The finishing touch on each of Matt Mowat’s bicycles is a badge on the frame that reads “Made With ♥ in ATX”—and it’s clear he really means it. After a career in advertising and graphic design (including stints at GSD&M and Wired) and several moves back and forth between Austin and San Francisco, Mowat finally settled in Texas in 2007 with the idea of opening a bike shop. Realizing that the retail market was saturated, however, he soon shifted gears to focus on creating his own custom frames. Today he works out of a converted eight-by-eleven-foot shed in his backyard, using just a handful of tools to build bicycles one at a time, at a rate of fewer than ten a year. Mowat’s fascination with cycling dates back to his Michigan childhood, when a bike meant freedom, and for the past twenty years he has logged around five thousand miles a year on his two-wheeled companions. “Building bicycles is a subset of my irrational passion for just about all things related to cycling,” he says, indicating why he named his company Paramour. “To me, a great bike is the object of a slightly dangerous infatuation that makes the heart beat faster just thinking about it.”
Q&A with Matt Mowat
It seems like there are a couple of different ways to make bike frames. What is your method of choice?
I use a metal-joining process called lug steel construction, or brazing. It’s the oldest construction method, and I think it makes for the best-looking, best-riding bikes, plus they’ll last a lifetime.
How are your frames different from other custom frames?
What I try to do differently is the whole experience of buying a custom bike. People really want to get to know the person who is going to build their bike, so you have to make yourself available to talk shop. I’m always happy to chat, if you can catch me without a file or a torch in my hand!
What’s the main difference between a custom bike and one off the shelf?
There’s absolutely nothing wrong with buying a bicycle from a large manufacturer. Beyond a certain price point, those bikes perform really well and you can get great value for your money. But one of the things that comes out very quickly with all my clients is that they don’t want to be riding down the road and see someone else on their bike. When you get a bike from me, it should fit perfectly and function just how you want, but it should also be beautiful and the exact color you were imagining. It’s a marriage of performance and aesthetics.
What are some paint jobs you’ve been particularly proud of?
I think a bike should be grounded in a fundamentally classic paint scheme, like red and white. I try and talk people out of trends, but I have done some interesting custom designs, like hand-stenciling the William Carlos Williams poem “The Red Wheelbarrow” to the underside of a frame.
What makes Austin a good place to be a bike builder?
There is such a huge range of cyclists in Austin—commuters who don’t even own a car, bike messengers downtown, competitive racers. And whatever you think of his story, Lance Armstrong elevated the sport’s visibility and got a lot of people out on the bike who might have never done it if it wasn’t for him.
Where are your favorite places to ride?
My favorite ride would have to be the one to Johnson City and back via the roads just north of 290—it’s 107 miles round-trip from my house. The countryside is so nice, and the roads are fairly quiet if you get out early enough on the weekend. And I always look forward to two brewery rides in May—the Shiner Ride and the Real Ale Ride, which starts in Blanco. It’s the most beautiful ride in Central Texas.