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 sat 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.