Saturday, December 24, 2011

Why it must continue......

As I was warming up for a cyclocross race in Bend, Oregon I noticed that my cheap Chinese watchband was pretty much ready to let go. Not wanting to lose my faithful 1994 Timex Ironman watch that I had worn on every brevet and almost every race since I had bought it, I took off the watch and put it in my packet. The original band had lasted many years. The cheap replacements only lasted about 8-10 months and they were all from -you guessed it- China. Now I'm not insinuating that all goods from China are worthless but they are cheap and therefore subject to shorter life spans than stuff made elsewhere that isn't as cheap.
The next thing that got me thinking was announcing to a friend that our mutual friend was expecting a child-to this my friend said : " What's with all these people having kids ? I don't get it !". This made me want to say , " Well, how the heck did you and I get here ? Were we dropped out of a spacecraft ? Are we the only ones allowed to be born ?"=Of course I kept my thoughts to myself, after all...she had a valid point in that there is a bit of a population explosion that has been going on since before recorded history.
O.K., this gets me to my point: Custom frame building is a bit of a 'Niche" market,job, whatever you want to call it. By far, most of the bikes that people ride are made in Taiwan or China and are perfectly fine, if maybe not the most durable bikes ever created. After my generation is gone do I care if the craft of frame building continues ? -Yes, I do care....but why should I care if I'm dead ? First of all, the large companies who produce bikes do not build custom and this would make bikes for really tall and/or short people impossible to get if small custom producers were extinct. I, for one don't want to leave the task of building custom bikes up to larger companies as they aren't suited for the job, just as small guys like me are not suited to churning out 1,000's of bargain priced bikes for the masses. My other point is this: Just because I and my contemporaries have had our run at this pretty special livelyhood doesn't mean that someone else can't have a go of it as well. We needn't become an extinct species. Sure, some of us have decades of working at a low wage before getting to the point where we are no longer struggling to survive-that kind of life-long dedication isn't exclusive to one generation.There are new folks who want to try as we did all those years ago and I for one don't feel like telling them to forget about it .......this is why I teach a class at UBI once a year-I believe in the viability of hand made bikes and I don't put a time limit on it.
While I am not saying that everyone who wants to be a frame builder can pull it off, a few hardy and creative souls will with a bit of luck and with the ability to fill a need in their respective cycling community.For example , I do not build in isolation-I am surrounded by folks who ride where I do, appreciate what I appreciate and really use the bike for all sorts of occasions. I might have a lot of customers in far flung places but the core is here in Santa Cruz and the greater Bay area-I do things for this community and they in turn support what I do. I really see that as a sustainable thing- whether I am building bikes or someone else is. Maybe my brand name does not need to continue after I am gone but all the tools I have accumulated over last 30-odd years will no doubt find their way to someone else with their own vision, their own approach. -The shit don't stop with me.

Monday, October 31, 2011

We're not happy until you're not happy

For the last ten-odd years I have been buying aluminum and scandium tubing from primarily one company. That company pioneered the butting and alloying of these metals and created a revolution in frame building that I was a participant in , albeit in a very minor role. What I did was take pre-production samples of the tubing and build bikes for very high-level competitors. These bikes went to places like UCI world cup and championship races and got some serious press, not only for me but for the company I bought tubing from. This for me was a really great relationship and a chance for my bikes to be seen on the world stage of sport.
There's only one problem. Another revolution of sorts came along. the revolution this time was carbon fiber. One by one the big bike manufacturers began sourcing molded carbon bikes from Taiwan and elsewhere and there were good reasons for this. # 1, once the molds for the frames were engineered and made, thousands of identical frames could be produced with little skilled labor ( such as welders and machinists ) and the frames were very light and had a smooth ride. # 2, Since the molds were costly to make , the manufacturer simplified the whole concept of sizing-it used to be that you could buy 5-6 different sizes of a frame in 2-3 c.m. increments. Now you had a choice of three: Small , Medium and Large-maybe an XL if you were lucky. This allowed retailers and bike companies to not have to carry as many sizes, further cutting costs.
#3, The molded carbon frames were not as durable to side impacts and required more frequent replacement making for more frequent sales.#4, Having the frames made overseas allowed the bike companies to not have to deal with the various regulations and high labor costs over here.
Where am I going with this ? Maybe you have guessed. Now that the big companies have gone to carbon, who will buy these wonderfully engineered and precision manufactured aluminum and scandium tubes ? the answer is almost nobody........except for the few folks like me. Without the market to sell the tubes to the big companies there is no economic reason for the company I dealt with to continue making the tubing. They have told me recently that after twenty years of doing so,they are ceasing all tubing manufacturing . I guess I could get really mad at the company except for the fact that they had little choice in the matter. I think they really wanted to keep making the tubing that pretty much put their company on the map-they had invested a tremendous amount of energy and money into making this tubing , but in 2011 that means nothing. Market share and economic viability are what ensures survival in these troubled and competitive times.
For me, this means the eventual death of about 55% of what I build-that is, unless I can find another source of material. The problem for me is that the tubes I was buying up until a few years ago were manufactured right here in the USA. The quality was unassailable and I knew what I was buying. Metallurgists and engineers will tell you that it doesn't matter who makes a 7005 aluminum tube-the metal is the same and should have identical characteristics. The folks that engineered the tubing I was buying have a different view. They were at the forefront of the advent of this particular material and figured out the best way to form and heat treat it , right down to the finish on the surface of the tubes. Tubing from other factories and countries is visually not the same and I can personally attest to seeing more failures with other tubes.
I am angry not merely for the problems I will encounter now that my main source of tubing is gone-I am mostly upset that things got this way......that everything had to be made elsewhere so that the profit margin grew and that the product was to a degree, disposable-just as disposable as the domestic jobs that evaporated when the whole carbon revolution started. The irony is that by the time these carbon bikes get over here, they really aren't that good a deal for the consumer. A frame that costs $ 150 to the company that imports it will become a bike that sells for nearly the same amount as a domestically produced bike with the same equipment. The big difference is that when you pay a framebuilder $ 3,600 for an Ultegra equipped road bike you are paying a large proportion of your money to the actual builder of the bike. When you buy a carbon 'whatever' road bike with the same equipment you'll be paying mostly for marketing-advertisement and the many hands the bike goes through before getting to you. It isn't the same on any level except maybe the price.
The company that no longer makes my tubing didn't want it to end up this way. The folks that lost their jobs certainly didn't want things to end up this way, either. I definitely didn't want it to end up this way. I still believe strongly in the material I can no longer get. my customers still believe in the material as well. I just saw an article on a world-class racer who is still on an aluminum bike, as if it is now a novelty in a sea of molded carbon bikes . I am now faced with having a set of skills and a market that have possibly outlived their usefulness in today's bike market. To quote another builder, maybe I should have been a plumber.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Let's all make memories that we can forget.....

Even though the next handbuilt bike show is a half year away , I have been giving it quite a bit of though as of late. After thinking up all sorts of really questionable plans of action I have decided to make my booth a museum of my last 33 years of cutting and welding metal together. Maybe my career has not been as notable as some ,but nobody can deny that I have been at this trade for a hell of a long time. I'm ready to let my work tell the story of the crooked and makeshift path of what I have done these past decades-I'll do this and let folks decide if what I have done has validity or merit in this year of 2011.
What my work won't tell folks is that I started out building frames as a way to broaden my skill-base in the bike business , not much more than that. Maybe getting a nice custom frame for cheap had a big part in the venture , not to mention getting to build a frame for my sister, a far better athlete than I. Other things that a booth filled with old bikes cannot tell are the years of working in a one-car garage with only a few tools-at one point building six frames that were ridden in the 1992 Olympics by the Guam pursuit team......not a record setting performance but still , it was a few of my frames cobbed together in a little garage on the world's stage of sport. Another thing not told about my career by the display would be my entry into mountain biking in 1980 by way of a separated shoulder and a twisted ankle , followed by my exit from road racing by way of a broken collarbone, dislocated finger and about an acre of road rash. Another fact not gleaned from looking at my old bikes is that I spent the first ten years trying occasionally to build a cyclocross frame - only to fail miserably.
I'm doubtful that folks coming into my booth would know that I completed Paris-Brest-Paris in 1995.....something I still can't believe I was able to do. All those years of riding all day and into the night trying to qualify for a ride I had not a clue about.....those years and all those miles are behind me- I strain to remember much of it. At a show a couple of years ago I displayed all the medals for the rides I did and perhaps one or two people over the course of the whole show gave any indication of interest.
I guess whatever I have done is largely forgettable and insignificant in view of some of the things people have done with their lives. All the same, I'm going to put it out there-1978 to 2011 , an exhibit of a life spent crafting and cursing , riding and crashing, bleeding and dreading, coaxing unfriendly alloys into things that people can slowly or rapidly destroy with glee- Two-wheeled entropy experiments that have survived to maybe not tell the tale, just show some of the twists and turns of a life spent doing strange stuff with metal. I hope you all come and see.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

So who's next ?

I realized something the other day. It appears that all single-man shops in any craft breed a few traits in the proprietor eventually. One of them is bitterness......it isn't the overriding theme of most crafts peoples lives but it is there and I can pretty much tell you where I think it comes from-building stuff by yourself. Maybe it is because so much stuff that people buy is made far away by people they don't know....people who generally do not use the product they are making every day and know little about it , other than what it takes to manufacture it. Maybe we who are one-man shops are bitter as we have to know what it takes to not only build things but also what one endures when there isn't anybody else to pick up the slack.
Essentially, we live in a life without slack. But wait-when you work for yourself you can set your own hours, right ? Yeah....you can work as much as you need to , which could be 16 hours a day if there's lots of work and lots of bills to pay. It really isn't like what most people who work regular jobs think-idyllic shop with a pot of coffee on all the time, pleasant classical music wafting through the immaculate and serene little olde shoppe with all the lovely pampered tools , each in it's own hallowed place always sharp, always clean and always at the ready. That is total bullshit. That's a mental picture of a shop where nothing happens and nothing gets built- It's a myth.
What isn't a myth is the reality of scraping out a living by taking steel, titanium, aluminum, carbon, bamboo, wood or whatever and building something that really works well. Heck, it could even be an artistic statement that works well......as long as it works.
As of the last four years I have been teaching an annual class in framebuilding at United Bicycle Institute. I do this because I not only have to convey the skills that I have learned , I also have to tear down the myth about being in business for yourself, particularly the business of building custom bicycle frames. What it is is hard work-showing up when you would rather be riding. Showing up when the unheated shop is colder than a well-diggers ass. Showing up to fix all the stuff you botched the day before.......and liking it just about all the time. Essentially, you have to like more than the process of building frames-you have to be able to make the whole chaotic swirling mass of shit that is a small business work , and you must do it without getting too bitter. You might think to yourself : " Hey, how the heck did I get into this mess ?" Just look in the mirror and laugh at the fool who suckered you into this crap. That in itself is a reason to be bitter, that you have succeded in taking your life and making it into a situation where all the responsibility is in yours and you have to be present and accounted for all the time. No calling in sick......no making excuses, it's all on you.
This is what I go over with students on the last day of class. United Bicycle Institute does not sugar coat the whole job-search or the 'new framebuilder on the block' story at all. What is presented is a realistic picture of what is possible and what is unlikely-Education without honesty is a total waste of time.
So......armed with the information that I have just imparted here, who will be the next generation of framebuilders ?

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

How not to order a custom frame

In this blog I have commented mainly on my fellow builders. Some I greatly admire, some I think are maybe not quite so admirable.....and some are just total posers. Maybe it is time to pay some attention to the folks that order the frame, our customers. I am quite lucky in that I seem to have what I think are the best damn customers on the face of the earth. They are fully aware of what I do and don't ask me to go way outside my comfort zone in terms of the build. Of course, 'comfort zone ' is not the best way to describe what is the way I choose to build but it is the best term I can come up with after a 10 hour day in the shop.
What I want to present here is a kind of guide-a bit of a sarcastic one and not aimed at my customers at all, unless of course they are looking for a cheap laugh. In my may years of torching I have been asked to do all sorts of things to construct a bicycle frame. Most of these things worked out......a few did not. I learned a thing or two from these unsuccessful builds and will present these 'rules for engagement' when ordering a custom frame.

1. Do not ask a builder who specializes in racing bikes to build you a fancy 'heirloom' art frame. There is no doubt that the builder will hate the experience of the lengthy filing and polishing and the customer will not wind up with the builder's best effort. Result ? Everybody hates everybody.

2. Don't try to order three bikes in one. a bike that weighs under 16 lbs. but can fit full racks and panniers , has ability to run two brake systems, has sliding dropouts, an eccentric bottom bracket and two sets of brake bosses so that two different wheel sizes can be used will no doubt be a big rolling piece of shit. Please narrow it down or figure on having more than one bike.

3. Never ask a builder to use some hardware and/or tubing he/she has no experience with. The phone call starts :" I really like what I see on your website but can you do something entirely different for me ? How about some stainless dropouts from Swaziland ? I hear on the web that they are really nice." I have personal experience with this situation and I can tell you that the result was pretty awful for myself and the customer.

4. Do not order a frame until you pretty much know what you want. This happens when a customer has a few friends who all ride the same builder's bike. Not to be left out, the person lacking the said custom bike sends a deposit in prematurely . In some cases the decision on the bike never gets made and the bike never happens......I have a few folks on the list that gave me money and kind of just disappeared.......weird.

5. Don't get your sizing done by anyone unless you are 100% sure in their accuracy. If I, the builder does the sizing and I mess it up , I build you another frame and take the mistake frame back. If some shop employee screws up your fitting and you get a frame that is wrong......you are going to have to deal with it yourself . Craigslist, anyone ?

6. Do not ask a builder to make a 'copy' of another builders work unless you want your builder to 'interpret' the design and have his own approach based on his/her strong suit . there is a reason each builder has his/her own style. Order from the person who's style is really what you want.

7. Please don't try to get a faster delivery time by bribing the builder with money , booze , flat screen t.v.s, free carpet cleaning , bootleg d.v.d's , etc. Plan ahead and wait like everyone else......it's the right thing to do.

8. Try not to visit or call constantly while your frame is being built-you will only delay the build and probably have a pissed off builder doing a hurried job to get you off of his/her back. I know it is hard to be patient and the whole process can be really exciting. Trust me, back off a little and you'll probably get a free pair of socks or a hat for it.

9. Don't ask for a free frame just because you have a blog. I have a blog....seven of them. Does that mean I am supposed to get seven free anything ? I think not..........and I wouldn't ask anyway.

10. If something isn't right with your frame , be sure and let the builder know. Don't take the frame to some other builder to have it fixed-this is not fair to the original builder who will need to know what he/she screwed up so that it won't happen again.

11. If you have a complaint about a builder, complain to the builder-don't crucify the builder on the web......you will only look like an asshole. If the builder takes your money and doesn't build you anything , that is a job for the courts or collection agencies...........not the internet chat forums.

12. When ordering a frame from a builder, do not hold back any information that might be really important. If you absolutely must have a level top tube, be sure and state this . There's nothing more humiliating than presenting someone with a frame and having them look at it as if it were a dead fish .

Friday, June 24, 2011

The Nontrager story

Yes, gather around...its story time again. There's a lot of tales of woe and misery I could tell you all but this story really needs to be told as I am finding that there are a number of folks that have inexplicably expressed interest in a very unremarkable part of '90's bicycle history that I , yes-one in the same-set into motion.
When I was a hobby builder operating out of my one-car garage in Santa Cruz in the mid '80's I got to know a few of the other local frame builders. One notable was Keith Bontrager who similarly was operating out of a bit larger garage on the east side of town. Keith was pretty helpful in guiding me through the machine shop auctions to find some good tools at a price I could actually afford. Both of us shared the same frugality as we both shared the same poverty-level income. While Keith was more ambitious and a lot more innovative than I, he still needed the occasional help with some brazing on a few bikes here and there.
Flash forward to 1998 : While I was working away as primarily a one man operation with the occasional employee, Keith had created a bit of an empire-a company with many products and about 20-25 employees. The other part of Keith's company is that he had taken in a couple of financial partners. As things can go, this relationship of certain partners got a bit sour after a number of years and Keith had to buy out the partners. Since Keith was still frugal and probably pretty cash poor inspite of his growing company an outsider with deep pockets was needed. Along came Trek at just the right time to rescue Keith from a potentially nasty financial battle with the former partners. ( of course, this is my recollection and I'm sure that a lot of former Bontrager folks could either give a more accurate account and/or correct anything I might be a little in error on.)
The first thing Trek did was to make the company a bit larger and more efficient . This was accomplished by moving the whole operation to another part of the industrial complex into a nice clean well-lit place , complete with OSHA compliant features everywhere. This was a real contrast to the dark and sooty catacombs that was the original shop. Trek was under the impression that this clean-up and re-tooling of Bontrager would be a profitable addition to the Trek family of brands. It was assumed that the Bontrager shop would continue on in Santa Cruz as before.
Sadly, this was not to be the case as Trek found out rather soon that the bikes were not selling in sufficient numbers to make the California operation profitable. Trek closed the facility and much if the raw frame building materials wound up on the loading dock, destined for the metal recycler. This is where I come in. A person within the Bontrager organization alerted me to the large amount of metal that Trek was literally giving away. Earlier attempts at auctions had not garnered much interest from the local builders so many pallets of steel were free for the taking. I was told to bring as many vehicles as I could round up and take away the steel. I called a few friends and we all drove to the shop and loaded up all that we could carry.
As it turned out, I was really the only person who wound up making more frames out of the old inventory. Since these frames were no longer made by Bontrager , i decided to modify the decals to say " Non-trager" as to indicate that despite all outward appearances, this was not a Bontrager. I offered these frames to bike industry employees at about $ 400 , much less than either a Bontrager or a Rock Lobster. I didn't want these going out to the public....I was trying to make a handbuilt USA made frame available to bike business folks who made even less money than I in a lot of cases. I charged less as the frames only took a few hours to build and the materials were free.
Like anything cheap and pretty good in the bike world , word got out and I would up building about 104 of these frames. I had some rediculous requests......can you make the frame for disc brakes ? Can you put on different dropouts ? Can you build it for a 6" travel fork ? I said no to all of these as most of the materials were pre-cut and specifically designed to be constructed into Bontrager frames and nothing else. After building these frames for about 9 years as a sideline, I began to see something that made me eventually pull the plug on the whole project and pretty much give the remaining materials to another builder. What I encountered was a few folks calling up asking for Nontragers as if it were a custom frame. Of course, it wasn't...it was a low-cost alternative to what I built under my own brand . What these folks wanted was a custom frame but they were unwilling to pay for it. These were not the bike shop grunts who I initially built these frames for-these were just folks who were looking for a deal.
As the big pile of Bontrager steel got smaller and the leftovers got increasingly rustier and difficult to work with(not to mention the resentment I felt when there were all sorts of bargain hunters calling me up with requests for cheap frames when I had a huge backlog of custom frames to build ) I came to the realization that the Nontrager thing had to die.
So, after about 10 years , die it did and the last Nontrager got built for Jeff Archer at First Flight bikes in North Carolina. Ironically, it was custom and it was made for a 100-120 mm fork. I don't think I charged anything for the frame - just having the frame there with all the other vintage bikes hanging up was payment enough. The way I see it, if someone won't pay me a living wage to build a frame under my own name Rock Lobster , I guess they came to the wrong place to get a bike.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Saturday, June 4, 2011

2012 ultimate show bike quiz

After my last post I have considered all of your comments and have decided that in all likelyhood I will indeed participate in the 2012 NAHMBS. Of course, that is if they let me. I don't believe I have run afoul of the promoter in chief but you never know. I have not done anything to derail the show, only to point out some of the silliness contained in the show.....it isn't all stupid by a long shot.
Since I am presumably throwing my hat into the ring of builders vying for one or more those gleaming trophies and a chance to stand up on stage in front of a jury of my peers , I must formulate a plan to show up with the ultimate entry to the competition. I am again asking for your assistance in this project and I have provided another quiz-style outline to narrow the focus of the show bike project and come up with something incredible-something that a person might sell one of his testicles for, unless of course that person was Lance Armstrong. Maybe Lance could sell the prosthetic one after all, it was on those seven winning tour rides right next to the real one. All jokes aside , this bike must be humorous....so funny in fact that folks will be laughing so hard as to choke on someone else's vomit. It is with this bike that I hope to conquer the framebuilding world and lampoon it simultaneously.

First off I have to come up with a target buyer:
A. This is a bike for anybody
B. This is a bike for not just anybody
C. This is an exclusive luxury bike for a special person
D. This is a bike for the person who the very special person idolizes
E. This bike is too exclusive for any humanoid

Second, I have to come up with a sentence that makes this bike so incredibly irressistable to the most discriminating show attendee.
A. You'll max out your credit card to buy this bike
B. You'll take out a second mortgage to buy this bike
C. You would sell your kidney to buy this bike
D. You would sell both kidneys to buy this bike

I'll also have to figure out how to 'brand' the bike properly. A really effective logo must 'pop' and be distinctive, original and look very expensive .
A. The logo should be done in gold leaf
B. The logo must be acid etched into the tubing
C. The logo must be made of stainless steel and be paintakingly soldered onto the thin, unbutted portion of the frame
D. The logo must be fully cut out of the tubing leaving vacant space
E. The logo must be done as above but with a neon filament powered by a hub generator with a battery backup for when the bike is stationary.
F. The logo must be on a small RC blimp that orbits in the vicinity of the show bike about head level.

Assuming that this is a show bike and very ornate, it must be constructed of steel.....but which steel ?
A. Good quality modern steel
B. The very best quality modern steel
C. The best quality NOS steel
D. Cryogenically stored NOS steel formerly owned by a succession of deceased framebuilders of note who never got around to using it.

Now that I have the material I need to pick the ultimate way to assemble it:
A. Brazed with a Smith oxy-acetylene torch
B. Brazed with Mapp gas
C. Brazed with oxy-propane
D. Brazed with methane pumped from the anus of a free range cow
E. Hearth brazed using the rendered fat from free range chickens for fuel.

In order to be considered for a trophy I must have some of the current favorite frame features:
A. Seat mast with 2 cm of adjustment
B. Seat mast with 1 cm of adjustment
C. Seat rails welded directly to the seat mast-no adjustment
D. Shorts stitched to the seat that is welded directly to the seat mast-for seated riding only

Custom dropouts are a good way to set your frame apart from the herd
A. Water-jet cut stainless dropouts with your logo
B. Laser-cut stainless dropouts with your logo
C. Hacksaw-cut wooden dropouts with your logo
D. Machete-cut bamboo dropouts with your logo and someone else's vomit

Soo.......the bike is built. There has to be some sort of 'Exclusivity' implied in the availability of this special bike. Waiting lists ( both factual and ficticious ) are a way for people to see how in demand this special bike is......supposedly.
A. 3 month waiting list
B. 6 month waiting list
C. One year waiting list
D. Five year waiting list
E. Waiting list is closed until further notice
F. There never was a list.....at least not one that you or anyone like you could get on.

I appreciate all input. After all, this show is serious business. Cheers.

Monday, May 16, 2011

An appeal to my readership

Well, it isn't 2012 yet but the word is out -the big Handbuilt bicycle show will be coming back to the west coast, to Sacramento in particular. You have read my views on the whole concept of bike shows, bikes as rolling art, bikes as something to obsess about..........all of the things that make a bike show what it is. You all know by now that I do support the gathering of frame builders and am in fact quite enthusiastic about it , even if some if the stuff at bike shows can make me gag violently. The fact that shows like this even exist is a real luxury for old geezers like me who started building frames when just finding a couple of tubes was an adventure.
I have given my opinions to all of you freely , practically projectile vomiting them on you in vegetal streams of unconsciousness at times-this was for our mutual amusement, of course. I have called out all sorts of dastardly and unsavory practices in my trade and am not sorry to have done so. My feet will be held to the fire for all of my numerous failings and I accept the punishment , however painful it may be. My bretheren must be able to endure the fire if they decide that they don't need to do the right thing by the folks that pay them . Now, at this time I am asking you- the readers of this blog for your opinion , or vote. Should I display at the upcoming 2012 NAHMBS ?
O.k., so why am I asking all of you ? Obviously , I'm not able to make this decision without checking in with the folks that have bothered to read all of my rants. What I'm going to do is to put together a multiple-choice quiz like I have in some earlier posts. Yes, I know I stole the idea from the NYC bike snob but it is a good idea and I doubt that he would mind at all.


Reasons to have a booth at the show :
I should be at the 2012 show because:
A. I would maybe sell some frames
B. I would maybe sell some socks
C. I would maybe sell a display bike
D. I would maybe totally sell out.

The show interests me because:
A. There are a lot of cool bikes there
B. There are a lot of cool people there
C. There are a lot of uncool bikes there
D. There are a lot of creepy uncool people there , hell-I might be there !

Being at the show is in my best interest because:
A. It is the best way for me to see what everyone else is doing
B. It is the best way to see what everyone else isn't doing
C. It is the best way to avoid doing something
D. I can't help it, I'm a sucker for bikes
E. My one dimensional life is centered here

Seeing folks at the show will be great because:
A. We get to share ideas about the trade
B. We get to share jokes about the trade
C. We get to be jokes of the trade
D. I get to walk the show and try to find out if anyone has become paranoid because of this blog

The chance of getting an award at the show would be :
A. Truly overwhelming, even for a cynic like me
B. Very puzzling , especially for a cynic like me
C. Extremely hilarious for a cynic like me
D. A chance for me to do an impression of Jimi Hendrix at Monterey pop with the trophy

Having three full days to talk and breathe bikes would be:
A. Gosh, such a dream....
B. Shit, that's what I do five days a week
C. A recipie for a migraine
D. I guess it depends on who was in the booth with me...

What I hope to gain from the show....if i go is :
A. A better understanding of the trends of today
B. A better misunderstanding of the trends of today
C. A better understanding of how much is misunderstood about the trends of today
D. All of the above

If I build a 'special bike' for the show it should be :
A. Entirely crafted from stainless steel
B. It should be entirely crafted from bamboo
C. It should be wrapped in unborn pony hide
D. It should have no eyes.........
E. It should have no ears..........
F. fill in the rest yourself if you remember the joke...

Upon leaving the show I hope to come away with :
A. Good memories of good times with friends
B. So-so memories of well, kind of lousy times with friends
C. Stuff I would really like to forget but might have a tough time doing so.....
D. Enough gas money to get home


There you go, folks. Be sure and write in and tell me if you think I should go and be part of the scrum that is the handbuilt bike show. I value your input more than you would think. This is a difficult decision for me, even with the show being so close to where I live and knowing that so much material for this blog would be waiting for me. Just the same , I only want to do it if it is the right thing to do. Thanks and good night.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

How I got my 29er

Howdy, folks. Are ya ready for a story ? Well, it is story time again with the over opinionated one-not my usual rant about the wonderful world of bike builders and all that they do....err, don't do.....err, say they are going to do.....and in some cases actually do it. I digress....
A couple of months ago I built a bike for a customer who knew exactly what he wanted in the way of a 29er hard tail, right down to every detail. His geometry was not what I would have used but I figured that his riding experience in So-Cal was extensive enough that he had a good idea of what he was asking for. He was very specific about the components as well-again , most of the stuff was not from my typical go-to list of bike hardware.
When the time came, I built the frame and ordered the parts. When the whole bike was together I rode it around the shop complex. As soon as I took the first left hand turn I knew that this bike rode better than my own MTB-better in fact than most of the bikes I had built all year. I was stunned......a customer had come up with the best 29er geometry I had ever ridden ! I even liked the parts selection.....everything integrated perfectly and after just a few minutes of pedaling I wanted this bike ! Of course, I couldn't keep it as it was not mine-frankly, I could not afford to keep it even if I wanted to. What I decided was to keep the drawing handy so that I could make one for myself when I got the time some day. Later that afternoon, with a heavy heart I carefully packed the bike into two boxes as to ship some items separately to help keep the bike frame from getting damaged. I fully insured the bike and sent it about 400 miles south to its new home.
When I got home from work the next day I got an email from the customer. It seemed that the 7005 aluminum frame had gotten dented and it was pretty much my fault. I had not used firm enough padding on the top tube to protect it from the brake lever that had been zip tied to it. MY guess is that the UPS handlers probably didn't go too easy on the large box, either. The customer asked for a new frame. At first I just wanted to repair it or have the painter fix the small dent.....that was until I thought about several things: # This customer paid for a new bike, not a repaired bike, not a touched up bike.......a new $ 4,800 bike-it was my job to provide him with nothing less than that. There was another thing.....that small dent that was a major factor for the customer was not something I would care about if it were my bike, and hey......it was now going to be my bike !!!
When I told the customer that I would build him a new frame as soon as I could he was really impressed. He told me that this was the kind service that made him happy to have chosen me. I think he really would have been happier if I had padded his bike a little better but he was willing to wait for the new one. He offered to send the first one back but I told him to ride it and let me know what he thought. I guess he felt the same way I did......so now both of us would have the same frame-a very odd situation but in the end two people are happy.
I sold my 26" wheel MTB and started saving for the components for the new frame. Here's the thing-I have been building 29ers since 2003 and have not really been too keen on the wheel size . My take on it was that it was a tall person's bike and I just wasn't tall enough. Every time I had made an attempt to build a 29er for myself I either couldn't find the time or just sold the frame before I could build it up. I guess this frame was telling me: " Come on.....don't just build these bikes......get off your ass and ride one so you can know what the hell they are all about !" I had been on the outside of the whole 29er thing for eight years, all the time building them for other folks. Now this was no longer the case-I have my 29er. I'll be sure and let folks know how it rides. Thanks for reading and don't worry.......I'll get pissed about something and write in the usual nasty style when the time is right.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Blasphemy, part II


Probably my most vivid memory of the last 20 years of being a bike builder was the time in the mid '90's when big companies, at least by bike industry standards began buying up smaller 'cult' brands like Salsa, Bontrager , Klein and a few others. I was way too small of a player to be on the radar of these larger brands hoping to cash in on the reputation of the names they were paying for. From what I understand, the big companies would offer to buy the operation of a small brand with the understanding that things would proceed as usual and the original intent, employees and methods of the newly acquired brand .
As it turned out, the big companies found out just how un-profitable the small companies were and wound up gutting the small operations , laying off the workforce and turning the once 'made in the USA' brands into trademarks for imported goods with very little of the original character that was the reason for the 'cult' following in the first place. Salsa frames are now made in Taiwan and Bontrager frames are, well....not made at all any more anywhere. The image I remember the best was being summoned to Bontrager by a former employee to harvest the stuff that was no doubt going to the metal yard or worse, the landfill. I saw boxes and boxes of sub-assemblies and proprietory frame hardware that represented hundereds of man-hours and tons of steel being discarded. I took what would fit in my car and told some other folks about the big pile of metal so that they could maybe do something more constructive with it than putting in into a hole in the ground.
This brings me to the current state of affairs. Now that our 'Golden age' of bike shows, artisan frame builders and online ogle-ment is in full flight , how are we to avoid what happened to the cult builders of the '80's and '90's ? What is there to stop the whole artificially inflated market for bike frames with amazing detail from becoming a bunch of unfinished projects being unloaded on craigslist or worse, the dump? What will happen with all of those water-jet cut proprietory dropouts with ( insert name here ) on them when the brand is dead and the builder is working a new job with an actual living wage ?
Here we have a problem, Houston. We have a disconnect between the guys setting the artistic standards and the other guys who actually build fulltime, offering simpler frames for a more affordable price while making sure that the bills are all still paid. The artisan folks, at least a few of them-certainly not all-have a dismissive attitude toward the working stiff builder. Even if the artisan completely respects his full-time brethren , his fans by and large do not. The same is true on the other side-the full-time guys can get quite sarcastic about certain artisan builders who might cultivate a 'Concours d'elegance' image of thier product , while not having to make a living because money miraculously appears from other un-named sources. But here's the biggest disconnect: The fans of the artisan builders would most likely never buy a frame from a full-timer because it would be a 'boring bike'. This is strictly subjective and I fully understand where they are coming from as consumers, enthusiasts or whatever. What is truly bogus is when they go all high and mighty about how frames should be rolling art and stop at that-they make their stand aesthetically but don't buy the very frames they are championing. Maybe it is the high price, maybe they secretly have some carbon 14 lb. bike at home that they ride on Sundays when nobody is looking. These folks, while lining the aisles of the handbuilt shows snapping hundereds of photos in reality have no intention of supporting the very folks they come to see , full time, artisan or whatever.
I named this blog "Can't we just get along" for the reasons I have stated in most of these posts over the last couple of years. While I remain angry ( As I should if I want to have any good inspiration for writing ) I am also hopeful that things in the next decade or so pan out for builders and enthusiasts alike. The lot of a frame builder has always been a path of self indulgence to a degree and is one of little hope for a real living , but I remain stupidly inexplicably hopeful that we eventually can all get along, have our bikes not only be appreciated but viable as a product made by hand, made here and supported by people that appreciate what we do. To have this happen we must all provide good customer service and champion truth in what we do above all other considerations. This is how we will deserve sustainability and support from the people. -Burma Shave.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Blasphemy


A friend of mine who happens to be (at least in my opinion) one of the top creators of rolling art on the planet said to me that there are two types of frame builders. # 1 is someone who crafts frames to do it. # 2 is someone in the business of frame building. He meant this with no judgement in particular as to which type of builder was superior , it was only a distinction based on making a living versus persuing a craft for art's sake. I , of course am type # 2 as I build frames full-time for a living.
In a perfect world, the two types of builders would get along fine as they basically do the same thing . Unfortunately in a lot of cases there seems to be a bit of a disconnect between the 'Artisans' and the full-timers . The artisan builders tend to look down on the full-timers who do not have the time to create the award-winning show stopping bling-mobiles . Even if the career guys did make the time to build a masterpiece , they would no doubt take a significant pay cut as there is little likelyhood that a customer would pay the equivalent of a living wage for the frame . There are exceptions but they are rare-there exists a handful of builders who have frames that command many times the price of an average welded custom frame. These few guys are kind of like pied pipers to the newest wave of neo-builders on the scene.
The world of custom bikes is being shaped in a large way by the few builders that can command the kind of price that makes building a labor-intensive masterpiece profitable and therefore a sustainable enterprise. As a result of the influence of these exceptional few, there have sprung up a number of things that didn't exist when I started building. The most notable thing is NAHMBS. Now there are many similar shows , mostly smaller and more regional vying for builders and custom bike fans all over the country. The other new item is the supplier who designs ornate lugs and has them manufactured in Taiwan for the new builders who want to build in a more traditional style.
So, with all these new fancy lugs and eager builders and custom bike shows , there is quite literally a glut of really remarkable bicycle art out there. Who is going to go see these bikes at the show and fill their flickr pages with photos of these beautiful efforts ? Everybody. Conversely , who is going to buy up all of these magnificent and painstakingly crafted creations ? -Nobody, at least if they weren't pre-sold before the show. The amount of folks willing to shell out the big bucks to pay a living wage to these new artisans is almost non existant. The folks who are waiting to find these bikes at drastically reduced prices on craigslist are out there , quite willing to buy your magnum opus for about ten cents on the dollar.
Am I attacking the artisan approach to frame building ? No, I am simply pointing out that it is not self-sustaining. I liken the new breed of builders to the artisans who created works of art for royalty and the church. They were slaves.............are the new wave of builders indentured servants ? Maybe not, but they are likely to sacrifice themselves in the pursuit of trying to get noticed at one or more of the many shows -either that or they'll have to have a lot of monetary support from a spouse , trust fund or family-the support that should really come from the folks that ogle the works of art they produce. Yes, I'll say it......in order for the artisan part of our craft to survive the public must actually pay for the work. From what I saw at the last bike show I attended this is not the case-I saw the same bikes on display as last year , in other words the builder didn't sell his or her entry and cannot afford to build a new one for the next show.
The upshot of all this can be summed up with a few recent happenings: The lug supplier who thought that this would be the time to provide great stuff for the artisan builder is selling his busuiness. Since the customers are not supporting the builders, the supplier has few people to sell to. The next unfortunate developement is that several talented builders have decided to quit and it is likely that more are to follow. While this is happening , more and more shows are cropping up to showcase this seemingly doomed craft. At one point or another this whole thing will implode unless there are actual customers to support it. I for one wish to survive and I can only do that by building what is ordered, not build what people want to photograph and award trophies to. I'm almost wondering if going to these shows is such a financial burden on new builders that it is contributing to their demise rather than giving them a viable place to sell their goods.
I really wish I had some answers, some way to make it all o.k. and that the art portion of frame building could flourish . Time and the public will decide if the new ambition displayed by the latest wave of artisan builders will be rewarded with viability or go the way of everything else unsustainable.


Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Never say ever....




What if someone created a bike show and didn't charge the exhibitors ? That's what these pictures show. New jersey transplant Anthony Mangieri , once a pizza superstar in Mahattan has recently put down roots in San Fransisco. As it turns out, it isn't all about pizza with Anthony......it is about bikes and riding as well. I was lucky enough to be participant in this party last Sunday put on by Anthony and Sean Walling of Soulcraft. Was it competition for the other hand-built shows ? No. Was it a society of like minded builders gathering to raise the bar of the craft ? no. It was pizza , bikes and people having a good time.
This brings me to the subject : What do we do this for ? Why are we involved in building bike frames, a pretty unlikely way to make a buck ? Is it for the presitge ? Is it to elevate ourselves in the social strata ? Hmmm.............shit, no. After this particular party my conclusion is that it is what we do and it is what brings us together as a community. No trophies, no societies , no presitge-just a good time and a way to work at something we like.
One of the things I don't really connect with is the idea of a 'guild' of frame builders. Sure, it is great to have standards and group buying of materials and meaningful exchange of info is a great thing , but there seems to be very little of that coming from the places that it should come from.....the internet chat forums. All I see are petty pissing matches for the most part and occasionally a real gem of info from someone-and it usually gets ignored or dismissed by some predatory internet moron on a campaign of wrongness. I find it really amusing when folks go out of their way to prove a point and they show in the process that they are totally full of shit.
Here is my point, for those who need a reference: I feel that there is no need to separate ourselves as frame builders into 'sub-groups' or guilds, or whatever. I like to feel that we are all in the same game at one level or another. We may disagree about certain fine points but at our core, we all build bike frames because we love it. It is for this reason that I have not entered into any of these sub-groups ,whether I was invited or not. Sure, you might say that this last party was all about Nor-Cal. frame builders. Of course it was-we all live here ! It isn't a sub-group , it is a geographic factor that brings us together. The same thing could be said about Portland or New England. It isn't that we think we are special.....it's that we know each other, live within a couple of hours drive from each other and that pretty much covers it. Oh yeah, we like pizza and having a good time with friends.
So.....I'm a Nor-Cal frame builder-so what ? Really, first and foremost I am a frame builder - one of many all over the world and I might have my feelings one way or another about my bretheren , but I do feel that there is no need to divide into 'cliques'. We are much stronger as a community at large and the sooner we all realize that the sooner we will be able to benefit from each others experience and wisdom.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Bike show awards special post.


Well , the big handmade bike show of 2011 is over and all the builders and bikes have left Austin. The awards have been presented and the next show location has been announced. I didn't get to see the show and I was too busy and maybe too broke to be part of it but that doesn't mean I can't come up with my own take on the whole experience.......back a few years ago I was maybe one of the biggest proponents of this show-I exhibited my work, I played two times at the big show parties in a band and I also had seminars at all three shows that I attended. I do know this show from the inside and I appreciate all that it is.
That said, I have my own awards that I came up with for the show. I hope that all who read this will see the humor in what I am implying and won't get too offended. There will be some truth in what I write, even if it might seem more than a little sarcastic. I assume we are all adults and can get through this without any major shit storms.
Here it is, your 2011 overopinionated framebuilder awards:

1. Greatest disparity in orders vs. wait list award. This award is given to the builder who has the longest waiting time for a frame while having the least actual amount of frames on order.

2. Best spousal income. This award is presented to the framebuilder who's spouse has the highest paying job , along with best benefits that allows the builder to operate without having to actually make a wage.

3. Most complete disregard for structural soundness in pursuit of aesthetic appeal. This most coveted award is given to the builder who succeeds in making a striking work of art that will no doubt disintegrate when ridden off even a very modest curb.

4. Best imitation of last years 'Best in show'. -No explanation needed for this one.....we have all seen it every year.

5. Finest application of paint and graphics to hide shoddy workmanship. This award is pretty much the 'bike that fooled most of the people almost all of the time' certification and there are few entries that get by the keen eye of the folks at the show , but every once in awhile......

6. Bike that starts yet another annoying trend. Not easy to get, this one. A true visionary is needed to create a piece of work that makes the inner conformist moron come out in all of us.

7. Builder that has disappointed more customers but is still highly regarded. To be frank, I have to tip my hat to the person who takes this particular trophy home-I have to be accountable for what I do......I don't know how they get away with treating good meaning customers like disposable garbage.

8. Best 'Spin' award. This prize goes to the builder who can sell literally the 'sizzle' and have no 'steak'. I guess it could be the honorary ' Snake oil salesman' award, but then that would be unfair to the snake oil trade. This could also also be called the: "Excellence in pandering" award.

9. Most prohibitively expensive townie. I always though that the 'townie' would be the cheapest bike in the catalogue..........boy, did I get it wrong or what ?

10. Bike with the least structural integrity. This award is very much in the spirit of award # 3 except for the chance that this builder didn't particularly have aesthetic or structural concerns for his/her entry . This would be the classic 'Concept bike"-Ironic in that the builder might have no concept at all of what a bike really is.

11. Boldest display of questionable 'innovation'. Here's the medal presented to the original thinker........too bad he/she has little to actually think with.

12. Most cryptic and mysterious dialect. This is awarded to the builder who can speak at length about his/her craft without anyone having the slightest clue what the hell he/she is talking about.

13. Most merchandise in booth that have nothing to do with bicycles and/or the show. This prize is given to the builder who mistook the handbuilt bike show for a garage sale. Hey, it costs to do the show......I gotta make some money here.....interested in some pre-1955 cranberries ?

14. Highest price/lowest value bike. The winner of this award would have to be nothing short of a genius-that is, if the bike actually sold.

15. First/last award. This particular prize goes to the builder who devotes 100's of hours to making a truly remarkable and special work of bicycle art that he/she will probably sell at a horrendously low price and realize that such an undertaking was not worth the time. Upon realizing this the builder decides to stop building altogether. This could be called the : "I should have been a plumber" award , named after a builder who told us all that he really should have been a plumber.......I for one am glad that he is not.

16. Mr./Mrs. Omnipresent. This award is given to the builder who is literally in everybody's shit on the internet. It could be 3 a.m. and you are posting a way to true hole saws in your lathe when some guy/gal immediately posts a way that they do in their shop that is so much cooler. This person would probably post a way to use the methane from a cow's ass to fuel his/her torch , eliminating costly acetylene tank refills of $ 30 every 6 months.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

A temporary solution to a permanent problem.


This post was actually written awhile ago. Because of the critical nature of the content, my wife persuaded me to edit it and delay publishing it. I'll say that even though the thoughts contained here are pretty strong, they are only my opinions and really don't count any more than another person's view. I know that the personalities I am assailing in this post are largely figurative and not anyone in particular . I have some personal codes of conduct that I attempt to live my life by and I have this blog to call out the folks that I feel are diametrically opposed to what I think is the best way to approach our craft. That said, you can label me a narrow minded shit head if you like-in some ways I fully qualify for that moniker.
If you are a builder and you have a fragile ego I suggest that you skip this post , even though it is most likely not directed at you.



If you do something long enough and don't screw it up that much, there is a chance that you'll get some sort of approval from folks-a fan base, perhaps. Even if you don't understand or even want this thing ( although I think deep down, even the most curmudgeonly of us wants friends ) people will , by their good nature and enthusiasm elevate you somewhat over where you thought you were in the craftsman food chain. This in my opinion is a good thing , that is if you can have these accolades and not let it change who you are.
Back when I first started getting words of praise from customers ( some deserved, some not ...it is what it is. ) My first reaction was to dismiss the good words, essentially tell good meaning folks that I was no good and did not deserve any praise. This was effectively not allowing anyone to have a positive opinion of my work. Maybe it was false humility, more likely self loathing with an extra helping of insecurity-nevertheless , it was pretty stupid and even I eventually realized that.
I guess I went too far in trying to avoid a thing that we as builders really need to be mindful of-the mistake of feeling too bitchen. What I and a few other builders talk about is the 'kiss of death' of taking praise from people as a license to feel like a special being.....a demigod of the torch. If somebody says you are a 'Master frame builder' , the best thing to do is to say 'Thank you." The worst thing to do is to call yourself that on your website or anywhere else. If one starts believing that one is " The Master" there is a certainty that a great fall is imminent. I have witnessed such falls over the course of my career and they aren't pretty, but usually the person is deserving of such a rapid and public decline-especially in the wake of a campaign of extreme pomposity and/or arrogance. While I feel it is fine and actually healthy to be proud of a job well done, there is some real sickness out there in folks that take the pride thing too far.
My question is this : why does anyone really feel the need to be disingenuous to sell bicycle frames ? What goes though the mind of a person that attempts to create some sort of divinity image about building a frame....... " Hell, I'm good at this and I deserve to be on top! " ........or something like that. How do you make yourself believe such crap ? Is it from outside influence ? Is it from some major psychological insecurity ? Is it a feeling that one hasn't gotten a big enough piece of the pie ? Or is it that one is just falling in love with one's self.....again ?
When the sad day comes , the day I feel I have to start quoting myself in the third person-example :

" The wind came up on the bluffs and we were riding very fast.....it was only a training ride but the speed we were attaining was making it so my tires were drifting in the corners. I pressed the bike as fast as I dared , sliding both wheels in a kind of cycling-ballet on the edge of the ocean-it was here that I knew I had found the ideal bike geometry ." ....Paul Sadoff.

I don't know about you, but if I had just read that thinking that the person writing it was serious I would reach for the vomit bucket.
Maybe it's just me, but something tells me that the product should do most of the selling. Building some sort of 'spin' around your craft is definitely a skill in itself but it is for the most part a skill I avoid. There's truth that we as framebuilders are not just selling bike frames, we are to a degree selling lifestyles. In the best cases, these lifestyles are things like racing, touring or commuting. In some , one might be selling a rolling object of art-I do understand this and don't really think it is wrong. In the worst cases we are selling stuff to make people feel connected to our supposed, often self-proclaimed 'greatness'........buy this bike and you'll be part of a very exclusive club , a club that makes you wait a really long time and pay lots of money to be a member. Essentially this club wants to make you want to be part of it enough to endure the wait and expense that is the entry fee. If you don't like the terms, you are shunned. I really don't understand how or why intelligent people put up with this. Is it really worth it ? Is it going to enrich your life so much that the huge price tag and monumental delay in getting your frame are inconsequential ? Or is it that if this purchase did not involve these hardships it would not have the appeal ? I don't get it......I guess I was never supposed to get it-I'm not a member of the club.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Oh,no....not another quiz ! ?



Yes, friends.....it is time for a quiz. This one is something of a character study , kind of. The names have been eliminated to protect the well.....errr.......I'll leave it at that. Am I insinuating that the person(s) possibly although not necessarily referred to in the quiz are factual ? I'm not telling you.......you'll have to guess, just like you'll have to figure out the proper answers to the questions. First of all, I would like to explain the photo above. I never do this usually-I think the photo is mostly there to convey a mood or perhaps an inside joke that maybe .000135 % of the readers of this blog might get. There's no joke in this photo today. The book is one that I have been writing in for over 33 years. It contains the spoke lengths for a variety of hub/rim/cross combinations. Why don't I use the online spoke calculators available you might ask ? Well, I guess I see other folks getting wrong spoke lengths from these calculators enough that actual documented tested data in a book might save me a step or two. Call me primitive.....I don't even take credit cards at my business. O.K. on to the quiz.

The theme of today's quiz is what kind of person might your framebuilder be if **********. There are many types of folks hanging up a shingle proclaiming that they are framebuilders.......some of them actually are . The rest are, well....lets just say that maybe they ought to have a different job.

If your framebuilder takes your deposit ( and maybe a few others ) and does not actually build the frames that have been ordered......ever.......he is :

A. Just a poor guy trying to make a buck.
B. Just a poor guy trying to steal a buck.
C. Just a poor guy succeeding in stealing a buck.
D. Kind of a pathetic poseur/criminal
E. Maybe has fallen on hard times.
F. Maybe has not fallen on hard times and isn't a framebuilder at all.

If your framebuilder does not return your phone messages and/or emails he is:

A. More important than you, stupid.
B. Probably overwhelmed with his position as king of the dung heap.
C. Wants to cultivate an air of mystery.
D. Needs to heal from the interactions with his fellow humans for a time.
E. Had his phone turned off.

Say your custom frame has an issue that has nothing to do with how you ride or maintain your bike and the framebuilder refuses to service the bike. His/her possible reason(s) are :

A. There is no stated warranty , butthead.
B. Too busy making more frames for folks like you except that they don't actually ride so they have no complaints about the bikes.
C. The customer is always wrong.
D. There's a Jersey Shore marathon this week/month/year.
E. He/she has left no forwarding address and is off to parts unknown.

Your framebuilder teaches other folks framebuilding because :

A. He/she is not threatened by new talent and actually wants to help.
B. He/she/it needs the money and orders are down.
C. There's some sort of sick satisfaction in teaching what one has regarded as a sentence.
D. It's a chance to have people listen to you for once.....
E. Somebody has to carry on this stuff.

What if your framebuilder tells you that you'll get your frame in 5-6 weeks and after nearly a year you still haven't gotten your frame and you payed all the money up front. His/her reason is :

A. Can't be bothered at this time, there's work not to do.
B. Can't be bothered at this time , there's lots of bickering to do with other numbskulls online.
C. Can't be bothered at this time , I have seven blogs......whoops-
D. Can't be bothered at this time , there's a Jersey Shore marathon again.

If you finally get your frame from your builder and the rear wheel does not center....not even close-I'm talking totally cacked , the frame has not been chased, faced, tapped, etc. seatpost won't fit and you told the builder the actual brand of post you were going to use , the builder would describe the parameters of precision as :

A. Tolerance of +/- 2 mm.
B. Tolerance of one hair past a freckle.
C. Tolerance of two fifths of Jack Daniels.
D. Tolerance of "Did I build this ? It doesn't look like my work..."
E. Tolerance of "Just had a bad day......aw hell, I'll fix it."

Say your framebuilder is creative, causes a stir at the bike shows and really has some interesting original ideas that fly in the face of convention in almost playful disregard. What if the buying public does not support this talent and after some time he/she is forced to quit and get a day job. The upshot is:

A. Yee hah ! Don't have to worry about that one any more !
B. Well, he/she did it to him/herself being so damn clever......
C. Probably didn't have enough stainless on them there frames.
D. Maybe we all lose as this particular talent won't be able to fulfill his/her artistic contribution to the craft at large.

Last question. This one is bound to ruffle some feathers but I hope all will see the good natured aspect of the humor contained.......or not. Feel free to hate me.

Framebuilders are creating little guilds or groups to:

A. Have some fun.
B. Create standards that protect builder and client alike.
C. To attempt to elevate themselves above other builders for the sake of ego gratification.
D. To get together for Jersey Shore marathons.
E. Because everyone's doing it.
F. There's power in numbers.
G. Mainly out of boredom.....
H. Because we all really can't quite get along.

Thanks for reading....please don't firebomb my shop-I can burn it down myself.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Voyage to see what's on the bottom...


O.K. , o.k. , so I'm finally belching out the post I promised a week or two ago. Why the delay ? I had to wait for certain things to play out in my so-called " Professional world". Yes, you cannot make everyone happy and there's a good chance that you'll piss a few people off without even knowing why in this business.......that's about as much of an explanation as you'll get from me right now. But I digress......here's the story:
About the time of the last dinosaurs when I was building my first few frames I had the notion that I would put my artistic background into my new craft. It was my intent to raise the bar of bicycle frame construction single-handedly and show the world what I had in skills. Of course, as soon as I built a few frames, each one more ornate than the last I got the feeling that I was maybe a bit.....no, actually wayyyy ahead of myself. By my nature I was impusive , tempermental , impatient and most of all , not having anywhere near the skills needed to attempt what I was doing. I was a fool. Hey, maybe I still am a fool-I'm a bicycle framebuilder, right ? I'm getting off track here.......what I'm trying to say is that I went in a direction that proved to be a mistake for me-I was placing too much emphasis on the outward appearance of the frame while not concentrating on the more important aspects of framebuiding, namely soundness of construction and geometry. Not too much later I would address these aspects after an epiphany of sorts.
The epiphany was this : Here I was, a bicycle mechanic who had built maybe 8-10 frames and was not really getting the kind of choice ride quality that I was hoping for. I, like a few other builders of the late '70's was kind of trying to re-invent the wheel, so to speak. We , the new builders of the '70's were making bikes stiffer, steeper and tighter than anything we had seen.....why ? Because we thought it was going to be better. Was it better ? Actually it was the shits. The bikes sucked, except for sprinting in a straight line on a totally smooth road. Hey, we were trying for something new that would be better than the Italian bikes of the day and send customers flocking to our doors with deposits in hand. Ahh.......the epiphany. One day in 1982 while working at a bike shop I got a chance to assemble and ride a $ 495 Bianchi Nuovo Racing bicycle in vaguely my size, a 56 cm. All it took was a few trips around the block and I realized what I was doing wrong.....I was dismissing good geometry in favor of trying to create my own new standard. The Bianchi was everything I wanted in a road bike except that it was not made of the best materials and it was maybe cosmetically a bit rough.
The next bike I built for myself was a replica of the Bianchi, at least geometrically. I used Columbus S.L. tubing and a mix of Henry James and Tange cast lugs,essentially all of the best stuff I could buy to construct the frame.The result was the best road bike that I had ever ridden and the template for all of my future road frames. I rode it for a solid 9 years and never laid it down once.....it was a magic bike.
Fast forward to 2011. The lesson from the Bianchi is still with me-make the bike ride right , don't get caught up in trying to make something for the Smithsonian or maybe attempting to set the new standard for bicycle design. I'm not saying that innovation is not possible, it just can't happen without filling a specific need. Need drives invention and need is what makes my job viable. I weld bikes for folks who need them to race, commute , recreate, and so on. I don't build frames to make people look.....I build frames for the folks that ride. There are many framebuilders that share that view. We are not the ones winning awards at the bike shows-to be frank, some of us don't even go to those shows , great though they are. We are from the lowlands-the place of welders. We put tubes together to make things to ride....it isn't what gets the attention of the media for the most part and it isn't what turns heads of the discriminating bike show junkie. Our bikes aren't ugly, they just aren't flashy. You will seldom find stainless bits or much in the way of ornamentation on our bikes. What you'll find on our bikes are people riding them.
Yes, I'm doing it again , calling attention to the folks that don't build a 'special bike for the show' or launch some sort of 'special edition' bike to try to get orders. I'm not saying that either of those labors are worthless, they are just not worth much to folks like us, the lowly welders of bike frames. I guess I get a little pissed off-actually a lot pissed off because welders of bike frames do not get the same level of respect as the folks that build the fancy lugged efforts. I'm pissed because welding is actually more difficult than brazing in that there's no room for error and there's no place to hide shoddy work. A lug can hide not only poor tube contact but also insufficient brazing. With welding everything is out in the open, both the miter of the tube and the result of one's welding skills. If something isn't right it will stick out like a red flag and no amount of paint will cover a really bad welding job.
Welding gets little respect because people assume that is is easy and quick. It is quick for those who have done the many hours of practice to create both a strong and attractive bond. The lugged construction has the benefit of the 'cleanup' phase , a period after brazing where imperfections can be filed away. Essentially , something that was pretty awful looking can be transformed into something quite passable after much filing and some creative paint work. With welding things have to go right the first time........there's no prettying up a tig weld without potentially removing too much metal and creating a future failure zone on the frame.
Maybe I sound pathetic trying to get folks to appreciate welded framebuilding-perhaps it is pathetic and I'm just one of those lazy no good bum framebuilders from the lowlands , the realm of mere welders .........certainly not craftsmen of the order of the ones that dazzle you with " your name here " in stainless steel letters on a prominent place on the frame . Maybe I'm just jealous of the artisans who are charging three times what I get for a frame and making folks wait years.......years !!!! for a bicycle frame. Maybe some people don't value a custom frame by what it does for their riding pleasure.....maybe it isn't desirable if it is too easy to get or too affordable-after all , that would pretty much eliminate the exclusivity part, wouldn't it ? If some schmuck down the street who is a working stiff can afford to buy a such-and-such frame - it isn't special enough , is it ? I rest my case.

Monday, January 24, 2011

It's coming..........

Get ready for the next salvo.....coming soon.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Living the dream ?


December was not a particularly great month for me. For one, I had a demolition project next door to my shop going on that made it impossible to work for most of two weeks. The noise and dust caused by the remodel of the bathrooms next door got to be so oppressive that there was no way I could attempt to weld while the floor was shaking with the sawing and hammering.

The next thing to come down the pike was a kidney stone that got stuck and landed me on my back for nearly a week and a half-this infirmity made it so I missed the three biggest races of the cyclocross season and my team had no manager for the Nationals . If you are self employed like me , you know well that there is no unemployment, no state diasbility and no crew to carry on the work while you are incapacitated. So, what are my plans for the new year ? That's pretty easy to figure out.....work my ass off to try to catch up and pay the bills.

This brings me to the point I wanted to make : The phrase " Living the dream" has been bandied about in reference to folks like myself who are supported by building bicycle frames. The person or persons who use this phrase in regards to what I do obviously have no idea what full-time framebuilding is about. If losing money for years , having days of wrench-throwing frustration , working until 10:00 at night to catch up on a build that took way longer than anticipated , not getting any kind of vacation for years-opting instead to go to trade shows where most folks don't even look at the stuff you brought is living the dream , I think most folks would rather take the nightmare option instead.

From the outside looking in , some folks must see the daily jaunt to the workshop and subsequent idyllic time of self-employed crafting as the dream that got away-the escape from the mundane work-a-day life that most people endure to scratch out a living in this crippled economy. From the inside looking out , my view is that all the years that led up to this point were so difficult and debilitating that I find it difficult to rejoice in celebration of my so-called dream.

This is how I got to the life of full-time framebuilding. It wasn't as if I had a calling I could not refuse-it was not that I felt as if I was put on this earth to do just this , build bicycle frames with every micron of my being-and it was certainly not because I thought I would be living the dream. This is what happened. I worked really hard, stupidly hard much of the time. I didn't always believe that I would succeed-I just kept at it , almost like some sort of beat-down. One of us was going to give in-Me or the F$%^ dream. For years I stuck with this craft as if it were my only choice in life..........it wasn't , but I worked at it, fought it, made many blunders , learned and re-learned the same stuff over and over again because of my impatient and slipshod nature- What I did was beat my head against the frigging wall until I made a hole in it and climbed through. What was on the other side of that wall ? A dream ? No. An awakening and some spiritual enlightement ? Not really. What was on the other side was folks that saw what I did and placed a value on it. It was these folks that saw all my blunders, all of the dents in my floor and workbench where tools had been thrown - these amazing people who awarded me for my seemingly hopeless and psychotic devotion to a craft that initially I had little talent for........these folks welcomed me to be someone who was valid as a bike builder.

I have read where a person said that folks like me who were " Living the dream" owed my livelyhood to a builder who came before me who the great majority of my customers have never heard of. Maybe I owe my job to the folks that put on the trade shows. Maybe I owe my success to the internet. These reasons all sound great except for the fact that they ignore two things: # 1, I started this job before the handbuilt shows, before anyone building bikes even knew what a web page was and also ,with just a few exceptions a lot of builders back in the day were not willing to give out any information or support to anyone like me. My position is that I owe my success to the folks that come to my shop and see a reason to have me build something. My customers are my saviors and I always want to be worthy of their trust. That means that I have to fix my fuckups in a timely fashion , I have to on any given day be ready to bear down and focus on a bike that must be depended on to be safe, fun and not hold the rider back in any way. It isn't and easy thing to do and it is no dream......it is reality. I'm living the reality , and the torch, the welder and the materials will never let me forget that. Happy new year !