But getting into the world of custom bicycles was a frightening proposition.
"I didn't have a mentor, and I didn't apprentice under anyone," Watson says. "It was extremely scary, very intimidating." Particularly when he took one of his early products to a big custom bike show featuring many of the nation's top builders.
"It was filled with guys I'd idolized for years," Watson recalls.
When the top builders saw that Watson was serious about making really good custom machines, many offered advice and support. "I got a lot of warnings," Watson says, "about how this is a hard business, that you've really got to give it your all."
"It isn't always rewarding," Watson admits, and the work involves "lots of long hours" in the shop. "But when you give a customer a bike and they love it, it's really wonderful."
Watson estimates he's producing between 30 and 40 bikes a year. He figures that's the number of bicycles he can turn out to both make a decent salary and provide his buyers with the type of quality machine they desire.
Prices "start at $3,500 for a complete bike," Watson explains, but adds he recently delivered one special model for a whopping $9,000. "The typical build is around $5,500," he says.
Customers who want a bike from Watson Cycles come from all over. Watson says in the last few months he's delivered bicycles to Puerto Rico, Delaware and California.
"Some of my customers are just regular Joes, regular lower-or-middle class people who know what they want," he says.
Others are cyclists with particular problems that make finding the right size mass-production bicycle difficult. A person might be too tall or too short, or have extra long arms or legs or torsos and reached the conclusion that they need a bike built to their exact specifications.
"If you're out of proportion," Watson says, "You need an out-of-proportion bike." Finding that exactly right bicycle can mean an end to nagging pain in the back, shoulders, arms or knees, making the price well worth it to someone in love with cycling.
Commercial bike manufacturers, says Watson, "measure 1,000 people and take an average and build bikes to it."
There are bike shop owners around who will tell you these custom bikes simply aren't worth all that money, and that big bike companies do make various sized bikes that can fit nearly every rider.
Most handmade bicycles are constructed out of steel, and steel frames are considered way old-fashioned by modern bicycle manufacturers. Carbon fiber is the cutting-edge material these days (nearly all Tour de France bikes are made of it), or maybe titanium or aluminum.
For the same kind of money you might pay to Weigle or any of these other custom specialists for one of their creations, you can pick up a replica of a race bike that has carried the top pro riders to victory in the world's great cycling events.
Watson and Weigle say they aren't trying to compete with commercial bike manufacturers, and that they appeal to a different sort of customer.
According to Watson, it's very understandable why bike shop owners would argue in favor of commercial bikes. "If you can take a cookie-cutter bike, and move them out of your shop, make some money and move on, that's a good business model," he says. "They're not chasing the same clientele I am."
"Is it better or worse?" Weigle muses when asked to compare his creations to top commercial bicycles. "I wouldn't attempt to say."
Watson argues that many customers of American custom builders "appreciate American-made artistry." He says most carbon-fiber bikes toady are made in Asia "under unethical conditions," and insists modern steel bikes offer a "ride quality" other types of mass-produced bicycles can't.
Weigle says someone who buys one of his bikes is similar to a musician who hungers after a custom-made guitar or a devoted fisherman who's always wanted a handcrafted bamboo rod of his or her own.
Watson agrees. Someone who pays top dollar for a custom bicycle wants something that is different.
"They don't want cookie-cutter bikes," he says. "They don't want their bike to be like everyone else's."
Andrew Watson makes bikes in Waterford. (photo courtesy Andrew Watson)