The 19th stage of the 2013 Giro d’Italia, from Ponte di Legno to Val Martello, was canceled due to treacherous conditions, reminding us of Andy Hampsten clambering over the summit of Passo di Gavia in a blizzard back in 1988. The bike Andy was riding wasn’t a Huffy, the brand emblazoned on the down tube, but a Land Shark built by the legendary American builder, John Slawta.
Slawta set out to become a professional artist, but was waylaid by another interest: building bicycle frames. After developing a reputation for his fine fillet brazing, Land Shark Bicycles was born—named after a Jaws-parodying Saturday Night Live skit. Where else could John pursue his passion for painting but on his frames? Frame by frame, the Land Shark cult grew.
Word spread, eventually reaching the ears of one Andy Hampsten. There was a time, not that long ago, when a lone steel frame builder could be contracted to supply a team’s worth of bikes for a season, and this was Slawta’s time. So, despite the Huffy decals, Andy’s Giro bike in 1988 was a Land Shark, and despite the True Temper decals it was actually constructed from Tange tubing.
Just as there are passionate fans of Dario Pegoretti’s hand-painted frames, so there are one-eyed fans of both Slawta’s artwork and frames. Eric Baumann is one of the former, a photographer from Boston with a great passion for fine steel bicycle frames and fine photography. This is his Road Shark, a non-surprising title for a tarmac-eating Land Shark.
“I saw my first Land Shark about 5 years ago,” Eric says. “I’d never seen anything like it before. The first thing anyone notices about them is the paint. But you look a little closer and realize that not only is it a work of art, but also meticulously constructed by one of the best builders in the world. That stuck with me for years and kept me scouring the internet for my own.”
“I finally found this one last year and couldn’t believe my luck. It had everything I was looking for: crazy awesome paint work (I still can’t figure out how it was done), fully fillet brazed, 1-1/8 headtube and in perfect condition. I immediately snapped it up and built it with an SR11 group, Ciamillo Negative G brakes, Edge carbon bits then threw some Reynolds SDV66’s on there to top it off.”
John Slawta is one of the few extremely lucky artists who become recognized for their work during their lifetime. And it’s easy to see why Eric loves his Land Shark. See more of Eric’s photography (including his fantastic work for Royal H Cycles) on his tumblr, Ride Metal.