Saturday, June 16, 2018
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.
Posted by swiggco world at 9:00 AM
Saturday, March 17, 2018
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 !
Posted by swiggco world at 1:49 PM
Sunday, February 18, 2018
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
Posted by swiggco world at 5:04 PM
Monday, December 18, 2017
Posted by swiggco world at 8:39 AM
Thursday, November 23, 2017
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.
Posted by swiggco world at 10:54 AM
Friday, November 10, 2017
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.
Posted by swiggco world at 9:09 PM
Monday, July 10, 2017
Any lively hood in the self-employed sense involves running a business. Most builders ( Myself among them ) do not know crap about running a successful business. I don't care what your skill level with a torch, files, machinery......whatever-if you can't figure out the business end you will fail. Learning how to take a craft and turn it into something that pays all the bills and then some is pretty difficult. Making frame building into a real living is statistically nearly impossible. Even if one has all the shop skills and has a good idea how to interact with customers there's no guarantee that customers will come your way. There are so many factors that come into play when a person is seeking to establish an identity as a builder/entity/brand.
Initially there is a buzz about the next new builder and with that initial excitement there can be customers in the form of friends, family and maybe some folks that see the work at one of the various shows. This 'new builder buzz' is fleeting to say the least. After the first wave of customers the real work starts and the real questions come up:
What should I charge ?
What should I specialize in ?
How can I distinguish myself from all the other builders ?
How do I deal with a warranty issue ?
How do I keep everyone happy ?
How do I not go insane ?
How do I not get discouraged ?
When will the work load be consistent ?
I started my business full time nearly 30 years ago and I still ask myself some of these questions. I also look at my daily work and want it to be better than what I see.......what I see. Once the paint is on it is doubtful that anyone would notice the stuff I'm getting all hot and bothered about. That's the eternal torment of this work-it is also the eternal challenge of this work and it is what keeps it from ever , ever getting boring. It's funny that the thing that drives me crazy about this craft is exactly what keeps me coming back every morning to do it again and again.
So....from behind the curtain I can tell you a bit how this particular custom frame 'sausage' is made.
#1. There is a sense of duty to whoever is going to wind up with the frame.....a hope that the end result will be something that the customer bonds with and enriches his/her life with.
#2. Knowing that not all days are the same and it is impossible to be at one's best at all times, it is however possible to try to do one's best at all times. Fatigue and dull hacksaw blades can effect this, along with body aches and pains, blood sugar levels , mood swings.........but you do have to be the best that you can on that given day.
#3. Being willing to take responsibility for what you have built-I know that this is a really tough one for some folks but hey-if you screw up you need to admit it and deal with it.
#4 . Knowing when to say no. Saying yes can get you in a whole lot more shit than saying no. I'm still learning this one on a weekly basis .
#5 . Figuring out what you need to be paid in order to sustain your operation. For much of my professional life I have failed miserably at this. I have made up for it in part by overworking, selling off personal property and not taking vacations. In my opinion that is no way to live......but it is how I have lived until a few years ago.
#6 . Not copping an attitude. Frame builders for some part have been notoriously negative....and why not ? With the unscripted and unschooled lifestyle that is the world of the frame builder being such a precarious way to make a living, it is not surprising that most get discouraged. Many don't last and the ones that do can be pretty bitter.
#7. Keeping your name out there. This is so important......just putting up a blog or having a website isn't nearly enough to keep people aware that you exist. Social media, bike events at the grassroots level and larger events do help but the builder himself/herself has to show up and be present. One has to walk the walk-if you like to ride the bike, ride the bike ! Get out there and ride with people-create events that are fun-not just about marketing....more about what all of us who cycle are drawn to.
There are many other aspects of the daily grind I could talk about but there's only so much that I feel I want to open up about. When you have spent as much time as I have doing this craft it has become a very personal thing-an identity to a large degree. For better or worse , this is what I do and hopefully will continue to do- as long as I have the ability. When I was growing up my father was very dismissive about nearly everything I wanted to do with my life. I literally had to move hundreds of miles away to be able to attempt to follow any ambition I had. I came to Santa Cruz to start a life of my own- the bikes I build are a statement to that move I made forty years ago. Maybe that is the identity of my craft-defying the odds, defying a parent, just giving a middle finger to anyone or any thing trying to steer my life in a direction I didn't want to go. -That is probably the main ingredient in the sausage.
Posted by swiggco world at 10:47 PM