About Cobra Frames

Joe Roggenbuck, owner. NOVEMBER 2018.

My aim is to produce tooling for small-scale bicycle frame builders that centers the most salient needs faced when building frames. In the world of handmade bicycles the bar has been set very high for craftsmanship and artistry. Tooling alone is a poor substitute for experience, but craft and experience without proper tooling makes producing a quality frame an incredibly slow, challenging, and tedious endeavor. With the right tooling in your shop you can focus on your designs, your customer relationships, and your business.

I specifically recognize that most small-scale framebuilders are working in a shop where floorspace is limited and precious. I design tools that can be put away when not in use and don’t require lots of square footage—tools that ideally can be kept in a drawer or on a shelf until you need them, can be set up in no time, and put away again when the task is complete, so you can make the most of the space you do have.

If I’ve done my job right, the tools ship to you promptly after you order, they are a joy to use, and they allow you to make your best work without headaches or tedium.

A little more backstory…

In 2009 I discovered custom bicycle framebuilding, and I fell in love. Framebuilding takes the bicycle and turns it into a canvas for artistic expression as well as a machine that can be refined for performance. There is such a rich history of framebuilding that goes back over a hundred years, and in the past twenty years there has been a renaissance.

In my shop, Summer 2013. (Photo by Chris Trigaux)

In my shop, Summer 2013. (Photo by Chris Trigaux)

In 2010 when I was 20 years old and half-way through college, I took a two-week framebuilding class with Doug Fattic and Herbie Helm in Niles, Michigan, on lugged bike frame design and construction. I was pretty new to cycling and very new to fabrication. I didn’t know what a Bridgeport milling machine was or what made a TIG welder different than the MIG welders I'd used a couple of times in my dad’s farm workshop back home. By the end of the two weeks, I had a decent sense of how to put together a lugged bicycle frame—how to use hacksaws, handfiles, o/a torch and a bench vise to make a bike. I was so excited.

Over the next couple years I spent a lot of time practicing fitting tubes together with hand tools and brazing them. It wasn’t until 2013 that I finished my first bike in my own shop with all my own tools. Over the next couple years I kept building bikes for myself and my friends. After the first six bikes, I bought a TIG welder and started welding them instead of brazing.



Something I kept having trouble with was that I didn’t have the tools I wanted and needed to make the frames in a professional manner. There was always a way to get it done, but I wanted to make bikes in “workman-like fashion.” Instead, I felt like I was cobbling everything together with duct tape and crossing my fingers that my tools wouldn’t fall apart mid-weld, that the frames came out straight, and that the tubing wouldn’t get marred from poor workholding. Not only was my lack of adequate tooling frustrating, it was keeping me really slow. When all you have is nights and weekends as a hobby builder, your time is very limited, so it's frustrating when projects only inch along.

In 2015 I bought my first real machine tools—a Bridgeport vertical mill and a Clausing lathe. With these machines I started to make tools for myself. Some were tools I could and should have just bought, and others were custom to my own process and needs that weren’t available for sale. Over time I found I liked making the tools even more than making bikes! That put me in a weird spot. I'd feel guilty spending my time in the shop making tools, because I barely had time to make the frames themselves. Making custom tools seemed like a challenging and fun distraction from my real task of becoming a professional framebuilder. But every time I'd start making a frame again, I'd wish I had better tools to get the job done.

ME AND clementine, October 2018.

ME AND clementine, October 2018.

In 2017 I started a full-time job at a CNC machine shop, learned what I could there for nine months, and left. I took a week of CNC machining classes at Saunders Machine Works in Ohio, and bought a used CNC milling machine. At first I thought the machine would just be for hobby use, to play with after hours while I worked a day job—but pretty quickly I was making quality parts on the machine. I decided to put all my eggs in the basket of making Cobra Frame Tooling, and I’ve been working full-time on this project since March 2018. Thanks to all the great customers I’ve had this year, I don’t intend to stop any time soon.

At this point I’m all-in on making tools for framebuilders. I’m not taking orders for bike frames right now, despite occasionally making them when I can squeeze them in. I love framebuilding, and I want to stay connected to the process, using and testing my tools, and finding inspiration for new ideas—but in terms of business offerings, I'm now laser-focused on serving the framebuilding community with innovative, beautiful, practical tools.

Going forward I hope to provide a wider and wider product offering for the small-scale framebuilder, keep as much of the tooling in stock and ready to ship as possible, and keep customer wait times to a minimum. I welcome questions and user feedback, and I look forward to serving the bike-building community for years to come!

Want to hear even more?

I was recently interviewed for the Outspoken Cyclist podcast. I shared more about my story and my goals with Cobra, as well as other random tidbits. You can listen here (my segment starts at 38:30).