Sunday, May 30, 2010

Number one

Memorial day weekend arrived and I thought that if I had time, I would attend to finishing a long-delayed project hanging over my bench.Back in June of 1978, or thereabouts I built my first frame. Since it was my very first, there were some real blunders in the building of this opus-one that it never really rode correctly. This did not deter me from riding it for a number of years, even riding a metric century in the sierra foothills-this was no mean feat as my first frame was a track frame and I put stupidly tall gearing on it as well. Fast forward to 1994.....I was having a particularly rough week and my temper was boiling over. I needed to break something in the shop....anything, so long as it wasn't a customer owned item. My old number one was hanging on a hook , all disassembled waiting for the day I would re-build the rear triangle and make it ride the way it should have originally. I took the frame down and got out a large piece of tubing and beat the crap out of the rear triangle . ( those were different days....primitive times of high frustration and long hours) I reasoned that the rear stays would all be replaced anyway, might as well get some good venting in.
Old number one remained in that state until about three months ago when I finally got the paint stripped and redied the frame for repair. I did nothing further on the frame until this particular Memorial day weekend-I made the time on Sunday afternoon and set out to fix this old relic 32 years after I hastily and haphazardly threw it together. As I started work on the frame I became aware that the mistakes that I knew about such as the rear triangle being set too high , lowering the bottom bracket and slackening the angles ( pretty much the opposite one would want for a track bike ) and the fork being built too short were just the beginning of the maladies. When I started building the frame in 1978, the one guy who guided me , Ross Shafer kept telling me : "Paul, you really should do a full-scale drawing first ." -Of course, I was much too anxoius and headstrong to listen.....the result : My first frame was a total piece of shit....rideable, but a real genuine steaming piece. I had put all my energy into the lugs and fork crown, gracefully and ambitiously crafting neat little crest-shaped cutouts everywhere they could possibly fit. I spent six weeks of after work hours cutting, filing, thinking that I was going to make a stunning groundbreaking work of framebuilding genius. What I made was as I said before, a total piece of shit.
Now it is almost 32 years later to the day and I am working on this P.O.S., going about rebuilding the rear-end and putting new dropouts in the fork in an attempt to make this track bike a good riding machine. As I hold the front triangle with it's nicely crafted cutout lugs and old Italian threaded Cinelli/Fischer bottom bracket up to my drawing paper I notice that my lack of planning back in 1978 had created a frame that most likely would never be correct as a track frame. # 1, the BB was too low. # 2, the angles were too slack,even when the rear triangle was re-done. # 3, the fork being so short really made getting the BB higher pretty much an impossibility. Faced with this, I pondered throwing the whole mess into the shop dumpster and letting go of old number one forever. At this point I decided to call another builder, a friend who just might get a chuckle out of my predicament . This builder is someone who I regard as one of the top in the field and also someone who can appreciate irony like myself. The builder asked me what my background was before I had built the frame. I told him that I was a fulltime bicycle mechanic with no metalworking skills at all. What I should have said is this: My background.......lousy bike racer, obsessed mechanic, social zero , borderline psychopath...and yes......ignorant asshole who couldn't take the time to do a drawing. I was so focused and obsessed with the artistic part of the frame that I completely dismissed the fundamentals needed for proper bicycle design. This is what created my P.O.S. and it was a waste of materials. But......on this Memorial day weekend I felt that scrapping old # 1 would be an even bigger waste of materials so I spent the afternoon carefully doing what I could to make this bike roll again. I was sure to use old tubing where I could and period-correct dropouts to try to capture the original look. A customer called and told me : " Sure, it will roll again, but don't you think that by repairing it 32 years later you are destroying some of the authenticity ?" I assured the customer that no amount of repair, even with all the skill I have from a couple thousand frames under my belt could change the authenticity of this bike. It is and will always be, a total piece of shit.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Perverse osmosis

Nothing really says you have arrived as a framebuilder more than seeing stuff you built for sale on Craigslist . If you have enough bikes under your belt there's a good chance that your fine craftsmanship will occasionally wind up on the open market-people upgrade, downgrade, sidegrade, go on benders, decide that your bike sucks, lose a job and have to downsize......all sorts of reasons exist for someone to cut loose of the frame you built for them. I guess for me it is a little sad as I would hope that a custom frame is something that one does not sell as it is a very personal purchase. Then again, if your brand has been around long enough there might be some serious resale value available that could come in handy in a time of need. For my esteemed bikes this might not be the case , at least not yet. While I like to state that I attempt to build a very serious racing bike and always strive to make every one better than the last , the market does not care how focused I might think I am . Just yesterday I saw a nearly complete bike on Craigslist for sale.....a track bike-a real genuine velodrome mass-start steel bike that I had built maybe 6-8 years ago. It was missing the front wheel but the rest of it was all there and it looked pretty used but far from used up. A frame nearly Identical to this one had been ridden to a national championship in the Madison. This bike was offered at $ 500. The frame was a 53 cm, not an unpopular size by any stretch of the imagination. A complete bike such as this would cost about $ 3,000 new and here it was , the same bike that was ridden on board tracks across the USA to national titles and many medals for sale at about the price of used fixie from Taiwan. Most likely, this was a frame I built for the junior developement program in Los Gatos, Calif. I built these frames at a greatly reduced rate, about a third what I charge normally as I feel that getting talented juniors on good bikes is a worthy cause. I guess it makes me a little sad to see a bike like this , one that I made for a possible future champion for sale at a really low price that dosen't reflect what kind of effort went into the construction of this machine . This is the reality of a fulltime's as if these bikes are our children-some of them end up at an ivy league school, others will end up in the street. It isn't up to me.