Julie Ann Pedalino is not your average custom bike frame builder. With a background in the fine arts, she’s explored almost every medium out there. A creative, bubbly bike enthusiast, Julie learned to wrench at Velo Plus in Kansas City, and now applies her artistic eye to building bikes that fit their riders for form, function, and personality. Incorporating themes from Ru Paul to chakras, cats and wildflowers, Julie makes frames that double as art – wildly expressive and unique.
This interview has been edited for clarity and content.
H: How did you develop your aesthetic for your bikes? They have so much ‘pop.’
J: I like bright colors. For me a bike is kind of an extension of your personality. It’s an opportunity to really express yourself and I feel like if someone’s coming to me for a custom bike then it might as well be as custom as possible. It should really be meaningful to them in some sort of way. I’m a big fan of Ru Paul, and I made a gravel bike that’s kind of a tribute to Ru Paul and an ‘eff you’ to a person who shamed me for wearing bows to a race one time. I had my hair in pigtails and these bows, cause I like bows, and I’m like Cat 6. I’m not winning any races, it doesn’t matter if my bows are aero (aerodynamic) or not. So I was like, I’m gonna make a bike and I’m gonna put as many bows on it as I can.
H: What’s your process with someone who comes to you and says they want a custom frame?
J: I’ll ask them about their current bikes they have, what they like, what they don’t like, what they’re looking for, what kind of riding they want to do. Those (factors) will make a big difference in what I build for them. And what kind of rider they are – are they going hard on the group rides? Or are they more casual? So, we’ll talk about that, and then we’ll do a fitting.
I have a hard time finding bikes that fit me. Another benefit of going custom is that when you have a body that doesn’t fit within, you know, the 90% of what people think is normal in the bike industry, which is like an average-sized dude, you have the option to play around with wheel size and other features, and you can make a much, much better bike.
H: You started in graphic design?
J: I do graphic design. I started in the fine arts. I went to the school of the Art Institute of Chicago, and I went there initially for fashion design. Which is really kind of fascinating because I’ve come full circle with the kit design. It’s like I actually am designing a little bit of fashion, which is crazy. I was fashion, fiber and materials, sound art, random stuff, and I did graphic design after college. That’s how I make money, and I’m doing this.
H: What’s your favorite part about the whole process? The most challenging?
J: I think my favorite part is working with the metal and making stuff. I also like that I get to create something beautiful. I get to create art, but it’s functional. There’s a purpose to it. I’ve spent most of my life chasing that perfect art medium, where I can stay engaged and make things that make me happy. I’ve tried painting and printmaking and drawing. I tend to get bored, too. I get bored while I’m drawing or painting. I can work in the metal working studio and I never get bored with it, so that’s exciting to me.
H: What sets you apart from other frame builders?
J: I really think it’s my background as an artist – my eye for color and the designs I create. I haven’t been a cyclist my whole entire life. I came out to Kansas City and needed to do something outside and started riding bikes and fell in love with how I felt on them. I like to know how things work and how things are put together so I started learning at the bike shop about how to wrench and then it turned into this. I can still approach it with a beginner’s mind. I don’t have all these years of, “this is how it’s supposed to be,” holding me back. Which can be a plus or a minus, since I don’t have all that background information that might be useful. I’m learning it all now, but at the same time I think it allows me to think in a different way from other builders out there. And I guess the obvious thing is I’m a woman, and it’s a very male-dominated industry.
H: How many other women frame builders are there?
J: I personally know one girl, Danielle, in Toronto. Megan Dean who does Moth Attack, I think she’s in Boulder now, she used to be on the West Coast, and in Austin there’s a female frame builder with a brand called Saila.
I have a lot of mentors and have met a lot of people who are super open with information and are willing to help and willing to share and are supportive. That’s been super valuable. I don’t really fit the mold, at all. A lot of bike builders come from more of a messenger background, there’s a punk undercurrent to the whole thing, and I don’t fit in with that. I’m me. And I’m girly sometimes and I have tattoos but they’re usually covered. I’m friendly.
H: What kind of riding do you do?
J: I like to do all sorts of riding. I like going hard on the road, I like gravel, I like cross. Mountain biking I’ve grown to like.
H: Mountain biking is so intimidating! Definitely something I’m still learning.
J: I don’t know about you but I didn’t grow up doing wheelies on my bike. I rode around and it was very safe (laughs). Not like those boys who were jumping off things. Mountain biking was a struggle for me to enjoy. I feel like I cried a lot during my first few rides, just because I was so scared and so stressed out over it. Everyone else was so good and I was like, “why do I keep falling? That log is too big I can’t go over that log!” (laughs). If you keep trying, it’ll be fun, and you just have to be gentle with yourself. And it really, really helps to have a bike that fits you. Have the right bike. It makes a huge difference.
H: I was looking at your Sushumna Road Bike when I was stalking your website and loved it.
J: That’s my road bike. I guess this bike is about the idea that it can be a piece of conceptual work and a functional bike at the same time. I’m interested in the concept of chakras, of energy centers, and I thought about how we’re on our bikes all the time and it’s this energetic loop where you’re riding your bike and exchanging energy with the earth. It’s this idea of taking a bike just beyond something to do for recreation and kind of incorporating it into a deeper, spiritual life or some sort of more meaningful activity that you’re doing.
Heather Cook graduated from the University of Denver, then spent six months interning with The Land Institute, which inspired her to advocate for and write about environmental issues, outdoor adventure, and sustainable communities. She’s currently based in Lawrence, Kansas.