Monday, July 30, 2018

No goodbyes

 The move is about 80% done and I'll be at my new location officially August 1st. I might not be open for business for a bit as there's going to be some issues getting a place up and running that just had 22 years of roots ripped out. People might think that the bike frame building lifestyle is idyllic and a real escape from the lock-step workaday world. I can tell you from experience that being creative in your line of work is rewarding but it doesn't mean that at times you are not going to get some sort of beating for your troubles.
 This months beating is the moving of the shop. Lucky for me, there's a great community of people helping me out. If not for these generous folks I would probably not be able to continue with my work or successfully move my shop in the time allotted. That said, the move is not quite done yet and I have already had some bumps and bruises.
Reality check # 1 was moving stuff in to the new shop and at first wondering why there didn't appear to be room for all my tools and stock, even with jettisoning a good amount if it over the previous weeks. I donated a truckload of bike parts to the local non-profit and several hundred frame tubes to other builders. I also filled a large dumpster twice with odds and ends that really had no place in my new location. Reality check # 2 was how no matter how much stuff I moved out day by day, the old shop did not look much emptier. Reality check # 3 I fell off a ladder , hit my head - got a concussion , twisted my ankle and went to the emergency room. Before that I had planned to have a goodbye party at the old shop on Friday- that plan got crushed pretty much like the right side of my head.
So today the move continues. The doctor said that I needed to rest but rest won't get this crap moved so I'm still at it every day a few hours limping around loading and unloading- I'm always thinking that this load is the last one , only to realize that there's more stuff that I didn't account for lurking in a corner of the old shop. Also, in the new shop I look around and get the feeling that I'll have a place for all my fixtures and tools only to have that idea crushed by the next load from the old shop.
After 22 years there will be no goodbye to the old shop- might not even be a hello to the new one, just another step on the self-made treadmill of shifting metal. Everyone knows that moving is stressful as hell, even in Santa Cruz- I'm really hoping that this move does not kill me or my shop.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Father- yes son- I want to kill you......

22years.....that's how long I have been in my present shop. 22 years.....nearly 1/4 of a century with a lot of personal and professional history behind me. I have been through a lot of changes at 2533-D Mission st. ext. and I have a shop full of accumulation to prove it- posters, bikes, parts,materials, photos, documents.....tons of stuff. The 22 years is coming to a close in about 6 weeks as I will move my shop down the street next month. This is not a move I planned- it is a move brought on by changes at my building that will make the current location a place that will no longer work for my business. The management of the building decided to close of the place to the general public to avoid having to conform to ADA requirements. Essentially, the management does not want to spend the money to allow disabled people proper access to the many shops in the building. Of course, if the rent was raised this would probably cover the cost for the ADA retrofits but the decision has been made to close off the building to anyone who does not rent there- this means no more customer access , no 'Open Studios', no classes, so school visits......nobody.
Of course, I can't really do business without my customers having access to me so this means that I have had to go look for a new location. I did find one only about a block away. My rent will triple but the new rent is more in line with the current reality in my town- the old shop was a screaming deal and I was lucky to have 22 years there. The low rent did come with some headaches......even though the landlady was a saint and regarded the tenants as family, she hired hard-asses to run the building and they were pretty awful for the most part- abusive and threatening in the worst of times. This made for some close calls over the years with eviction but I survived to this point-battle scarred but still in my shop , working away. Even now I am not being told to leave-it is the new terms of the building access that are forcing my hand, so to speak.
So next month the move happens. In the last two decades I have accumulated a ton of stuff- people come by with all sorts of stuff to give me and I have had a hard time saying 'no'. Much of this stuff will not make the trip to the new shop- the new place is a bit smaller and I don't relish moving a bunch of stuff that I will be unlikely to use. I have been donating bike parts to the local Project Bike Tech and have recycled a bunch of metal. I have bikes for sale and some tubing to give to other builders. I'm not quitting, I'm just lightening my load so that the new shop isn't the same shit show as my current situation.
Apart from the donations and recycling , I did something yesterday that had been on my mind for about two years. In 2016 I had a customer who had contacted me about a frame project- an unusual bike for an unusual guy. The customer was always very chatty and personable....I would say a very nice guy. I spent several hours in consultation with this customer in person on two occasions as well as multiple phone calls and innumerable emails. I didn't mind this as I kind of liked the guy and wanted to make him a bike he would really bond with. There were a few features I drew the line on-stuff that I never do- but at the time the customer seemed good with it.
Once the frame was done and coming back from the painter everything changed. I got an email from the customer that he was canceling the order stating that there was 'no joy in the process'. I was really blind-sided by this....I had not thought for a second that this customer had any misgivings about the frame or me as a builder. I was livid......how could I have not seen the signs of a problem ? Well.....because there were no signs of a problem. The customer probably had done this before with other builders. I found this out by calling up another builder who had been cancelled on twice by the same guy. This of course made me even more upset. I had spent many hours in consultation with the customer and many hours building the frame, only to have it hanging above my bench for two years, un-prepped and unridden. The frame was huge-super tall and super short-odd proportions to fit the unusual build of the customer. I came to the conclusion that it was unlikely that anyone would ever fit or want this frame and fork. The bad memories of the build and subsequent cancellation hovered above my head for two years. Yesterday I decided that this frame and fork would not follow me to the new shop-I decided to do something I thought I would never do-destroy a brand-new unridden frame....hell, I had not even prepped it for assembly !
Like Hendrix at Monterey Pop lighting his guitar on fire stating : " Now I'm going to sacrifice something I really care about for you all.." I set up my chop saw in front of the shop , took the frame off the hook it had been hanging on since 2016 and got ready to cut. Just then, the current building manager drove up in his truck and stopped for a moment. I waved at the truck and proceeded to cut the frame into small chunks while he watched. In about 2 minutes I cut apart something that had taken me the better part of 2 days to construct. The building manager drove off without a word and I walked to the dumpster with the pieces of freshly cut steel and put the pieces and hopefully the bad memories behind me forever.
I know that some of you will find this action I took insane and at the least wasteful. I understand and admit that my flawed personality had something to do with my urge to sacrifice this particular frame. This said, I did feel an amazing sense of relief , though....... a bad memory that was re-kindled every time I looked up and saw the frame on its hook-utterly useless and covered in dust-this will no longer be something I see on a daily basis. I'm looking to have a fresh start and this frame, this memory will not make the trip.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

You know me ?

I'm not sure what the reason is but whatever I do in my career that might be of note is maybe not enough for some people- There's the factual building of frames over the last four decades, the participation and sponsorship of the odd bicycle race and of course my sporadic presence at trade shows. These are all verifiable and in some cases actually documented in writing on the web and every once in awhile in print. I seldom go out of my way to call attention to what I do unless I stumble upon something that resonates with a portion of the cycling community , or in the case of certain ironies that I find really funny. There is evidence of this stuff if you look for it although few people find the need.
There are other stories that do not originate from my own actions or writings that crop up every now and then- I have no idea where they originate from but they are out there and a few of them have gotten back to me personally. These stories usually make me smile and occasionally laugh out loud- the motivation for the creation of these stories is a complete mystery to me. The fact that anyone is talking about what I do at all is flattering, even if it is totally made up.
Story # 1. " Yeah, Paul is making me a titanium mountain bike frame and it should be done really soon." . This story was circulating ( albeit, a very tiny circle) a number of years ago . I do not build titanium frames. I only built one ever and it was over 20 years ago......it was not a super fun experience so I didn't build another. Here is a person who never actually ordered a frame, probably someone I have never met telling a story about a frame I was never building. Pretty funny in my book.
Story # 2. " Rock Lobster ? I heard that Paul got sued for using someone else's design and closed up shop years ago." I was told this at the UPS counter I go to nearly every week to ship out product. I heard the story from three UPS drivers in one day.......I asked about the origin of the story but didn't get a idea where the story originated. The only reason I would use someone else's design would be that said person was directing and paying me to do so. I use my own designs-not that I am God's gift to bicycle design but hey- 40 years of frame building has taught me something. Out of business ? Wow......then why am I still working my ass off ? Sued ?  Hey- nobody told me I was being sued.....this story is really a whopper and I wonder why it exists at all. Do I have a fierce enemy out there ? Does someone really want me to go away that much ? - I'm sure I'll never know.
Story # 3. "Hey, are those guys up the street at *************** Bicycle company beating up on you and giving you a hard time ? Really ?  I have built frames for at least six people working at this company. In 2000-2001 I built frames for their cyclocross team that were branded by this company. They were pretty much prototypes for a model this company introduced months later. I get my shipping cartons from this company and feel that they are my friends- I'm willing to do any work they ask me to do. Out of all the bicycle companies out there they are my closest ally.

All I can say is that the folks that came up with these stories are aiming really low.....making stuff up about a one-man operation building a couple frames a week is kind of flattering-that this fiction is newsworthy enough to eventually get back to me is a bit of a nod to my small significance in a big world. I'm not unhappy about these stories , even if they are very far off the mark. I look forward to more of the same- the wilder, the better ! Something like : " Paul moved his shop to the island of Yap and only builds frames built of the native free-range bamboo." Or, " Rock Lobster was bought by a large conglomerate that produces slow-cookers and anti-personell mines." Or, " Paul had to leave the country as he was involved in a huge Bitcoin scandal-he now is in the FBI witness protection program."
Make up your own.....hey, no such thing as bad publicity !

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Eroica California, part 2.

Two years ago I rode the mid-distance route of the Eroica California. I had a really good experience and thought that the organizers of the event were very focused on creating the best experience possible for all the riders. I did not return last year as my plate was very full at the shop-when you are a one man show there's not much time for things like vintage bike rides.

I will be returning to the Eroica again in April.This time instead of going solo on the ride I am bringing a team of really great riders. I am setting them all up on older frames that have been hanging in my shop, some for decades. All of these frames have been re-conditoned for the ride and will be mechanically ready for the rigorous conditions of steep dirt climbs and varying road surfaces. I am breaking out my entire collection of older parts to outfit all of these bikes and all of the riders will have special jerseys for the day. This team will not directly be associated with my brand-this will literally be rolling performance-art.

The last time I wrote about the Eroica , my goal was to relate my experience to anyone thinking of riding the event and pointing out things I thought were important to address to make the ride as trouble-free and pleasurable as possible. One reader took great offense to what I wrote and urged me not to return to the Eroica as I did not understand the flavor of the event. Well, I am returning and I am bringing a group of riders that will no doubt make an impression. The Eroica might be a showcase of vintage bicycles and a way for folks to try to simulate the kind of riding done 40-50 years ago. As a person who got his first road bike in 1967 and raced in the '70's, I understand this past world better than most. I did more than one road race where sections of the course were not paved. I had wool gear and clipless pedals and the like were still years away from existing.

While I do appreciate older bikes and have read extensively about bicycles and racing from its earliest times, the world of bicycle collecting to me is not any different than any other collecting. There is the true appreciation of bicycles but there is also the neurotic need for aquisition and bragging rights about whatever bicycle you might have . While I may have about 37 bikes in my shop and of course some of them are classic old rides, my appreciation for them comes from living through the '60's and 70's when bikes like this were state of the art. I am not that nostalgic about 'the good old days' of friction shifting, lugged steel frames, toe clips, hair nets, wool shorts, etc. My position is that older bikes can be really beautiful and in their day they were the best. They are not the best now-I don't care what anyone anywhere says that the older bikes are better than the latest bikes on the market. I'm sure that one can have just as good of a time riding an older bike but if you consider the ease of shifting,improvements on brakes and wheels-no to mention that newer bikes are much lighter-there really is no comparison as to performance.

Classic bike fans will say that newer bikes are 'too easy to ride' and that the sport of cycling has been 'dumbed down' in terms of needed skills to ride a road bike. Yes , new bikes of all kinds are easier to shift, have more relaxed riding positions and in many cases more stable geometry. I don't feel that this is a bad thing-it is helping more people get into the sport and out of their cars. Take away all the technological advances in road bikes and the amount of riders would plummet. I remember riding to work in L.A. in 1976 on my way-too-big but nice looking Colnago and not seeing another cyclist for 1 1/2 years on my 12 mile route. Cycling was a fringe sport at best in America in those days.

So-now I am returning to the Eroica with a team of riders, some decent fitness and a doctor's note so that I can use clipless pedals. ( I checked in with the promoter and he said the note would be all I need-I have arthritic feet, ironically from decades of riding with toe clips and straps.) My goal is to have a splendid time, see some old friends and maybe some nice old bikes. Yes- I have gone on and on about how newer bikes are better but even I like to pedal on an old bike now and then. The difference with me is that the old bike I pedal is one that I made over 30 years ago-not something I scored on ebay or craigslist to satisfy some period-correct fetish.....not that I don't understand wanting a cool old bike. My contention is that one is not
a better person because you have a flawless collectable period-correct priceless aquisition of enviable status-you can still be a sanctimonious gassbag.

Monday, December 18, 2017

Full circle

As I have written in this blog previously, a significant influence on my questionable path into frame building was Bruce Gordon. While I had some more direct help from the likes of Ross Shafer and Dean Hovey, seeing one of Bruce's frames in 1977 made me aware of the existence  of bicycle frame building in America. The frame I saw at the shop I worked in definitely made a lasting impression.
 Being a minimum wage worker back in my bike shop days there was no chance for me to be able to afford one of Bruce's frames, or for that matter any custom frame - unless of course I figured out how to build one myself. With the help of Ross I was able to cob together my first two frames-both of which I still have. As a matter of fact I still have many of the earliest efforts in my shop, although they are not all in riding shape.
 I probably have about 37 rideable bikes in my shop and have owned a few bikes from other builders but the one bike that I wanted all these years was out of my reach-the rarity of Bruce Gordon's lugged frames and the chance of finding one my size made it unlikely that I would ever wind up with one. Well-40 years later I have a Bruce Gordon frame-a 1976 in a salmon-pink. It is my size and Bruce gave me a screaming deal on it as it had no fork and it had been hanging in his shop for a few decades. It has some miles on it for sure but structurally is sound. I had to clean quite a bit of dust and grime off of it and I had to build a fork for it. Fortunately, Bruce had some pre-raked blades with some dropouts already brazed in with his signature scallop so all I had to do was finish up the fork. Luckily, I had the correct Cinelli MC crown , the one that Bruce told me to use.
 I had the paint touched up on the chain stays of the frame and the fork painted to match by Allan Neymark. This was not easy as the paint was over 40 years old and a bit faded. Allan pretty much nailed it as you can see in the photo.
 I looked in all the old boxes of Campagnolo bits in my shop and culled together most of a late-70's early 80's Super Record group and assembled the bike. I built some wheels with some really old Phil Wood hubs and new Mavic Open-Pro rims. I really was not sure how the bike would ride-I was hoping that I would like the ride as much as the wonderful work that Bruce had put into it all those years ago.
 Well, I did ride it-the gearing was not super friendly to my 62 year old legs and the brakes were predictably funky on the downhills but the road feel of the bike proved to be very nice indeed.The Columbus SL frame and fork really soaked up the bumps it the road and I have been commuting to work on the bike several days a week. I might have about 100 miles on it so far and plan to do the 85 mile version of the Eroica California this spring. It has been many years since I have ridden a bike that was not made in my shop-in this case I am doing it gladly and for what I think are very valid reasons. # 1, it rides great. # 2, I feel lucky to finally have it after all these years. # 3, there are things on this frame that I have never figured out how to do and it humbles me. # 4, Bruce has ceased making frames - I'm riding something that is unlikely to be built again. #5, Here is a bike that in my opinion ( along with a number of other US builders efforts ) really shows superior quality to many of the European highly sought after collectable bikes .
There are other builders who have pushed the quality and attention to detail envelope further-Roland Della Santa, Peter Weigel, Mark Nobliette, Peter Johnson, Mark Dinucci, Richard Sachs- all of these builders and others that followed raised the bar on how cleanly and impeccably a bicycle frame could be constructed. All of these builders distinguished themselves with stellar work. For one reason in my mind, Bruce stands alone. He not only built with stunning quality in terms of finish and ride, he created original distinctive artistic statements in his lug work-it was never overdone and the artistic component never got in the way of the utility of the bike. I am proud to have one of his bikes and feel very lucky to have been able to build a small run of bike frames with him.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

You are going to die with those lugs, Pt. II

I would be remiss in not telling the rest of the story of the previous post. Over the years I have displayed at bicycle trade shows- Interbike, NAHBS, Portland Manifest and some local Nor-Cal 'Meet your maker' pop-up parking lot shows. For the most part these shows are more of a social thing for me-I don't wind up writing orders but it is good to be present and show custom bike people that you still are in effect. 2017 was a year where I didn't participate in any show and 2018 is likely to be the same.....when you are as busy as I am the time just isn't there. I'll miss seeing my frame builder buddies out there.
Back to the story. I mention the shows because at more than one of these shows I was approached by a man, probably in his 70's who took some very ornate and ancient looking lugs out of a little bag and showed them to me. He asked me how much I would charge to build a bike with them. He looked at me as if he were offering me the opportunity of a lifetime-he really was presenting these lugs as some sort of holy grail of frame building and that it would be a tremendous opportunity for me to have the task of using said lugs to build a frame, as if the lugs would make the frame a masterpiece. I was not able to come up with a price so off the old man went with his lugs.
Years passed and at another show the same man presented me with the same lugs and the same offer-at the time I wondered how long this man had been walking the aisles of bike shows with this one set of lugs. I also wondered where he got them and when. Evidently the old man never heard what he wanted to hear from me or any other builders regarding his prized set of lugs. I'm not sure that they ever got used at all......I wonder what happened to the old man and his lugs.
The whole situation he presented was kind of destined to go nowhere as a set of lugs might work for a certain frame and not for most others. The old man was fairly short, maybe about 5'5"-5'6". Making a frame for him would involve bending the crap out of those ornate old lugs to get the proper angles for a smaller frame. This would no doubt be difficult and time consuming. There's also no guarantee that the lugs would look perfect when all the modifications are done, at least in my hands.....and my hands have been doing this kind of work since 1978 ! Essentially, there's no way I could give an accurate estimate on building a frame with a set of lugs that I have no experience with and also don't know the angles and tolerances of. This is why I could not come up with the words that would make the old man trust me to build his dream bike with his prized set of antique lugs.
While I build welded frames about 99% of the time, I do offer lugged frames and have probably built around 250-300 in my career. Pricing these frames is tricky but I can do it as long as I know what I am working with in terms of materials. When I go out of the comfort zone the cost of the project gets much harder to quantify. For this reason , my collection of older lugs has been gathering dust for decades. I'm not anxious to interrupt the flow of productive work to do a vanity project-yes, that's a pretty cold word for it but in my shop that's what it would be. It is unlikely that I would be able to do the job I want to do with these older lugs and still get anything close to a living wage.
When I am old enough to collect social security and if I don't die before my house is paid off I will be in a position to attempt to build some frames with these old parts. It is doubtful that the old man with his lugs will ever look me up again to build his dream bike but at this time I am the old man with not just one set of old lugs but with many. I could just leave these antiques for the next generation to build with but I have this odd feeling- with my connection to the era when some of these lugs were new, I have a duty to use them. This is a sentimental notion and really does not speak to who I have been as a builder for a very long time-kind of like people riding in the Eroica on bikes they lusted after as teenagers but don't use as their weekly go-to bikes. It's not logical and it is not meant to be-it is only another trip to a romanticized fuzzy memory of sorts- one that may very well remain a memory and not take shape as an actuality in the present.

Friday, November 10, 2017

You are going to die with those lugs

In my shop as in just about every frame builders shop are materials and fittings . Most of these bits will wind up in frames over time but there are things in boxes that could be considered " Pieces for projects in the future ". These are materials that we as builders seem to accumulate with the idea that at some future time there will be an occasion to use these parts in some sort of pet project. As for me, I started out on the hunt for cool lugs, bottom bracket shells and fork crowns with the idea that I would attempt to build rolling works of art-not as a profession but as a sideline, a part time hobby.

Back in the late '70's finding any good materials to build bicycle frames with was not easy. There were only a few US sources for tubing , lugs and dropouts. These sources were very small outfits with little or no advertising budgets-to find these sources one had to find a frame builder or bicycle shop who knew who the sources were. There was no internet and not much of a bicycle culture and almost no bike building culture at all. My very first materials were garnered from a company called "Proteus Designs". Proteus was run out of a bicycle shop in Maryland and they not only sold frame tube sets but they also published a frame builders handbook with the author credit going to a Dr. Paul Proteus- a non-existant character. The book was most likely written by a few of the shop staff who did build frames and likely had done a bit of research on the subject.
The other sources for materials back in the beginning were other builders-some who were active and some who were quitting. To this day nearly 40 years along I still get materials from builders who call it quits. I have accumulated much of this stuff and some of the lugs are older than me. The stuff that doesn't fall in my lap from other builders is mostly stuff that I sought out thinking that I wanted to build a magnum opus - a real over-the-top masterpiece some day. I would need some really special and rare bits for such a monumental project.
Here it is, 2017 and I have some boxes of old lugs and fork crowns- many of these I have had since 1980. One would think that maybe it could be time to face the possibility that the likely hood of these parts ever finding use in my shop highly unlikely. That thought did not keep me from buying yet another ancient set of lugs last week-the ones in the photo. I purchased these ornate lugs from a builder who is ending his career-that builder is Bruce Gordon. He was selling off his entire inventory of tools, jigs, bikes, parts and frame building materials. It is what we will all have to do as builders eventually. Bruce had some really fine sets of lugs out on a work bench but this particular set caught my eye. There was an ancient crumpled note in the bag with the lugs. It stated: " Thanks for your prompt payment. I hope that you find a good frame builder ". This makes me think that Bruce bought these lugs before he had ever built a frame. That would put the purchase date some time in the early '70's, about the time I was in high school.
So- what am I to do with these and all the other old bits from frame builders of the past ? What makes me think that I am going to do with this stuff that all the other builders never got around to ? I'm sure that more than one person came into Bruce's shop and upon seeing those lugs said " You are going to die with those lugs ". Well, Bruce......you are not going to die with those lugs- you can thank me for that. I am likely the one who is going to die with those lugs.