson.

    Brian Miller on May 2, 2012 1:56 AM:

    You are nitpicking. Grant can design and build with the best of them. Yes, he uses Nobilette and waterford these days because he has chosen that station in the bike building process. Both builders are great, which is why he uses them now. But to understate his influence and his design skills is just ignorant. And yes, he is a stickler, but to call him a turd is insane – you don’t know the guy. That’s disrespectful. Chris King is a good fellow as well.

    Jeremy Carr on May 2, 2012 10:09 AM:

    First off this is a very nice looking bike and I am sure a highly useable bike but it would take a lot to persuade me that it’s better built than my Surly Long Haul Trucker. The steel is more than likely the same steel. Which is to say Chinese steel because that’s where steel is made now. I don’t buy that this bike is better made simply because it’s made in the US by an independent manufacturer versus being made in Taiwan by a small manufacturer. I am using Surly as an example because they are not manufacturing department store bikes like Trek nor are they pushing huge numbers of frames onto retailers like Giant. I love supporting US manufacturing. I grew up and continue to live in the once mighty manufacturing center that is the upper midwest. I would love to see a US bike company make a go at mass producing bikes here again (NYC’s Worksman not withstanding). I would pay more for a US made bike in the same way that I pay more for other US made goods now but when it comes to bike manufacturing it’s hard to make the argument that this bike is in fact better made. Just because the guy welding this frame is a US citizen doesn’t mean he has any more interest in doing a good job or takes any more pride in his work than the guy in Taiwan who welded my bike. While bikes are enjoying a renaissance here in the US lets not forget that Asians were never not riding bikes. More Asians ride more bikes than Americans and Europeans combined. I’m tempted to say that they know what they’re doing. Go support your local independent bike shop. Have them show you their wares, fit you properly to a frame, and then just get on with riding your bike.

    Joel Solomon on May 2, 2012 10:18 AM:

    Those are beautiful bikes. Steel vs carbon is only an lb or two difference once the bikes are built up. The long reach brakes and matching Honjo fenders are awesome. The top tube length is a bit long relative to the seat tube length for me. I prefer a less stretched out geometry, like an old Bianchi or a Litespeed Classic (with a Chris King headset, which is my go to ride). Rivendell makes a beautiful bike too. Grant is a good guy, if a somewhat controversial figure.

    Sam Huff on May 2, 2012 10:54 AM:

    I was fortunate enough to tour the Chris King facility recently, and within it see the part dedicated to Cielo. Top-notch product built by a top-notch crew. Chris and Jay are doing something pretty extraordinary [and inspiring] over there. Talk them into letting you see the facility Michael, it’s worth the trip. The wait on these beauties isn’t that bad either….

    Henrik on May 2, 2012 12:31 PM:

    @ Brian Miller – whoa… a Fat Chance mention. Haven’t heard anyone bring that brand up in maaany years! Back in 95′ I had a Yo Eddy for a brief time on loan from a bike shop. Early days of MTB’in for me. Good times.

    Peter on May 2, 2012 12:44 PM:

    I’ve been using King headsets exclusively since the 90s. IMO the BEST single bicycle component out there, regardless of price. If I wasn’t already in love with my 10-year old IF Crown Jewel (yes, with a King headset) I’d be saving coin for something like this or a Vanilla or a Steelman or…

    The reason to buy from a small artisan framebuilder is the same for drinking microbrews, getting food from a farmers market or buying denim from Roy Slaper. You know where your money’s going, you can meet the people behind the produce, and feel like you’re encouraging entrepreneurship and a love of craftsmanship.

    BTW for Surly guy up there — Surly is now owned by QBP — a pretty big distributor of parts and bicyles that also snapped up my beloved Salsa Cycles. Not that that’s a bad thing, but they’re still a conglomerate. Chris King has so far maintained his independence.

    jiheison on May 2, 2012 2:04 PM:

    Surly sells a fine range of products. I’ve owned two, and would recommend them to anyone looking for a bike in that price range. That said, they are mass-produced. This matters because it requires corner cutting. Thicker steels must be used, resulting in more weight. Welders have less time per join, which means more cautious, less refined welds and again more weight. The frames must also be designed to appeal to a broader audience, meaning more lowest-common-denominator pressures.

    Is a Cielo “better built” than a Surly. Probably, insofar as more time and thought will have gone into it. That doesn’t mean that a Surly can’t be 110% of the bike that any person on earth really needs. It just means that there are plenty of additional features that can be added, if you want to pay for them. I’d still buy a Surly LHT, myself, or rather, stick with the Soma that I have had since 2003. If I was going to spend Cielo-type money, it would be with a local.

    To say that all steel comes from China and is therefore equivalent is incorrect. Cielo notes the use of American-sourced stainless tubing on one model. Beyond that,
    there are many different tube-sets, composed of distinct alloys, shapes and variety in thickness (straight gauge, single- or double-butted, etc.). A skilled builder can tune the performance of a frame-set by selecting the ideal tube for each application. Cielo also notes that they use many custom, exclusive components in their frames.

    Cannondale made aluminum frames in the USA for the mass market until 2009. These were priced to compete with the Taiwan-made mass-market bikes from other major manufacturers like Specialized, Trek and Giant. They seemed to be able to make this work despite a long history of questionable management. This suggests to me that, as with the Apple debate, the advantages of manufacturing high-end goods in Asia have less to do with wages than relative investments in infrastructure and supply chain (and also laxer labor and environmental standards).

    Jorge on May 3, 2012 9:12 PM:

    Wolfhound Cycles is where it’s at! Gonna call him up someday to make me an artisan fixed-gear recumbent… the works… hell yeah!

    schaughvn on May 4, 2012 7:16 PM:

    why are we comparing our top tubes, get out and ride.

    Kerry N. on May 7, 2012 1:37 AM:


    AFAIK, Grant has never built a frame for Rivendell and he explicitly states this when he thanks his various builders (Toyo, Waterford, and the named gents). He has designed fantastic bikes for both Bridgestone and Rivendell, I don’t doubt that, but he doesn’t pick up the torch.

    Secondly, my “turd” comment comes from the visceral description Joe Starck is want to give of the man after his rocky tenure with the company. I’m sure Joe can be prone to histrionics, but I don’t doubt that someone as set in his ways as Grant can have a brusque and almost myopic way of handling interpersonal relationships. I like his quirky style of doing this, but I believe what Joe says about him being a micromanaging dick.

    jandi on May 19, 2012 12:42 AM:

    Great and handsome bike. It is very hard to see the sportif recently but I am happy to see this one.

    Rick on May 30, 2012 3:46 PM:

    Bike looks great, thanks for posting. Not sure why we are talking about Grant Petrrson’s personality/management style, but he’s always been polite to me, and he has employees that have been with him from day one and remain loyal. Whatever the issue with Joe, that’s one relationship you’re generalizing from. Bravo to Chris.

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