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'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 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'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.


  1. So using silver to braze a bike together is dangerous??
    That is very worrying, as I know that there's a lot of people out there building bikes with silver... Also its the method that's demonstrated in the Paterek manual/DVD which is what nearly every amateur builder uses to get started these days.
    Surely if brazing with silver were producing dangerous frames there would be a lot of reports online and elsewhere of frames failing and people getting hurt? Personally I have yet to see any.
    Do you have any evidence to back up your claim that "most of these attachments will let go in time" ? Happy to be proved wrong here - please provide some links.

  2. Paul...what? Function over form? Are you crazy? Oh well, I guess I'm right there with ya :)

    Enjoying the blog, keep it up.



  3. Putting a frame together with silver is fine, sometimes the best ,way but contact area and fit of tubes/lugs etc. is critical. Some folks using silver think it can do more than it really can.56% Silver is excellent 'glue' but it isn't a good fillet material and if insufficient contact area such as a seatstay attatchment is where it is used the chance of failure is very good.

  4. Oh, I forgot.....I have a failure right in my shop that I am going to fix. 56% silver was used on a brake bridge and seastay attatchment on a frame built a long time ago. It took a long time to fail but it did. One seatstay is off and the brake bridge fell out when the rear brake was appiled. Granted, this failure took years to happen but if bronze were used there wouldn't have been a failure in these locations. Look at it this way : Silver is glue and bronze is cement. That is how they should be used. Where there is lots of contact area such as in lugs silver works well. If a fillet needs to be built up then bronze is the way to go. Nickle silver works like bronze but isn't as commonly used. What I am concerned with is the misuse of brazing materials rendering what should be the most durable frame into something that could have problems. Beginning framebuilders can make bad assumptions about 56% silver .

  5. Word. I've been a victim of this. Had a nice Columbus EL cross frame (not a Rock Lobster) with poorly positioned canti brake bosses...sent back to the builder to get them redone. Since it had pretty thin stays the builder opted for silver. They both came loose in about a month ( ! ) and the frame went back again...and this particular builder, who shall remain unnamed, is well established. Silver is good for some stuff but not everything.

  6. Whoop, there it is. I'm pretty sure that if you read carefully , the Paterek manual will back me up on all this stuff. Whatever I write in this blog is based on actual experience and not on stuff I read or was told. Just like the new builders today, I have made my share of blunders and had to fix them all.

  7. Good stuff!
    ....he says as he shuffles off to cut out a stainless headbadge ;)

  8. Cut that badge but don't cut your fingers !