The Process of Process: The Badge

My hometown, Portland, Oregon, has an inordinate number of custom bicycle frame studios. Many builders flocked here over the past decade to be at the center of the American bike culture renaissance. Joseph Ahearne is among the first wave of hand builders that put Portland on the map.

montage of bicycle head tube badges



Wiki definition: A head badge is a manufacturer’s logo affixed to the head tube of a bicycle.[1][2]

For Joseph Ahearne, one of the Pacific Northwest’s finest bicycle frame builders, a badge means much more than a logo. An Ahearne custom frame (not to mention custom forks, stems and racks) is a labor of love. The badge tells the story of the bike and its maker.


Joseph Ahearne brazing bicycle frame


Joseph Ahearne in his shop


Ahearne Cycles montage



Joseph Ahearne is complicated and intense – a perfectionist working in a profession steeped in historical tradition, yet his designs are inventive and progressive. Each custom frame involves hundreds of choices, some structural, some aesthetic, some personal. Though no two are the same, his hand is evident in every frame he builds.


Joseph Ahearn working on custom bicycle frame


Joseph wanted to distill several major themes into his head tube badge: his philosophy on frame building, his interests in Eastern religions and yoga, his shop and his city. He wanted to pull them together in a sort of emblematic crest or coat of arms.

Here are my notes from our initial meeting. We developed a list of the elements he felt were most important to represent both his frames and his philosophy. This began a correspondence over a series of months.


Ahearne head tube badge design meeting notes Early in the process, Joseph wrote, “I really like old head tube badges; ones with fancy, regal, squiggly, crest-like designs. Amazing how they once were such an important part of the bike. The designs were so fabulous and ornate, or simple and blocky, but they really tried to show something about the aesthetic sense of the company, the builder, whatever. I want to harken back to that, to some degree. I would like to see some sort of Celtic theme, knots or what-not, and, beside the Ahearne logo it should say somewhere, ‘Hand built with love and fury. Portland, Oregon.’ The rest is open.”

This was to be a collaborative creative project. However, as in all my commissions, the goal of the client was my top priority.

Here are some initial sketches to illustrate the “process of process”.  As a starting point, I presented Joseph with this series of drawings. It was a way to suggest some options and establish directions to pursue or reject.

Ahearne badge initial sketchesThe badge began to evolve. We threw out some early ideas and symbols and focused increasingly on those that survived each round of reviews.

The monkey represents the Hindu god Hanuman. The salmon is not only native to the Pacific Northwest, but it is a fish that Joseph pursued as a onetime professional fisherman. The lotus reflects his interest in yoga, and the vice is his most cherished tool in his shop.

Once we nailed down all the iconic elements, we started working on ways to integrate them with his initial, A for Ahearne, the winged wheel and his motto, ‘Hand built with love and fury. Portland, Or’.

Over many months of trial and error, we finally came up with a solution that worked. Delivering the artwork is only half the process of producing a cast head tube badge. There was much more work ahead of us.

Ahearne head tube badge final line art

Luckily, a company in Rhode Island,, and its representative Dan Gorriaran, were up to the challenge of taking my two dimensional drawing and converting it into a three dimensional miniature bas relief!


Hookfast lead proof for Ahearne Cycles badge




Hookfast cast a proof of the head badge in lead. Joseph and I made some minor tweaks to the proof and . . . then the final prototype.


Ahearne Cycles cast bronze head tube badge


After nearly two years of a back and forth process, the badge was completed, “With love and fury, in Portland, OR!”

Check out Joseph Ahearne’s website to read more about the new badge and his beautiful bicycles.

17 Responses to “The Process of Process: The Badge”

  1. Mikey P says:

    That is a wicked head badge and loved reading about the process and final production. Love the patina.

  2. Richard jenkins says:

    A lovely design and the finished badge will look stunning on the beautiful works of its owner..

  3. Howie Cohen says:

    I am so well impressed with the expertise and persistence that was required for you to work with Joseph in order to develop the finished product which is absolutely elegant. Kudos to you and Joseph for your efforts and great results. Of the many hundreds of bicycle head badges that I have seen, this is the most attractive and meaningful.

  4. Al says:

    Spectacular collaboration.

  5. I agree with Howie Cohen – my friend and a true bicycle industry Icon. This is the most dramatic head badge I have seen … and I have seen an awful lot of head badges(and other position badges) from the 19th and 20th century cycles. The early high wheel bikes had badges many places – side of backbone under the saddle (Columbia Standard 1879; Columbia Special 1880), back of backbone behind the saddle (Victor Roadster 1885 – 1892 New Rapid 1887; Rudge 1887), hanging backward from steering head upper bolt (Columbia Standard – 1880), Steering Head Dust Cover (Columbia Expert 1882 – 1892; Gormulley & Jeffries 1885 – 1892), Head Forging Face Badge (Carver – 1884), Head Forging Impressions (W.Tyler, Adelaide – 1885).
    some even had inlay cloisonne color. In all of these I have not seen any with the artistry of this badge. Congratulations on an inspired and furiously pursued effort!

  6. Randy Mitchell says:

    Everything you do is done with such care. Your attention to detail and history have produced a “new” historic badge.

  7. Jim Langley says:

    Really enjoyed the story behind this awesome bicycle head badge, Karl, and learning the reasons for all the symbols on it make it all that much more spectacular when you see the finished piece. I hope you receive more head badge jobs because I’d love to see what you could do with another one!

  8. John Derven says:

    It is wonderful to read the backstory on this elegant badge. I wish more bike builders would incorporate this degree of personal expression into their marque. Ahearne’s bikes are magnificent, and the badge you created is a fitting tribute to his artistry.

  9. George S. says:

    Love the headbadge and reading about the artistic process involved with its creation. Too bad Bicycling Magazine did not include it in their recent (lame) tribute to headbadges. Yours is much nicer than the ones they featured. I love my IF sterling silver headbadge, but this one has even more charm and style.

  10. Karl:
    Absolutely great work! The collaboration you guys went through is the way that two professionals should always do their work. When they do … they come up with results like you have here. Love it.

  11. The headbadge is something that I’ve struggled with mightily, too. I spent a year going back and forth with a single artist, who couldn’t deliver and wasn’t good at the collaboration. I switched to a new guy and he hit it out of the park on the first try. Not an easy undertaking.

  12. David says:

    What a fantastic collaboration. The different levels of personality and philosophy in the final product is incredible. Well done!

  13. Uma says:

    Finally! I have been wanting the back story on the design ever since your first unveiled it. This is a cool way of telling that story. Really good design and art take time. In a world where everyone wants everything fast/now/yesterday it is a great reminder that true art can’t be hurried. Thanks for sharing.

  14. vulture says:

    Looks amazing and is a great testament to Joseph’s style and intensity. Nice to see mine added to the pile in the first picture, though its process of manufacturing is simpler, its coming into being wasn’t. I have also always been a fan of the schwinn stamped badges, I tried to figure that one out for a long time, but the initial order was too huge. Nice work. Wonderful execution.

  15. James says:

    Well now that sort of thoughtful design is just the sort of thing you can’t get from a factory. It fits that a company based on delivering something better than mass produced and the discerning customers who make such a purchase will share this tangible evidence of the superior. It is a signature delivered with love and fury! Ahearne is now officially in first place on my dream list. One day a custom machine for me. Until then, I will continue to spin on my factory ride bearing my badge of shame – “Made in China”. But one day…

  16. Mike says:

    Very awesome article and badge design!

    I’m currently building up a custom bike and am making my own badge. I work in a dental lab (where we regularly cast using the lost wax technique) so I’ll be casting my own wax pattern design out of a non-precious gold. However, my design (a cloud and lightning bolt) is nowhere near as complicated and detailed as yours.

    Once again… Great work!!!

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