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 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 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 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.


  1. What a great story! Thanks. Lets hope that reality and quality can win out over false marketing and hype.

  2. This is spot on...

    'The impostors have a gift for conversation, self promotion and spin.....'


  3. This is a great story, but I'm not sure about the conclusion. My experience is that most framebuilders are great at building bikes and lousy at promoting themselves and interacting with customers.

    If you are in business building bikes, it is a business which mean you need lots of different skills. Building the product, bookkeeping, customer service, and yes marketing. Builders spend too little time on this last point.

    Just because you can tell a potential customer why they should buy a bike from you in a compelling way does not mean you are a con-man. I admire great salesmen as much as great builders. You still have to deliver on what you sell and be honest with your customer, but I see no up side in being snobby about a builder who can sell their product. In fact I think we'd all be better off if more builders took the approach of figuring out what the customer wants and selling the product well if it's a good match.