Meet Michael Felici of Great Northern Customs
by Alvin Carpenter, Island City eBikes
I met Mike a few months back when he bought a small part from us for a build that he was doing for a client. I believe it was a BCD 104 chainring adaptor. Even though the part we sent him did not solve his chainline issues we nevertheless began a professional relationship over the internet.
Michael Felici is the owner of Great Northern Customs in Saranac Lake, New York. Michael builds some of the most beautiful bikes and eBikes anywhere. I can say with confidence that he is absolutely obsessed with achieving the Holy Grail of the perfect eBike. Before I continue, I would like you to view this Youtube video of a bike he built called “The Elvis.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=blF8jH3IcgU. This is one awesome bike.
Sure, our therapists say our obsessions can be destructive but that is simply how some of us are wired and to kill that spirit would be to the kill the drive that has led to countless great discoveries. I have looked at many of Michael’s bikes, looked at his tools, his shop, looked at his plans for the future, and think, “this is exactly the type of person we need in the world of eBikes.” Some of his ideas concerning the future of eBikes I will not include in this article as I think they are so creative others may be tempted to run with his idea before he has a chance to implement them himself.
If anyone wishes to enter the world of custom eBikes the first and foremost requirement is that they are an artist first and anything beyond that is a distant second. Michael has an Instagram site at https://www.instagram.com/gncbikes/, where pictures of his creations can be found, along with that of his shop, and his faithful shop dog. His shop is no different than the laboratory of a scientist, or a recording studio to a musician. This is where it happens.
When you look at Michaels work the first thing you notice is that he does a fantastic job of both blending both form and function. For many years the term “form follows function” was used in the world of architectural design, then came a young architect named Frank Lloyd Wright who challenged that idea and said “Form and function should be one, joined in a spiritual union.” Custom builders like Michael either come to terms with that fact or they will be one more company producing eBikes that never create that sense of awe or pride of ownership.
I ask Michael if he would share some of his history of how he came to be where he today and he shared the following story. Some parts I have omitted to protect his future plans from being “borrowed.”
“I grew up in Lake Placid, NY in the 90’s. My first mountain bike was a 12 speed Ross MTB that my dad picked up at a yard sale. I got it when I was 10 and rode it into the ground. My mom then saved for an entire year to get me a proper bike that I could race. It was a steel Gary Fisher with one of the first Rock Shox suspension forks! Man it was sweet…
Well, I didn’t have a lot of money for upgrades or repairs, so I had to do a lot of improvising and had to learn how to fix my bike myself. My father is a machinist, so that was quite helpful. He got me into working on and maintaining bicycles and showed me his way to maintain a bike, which wasn’t always the right way but I made it all work for the most part.
I rode and raced through my high school days and then got into downhill in the mid 2000’s (when I got fat). I stuck with the “fix it or build it yourself” mentality, so I learned quite a bit just from experimenting and learning from other mechanics. I started building one-off bikes for my friends once they had started drooling over my personal bikes. They could never figure out how I could build such amazing bikes for pennies on the dollar. Second-hand baby – I got really good at sourcing used parts.
About 3 years ago I started to get into ebikes and decided to part together a few of my own. After the typical Amazon and eBay kit disappointments, I came across Bafang equipment. Man what a difference! Not insanely expensive but good build quality. I started doing custom builds and retrofitting professionally in 2017. I have also built quite a few carbon triathlon and cross country bikes for local racers. One of which placed quite well in the Lake Placid Ironman. At this point, I have built about 20 BBSHD builds for local customers and some folks out in Colorado and over a dozen, one-off custom bicycles from scratch.
Sometimes people bring me parts to start with but most of the time I do the research, part selection, order it all and put it together for my customer! My favorite types of builds are retro and strange ebike applications, but I love all bikes! I am the first builder to introduce dual throttles on Bafang builds and I am currently experimenting with custom drive-train parts for the BBSHD as well as an internally routed build-specific harness. I am all about making Bafang builds look as clean as possible!
I am currently working on an old-school “Dirt Drop” build that is going to be absolutely wild! It is a vintage steel frame, tons of polished aluminum parts, some serious color and a completely custom single-speed drive-train. No carbon on this build – its all alloy baby! I do it for the love of the machine. It is truly a timeless art form. I love to meld the old with the new. I am not getting any younger, so I have to!”
Michael Felici of Great Northern Customs is an interesting person, has an intuitive sense of design as it comes to bikes and eBikes and is just one cool guy.
If you would like to meet Michael send him a line at email@example.com