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Mollie Futterman of Breadwinner Cycles
Mollie Futterman grew up in Ithaca, New York, in the Finger Lakes area. She always biked as a kid and into adulthood to get around town, hang out with friends and, like for most of us, experience her first form of independence. As a child she taught herself how to ride without training wheels on a little slope, so she had momentum. She would just let her feet go and learn to balance on the fly…this was way before balance bikes were a thing. Currently, her favorite form of riding is adventure and travel whether it’s getting out to the woods, bikepacking or bike touring. She prefers bikepacking because she feels it’s safer and keeps her off the roads and away from cars.
Tuned into Fabrication
At 5 feet tall, Mollie found it hard to get a hold of a true adventure bike in her size, even in 2016. So, with some bike-fit training coupled with an academic background that included anatomy, physiology and some exercise science classes, she followed the building path. Mollie was interested in ergonomics and how different bodies, shapes and proportions can affect overall bike fit. With this in her back pocket and not seeing anything out there that would fit her, she became curious about frame building—but she didn’t think it would be a legitimate career path. Mollie had met Jacqueline Mautner (now of UNTITLED Cycles), who was her predecessor at Breadwinner and expressed an interest, and peppered her with questions about the process. Eventually, it led to Jackie showing Mollie how to braze over a weekend, which then led to Mollie attending the United Bicycle Institute in 2019 with an intention to build herself a bike that would fit her perfectly and have everything she wanted on it.
A day in the life
Every day is different at Breadwinner for Mollie, which she loves. Typically, they have a batch of three to four bikes every week, and each bike goes through several different hands (including Tony and Ira), so she is a major part of the process. On the day we met with her (a Thursday) there was a lot of prep work, so she was cutting chain- and seatstays, doing finish work like filing and making sure frames were shiny, clean and ready for brazing. After that she’d tackle brazing dropouts into the chainstays, which is the first real physical process. From there they’d be passed to Tony who’d miter and weld. After that, Tony would hand it back to Mollie who’d miter, then braze on the seatstays. Anything with brass or silver on it needs to get filed smooth. Braze-ons come next, along with frame prep like facing, chasing and reaming on the head tube, bottom bracket and seat tube, followed by quality control. Ira and Mollie tag-team quality control throughout the process and at the end, just before it goes to paint. To her, it feels like an old-school apprenticeship where she learned from square one and was brought up, taught through on-the-floor immersion into the art and science of frame building.
Mollie’s attention to detail comes from the pure desire to learn. Focus, too, is imperative when batch-dimpling and cutting seat- or chainstays, as it can be somewhat mindless at times. The key, like most things with frame building, is the setup. With multiple sizes of stays, the process is crucial, so you don’t lose focus. Despite the monotony at times, she loves this part of the build.
Currently, she’s filet brazing, while learning to TIG weld. She believes welding is a true craft and is a skillset she wants to have in her back pocket. Because she’s doing the finish work on what she brazes, she can truly analyze her work and see how much she can get away with in terms of how little material she can apply based on how much she ends up taking away with filing. She can adjust her technique to move the brass that makes it easier to file in the end, to make it a bit smoother. Adjusting technique is part of the process and just allows her to evolve in this space. In the end, all the “lumps” will be filed down and polished. When it’s painted you won’t be able to see the filets at all. It’s as if the steel frame is monocoque.
On the trade
As a kid, it never occurred to her that she could do this as a profession. She believes there is a difference in how young girls are socialized compared to boys growing up. “I didn’t have anyone putting tools in my hands as a kid. This was born out of a passion I have for bikes and the curiosity and desire to make something better for me to ride,” she said. She expressed the interest to some and living in Portland where there’s a frame-building community, the opportunity arose.
Mollie believes it’s important to have role models. Even though she doesn’t know all the other female frame builders out there, she knows they exist and watches what they are doing, what kinds of bikes they are designing and fabricating. If young women express interest in this trade, she hopes that bike companies will be willing to take the step of training them, like Jackie did for her.
Do you whittle?
Bike fabrication has led her to interests in woodworking and whittling, What’s whittling? It’s basically woodcarving with a knife. Who knew?!