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 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, 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 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.