A Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man

Words by Steven Smith and Keaton Haire. Images from a bevy of shutter bugs.

When the concept for the Doppo ‘High Plains Drifter’ first started getting kicked around, I kept returning to certain ideals and a framework for what the project would mean and a message SimWorks hoped to convey. I wanted the end product to be a realization of the culmination of efforts from a team of designers and makers who shared a certain ethos as well as a similarly loved aesthetic. I wanted there to be some history there- both amongst those of us involved in bringing these things in to the world, as well as a historical nod to the past- be it through materials, lines and geometry, or an acknowledgment that throughout the timeline of bicycles that had been purpose built to ride in the wide-open off-road spaces of our landscapes and imaginations, that there was an unspoken but agreed upon understanding that an era of builders and riders had most of these things worked out well in advance of what we might have come to think was cool or trending 40+ years later.

Ultimately the project was born out of a love for off-road riding, and a desire to create an object and some correlating components and accessories with people I admired- whom I felt shared some of my same ideals, appreciation and admiration for those people, places and bikes of the past- and to channel those shared preferences and sensibilities toward crafting a bike that drew influence from the dawn of when off-road riding first started taking shape in the US, while including some more progressive features that would situate the bike closer to when off-road riding first began to take shape in our own lives.

If you traced my path back to where a lot of this would have first taken root, you’d land at Brave New Wheel in Fort Collins, Colorado during the mid 2000s. The shop had served as a riding community hub as well as time-tested source of all things bikes, for an eclectic and at-times rather eccentric mix of cash-strapped college students, single-speed enthusiasts, English 3-speed devotees, restoration hobbyists, path lords, parts-bin pickers, randonneurs and singletrack shredders alike. What better place to eek out a living while spinning out on what to do with the rest of your life with a Liberal Arts degree from an A&M school? I remember going home most nights reeking of a melange of Phil’s grease, the parts washer and J&B import rubber. I gained a skill set- working on a wide variety of bikes in that shop, and I spent a formative chapter of my life with a handful of people that I’ll forever admire and feel indebted to; but maybe most importantly, I learned how to truly appreciate objects in the cycling realm that were well-made, with intention, that embodied a clear focus on timeless style, durability, serviceability and utility. I grew to position bicycles as a catalyst for a life well-lived, an effective outlet for wellness, a vehicle for exploration, an efficient means of transportation, and as a pure expression of industrial art. And in that place I also learned to use appropriate tools for a job, and to take care of my hands -which are foundations for having success with any sort of creative outlet.

It was around 2008 or 2009 that I met Keaton Haire for the first time- right there at Brave New Wheel, as I was pondering a transition toward what was next in my life. He was a curious and thoughtful young man who enjoyed popping in to talk bikes, and to share some illustrations or an anecdote from a recent ride. And it was probably around that same time that Keaton was trying to navigate how to make bikes a larger part of his own life. Who would have guessed that 6 years later, Keaton and I would cross paths again and overlap for a time while working at Chris King, and that 5 years after that, I would have the opportunity to ask him to bend, braze and finish a batch of original BMX/Klunker-style chromoly handlebars that I had in my mind’s eye for some time- to rightfully and intentionally complement a small batch of frame sets I had helped to design and develop. It’s the kind of story that seems destined to have been born in a place like Fort Collins, Colorado. But these kinds of things go on everyday. In every corner of the globe. In all arcs of life. An idea is proposed and met with enthusiasm. A spark is ignited. An e-mail is drafted or a phone call is made. A torch is lit. Repeat…

It’s with a great deal of pride and gratitude that I got to execute on bringing the ‘High Plains Drifter’ in to the world, and a huge part of what made the whole experience so rewarding and worthwhile was getting to share that vision and tap in to the skills and perspective of the makers who brought it all to life.

I reached out to Keaton last week to check in and wish him a Happy New Year, and to talk shop a bit on what we could work on next. I asked him if he could sketch out some insights on where he came from and how he got where he is now. In the end, probably as expected, it’s just another love story about bikes……

From Keaton: I’ve been in love with bikes just about as long as I can remember. A lot of my childhood was spent riding bmx bikes around with my friends, and we figured out pretty quickly that a bicycle allows you to travel great distances, even when you’re 12 years old on a single speed bmx bike. 

I grew up in Fort Collins, Colorado, and in high school my friend Todd Heath got hooked up with James Bleakley of Black Sheep Bikes. Todd worked with James for years, and eventually split off to start Moonmen Bikes. While I’ve never worked with James, being exposed to beautiful handbuilt bicycles from a young age left a lasting impression on me. James has spawned a huge number of builders over the years, and I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing without his influence. 

I studied sculpture and fine art in college, and began working part time as a bicycle mechanic. My fleet of bicycles grew. I got a mountain bike and began riding trails. I built up an old Japanese-made Schwinn Le Tour as a single speed commuter and began doing some distance riding. 

I did my first brazing and “art welding” while studying sculpture in college. It was a long way off from a beautiful fillet, or a pretty tig weld, but it was a start. 

After college I moved around a bit and continued to work as a bicycle mechanic. In 2012 I built my first frame: a fillet brazed 29″ wheeled bmx cruiser. I’ve made a number of frames over the years as an ametuer builder, but it has never seemed feasible to make framebuilding a business. 

In 2015 I moved to Portland, Oregon to work for Chris King. I started out doing finishing work and running some basic machines. After a year, I was running the cnc lathes that machined the hubshells. It was also in Portland that I bent my first handlebar. 

Patrick Franz, the owner of Terracycle, was kind enough to let me use their tube bender to bend up a subtle, swoopy mustache bar for a sport touring/gravel bike that I was building for myself. I got sucked deep into puzzling out handlebar geometry, and ended up bending a few batches of bars. I fell in love with the challenge of designing bars and calculating the bends necessary to create a specific design. 

DOOM BARS officially started in 2020 during the pandemic. I was working as a welder for Takach Press manufacturing fine art printmaking presses when covid shut everything down. I stumbled upon a used tube bender the day after my work shut down, and started bending up bars. DOOM BARS is coming up on 3 year old, and we’ve made just shy of 300 unique bars, as well as hundreds of copies of some of our favorites. 

The Legal Drinker, whose name refers to the legal drinking age in the United States and its 21 degree backsweep, is a more refined version of the first bar I bent at Terracycle. It’s a subtle mustache bar with 15mm rise and a little bump forward. The Legal Drinker is an homage to the classic swoops that you see on early road and track bikes, but it’s a great fit for just about any type of bike that doesn’t require a lot of rise from the handlebar. 

The High Plains Drifter Bar was a great opportunity to refine a bmx/klunker style bar, and to work on small batch production. We’ve made a huge range of bmx style bars with various rises and sweeps. By working with SimWorks, I think we were able to settle on a really balanced design. It’s got enough rise and sweep to be comfortable on just about any bike, but it can still be ridden aggressively. 

Currently, about half of our business at DOOM BARS is custom orders. While it’s amazing to work with customers and help create their dream handlebar, we’re moving more towards small batch production and trying to keep a range of production bars available through our website. We’re currently selling about a handlebar a day, and with that volume it’s growing increasingly difficult to manage custom orders. We hope to always be able to offer custom bars, but moving more towards small batch production will allow us to focus on designs that we love and offer them to a wider audience. 

And so SimWorks will turn the page, and we’ll look forward to continuing to work with Keaton as he charts DOOM towards what’s next. In the interim, we’re pleased to be able to offer the second-batch run of the High Plains Drifter bars- and I hope it’s a bar that we continue to be able to have made and sell. It’s fantastic in it’s balance and neutral handling. The rise and back sweep both lean toward casual cruiser, and yet confidence-inspiring while riding more aggressively. It was purpose built to install on an off-road exploration machine for a rider with a taste for the refined. It’s a damn fine bicycle part to look at. That bead blasted, nickel-plated finish is infinitely kind on the eyes.

SimWorks x DOOM ‘High Plains Drifter’ Bar

800mm wide / 80mm rise / 13° backsweep / 4° upsweep

Chromoly / Nickel plated / Bead blasted

22.2mm clamp area / 31.8mm aluminum shims included $250 USD