Camino Cielo, “Sky’s Pathway”, is a narrow road that runs along the top of a ridge in the Santa Ynez mountains behind Santa Barbara. After rolling off the shoulder of La Cumbre Peak, Camino Cielo continues south for several miles roughly paralleling the coastline and the Pacific Ocean several thousand feet below. It’s on this rugged and adventurous road, and the many others like it in the foothills and mountains surrounding town, that Chris King discovered the values of a well-designed bicycle. Camino Cielo, it’s climbs and twists and turns and descents, was a laboratory and a test track, and the perfect retreat from a hard day’s work at the machine shop.
Thirty-two years later and a thousand miles up the coast from Camino Cielo in our Portland, Oregon workshop, our love of cycling and the places that make it special, remain. And in homage to the magic of those early rides and the roads that gave birth to Cielo, we feature La Cumbre Peak on the engraved brass head tube badge included with every bicycle we make.
Chris’ reputation as a component manufacturer is well known but there was a time when Chris built as many bicycle frames as sealed bearing headsets. Starting in 1978, Chris began fabricating steel road racing and touring frames from his small shop in Santa Barbara, CA. While many Cielo frames were sold to individual clients and bore the Cielo marque, the majority of Chris’ work was done for racing teams.
Many Cielo frames were raced in the United States under the names of several prominent manufacturers and pedaled by some of the day’s most notable racers. While Chris’ specialty at the start was 700c road bikes he would go on to produce several models of mountain bikes and in the process, discover a new market. A market that quickly and near unanimously embraced his durable sealed bearing headsets.
With little time for the labor-intensive craft of frame construction, Cielo was put aside in the early 1980’s for twenty-eight years. In 2008, a combination of factors led Chris to return to the torch. His component business was secure and stable, no longer demanding his focused input each day. Next, the demand for custom-made steel frames was clearly on the rise. Add to this slow-boiling mix the fact that Chris now lives and socializes in Portland’s large community of talented bicycle builders. Casual conversations with other builders led from components to business advice to framebuilding. It soon became clear to Chris that the passion he had for framebuilding had never gone away; it had only been pushed aside by other interests. A stainless steel Cielo road frame exhibited at the 2008 North American Handmade Show drew enough attention and praise from inside and outside the company to encourage Chris to revive Cielo Cycles. Chris’ days are now very much like they were back then – riding back and forth to work on his own bicycles, though now, often in a rain jacket.