Monday, December 28, 2009

Embarassments of poverty


If you are like me, and if you are lucky you probably aren't, you run a buisness all by yourself.Don't get me wrong.....I'm fine with it and it suits my abilities and inabilities: Ability to amuse myself while working diligently......essential. Inability to work for other companies that will likely have a heirarchy and tyrant boss of some sort......well, it got me here. So here I am, all by myself in my shop building frames. How long can it go on ? How many can I produce ? In the grand scheme of things, not all that many. This is the case with just about every small framebuilder......limited life of the builder and therefore, the buisness-hence , limited number of frames produced. It always warms my heart a little when I see one of my frames on ebay or craigslist described as "rare". Of course its rare, compared to a Trek. For small builders to offer a "Limited edition" is kind of silly.....they are all limited editions ! I can understand the need to produce an "Anniversary" model that signifies a milestone in one's career as a builder-I built one to celebrate ( or perhaps rue..) my 25th year since I built my first frame. The bikes is all assembled and hanging in my shop. Did people line up to buy it ? No.....so the 30th anniversary came and went without my building a commemorative frame.....I don't have the time, I guess. Maybe if I make it to 50........It is because of our short lifespan and miniscule production relative to large companies that some builders attempt ( and some succeed ) to establish an "exclusivity" about thier brand .......just like beachfront property or admission into one of those clubs that only people on the 'list' gain entry to. In reality, the person who writes the check gets the frame-at least that's all it takes to get on my list. My exclusive club has but one requirement.....just pay me for my work. Sure, custom frames are not cheap and the wait can be long, but a $ 350 deposit gets you on the list.....you don't need to be a certain age, you don't need a full head of hair, I won't ask you to write an essay on why you and not someone else should deserve to get the next frame I produce. There is no special handshake , there's no drug test......really, if you want a frame built and have the money and are willing to wait, you qualify. The whole concept of feeling special or elevated above your fellow cyclists because you have such and such's frame makes me a little ill. Heck, if it is a great frame and it fits you well and you are happy with it, definitely be proud of it....just don't expect anyone to bow to you as you ride by. I do make exceptions to my take on things here-there are a few guys who only produce a few frames a year and the artistic content of these masterpieces is undeniable. Even still, these few artisans will insist that it is still a bicycle made for riding foremost.....even if it will someday wind up in the Smithsonian. To end this rambling rant, I'll say this : Shows that promote bike building get a thumbs up from me. Shows and businesses that portray framebuilders as demi-gods and leaders of super-exclusive members only clubs don't even get a thumbs down from me.....they don't even get a thumb.....I need it to hold the welding rod, anyway. To these self-important strutting gasbags I ask " When your career is over, how would you like best to be forgotten ?".........I'll bet you won't be forgotten like me !

Friday, November 20, 2009

Don't thank me...

Every day I come to my shop and get to work , building the next frame or doing some sort of repair or modification. My day started out typically-I had a frame that I had started the day before and needed to finish it today or else I would be falling behind my self imposed shedule. The more efficient I am, the more money I make and the sooner the customer gets the frame-this is why I work many hours without thinking about who I depend on for the stuff that makes my job easier....sometimes making it possible at all. Today was a day where the lightning bolt hit...all of a sudden I realized that this particular frame was coming together really well and inspite of my need for expediency was actually fun to build. This isn't to say that framebuilding is normally not a fun thing , but it is often hard work with many chances for frustration. This brings me to a subject that is often on my mind: Good materials for small builders are not something that large companies want to produce any more. One by one the large companies that used to make quality stuff for the US market are deciding that there isn't enough profit in supplying small framebuilders , now that the large bicycle companies are all having their bikes made in Taiwan or China. With this being the case small framebuilders have a real problem looming in the near future.......the stuff they depend on to build with may be soon an extinct species. The solution ? Build the stuff here-and fortunately, there are a few folks still willing to do this. These folks are heros in my book because they don't care about the bottom line as much as they care about this symbiotic world of suppliers, builders, painters and others. The frame in the picture has yokes and dropouts designed by Mike Aherens. Mike's stuff is what he uses on his own bikes but he sells these excellent fittings to anyone who wants to build with them. I could not build this type of frame without Mikes stuff. Another US manufaturer of framebuilding suppies is Mark Norstad of Paragon Machine works. Nearly every frame I build has one of his bottom bracket shells , made right here in California. Paul Price of Paul Components makes a terrific steel track dropout....it isn't a product he makes a lot of money on -he makes them because builders want them . Kirk Pacenti may have his lugs and BB shells made overseas but he creates them for US builders for the most part. Hank Folsom of Henry James has been having lugsets cast in the US for thirty years and sells the last US made tubing, True Temper. These folks are going out on a limb financially to keep a small industry alive and none of them are getting rich . While large bicycle companies go away from metal frames in favor of carbon fiber ( No need for skilled labor such as welders or machinists ) the folks that make supplies for the small builder see value in sustaining the craft . Carbon fiber bicycles are very popular but they are probably the least green bike available. Metals of all kinds can be recycled and some can easily be repaired. This is not the case for carbon fiber for the most part . Essentially ,every carbon fiber frame is destined for the landfill. Today I though about that.....and the folks I depend on. I hope you all are thinking about it as well.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

being there


It's 10:17 p.m. and I just got home from the shop. I got there about 9:15 a.m. - a long day by my standards but there was a time when my days at the shop were often this long or longer. When I still was working out of my garage and didn't have the array of machinery that I now am lucky to posess I would work long into the night, brazing frames together. I was so slow that it took me a week what I can now do in a day. This necessitated marathon work days that could go from 8:30 a.m. until 11:00 p.m. . I remember one night with the torch in my hand looking at the thermometer in my unheated garage one winter night. The thermometer read 28 degrees......I thought that the next time my dad would tell me about bad working conditions that he had endured I would tell him about this night. There was a difference, though....my dad was working a job he didn't like-I chose this job and here I was, reveling in how much it sucked. I could complain about how long the hours were and how low the pay was and the fact that the shop was filthy, unheated and not altogether pleasant.....trouble is I was a victim of myself. While I remain dedicated to what I'm doing still , I can spend the hours, answer the emails and phone calls , think that I'm doing a great job...then I remember-I have a repair hanging above my bench that has been there 11 months. What about that handlebar stem I promised earlier this year that never got built ? How about the bike shows I had to miss because I didn't want to interupt my work routine ? Or today....a brilliant blue sky that I didn't hardly bother to look at because I had so much work laid out for the day ? Or the many bike rides I missed because I was building.................Bikes ?!? This line of work demands that one be present and accounted for. A lot of work does but when you are a one-person operation the pressure to be there is substantial. I have no children. I'm not going to ever have children....nobody to continue the insanity I started, my bike framebuilding buisness. The bikes are my children.....hundereds of them. Some day ,maybe thousands -if I keep at it another ten or fifteen years. I had somebody ask me " How do you keep doing the same thing every day ? Don't you ever want to try something else ? " The truth is that it's not the same thing every day....it changes, challenges, infuriates , trancends , evolves , falls apart , redeems , repels , flounders, defeats , reveals , mystifies , becons. If this weren't the case , a lot less people would want to try it. Once tried , the test will go on and on and one's presence and focus will be the difference between being on the outside or being immersed in the craft . It isn't about arriving somewhere or attaining something-it's about maintaining something. Its work-it goes on only as long as you are willing to be there.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Long time subscriber, first time caller


Every day I, like my brethren go to my shop and do my best to try and build bikes that fulfill what the customer asked for. Of course, it is impossible to make everyone happy who comes in your door for your services but we as builders always seem to try, as if we thought it was possible. So why do we do this ? What personality defect makes us so blind to think that we alone are the final destination for this and any customer , regardless of what they want ? Is it the thought that maybe nothing is beyond our capeabilities as builders ? Is it because we are wanting to have a perfect failure-free 100% customer satisfaction record ? I think not.....it's probably more the fear of failure on the part of the customer and worse, the success of a competitor with the very same customer. So.....when we do fail and get called into question by the customer , why do we get overly defensive ? Why do we forget that it isn't possible to make everyone happy and to go through life without making a mistake or without occsionally pissing someone off ? Again, I think it goes to the personality type that chooses to do this for a living. I recently had an email exchange with a guy who had dealings with several framebuilders as a customer and on the forums. This guys assesment of framebuilders was that they were premadonnas for the most part and if I had had the same experiences as he, it is likely I would have come tothe same conclusion. That said, some of the builders he referred to are top-notch supreme craftsmen and have built amazing stuff over the years. I guess what I'm puzzled by is why most of us get so incredlbly defensive when someone dosen't find us to be as complete and flawless as we want to be ? How come we can't remember something as simple as " You can't please all the people all the time"? What is it that re-enforces our collective insecurities and unrealistic self images ? Is it the fumes from the flux ? Was it how we were raised ? Is it a part of our makeup that also happens to point us in the direction of building bicycle frames ? It is almost as if some of us-actually a lot of us are like feudal lords in really tiny castles , defending ourselves pathetically-I know, it's real stretch of an image but think of each builder as a separate'Kingdom" with its own philosophy, its own set of ethics that must be defended to the death. Builder "A" had a customer who waited X amount of months for a frame and then declared that it wasn't what he wanted, got a refund and then went to builder "B" and had a positive experience. Builder "A" was of course convinced that this customer was in error and that builder"B" was and is a hack. If it sounds like I have experience with this , I do. I have been both builder 'A" and builder "B". I would like to be neither for the duration of my career and try to keep the neuroses at bay-we all need to in my opinion because if we don't, every one of our customers will be going to the large companies for their bicycles....you see, the large companies don't get into the petty stuff that framebuilders do-they just take your money and that is that.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

They will find you.


I'm a lucky guy. I have a buisness that I created and struggled with for many years and now it actually seems to be a for real livelyhood. I support myself by building bicycle frames.....just me in my shop with my crazy music blaring all day long, building bicycle frames. It's almost as if I got a pass on the whole growing up into an adult and getting a job thing. I'm still living as if I were and adolescent......maybe a bit more regimented but still like a teenager in a lot of regards. For this privalege I owe my customers a debt of gratitude for making my lifestyle possible. People getting in touch with me to order bikes from all over the world is still something I wonder at and don't fully comprehend. I just keep building 'em if people keep wanting 'em. That said , there are times when I'm found by a person who might not be somebody I can make happy with what I do. I figure that in most cases my website info and reputation will filter out all who might wind up regretting their decision to entrust me with the job of making their rolling dream a reality. Sometimes on the phone or even in an email I will get the sense that the person inquiring might be someone who should shop elsewhere. I have had several instances where I have had to refund a deposit or even buy a frame back from a dissatisfied client. I like to avoid these situations but sometimes I'm blindsided by a person who's motivation for the famebuider-customer relationship might be considered off the beaten path. These folks are what I would call " Psychotic". This is of course a very strong word and I can count the people who merit the description on one hand for my entire career. All the same, these few folks have taught me the most about what I should and shouldn't promise when talking about frames to anyone. About a decade ago I built a frame for a person who was very set on using some hardware on his frame that I was not familiar with. I assured him that what I normally used was superior and that I would build a better frame with what was familiar to me. This did not deter the customer....he wanted his dropouts and other fittings just so. I ordered the stuff requested and had a miserable time building the frame. The end result was not up to my normal standards but the bike was and still is a rideable racing bike. I sent the customer the frame and waited for his opinion on the work and for my payment. I got an email stating that the frame was not what he wanted and he immediately requested that I start on another one. I asked for him to send the frame back and offered to pay the shipping and refund his deposit ( I had not been paid the balance ) to which he replied angrily that I was dropping the ball in the middle of the project. I replied that I had done what he requested with the materials he specified to the best of my ability and was not going to chance having him reject another frame. He was livid but sent back the frame. I sent him his money immediatelty.....this actually impressed him. What I learned is that in rare cases there are a few folks who want the process of interaction with the builder but probably don't want the actual frame at all. What they want is for people like me to keep trying to make them happy while they keep either changing their minds or just become abusive. It's kind of a patrician-servant relationship.......they need to be catered to in ways unrelated to bicycles,riding or anything of that nature. I do not fully understand the motivation for this need and do not feel qualified to fulfill it. Not only that, I really should be building bikes for folks who will ride them , not argue about a file mark in a stainless steel dropout. Do I admit to failing these rare people ? Yes, by all means. Do I intend to get more in touch with their needs as customers ? No F-ing way. As Joe Walsh said ; " You can't argue with a sick mind ".

Sunday, September 13, 2009

The birth of single speed mountian biking ?


I wrote this story for a friend so I thought I would bore the rest of the world.....or at least the part that looks at this blog with the history of the dawn of the single-speed mountian bike.....err......something like that. Way back in 1985-86 I was a part time framebuilder mostly building fillet-brazed mountain bike frames, forks and stems as that's what people were asking for. One thing I learned early on ,in this buisness you need to build stuff that people want or they will get it somewhere else and you'll be a non-framebuilder in a hurry. Fortunately I liked building mountian bikes and enjoyed the riding part, once I figured out how to not crash every time I went out on a ride. My impression of mountain biking initially was that it was chaotic , irreverent and a real contrast to the staid and uptight world of road racing. I also was thinking about the clatter that the bikes made over the rough terrain and the complexity of the primitive gear shifiting setup. Another thing I noticed was that the bikes were heavy and not all that quick on the climbs. I got it in my head that a single speed mountian bike might solve some of these issues...it would be quiet with no chain-slap , it would be lighter without the derailleurs, shifters, triple crank, etc. The only thing holding me back from building such a bike was money and time. In early 1987 I was talking to a guy named John Miller about my single speed project and to my surprise he said that he would order one if the price were right-not only that, he would race it ( cruise-class actually did exist then, even though specific bikes for the class appearantly didn't)and represent Rock Lobster and my tiny one-car garage frame buisness. Now that I had an actual order I went to work and in a few weeks , single speed # 1 was completed. To help the bike have a quick feel I used a 24" rear wheel with a light rolled-down road rim from Keith Bontrager. I stayed with the 26" up front so that the bike would roll over rough stuff like a normal mountain bike. The frame had a wishbone seatstay, my first ever. I gave it a spin and realized that I had built something that you could really haul ass on, if you had the legs to turn the gear on the climbs. John Miller had the legs and went on to win almost every cruiser-class race he entered. John told me that the bike was a definite advantage and that nobody had anything like it at any of the races he went to. At the end of the season John decided to stop racing. I asked him what was I going to do now that i had lost my factory rider. He told me to build a bike, get in shape and race. I had never done a mountian bike race and had never intended to but this challenge sounded like just the thing to get me on a single speed......my vision of simpicity in the dirt. I did build the bike and I spent six weeks training on it for my first race. I noticed that I was able to really fly up short climbs on the bike and the lack of clatter made me feel more confident on the downhills. I ventured up to North Lake Tahoe for the T.N.T. race, an event that had a criuser-class catagory. There were 270-plus racers there but only six in the cruiser class. I decided to start in the back and avoid any chance of an early crash. I rode along and after the dustcloud of the mass start thinned I saw that I was passing a single speeder. A little later I passed a couple more. Before the top of the big climb of the race I passed one more and realized that I was in second place with a chance to win. I went all out to try to catch the front runner. When I crossed the line I was a little disappointed thinking that I had not won when a friend of mine told me that I had. As it turns out, the leader might have made a pit stop somewhere and I passed him without knowing. At that point I really thought that single speeding in the dirt was destined to become a big sport. In 1988 it was almost unknown and for the most part considered insane. It took another four years for single speeding to catch on ,but it did. I don't know if the John Miller bike was the first actual race-specific mountian bike ever built but it was the first around here . After my win in the T.N.T. I decided to quit racing and be an undefeated single speeder as long as I could.I was fully aware that my win was a fluke , not likely to be repeated ,especially if actual talented atheletes got the idea to race single speed. I continue to ride single speed in the dirt as it was and is what I hoped it would be-fast, quiet and simple.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Be careful what you don't ask for...



I think most bicycle framebuilders are folks that felt a strong desire to pursue the craft , as if it was the thing they most wanted out of life. I wasn't one of those-maybe for the first few weeks but after the reality of how hard it would be to earn a living at it sunk in , I was pretty much a hobbyist for the next nine years. I even quit for a time when my girlfriend at the time broke up with me and ordered me and my torch out of the apartment forever. I moved to a place where there was no room for a shop so all of my tools went into storage for nearly two years . I had only built about eleven frames so I was still in the beginner stage and blundering my way through for the most part. Little did I know back then what would later be my daily duty for the bulk of my working life. I would like to think that my motivation to build bikes was steadfast and unwavering since the start but I admit that I got discouraged and it fell from the top of my list as a job I could endure. Now that I have been at it fulltime for over twenty-one years , I have come to the conclusion that I always had what it takes to be a framebuilder , not that I am proud of the fact. What I see as necessary components for a potential career framebuilder are the following : # 1, A love of bicycles and riding bicycles , even if you can't ride for one reason or another. # 2, an inability to work for anyone else in any capacity other than framebuilding.# 3, A healthy dose of low self-esteem and need to make folks happy with what you can build so you can get kudos and not feel so absolutely loathsome of yourself for a minute or two.#4 , Some not-so-buried wishes to prove to people in your past that you could indeed amount to something-essentially put it back in thier faces , all those doubters.....pretty much everyone in your highschool. #5 , A need to confront an inanimate pile of metal and turn it into an elegant machine-this comes from your inability to deal with society and social situations comfortably. #6, The desire to have a job that not only skirts the need to conform to adulthood, it literally prevents the transiton. So........what I am saying is that to be a framebuilder needs to be an outcast , a bit of a psychological sicko , incapeable of earning a living in a more conventional profession , and last but not least-immature,insecure and for the most part an emotional house of cards. With these traits it is no surprise why a lot of us do not see eye to eye on what we do and get in to stupid little arguments about details that most people wouldn't even waste a fart on. And so it is, my profession-not what I chose in the beginning but I choose it now , after all....I'm fully qualified.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Look out, world.....here comes the UBI class of 2009.

Once a year I go up to U.B.I. ( United Bicycle Institute) and teach a framebuilding class, the steel tig welding edition. It's debateable wheather or not there will be room for all or any of the graduates of this program but with the talent in this group it is certainly possible that some of them will be in the next generation of bike builders.....all, no doubt will build more frames. Attending a class at U.B.I. is perhaps the best way to get your feet wet in the world of cutting and welding bicycle frame tubing. Taking my class is a good way of finding out what over 20 years of framebuilding as a job will do to your selection of off-color jokes and musical choices. This class survived it all and I didn't have to finish a weld on a single frame-something unusual in such an accelerated course. You want my opinion ? ...These guys rock !..I think you have it .





Friday, July 31, 2009

You know you are a framebuilder when.......




I guess I know what it this month in a big way , now that frame # 18 for july is about to go to the painter. Yes, nearly 20 frames built this month-that's why I have not made any entries on the blog lately. What's up for tomorrow ? Drive up to Ashland and teach a tig course at UBI......at least I'll only have to build one frame in two weeks instead of nine , but I will oversee the building of eight frames by the students. You can call me a poser, you can all me as s.o.b. , all sorts of stuff-but this summer you'll have to top off the pile of explitives with 'framebuilder', too. I wrote about the genuine fake framebuilder last time so here are the things that let you know when you are truly a framebuilder: # 1, The faster you build 'em, the longer the list gets. # 2, You get emails and phone calls from places where there's now way they should even know you exist.# 3, folks bring by deceased people's bikes to hang in your shop. # 4, Your shelves are filled with many frame tubes, so many that you don't stand a chance of using them all before you quit, die or both. #5, You are excited to build yourself a new frame, even though there's no way you need it and/or can afford to build it up. # 6, People order a frame and tell you: " Take your time...." and actually mean it. #7. There's a few projects hanging up in the shop that date back to the '90's that you swear you'll finish this winter. #8 , All of your bikes are filthy and you never take the time to work on them or clean them. #9 , Your hands are never completely clean except at the end of the two-week vacation that you never get, at least not in the last 4-5 years. # 10, You have set aside enough time to do X number of jobs and still take in another one even though it will burn you out , make you sick and most likely not get done on time. Well, those are the ones I could come up with. Add your own if you like . Of course, these are merely my obsevations and are not necessarily applicable to all, or even many framebuilders-just ones that are as primitive as me. Cheers, Paul.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Legend of the fake framebuilder


Details are sketchy in this story and my recollection of events is full of holes but the following is true, even if it isn't a perfect recollection . Back in the late '70's , my buddy was looking to work for a framebuilder-someone with a real shop with machines , paint booth , customers......all the stuff that makes for an actual buisness. My friend had built about ten frames but felt that he needed to get some knowhow from a veteran in the trade, most likely a Brit or an Italian......certainly not an American , unless one showed up who had the goods. One day a fellow came into the bike shop where my friend worked wheeling in a stunning black bicycle with no decals on it. The gentleman had a British accent and said that the bike was a Philbrook and that he indeed was the builder. My friend asked the supposed Brit what he was doing in Santa Cruz-to this, the gentleman said : " I'm here to set up a framebuilding shop in the hills here, Bonny Doon perhaps.". My friend was suddenly seeing visions of a new job in his dream career being the right hand man of this " Philbrook" character up in Bonny Doon in a clean, well appointed shop that turned out top-notch frames for discriminating clientele. From that day forward my friend went on bikerides with this supposed framebuilder up in the hills to scout out possible locations for the shop. My friend kept asking the Brit guy :" Hey, where are your tools ? Do you have any other frames here ?" The Brit kept riding , saying that in good time all would be in order and all the questions would be answered. This went on for weeks and after awhile folks in the bike shop were beginning to wonder if this Brit was really a framebuilder, or even a Brit at all. Some asking around was done ( This was long before the internet , so things like this took time to unravel.) Eventually , the identity of the stunning black bicycle was revealed......it was made by Jeff Lyons , right here in California, not in Britain. And the supposed Philbrook ? Philbrook is an actual builder in the U.K. but the man who came into the bike shop and charmed my friend was not a framebuilder or a Brit , but an impostor.....a psychopath who was living some sort of twisted fantasy life and bringing in anyone who fell for his convincing act. Yes , this guy had never built a frame , was a local Santa Cruz guy with serious psychological issues but with a gift for storytelling that fooled many people. When all was revealed, my friend was crestfallen. His dream of building with a mentor was shattered......but time would go by and my friend would go to the U.K., work there, work in Southern California for Santana and within 5-6 years start a successful bicycle company of his own that was real-not a fantasy and it would be built on integrity. So who would want to be a fake framebuilder ? Why would someone bother to cook up an elaborate story and try to convince people that he was a framebuilder ? Seems to me if one is willing to do that much , might as well go the whole route and build the damn frames. Faking it may seem easier but I'm not so sure. All this said, this story is an example of something that I see currently.......it isn't necesarrily as twisted as this example but the end result is the same-there are some folks ou there who advertise that they build frames when in reality, they don't . I don't think less of these folks if they don't build frames-they might have great skills in some other forms of work or art......my issue is that for people looking to get a frame built,these impostors make it tougher for the guys actually doing the work to get noticed. The impostors have a gift for conversation, self promotion and spin......something actual framebuilders might not posess as thier attention is mainly to the building process. I guess the fakers kind of hurt everybody a little bit , customers and builders alike. Keeping it real in this buisness to me is what its all about and I know i'm not the lone voice in that regard . The fakers are very convincing , after all-it's what they do fulltime. The folks actually doing the real work need to get more vocal and not hide behind the torch, so to speak. A lot of us who have good skills with metal aren't paying enough attention to the skills interacting with people. This opens the door to snake-oil salesmen fake Philbrooks and the like. It's time to open the shop door and show people the real thing......they will know the difference.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Why do we do it ?


What a strange and potentially frustrating thing to do with one's life.....to build bicycle frames for a living. I have done a few things to keep a roof over my head-worked graveyard at a donut shop ....no I didn't put the holes in the donuts. I worked at a Mexican restaurant , a furniture store , played guitar in just about every shit-hole bar and restaurant in northern California , spent eleven years in bicycle shops wrenching and selling -I even was a house cleaner for one summer. Little did I know that I would wind up spending 40-50 hours a week cutting and welding expensive tubing together. Twenty-two years in fulltime buisness and I'm still at it-maybe you might wonder why, maybe not-hell, I'll tell you not why I do this every day. Wrong Reason # 1, to get laid. It's a common misconception ( like that ?) that lighting a torch will get you a groupie.....at least a female one. # 2, to get the respect of my parents.......that's downright laughable: " So your boy is a Velder ? Vot dose he veld.......the Brooklyn Bridge ? The Sears Tower ? .....Bicycles ! oy, soch a buisness-where did we go wrong ? # 3, to gain notoriety......as I have found, there are easier and much funnier ways to gain notoriety......#4, to make myself feel that I am better than someone else, most likely another framebuilder (s).........that kind of emptiness is way too scary to contemplate. O.K.,Here's my reason, or at least the reason for the day : I like to go to the races and see my bikes go around in circles being ridden by the most jolly folks I know-then sometimes I like to make a fool of myself and go out there,too and go around in circles-pointlessly trying to keep up with real atheletes.....I also like the bitch of a challenge that this line of work presents-how it shows me daily what a stupid moron I can be, then a minute later it will reveal that I have learned something after all these years-something that i can get excited about, something that I will notice on the next bike that makes me glad that I haven't given up yet. I like to share these discoveries with my jolly friends and see if they think that the latest edition is better than the previous one. It's not a planned obsolesence thing, Hell-I am walking and talking planned obsolesence...I'm 53 years old and battered from years of clutzy bike incedents.....what I get excited about is evolution. I guess if you don't believe in evolution, the concept is useless to you. Absence of developement, forward thinking and experimentation would kill the whole thing for me, just as lack of tradition would kill it for some other builders ( and me, too...believe it or not..) I keep at it because I know that I'll no doubt have a chance to learn something exciting every once in awhile....something that other folks can get excited about, too. I guess that was more than one reason.......

Thursday, July 2, 2009

I hope you are happy...


Yeah, another good source of info and supplies says 'fongool' to the framebuilder's chat world. Yep, all you guys who chime in with your dismissives have won another battle against enlightenment....what am I talking about ? Same old thing-In a perfect world the internet could serve as an exchange of pertinent information for everyone, even stinky anti-social framebuilders working away in garages and the like all over the world. The problem is the same old thing.....loud and animated bleatings from a few drown out the constructive info from the others. No doubt,here....the internet is the domain of all sorts of people looking for a scrap , some sort of debate-even if there is none.....these folks want to be the final word, even if that final word is bullshit from a narrow mind. Well, yet another learned person has given you the middle finger , depriving the rest of us from any useful information we could have gleaned. The person I refer to was a suppier of cutting edge brazing supplies......stuff that helps all of you stainless-steel junkies join your tempermental tubes to your shiny bits in an easier more reliable fashion. I know for a fact that if any one of us got in some sort of problem with any brazing/soldering situation we could call this person and with almost no exceptions he would get us out of it. So, all you crumudgeons.....are you satisfied ? Now that a voice of experience has been dispatched are you happier that now you can rule the internet with your opinons ? Hmmm, truth and usefule information got in the way of your quest for the last word ? O.K., now you can have the last word , even though your last word isn't useful information, most likely not based in truth and not helpful to anyone else in any way........my guess is that the word is " Ignorance".

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Made in the U.S.A. ?

In the eighties when I was foolish enough to get a buisness license and turn my hobby into a fulltime job there were a number of small bicycle companies that struggled to do battle with the big brands of the day-Trek, Specialized , Bianchi.....mostly these small companies were producing all sorts of stuff related to the newly popular sport of Mountian biking. These small companies made frames, forks , cranks, stems , headsets , q.r. skewers.....you name it. I used to see all of these little operations flogging their colorful anodized offerings at Interbike, the big bicycle trade show. One by one these small companies started fnding out that building stuff in the U.S.A. was not only expensive, the process was tightly regulated and aggressively taxed by federal and state governments-not only that, the insurance costs for liability were not cheap. All of these factors, along with an increaslingly saturated market drove these companies down one of two paths: Path # 1, quit......liquidate and get a job in high tech. # 2, get bought by the competition. You see, in the mid '90's , the larger companies were losing market share to the smaller folks as a percentage of the buying public thought that the big companies had no 'soul' and the smaller compaines were producing hipper, more appealing goods. Another factor was the ability of small compaines to change and improve products -innovate at a rapid pace compared to the gigantic corporations with their layers of beurocracy and delay-ridden outsourced products. Trek, Schwinn and a few other industry giants began buying up smaller brands , trying to get a 'hipper' image....in effect, they were not really interested in the products of the small folks they were buying-what they were mainly after were the names and trademarks that folks associated with a group of people in a small building doing their best to created the best and latest stuff to ride in the woods. Since most of these small companies inspite of their popularity were not all that profitable, the big new owners set out to make them cash cows , dismantling the little operations, laying off most or all of the employees , selling off tooling and disposing of old inventory. Now these popular small brands would be just that-brands. All new products would be made offshore to lower costs and to boost the production numbers. Essentially , your old favorite brand from Nor-Cal would appear on something made in Taiwan and would have the outward appearance of the original but not the same quality . Prices on these products didn't get much lower, either. Net result ? Loss of U.S. jobs, loss of some of the driving forces in the pursuit of excellence and innovation in bicycles -but what I find saddest of all is the dismantling of these small brands , destroying the public trust. While I do believe that good products are coming from offshore, some are even better than domestic products, I feel that the golden age of the small shop-buisness in the bicycle industry has passed. The temptation of small companies to cash in by selling out to the big companies has made branding more important that substance , marketing more important than quality. Lucky for me, my company was too small, to pathetic and not innovative enough to get and offer I couldn't refuse. Am I sorry ? Believe it or not , I feel that my little treadmill is just fine.

Friday, June 19, 2009

What it is

Here it is, another beginning to another summer and invitations are coming in for builders to participate in any number of bike shows around the country. These shows are usually well attended and are a unique opportunity for builders and enthusiasts to meet in one place , face to face. While I do take part in some of these shows and appreciate the fact that they exist I do temper my enthusiasm . I don't expect to take orders at any of these shows and sometimes don't even bring any order forms.......custom frames are not and never have been impulse purchases -in most cases they are a result of weeks of research and intense , almost obsessive combing of the internet and magazines on the part of the customer. While I have indeed written a few orders at shows over the years , it has never been the main purpose of my being there. I go to see all the work of my fellow builders and show the folks that I am still at it, still in effect after all these years. What about the builders that come to the show with the purpose of taking orders, or maybe winning an award that will hopefully generate orders ? I really don't know what to tell these folks......I never won an award at any show but I stay busy, most of the time really busy. I contrast this with a builder who recently quit , even after winning an award at the biggest custom bike show, NAHMBS-the guy simply had no work....he was creative , original and really looked to be one of the top new talents. Maybe this builder will get a chance to come back and try his luck again , but for now he's back working at a bike shop. What does one learn from this ? I can't say that there is much to learn except that what sells and what dosen't in the world of custom frames isn't tied to talent, awards, shows......maybe not even experience. Framebuilding for a living is about as uncertain a livelyhood as acting or playing music . While I do see value in shows and award competitions are very popular with show attendees I'm not too sure how relavant any of it is in the real world of framebuilding as a career . A talented hobby builder with lots of spare time will most likely be the guy who takes home a trophy from a show but this style of building isn't sustainable in a practical fulltime gig. Ask any established builder who is known for impeccable and detailed artistic work and I'll bet they'll tell you that they are making the kind of hourly wage more associated with someone working the deep-fryer at burger King. So the masters of the craft get the lowest wages while the working-stiff welders make slightly more.....what is wrong with this picture ? In a perfect world custom bike shows should serve to elevate the publics awareness and appreciation of the skill level and commitment involved in being a fulltime framebuilder. With what I have experienced at these shows, that has yet to happen in such a way that folks that I know who are undisputed talents of the craft can exit poverty, or in some cases even survive. Most folks who walk the isles at these shows are enthusiastic for sure-but when it comes to buying the stuff they admire , they don't open their wallets. Folks will take photos, buy t-shirts.....even chronicle their visit to the show with photos on the web-in effect, free advertising for the builders........but still for the most part they don't come to the show to order a frame. Where are the people who want this craft to survive ? Do they even exist ? If they do, they shouldn't hide any longer........

Saturday, June 13, 2009

a tale of two shirts


I'm getting the idea that some folks are not into this blog unless I'm on some sort of rant. I also get the feeling that some folks are bored with it rant or no rant. That's fine with me, I'm not trying to win a popularity contest but the story I'm about to tell needs to be told , so please be patient and give this one a read, even if you think I'm full of shit-this is about somebody who isn't. Back in around 1992-93 I was a struggling framebuilder looking to get a more national clientele as I had pretty much saturated the folks out here who were looking for custom mountian bikes. A friend of mine who was a sales rep for two other builders told me I should go to Flagstaff, Az. and ride with the locals. It seemed that a few of them were breaking just about every high-end bike in short order and were looking for somebody to build them bikes that would last a bit longer. My salesrep friend told me that he only way I would know how to do this was to go and ride with these folks and see just what they and Flagstaff riding were all about. This group of crazy daredevil gonzo mountain bikers were the 'Mutants" and they numbered about 8-12...I don't remember all that well. When I got to Flagstaff my bike which I had shipped wasn't there yet so the mutants lent me a Mantis to ride. They took me on a really rocky rite-of-passage and I was humbled by the skill by which these locals left me panting in the dust. The next day my bike arrived and I got to ride with the crew again , only this time it was way up in the San Fransisco peaks -prpbably not a big ride for the locals but a serious lung burner for me. It was rocky , high elevation riding that made me realize why these folks had super low gears on thier bikes and why their bikes were so beat up. Two guys in the Mutants really stood out as monsters on the bike: Yod Branch and Steve Garro. Steve and his girlfriend at the time were looking to get bikes. I was the only builder who had bothered to come out there to check out the scene -these folks had spent plenty on bikes through the years only to wind up destroying them and pitching them in the scrap heap after a short time. Steve and Yod had toured throughout the southwest, had been in magazine photos doing the most death defying stuff on mountian bikes at that time. I knew I had to forget about building light, nimble Nor-Cal style bike for the likes of these folks and give them super-mega thick Tange prestige tubes to resist the rocks and riding of northern Arizona. Months passed and two of my frames made their way to Flagstaff, one of them for Steve. He rode and beat that frame for years-I was waiting for the phone call to say that he had killed it because if anyone could kill a frame, it was Steve. Steve rode through Copper Canyon in Mexico and was with a group that were the first people to do so...he toured south America , made many excursions all over the southwest. Many years passed and Steve decided to learn how to build frames himself. Not many framebuilders have ridden as much or as hard as Steve so his experience and passion for riding would make him a great candidate for building. After a few years building frames Steve, a guy who cheated death on countless occasions on a bike got hit by a car and nearly killed. After weeks in the hospital and many operations he was allowed to go home. It was pretty certain that he would never walk again, let alone ride a bike. This was not enough to stop Steve from continuing as a framebuilder. Friends helped modify his shop so that if he wanted to, Steve could attempt building frames while in a wheelchair. It took some time but Steve was able to re-start his career and although he will probably never ride a two-wheel bicycle again he will continue building bikes for those that can. Steve can crutch around a little and now he has a hand-cycle that he takes up some of the same rocky trails that he used to ride back in the day on his mountian bike. His wife Denise is an avid mountian biker and Steve has build some stellar bikes for her that she rides and beats up in the Flagstaff tradition. Steve builds frames named after the forests of northern Arizona, Coconino . What he builds is a product of hundereds of days of riding and racing in that forest.I personally doubt that there exisits a more dedicated spirit who is currently putting frames together .......Steve will proudly tell you about stuff that he has done-it's not boasting, it's just facts-facts that he is justifyably proud of. I'll take genuine pride over false modesty any day of the week. Steve Garro has much to be proud of . I'm happy to know the guy. He made me a better builder, no doubt.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Background check


Seems to me that my past is largely unknown to a lot of my readership , if I may be so bold as to call it that. The reason for this is because my role in the world of framebuilding is realatively insignificant outside of my small circle. I think people have the impression that I am a fry cook as opposed to a gourmet chef in the framebuilding kitchen. Ou contraire , folks. I can understand someone equating building simple welded racing bikes as the cheesburger in the world of haute-couisine cutom framery. If you think that, I would like to see you try doing my job for a week.....maybe better just try it for a day. These cheeseburgers have to be just so in order to win national cheeseburger titles. Pictured here is a stainless steel lug. Yes, a lug , and it was used in a frame that I built in 2006. Yes, I do build lugged frames and for the first 6 years of my framebuilding sentence that is all that I did, lugged frames and forks. Was I making a living at framebuilding at the time ? No, I was still a hobbyist selling a frame now and then. All told I'm not sure how many lugged frames I have built but it is in the hundereds......at least two hundered anyway. So what made this lugged framebuilder change to the tool of the devil, the tig welder? I would call that change a result of having an open mind, something that a few of my fellow builders do not seem to posess. Heck, I was trash-talking tig, aluminum , mountain bikes , clipless pedals, shock forks , index shifting , anything that I was ignorant about was dogshit. I can't really say exactly what made me look inside myself and see what an ignoramus I had become but I venture it was around the time when I turned fulltime at framebuilding. In order to make a living at this stuff I had to answer the phone and say 'yes' to just about every request. I was building tons of fillet-brazed handlebar stems.....I can't tell you what a time toilet that was , especially at $ 4-5 and hour -at least that's what I was maikng on a good day. Suddenly I realized why big companies were tig-welding stems, frames and forks-it was fast, it was cleaner and the results were every bit as strong as brazing , as long as you knew what you were doing. There is as much to know and plenty of challenge in any form of framebuilding, it's just that more traditional methods do take more time and make it more difficult for the builder to earn a living wage. I have some good friends who still build in the tradition in which they, and I started . It wasn't like now-a revival of sorts-back then it was the way it was done. The few folks who are left building in the same way they were 30-40 years ago have nothing to prove....they are as they have always been . They never saw the need to change - a good bike is always a good bike. I still have a few of my first 13 odd bikes in my shop. They are still rideable and when I get the rare occasion to pull one down and take it for a spin I'm always surprised at what I notice....the old thing still rolls......the thing still feels good. What could I sell it for ? Probably not much at all , but it's not for sale so it dosen't matter. I guess my point is that maybe I'm making a lot of fast food these days but back in the day I could cook up a nice chateaubriand.....just don't ask me to make one now. For that I can reccomend a few master chefs , some of which you may already know.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

The cheese stands alone

Back in 1975 I was working at the donut shop day shift. Working days gave me the dubious pleasure of working with the patriarch of Arlenes Donuts.....the old man himself. Even though technically it was his son who really ran the place, the old man came in for a few hours some days to instill some dicipline to the newer employees , like myself. One day I was cutting onions to be used for the many hamburgers served to all the police and drunks that would come in on graveyard shift.....my future . As I was cutting my way through a 50 lb. bag of the San Juaquin's finest, I accidently knocked a few chunks on the floor, to which the old man screamed at me:" Don't drop those onions, Paul...onions are expensive !" . Actually, these onions cost 50 cents a bag....a 50 lb. bag , to be exact. I had the knife in my hand...I could have cut the old bastards head off right then , but I didn't. My point here is that I hate hypocritical tyrants....probably why I work for myself. I may on occasion be a hypocrite, but I am not tyrant....ask anybody who currently works for me. Hmmm, right now that's nobody so there is no argument to the contrary. Seriously, though-there are some bosses who might be better off not being bosses as they make the workday a living hell for the whole crew. I did a stint at a company, and I use that term in the loosest sense. The boss was a visionary, a guy with a lot of ideas and a great intellect. One thing he didn't have was any people skills at all. I was brought in to do production brazing-it seemed that nobody in his crew had the knowhow and the guy who came by occasionally to do the work was pretty much unreliable, another way of saying that maybe he had another life that was more important to him than working the torch at ********* bicycles. So there I was, brazing all afternoon, trying to please this boss as I admired him and considered him a good friend. After brazing dropouts into forkblades for about 3 hours I almost jumped out of my shoes....somebody had hit the bench with a large rubber mallet and had hit it really hard. I had my goggles on and a lit torch in my hand, I could have burned myself and/or somebody else....including the boss. Shaken , I turned off the torch and pulled off my goggles to see the boss standing next to me. He said : "I needed to get your attention.". I asked what the problem was. The boss said that I was burning too much flux and causing more cleanup work than necessary. I handed him the torch and asked for a demo on the way to avoid burning flux. The boss took up the torch, deftly lit it and began to braze in a dropout. When he was done with his demo there was every bit as much burned flux on his work as there was on mine. Upon finishing he said : " I'm out of practice....there would have been no burnt flux if I had been brazing recently." That was enough for me to decide that this particular employer was not my cup of tea and the next day I announced my intention to never again darken his door , which I believe I haven't. I really set out to be a good employee and a good asset to this boss , even though I had a lot of my own work at my shop building my own frames for my own customers. Just like the donut shop I was put in my supposed place by a petty tyrant, a person who was lacking in people skills but was not lacking in the hot air department. Framebuiding is a trade that is attracting a lot of folks as of late and I for one am glad of it, inspite of what I see as some misled enthusiasm. It is my great hope that the companies that hire these new excited and inspired folks do not abuse them and cultivate them to become valuable to the industry and the customers. Without a supportive industry for these new folks our craft will die with us and all the bikes that people ride will come from a country where labor is cheap, abused and treated as expendable. Much as I may stand here on my virtual soapbox and decry what I don't like in current trends in framebuilding, it isn't because I want folks to fail.....I want everyone to flourish. I put out there what I know has worked to keep me employed as a fulltime framebuilder for over 21 years. What I say might sound like a bunch of opinions to some but it is undisputable that I'm still here, still busy and very happy to keep at my job as long as people want what I build. Hobbyists can do this craft for themselves-I was a hobby builder for 9 years. Fulltimers have a greater responsability.....we have to make other folks happy, not just ourselves. Figure that out and you might have a future in this crazy job.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Pass me the Kool aid


Not too long ago a very respected builder wrote that stainless is "The poor mans chrome ". I know what he's trying to say with this but as far as I know only really rich guys have bikes with stainless bits on the frame while I see homeless on old bikes with peeling rusty chrome. This brings me to my love-hate affair with stainless steel on bicycle frames. I love the way it looks, can't get around that.....I equate it with donuts-I used to wotk graveyard shift in a donut shop putting myself through the last year of college. Those donuts sure smelled and tasted great but they f%^&ed you up. Eat enough donuts and your face would break out, your colon would clog and you would need bigger pants. That's the way I feel about stainless-what you have to go through to incorporate it into a bicycle frame in terms of additional steps, difficulty and compromises to the simplicity of the structure make it a job I avoid. But what of the folks who gladly take on the mantle of 'Stainless-master" ? I wish them luck. They probably don't need or want my well wishes but they'll get them anyway-it's my way of saying thanks for creating a magnet for the work I don't want. A long time ago, before the internet and framebuilding classes there was a time when one had to learn by listening to the few builders of the day if you were lucky enough to , or by Fred Flintstoning your primitive way by yourself learning by trial and error......actually lots of errors. Some of what I see in current building styles are what we called in those days " Errors". Things like putting on seat-binders,seat stays, brake bridges, cantilever bosses, rear disc droputs with 56% silver solder. Hey, it's clean....it's low temperature.....".wow , the metal didn't even change color when I soldered on that front derailleur boss !" -All this is true but what is also true is that most of these attatchments will let go in time, sometimes in very little time. Imagine coming down a hill , applying your rear disc brake and the whole dropout rips out of the frame ? Not good for the rider or the builder. Where do the builders learn these errors ? Not from the old guard , not from the framebuilding schools......they learn it from each other on the frame forums . Heck, here I am spouting my opinions.....am I any better ? No ,but at least when I have made my mistakes it was from not asking questions - it wasn't from bad advice. Another thing I see is the preponderance of really beautiful " Randonneur" bicycles built in the style of the great Rene Herse. I love the way these bikes look and the work that goes into some of them is monumental.....but......after my years of randonneuring in the real world of endurance cycling I realized that my bike with nice lugs and lots of carrying capacity was laughable to the veteran European randonneurs. The Euros were riding stripped-down racing bikes with triple cranks and as little extra provisions as possible so that they wouldn't have the same burden as I and all of the rest of the American randonneurs. While I did complete two years of qualifiers and Paris Brest Paris , I still feel that I'm not a builder that folks would assosciate as a builder of reputable randonneur bikes-I guess all those miles don't add up to what you get from all that shiny stainless hardware and those hip wooden fenders. When you are deep into a 600K ride , you essentially become a caveman....none of the fancy trim means anything....it's not a parade-it's a long, terribly difficult rite of passage. All you want is a comfortable seat,handlebars in as comfortable a position as possible and a bike that won't hold you back. Yes, you heard that here. I guess all I'm trying to say is that the next generation of builders has to cut back on the fluff and be real about this craft . We have to remember who we are doing it for and respect that they have to be provided with a safe and solid product that won't let them down, hold them back and make them feel glad that they got it from you.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Legacy


Too bad it's one of my frames in the picture when it really should be a frame from the subject of this post.....what can I say, my camera is full of my own stuff-I don't get out enough. Anyway, I spend a lot of time discussing things that I really don't like on this blog......folks on the forums who haven't made a frame, maybe haven't made anything except an ass of themselves on the internet .......guys who are essentially chasing lug shorelines for bowling trophies ........hey, it's my blog and I can say what I want. Maybe if some of you don't like what you read, start your own blog. What I wish to cover today is the group of folks that were established builders when I started getting the idea to try to build a frame or two. The '70's was when the U.S. builders were out to prove themselves against all of the imports coming from Euorpe. The U.S. builders were doing this by paying attention to stuff that the Euro's were largely ignoring, especially with regard to the finish of the frame. My memory isn't all that great and I might miss a few names but here are the ones that I got my inspiration from initially: Wizard ( Bryan Baylis ) Bruce Gordon , Albert Eisentraut , Art Stump,Strawberry ( Andy Newlands) , Keith Lippy ,Ross Shafer , Fred Parr. There were other folks, too that I became aware of a little later: Richard Sachs, Dale Saso, Roland Della Santa .....more than I can recall. Some of these folks as you might know are still building-some still in the tradition of the time when they started some 40 years ago. The level of impeccability and devotion to the craft does set these folks apart in my view, even if they don't feel that way themselves. Though some of my writings would sound like I'm calling the '70's style of building obsolete , in the case of most of these folks that is not the case. A good bike is always a good bike. There is a timless quality to a impeccably built machine. The shop I worked in back in 1977-78 had some very nice frames from Europe but the frames from the builders I mentioned clearly outclassed the best of what Europe was sending over here. The Merckx orange Colnago I cherished when I moved to Santa Cruz in 1977 quickly got sold-I was either going to get a frame made by a U.S. builder or build one for myself if i could. Now it has been 31 years plus since I built my first frame and one might think that I feel like I'm one of the '70's guys I looked up to back then but that is not the way I see it. The Della Santa hanging in my shop , built in 1978 really humbles me with it's meticulous craftsmanship. When I go to the bike shows and see Bruce Gordon's or Brian Baylis's frames I really know how far I would have to go to build anything of that caliber.....and I doubt I could do it if I tried. Some folks, very few indeed have this ability. The frames they create are a legacy that will outlive them . Who are the next builders to create such a legacy of work ? I can't say. Times are different now , people put emphesis on different things . I'm not saying that newer builders can't do a great job of building frames........it's a question of authenticity and commitment.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

A tale of two cities : Does Portland need to get over itself ?



Back in 2003 I went up to Portland for the cyclocross nationals in which I was to try my luck . I would be happy just to finish unhurt and hopefully not last. I had no idea what I was in for. The city of Portland has per capita more cyclists and more cycling fans that just about anywhere on earth. The nationals were held at Portland International Raceway, normally the domain of automobiles but this time it was all about bikes. What I experienced was the most exciting and rewarding racing and spectating weekend of my life. Portland people show up, rain,shine,snow...whatever-they are seemingly unaffected by weather in a negative way. For the elite races a drum corps came onto the infield of the course and created an atmosphere of tremendous excitement for the racers and fans alike. It was this weekend that I fell in love with Portland the first time. The next year the nationals were held in Portland again and I had a similar time and renewed enthusiasm for the town and people. The following year the nationals moved to Providence , Rhode Island but I still went to Portland for the U.C.I. final race weekend where I scored my first top-ten ever at a cyclocross race. It was at this race where I first saw Sacha White and his team , sitting in a hot tub on the course infield before they all went and lined up to do the single speed event in their speedos....bear in mind, it was in the low 50's and raining. This kind of irreverent enthusiasm was making me feel like I was living in the wrong town. Soon after that, the Handmade Bike Show would come to Portland and for me it was the best bicycle show of all time....I had lots of fun and lots of interest in my frames. Great racing, super enthusiastic people and a town with a serious appreciation for independently built bicycle frames....what could be better ? Later that year I heard of an independent custom bicycle show, the Manifest that was to be held in Portland. For me it was chance to go back to my favorite city away from home, after all-Jay Sycip was moving there to work for Chris King, Rick Hunter was thinking of moving there as well....it seemed like lots of folks in my line of work were gravitating north. What I found at the Manifest show was a scene that sadly made me fall out of love with Portland......it was a show that showcased Porltand builders primarily but was open to builders from out of the area. What we weren't told is that if you were not one of the Portland builders , you would be pretty much a second-class citizen largely ignored by the people who came to see the show. A huge show party was held at a large advertising agency and on display were life-size arty black and white posters of about 20 builders from Portland, only three of which whom I recognized. There was a reason for this-most of the builders were pretty new at it, some having built less than ten frames, yet these new builders were being propped up as veritable legends of the art while several of us from California and southern Oregon with about 5,000 frames built between us languished in obscurity. Was our commitment to the craft insufficient ? was our 15-20 years in the buisness not enough to indicate dedication ? Did the fact that we travelled far to take part in this show mean nothing ? That's the way it seemed to me. The other thing I noted about the show was the emerging "Portland school of framebuilding design " Which to me essentially was about copying Vanilla bikes right down to all of the builders getting the same water-jet cutout dropouts with their own logos. It reminded me of Stevie Ray Vaughan......he was incredible as a guitarist/singer but after he died the world got flooded with imitators, none of which would ever be S.R.V. . Similarly, none of the Portland folks have any chance to be Sacha White. I wonder why they just can't be themselves. Once I packed up and disgutedly left the show I headed south for Wilsonville where a Cross Crusade race was to happen. When I got there I was witness to 1,400 plus people signed up to race....an unprecedented turnout for a cyclocross event. I lined up for my 50 plus race and saw about seven rows of racers behind me....the largest field i had ever raced in. I did my laps, finished and realized that the show might have been a bust for me and that the whole pretentiousness of the party was but a sidenote to the real Portland.....the town where people ride in any kind of weather and turn out in the thousands to see folks race in the mud.I fell back in love immediately. I'm coming back this fall......not for the fake show, I'm coming back for the real one.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

I make my wine from sour grapes

I don't know about you, but I have a few regrets when I reflect on my life. I'm not just talking about the bike building thing-I'm talking about regrets that haunt me....in my dreams, in my general life. Some of these regrets were from times when I didn't stand up for myself-I was one of those kids who got bullied and picked on, an outcast for the most part. Maybe this blog is my way of getting back at people who I thought were out of line and used their pushy nature to force me into a retreat of sorts, a backing down from what I stood for or identified with. This fuel for my fire isn't the healthiest of propellants but no amount of trying to pretend to evolve in some sort of phony new age consciousness can put this twisted fire out. Lets face it-some folks are prone to being bastards. I regret all the times I have been such a bastard and possibly hurt some folks needlessly . Whew, now that that's over I can tell you the next tale of woe. A phenomonon that is a part of any sort of profession has been the tendency of folks elevating their favorite such and such to sainthood. There are some really great craftsmen in our trade that deservingly command huge respect for the impeccability of their craft and unflagging dedication towards excellence in what they do. Excellence such as this is justly rewarded with the respect of the framebuilding community at large and the buying public. Some of these builders attain the status of demi-gods , almost other worldly 'saints of the torch' in peoples eyes. The problem starts when these builders see themselves the same way that their fans do and practically float on air above the rest of us , ocasionally bestowing us with their wisdom and grace. I guess this kind of makes me want to vomit. What are we ? We are blacksmiths , welders, filers, sawers , cursing loathsome beaters of metal into bicycle frames. While some of us can make art out of the tubes, lugs and paint , the thing that all of us are presumed to produce is of course, something to be ridden- a bicycle. What I fail to fully understand is why there has been a trend toward making bicycle frames that look impressive but that are in effect impractical objects du art that might collapse if ridden off a curb a few too many times. Some builders are so hell-bent on becoming the 'saints' of the trade that they are failing to become good bike builders. I feel that the blame belongs to some of the builders that are cultivating a 'Concours d' elegance ' approach to marketing , a real promotion of exclusivity for the folks lucky enough to get one of their shiny rolling exhibits . While I do belive that there is room for art in bicycles I also feel that it needs to be tempered by the original identity of the bicycle , a form of transportation. Many of the top craftsmen in the buisness build this way-the art is merely an expression carried by the fully functional and reliable bicycle. The builders that go for the aesthetic touches without making sound decisions in regards to the bikes fit , ride or durability are pretty much taking the M.T.V. approach to building :" Who cares what it can do, what is the most important is the visual aspect and what kind of status it can represent." You know what I think.......make up your own mind what kind of bike you want to be on when you are going on your next ride.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Misinformation highway part II



Well, one post isn't enough to cover this subject-maybe two posts isn't enough, either. Anyway , I'm sure that the folks who started the forums for discussions about framebuilding never intended to create such a hershey-highway of verbal effluent but these things have a way of taking on a life of their own. Call me old fashioned but I thought the forums were a super good idea for exchanging useful and proven information. Unfortunately the forums are pretty much about 10% of what I think they should be-the other 90% is a pissing match between the following fractured factions: # 1, the pros....the few, the proud, the ones who actually make a living building frames every day....sometimes too many days in a row. This is the group that has the most to give , even if some folks aren't willing to take them seriously. # 2, the genuine 'Fake pros" These are the folks that have the appearence of being fulltime and probably do spit out a number of quality units, show up at the shows and have a nice website ...but.....maybe the wife has the real money job and/or the folks helped set up a trust. These guys might be really good at what they do but they don't have to do it to pay the rent. # 3, the serious hobbyist. These guys know how to build and might make some really pretty stuff but they don't know the fulltime gig at all , even if they come off like seasoned pros. They have insight and experience but since they do this for fun, they have no concept of the practical aspects of making a living building frames. # 4, the guys who just built their first frame. These are the ones who not only have the questions, they appreciate the help. They might not be pros and their experience is limited but they are the ones most excited about the process. # 5, The guys planning on building thier first frame. These guys do a lot of reading and scouring the net for information. They may never use this information, they might not even buy their first file but that dosen't keep them from chiming in often to express their opinion on the subject that they really don't know jack about. #6, the guys who have not built a frame, won't ever build a frame , never intended to build a frame but out of some mental sickness want to lurk on these forums and stir up shit with strong opinions about all sorts of stuff they know nothing about. This might be the biggest group on the forum, at least they have the largest presence. O.K., these are the groups but there are subgroups as well. Among the pros are the classic guys, folks that build in the lugged timeless style of their predecessors. Funny, these guys might build in the same fashion but a lot of them don't get along. Framebuilding is that way, strong opinions abound and things can get personal.....don't ask me why, I can't figure it out to save my life. Another group are the " Let's build in whatever style works for a given situation" . These guys are pretty low key for the most part as they don't care how you build a frame, long as it is a safe to ride quality piece of machinery. Not much excitement in this group, just a bunch of working stiffs. A lot of the purists who aren't pros hate these guys......go figure. It's the net again, the land ruled by the opinion that trumps the fact , nearly every time. Narrow mindedness and dismissal of any sound form of building is a declaration of ignorance. Ignorance is a declaration of stupidity. Stupidity is the barrier to enlightenment. Burma shave. So as a result of these strong opinions , we framebuilders are broken up into various factions rather than uniting into one strong group. The Handmade bike show was and is an attempt to get us all together but even it has taken on a bit of excusivity with the requirements and various back-slapping that seemingly cannot be avoided in shows that involve any kind of craft. My feeling is that if we continue to fracture, we will stay right where we are, a struggling group of skilled craftspeople, always one short step from going under. This was really obvious when I went around at the Handmade show and did a headcount of fulltime builders, you remember group # 1 ? I think out of 150 plus exhibitors there were around a dozen. We are indeed hanging by a thread.......maybe we should learn to get along.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Misinformation highway


Remember those " Question authority" bumper stickers that were everywhere about 15-20 years ago ? I don't see them any more-maybe it's a given that folks question authority every day without the need to advertise . Back in the day I thought to myself : " Maybe some of the authorities need to be questioned , but some of the questioneers need to seek something significant, not just assume that somebody who might know more than you needs to be dismissed ignorantly". -Hey, it's just what I felt at the time because most of my friends who had those bumper stickers were dumbasses posing as rebels. This brings me to the subject of internet forums, particularly the ones involving discussions about framebuilding. I used to be on one of these forums, checking for nuggets of information and to post something now and then that might help one of the new folks avoid the numerous mistakes that I made . I guess its some character flaw within me that makes me want to help folks......people I'll probably never meet-some who might very well become competitors.The way I see it, whoever can do the job best deserves the buisness....I know it dosen't always work that way but its how I feel. After about a year and a half of being part of the maelstrom of the forum I had to cut the cord . My sin was posting factual methods learned and proven in my shop humdereds of times , stuff that I know would be helpful. I posted these bits in response to questions from new folks on the forum. What I got for my troubles was usually some guy , probably an out of work engineer who had read a bit and had gotten a lot of heresay advice and was now an 'expert' telling me that what I was posting was incorrect, according to what he had read or heard. I call this person an " Ignorant shithead posing as a person with a brain". It's the same guy who says :" I'm hooking up a pipe to the ass of one of my cows so I can use the methane to run my torch, therefore avoiding using the questionable established and proven oxy-acetylene setup". Maybe it's the guy who told me that tig-welded on cable stops cause frame failures ......I asked him for photos and/or any documentation of this and he said that he had none but that he heard it from a friend who had built a frame. Nice . Then there was the guy who told me I was not a good buisnessman because I had only sold two lugged frames that year and that he had built 400. I personally had never seen one of his frames , not at any of the shows , not in a magazine, not at a race. The guy was lying. He was a good builder, too....he didn't need to bullshit but he did-after all, its the internet and the framebuilder's forum so anything goes, right ? Actually, not right. The truth is, very little goes and the rest is absolute garbage. There are ways to build frames that work-they are well documented and effective, proven in shops all around the world as well as on the world stage of racing. Still, thats not enough for some complete moron in a garage somewhere who thinks that they might someday try to build a frame say : " Hey, I heard that I can use beef tallow for flux ". Yeah, and milk is cow's pee. So I left the forum after mr. 400 lugged frames in one year flamed me with a steaming load of bullshit. I have seen a few really talented and established builders get questioned mercilessly about the soundness of thier methods and it put me over the edge. I still want to and do teach folks, after all-30 years of trying to figure out this crap caveman style has given me some enlightenment on the subject , at least I would like to think so. One guy said to me : " Why are you still building with that aluminum crap?" I said to him , Hey......I'm booked up for 4-5 months with orders....how many orders do you have ? ......silence.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

I didn't ask to be born....


I spend a lot of this blog ranting about the wrongs and misdeeds of some of my fellow frame torchers but I haven't addressed my own library of congress card-catalogue of failures . I have said many things to folks that I regret and I have also witheld comment when I shouldn't have. What is life without regret ? Stillbirth. So what are my biggest blunders ? I really don't know where to start so I won't.....I'll just leave it to all to conjure up images of massive dumbass blunders that I have the sole responsability for. One thing I do know is this : Not a day goes by that I don't think of how lucky I am to be doing a job I like......also, not a day goes by when I don't fully realize that this livelyhood of mine can cease to be viable in a very short time. I know of three builders, talented guys who hung it up in the last year. I can't say why I am busy and why they weren't but I am thankful that year after year I have been able to keep at it and learn how to do my job better along the way. When I started out as a hobbyist I had no intention of going fulltime.....it just turned out that a lot of work was coming my way and my other job was getting in the way. That was 1988, a different time and a smaller pool of builders on the scene. Now , the internet and custom bike shows provide a place for new builders to get visible to the world. They are seen but that doesn't mean that they'll be able to make a living from framebuilding. I think it is important for anyone starting out that they realize that learning the craft is a great thing but that framebuilding as a livelyhood is a fleeting and uncertain pursuit. In 2003 I got down to two orders on the list and I took a part time job in a winery tasting room-only one day a week but it was a chance to look at another field just in case my buisness tanked. I worked at the winery for a summer for $8 an hour.....not a living but at least a little money and something to do with my new found idle time. Soon after taking the job frame orders started coming in and by the end of the summer the fun job at the winery had to go. Since then I have been busy , so busy that I have had to figure out ways to be more efficient in the shop. Stressful as keeping up with a big work load may be, I know of a lot of builders who would like to have this kind of stress. However long it lasts you know I'll appreciate it and try to show that in what I build.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Negative re-enforcement

We as framebuilders and bike-frame information junkies are very fortunate to not be living in the '70's . Times were quite a bit different back then and the huge exchange of information, misinformation, opinions, and just plain b.s. about framebuilding that we see today on the internet was not the case back in the day. In the '70's I would say that two types of builders existed in my town: # 1, just a humble guy who was building frames , probably in a borrowed garage hoping to someday make it his livelyhood. # 2, a guy who actually had his own garage and was maybe a bit more smug because of this and also because of the fact he had actually sold a few frames and had more on order. When I got the idea to build myself a frame I had the good fortune of meeting two guys who had built some frames, Dean Hovey ( my bike shop bosses son-in-law) and Ross Shafer, just a guy who happened to come by the shop asking to consign a frame and possibly get a few weeks of work, which he did. Dean Hovey provided the shop crew with a bunch of materials for cheap so that we could pursue our beginnings as bike builders and Ross let me use his shop and gave me guidence on how to construct my first frame. Early on, Ross and I decided to go check in on the town's actual framebuilder-a guy who's bikes I had seen on the club rides and who had a reputation for building good racing bikes. When we found this builders garage, he was in it filing on a lug, doing his signature cutout for some customer. This builder was happy to talk to us, perhaps thinking that we might be potential customers. Things changed in an instant when I said that I was planning my first frame and that Ross himself had already completed about eight frames and was working on a couple more for customers. Immediately, the builder got a frown on his face and told us that he had much work to do and urged us to be on our way. Fine......he was busy, no doubt. Yes, he came upon his framebuilding knowhow the hard way, maybe. Yeah, we were just punks who he didn't owe anything to and could do without-after all, we could become the competition if he helped us.......or maybe, this guy was just an asshole who thought that his regal position as a builder in a garage with a few orders made him some sort of diety to be revered.....don't dare waste his time ! -He's a cherished and valued asset to his community !....nooooooooo, he's a prick who can build a nice frame. This is how I feel on the issue of exchanging framebuilding information. I am fine telling anyone anything about what i have learned on the subject of building frames. As far as I am concerned, if there is someone who can take this info and based on thier drive and talent can do a better job than I, so be it. This new person deserves to have his or her chance....conversely, if I am slacking in my job, having a new face come along and show me some inspiration is a good thing. What we have today is a whole worldwide information exchange going on between builders, hobbyists and the like....it's something that really was not possible in the '70's, at least not when some of the builders were like the guy that Ross and I visited back then. One thing though, Ross and I did come away from that meeting with some clear inspiration-either one or both of us were determined to build more and better bikes than that smug guy in the garage . Only a couple of years later I got the chance to repair one of mr. smug's frames that had been crashed and needed a whole new front triangle. When I pulled it apart I noticed some voids inside the lugs that had no silver and black, burnt flux here and there. Here I was, just the punk kid finding less than stellar workmanship in a frame from the self-proclamed 'Master". I wound up repairing the frame, even re-creating the signature cutout in the downtube lug. When I asked the builder to sell me replacement decals , he wouldn't sell them to me stating that the bike was no longer original. Pretty much, this is what I expected, asshole to the end. The builder eventually moved out of town, got a job in a different field and has done very little building since the mid '80's. Ross went on to create Salsa, a very successful buisness and I, well i got to keep building long enough to experience the "Age of enlightenment " , or at least, the age of less assholes. What this post really speaks to is that the two builders I spoke of in the beginning are really # 1, an actual builder # 2 , a poser in the form of a builder who wants the supposed trappings of the field ( what a joke...) and is probably more than a little insecure of his precarious perch constructed primarily of bullshit. I don't know about you, but I do not miss the '70's.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Building in the school of.....


Back in the day, well.....a long time ago when I was a bicycle mechanic and a piss-poor racer I was hell bent on getting a nice frame for all of the nice Campagnolo bits I had collected over the previous four years. I had scammed, borrowed and begged my way into pretty much a Super Record gruppo, minus the titanium stuff that was way to rare and spendy for anyone making $ 3.25 an hour. I put $ 50 down on a Bob Jackson Messina , nice looking frame and it was my size and lucky for me, it was at the bike shop where I worked hanging only about four feet over my head five days a week. A few weeks went by and I got into a bit of a financial bind and had to ask my boss for the $ 50 back, temporarily-of course. My boss said that there wasn't any worry, the frame had been hanging there for two years and was unlikely to sell. Next week it sold and I was really depressed. I was so depressed that I got the stupid notion to build a frame myself ! Tubsets were only $ 20-30 back then so all I needed was the knowhow and some tools. The knowhow thing was not as easy as the tool thing but at least I had some inspiration in the form of frames hanging in the shop-bear in mind, this was no funky little repair shop-this was 'The Bicycle Center" and some of the finest frames available were hanging from the walls. Two that struck me as impossibly perfectly crafted were those of Albert Eisentraut and Bruce Gordon.......and it was a real surprise to me that two Americans of whom I had never heard of were giving all the European builders a run for thier money. The Bob Jackson was only $ 210 while the Gordon was over $ 500, but you did get what you paid for-it was undeniable. While I had no idea what any of these frames rode like I know what I wanted my frame to resemble in terms of craftsmanship-that was if I could miraculously turn into a master craftsman on the first try. Anyone who ever lit a torch could tell me that I was aiming way too high and should just try to build something rideable the first time. Well......it was rideable, but not much better than that , so I better get back on the subject. Here it was, 1978 and I was witnessing the 'American school' of framebuilding....insanely thin lugs, innovative seatpost binders, imron paint applied as lightly as possible to show every minute detail, much the opposite of my Bob Jackson where the enamel was thick to hide all the file-marks and ugliness of a more crude approach. I was to learn that this school included many other names, some that we know today, some that have been overlooked in the ensuing decades since. All shared the same phiosophy: Building in a manner that meant to raise the bar in the craft of framebuilding beyond anything coming from Europe, by far the biggest producer of upper-end racing and touring bicycles. I tried to be a late addition to this group of talented folks but my patience level was not sufficient and after about seven frames I decided to take a break and think about what the hell I was doing with all of this framebuilding stuff . The frustration involved in my primitive approach was really making the whole experience miserable. After a break of nine months I found a new shop to work in and some folks asked me to build them a few frames. It wasn't so tough this time and I found it almost pleasureable , the building process. Soon, Mountain bikes were in demand and I found myself in a new school, the' Fillet-brazed mountain bike' school, only this time I was not a late addition....I was right in the middle of it. Within a few years the lugs that I had been using were sitting idle in boxes under my bench and fillet brazed bikes of all kinds were leaving the shop, so many that I had to quit my job and go fulltime to meet the orders. Within three years I was tig welding , another school, the school of late '80's and '90's MTB and cyclocross framebuilding. This period was not that much different from the original '70's school of trying to outdo the Europeans but this time the builders were trying to outdo the Japanese, the large American manufacturers by finding ways to build better riding and longer lasting frames. By the end of the '90's I was using aluminum,scandium and some carbon pieces to try to build the same bikes I was seeing in the Tour de France and at the Olympics.....I don't know what one would call this school.....the school of looking for broader horizons , a simple case of evolution or was it economic survival? Probably all three. But what is the current school , the school of 'now' in framebuilding ? Hard to say for me.....what I see is a return to the aesthetic considerations of the '70's with some new twists, some good, some that I feel are not . A 'school' should indicate some sort of knowhow based on teachings based on tried and tested methods . Sure, there is room for innovation and though it is said repeatedly that "It has all been done before " and " I saw that on page 34 of the Data book and it was done in 1896" there is always a chance to do something new. That is what I feel the new school might be......the shool of pushing boundaries, but that's what they all have been . The trick is to push the boundaries but not to make a mistake in the process, a bike that is structurally compromised by some new untested method . Where am I going with this ? That's not the real question....the real question is where are we going with this ?