Friday, December 21, 2012

The mark of the master

As I close in on the end of a surprisingly busy and productive year I look back on the many frames. Yes, I look back and try not to look too close-there's an ugly truth about all of those frames and pretty much all the frames built anywhere on the planet.......none of them are perfect. Though we try as craftsmen ,craftswomen, artisans and obsessive bike zealots we fall short of perfection every time. We can only hope to get closer with each new build. But a few of you might say: " Hey, my ******* ******** frame really is perfect in every way , at least as far as I can tell ." Glad you think that way.......obviously the painter of that frame is really, really good. That is a painter's job, at least that is what my painter says: " You build the frame....I'll make it pretty ." A truly excellent painter can take a really rough example of frame building and turn it into a medal winner at a show.
               When I post my frames on my shop blog , I often show them unpainted. I do this for two reasons: # 1, In some cases I am pretty proud how the frame in the photo turned least by my standards. # 2, I really think that it is the best policy for people to see what my work looks like without the magic of paint. This is not because I think my frames are soooooo bitchen-it is so one can see the workmanship and decide if I am the right guy for the job.I.E.,If you don't like my welds, don't shake my tree, and all that. Don't get me wrong, I'm never totally happy with the quality of my work-I always am trying to do better. It is that insane insecurity that results ideally in an ever improving product. I tell folks that the longer you wait, the better I get at my job.
               This brings me to the tiny imperfections that drive myself and probably a lot of other builders to scowl, become eccentric, drink a lot , go into lengthy depressions , or just let out a few choice curse words in the shop. These are the things that the painter makes invisible.......sometimes.
# 1. Little annoying dent caused by a falling tool or a mis-aligned tube holder. One can fill such dents with solder or bronze-even tig weld.....trouble is they are sometimes hard to see before the frame is painted.
#2. Excessive filing in a rear dropout to get the wheel to center. I don't care how much you spent on your jig....some times shit happens. You just hope it isn't a huge steamer in this case.
#3. Seat slot off center.......pretty much my signature. I do it on a machine, I follow some really consistant guidelines........hell, I'm just not perfect !
#4. Brake bridge isn't level. I did some work for another builder about 20 years ago.....really brilliant guy. He said that he could always tell if I had done the bridges on the frames......his were more crooked than mine-serious compliment , I thought........
#5. Cable stops are crooked or not placed symmetrically. This is really nit-picking but hey, it doesn't look right.
#6. Serial number is stamped crookedly. Yeah, but who cares ? If you spent a few grand on the frame you might......
#7. Decals are a bit crooked. I would like to blame this one on the painter but it is usually my fault. Good thing my decals are pretty uneven to start with !
#8. Weld goes a bit off course. The welding cable gets a bit heavy late in the day and can yank your hand a bit off the chosen path. It gets worse when you get old like me.

                All of the above offenses are really minor and generally have no effect on the fit,ride or durability of the frame. In fact , the faults outlined above are a product of human error......absolute proof that you are in posession of a real hand-built item-the genuine article. The little imperfections ? ......I call them ; " The mark of the master."  The tell-tale evidence of the hand of the craftsman -shaky at times but always striving for perfection. Maybe none of us will ever get the summit of complete flawless unassailable sublime and timeless quintessance.........or whatever wet-dream shiny "Aw,hell......ain't never seen nothin' so peeeerfect in all my days!" We slip, make a file mark, get a little impatient with a procedure and, well.......there you have it-the friggin' mark of the master. Yeah, we do our best to hide it - in most cases you'll never know it's there. That is for us to remember and grapple with on a weekly is what could possibly keep us honest and remind us that being focused on the task at hand has its benefits.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

What makes for a special 'show' bike

My days-actually decades have been spent building bicycle frames. My fellow framebuilders regard my operation with wide ranging opinions-some newer builders might be envious of my seemingly well established reputation. Other builders might just dismiss me entirely as some sort of hopeless slob in a shed. I welcome all these opinions and don't disagree.....I'm truly a well established slob and not anxious to do much to change my status-I merely want to refine it. To display any advance in my quest to refine my slovenly methods would of course involve making a special 'show' bike. I have done this in the past. Some times with humor, some times with biting sarcasm, some times with the intention of artistry. My attempts to build a show bike have resulted in the following : # 1, A joke that almost nobody got.#2, A joke that might have damaged a friendship #3, A tremendous amount of labor yielding "The bike that hate built ".
Shortly after the last NAHMBS I got the idea for a guideline for the next show bike-I had intended to do a second annual 'Ficticious bike show awards' but was so busy during the show at my own booth that I had no time to walk the show and see what it was I had intended to write about. So, with those circumstances you will all have to settle for this: The 2012 Show Bike guidelines, at least how I see it. The categories will each have a set of standards, each more 'exclusive' and prestigious than the last.

Builder's waiting list:
1. Builder has a 3 month waiting list.
2. Builder has a 1 year waiting list
3. Builder has a 3 year waiting list
4. Builder has a 6 year waiting list.
5. Builder's list is now closed.
6. Builder's list was never opened.

Logo treatment:
1. Painted on logo
2. Hand painted on logo
3. Acid etched logo in tube
4. Stainless logo soldered onto frame
5. Removed material from tube in shape of logo
6. Neon logo
7. Small r.c. blimp with logo on side orbiting show bike

Sales points as to exclusivity of show bike:
1. Limited edition of only 5 frames
2. This frame would max out your credit card
3. Taking out a second mortgage would be needed to fund this frame purchase
4. Selling testicle would be needed to purchase this frame
5. Selling one kidney would be needed to purchase this frame
6. Selling both kidnleys would be needed to purchase this frame

Marketing philosophy:
1. This frame would be good for anyone
2. This frame would be good for almost anyone
3. This is a luxury item for special people only
4. This is a luxury item for one special person or less

Method of construction:
1. Hand brazed with an oxy-acetylene torch
2. Brazed with mapp gas
3. Hearth brazed with rendered fat from free-range chickens
4. Brazed with methane extracted from the anus of free range livestock

Materials selected for construction:
1. Good steel
2. The best steel
3. The very best steel
4. Slightly better than the very best steel
5. N.O.S. cryogenically stored steel previously owned by a succession of deceased framebuilders who never got around to using it to build a frame

Seat attachment style:
1. Brazed binder with fully adjustable polished seatpost
2. Seatmast with 2 c.m. of adjustment
3. Seatmast with 1 c.m. of adjustment
4. Saddle welded to seat mast ( no adjustment)
5. Bibshorts stitched to saddle welded to seatmast ( less than no adjustment )

With these guidelines, one can only begin to imagine what kind of incredible artistry will be gracing the halls of the next handmade bike show. Ideally, you won't be able to afford it and if all goes to plan, you wouldn't be able to ride it.......that, in bike show talk is a masterpiece.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Sometimes you just have to beat on the vise.

One day in 1986 while wandering through the Santa Cruz flea market I found a big old Wilton vise. This one was just like the one I used to use at a very good bike shop-I lusted after that vise but was told that the cost was about $ 300 , too much for a $ 2.65 per hour bike mechanic. This did not deter me, it gave me a quest : To find a big-ass Wilton vise at a yard sale or at the flea market. The search probably took five years but there it was, the exact vise I wanted. I asked the seller the price. He answered: " That one's a nice one.How about $ 35 ?" I said I could come up with that.
           Paying for the vise was the easy part. Carrying it out of the flea market to my car was not so easy. I'm not sure what the vise weighed but it was so heavy I probably had to stop about six times before making it to the parking lot. I was lucky that someone was there to help me with the hulking Wilton and within an hour I had it back home. When I bolted onto my workbench I soon found out that my flimsy bench needed to be anchored to the wall of the garage. Then I found out that the garage was not all that solid as well. All of this didn't matter as I wasn't going to be removing stuck freewheels or bending rebar.....I was going to be building frames. I felt like I had been given a really great gift.....the vise of my dreams.
            This old vise as done much duty in the twenty-six years since I parted with that $ 35 at the flea market. The vise has followed me through several moves and has held about 2,000 frame in its tired old jaws. People who come to my shop always notice the vise and are subjected to my story of how I got it and how little I paid for it. I wouldn't say that it is the centerpiece of the shop but I think I would have a really difficult time without it.
             In spite of  the importance of this vise and how much I depend on it daily, it does get the occasional beating. Beating, you say ? But why ? what did that poor vise do to deserve a beating ? This brings me to the most recent and savage vise-beating episode. I was in the process of building a run of nine frames immediately after returning from two idyllic weeks in Ashland , Oregon teaching at U.B.I. I had been really stressed before leaving for Ashland and was very ready to leave my shop. Upon returning I found that everything I had been stressed about was still there-now two weeks further behind schedule.
             Picture me at the vise, struggling with bending a bridge tube, attempting to get a nice radius purely for aesthetics. In walks a perfectly nice person with two rather ugly small repairs for me to look at. This person has no idea of the nearly thirty frames on order and how hopelessly behind schedule I am getting.We start the conversation about the repairs-I'm telling the customer that I can't work on the frames for about a month. He's fine with that and we continue talking, all the while I'm wresling with this bending form that won't stay in my Wilton vise. I'm trying to bend this cro-moly tube while attempting to be polite to this customer and the vise isn't holding the bending form and it keeps slipping. I tighten the vise with my whole 156 lbs. The form still slips. I re-tighten the vise, this time beating on the handle with a huge rubber mallet-all the while politely talking with the customer. The bending form slips for about the fifth time and I take the piece of tubing and beat the living shit out of the vise for about thirty seconds. I look at the customer-he looks back at me, blankly. I just start laughing and the customer starts laughing as well.
              After I say goodbye to the customer and apologize for the outburst ( Which he said was not surprising as he had worked in bicycle shops as well and had encountered similar frustrations ) I began to think about the vise. This was a really tough and mighty vise, yet it was not holding onto the work . I opened up the jaws and looked. The jaws were worn smooth.....over the years I had used the vise so much I had worn out the jaws and didn't notice-I didn't notice because I was too busy being stressed about getting the work done on time. Someone might say: " How could you be stressed ? You do what you want all day long! " That is mostly true but there is also the reality that the stuff I do all day long does exactly what it wants do as me !  If it wants to inspire me, it does. If it wants to humiliate me, it does. If it wants to drive me to beating a vise in front of a customer, why not ? It might be entertaining. If it wants to show me that I am really in need of a schooling , it will provide that for me at any time with little or no notice.
               Once I realized that the jaws were worn smooth I figured out that I would have to position the work differently so that I could use my leverage in such a way that would not catapult the whole mess onto the shop floor. Within a few minutes I had a beautifully radius'd bridge which I mitered and welded onto what is perhaps the most cleanly welded frame of my career. Maybe beating on the vise is a useless and possibly damaging waste of time.......or perhaps it is the merely storm before the calm.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

All those miles just to go to the dump

I'm a really busy guy as of late. I'm kind of an anomaly....a bike framebuilder who makes a living-of course, my definition of a living might not be yours but if the bills are paid and I still have some money in the bank, I'm a hero in the world of bike builders. Merely having steady reliable work is pretty rare in my trade so I do appreciate it. So what do I have to complain about ? A couple of things got my ire in the last few weeks.
# 1, A bike magazine I really like and have read pretty much since its first copy printed an article about carbon frame repair. I approve of carbon frame repair and am glad that some folks are finally doing it-I'm especially glad that it is not me who is doing it. What I read that got my attention was that someone who was in the business of fixing carbon bikes said that it was easier and less expensive than fixing aluminum or steel frames. I thought to myself , how can that be true ? As far as I can tell, it isn't true for a few reasons.
I can re-weld a broken dropout on a steel frame for $ 40-50 much would one of these carbon repair places charge to do the same work ? It is my understanding that carbon frame repair isn't cheap and it really shouldn't be , considering all the steps and precautions needed to work with the stuff without poisoning yourself. I will agree that tig welding is difficult, but not for someone who does it a lot -and that is most likely the kind of person who would be repairing a steel or aluminum frame. Someone with welding and/or brazing can execute a simple repair in very little time, resulting in a relatively low cost job.
#2. The second thing I observed were some gigantic container ships arriving and leaving the port of Oakland. I was staying at a hotel that had a good view of the port and all the goings on. I thought about the practice of a particular big-box store that filled these container ships with raw materials and shipped the stuff to China where it would presumably be made into products. These products would be loaded onto container ships and sent back to the USA with goods for Americans to purchase. The irony is that these cheaply produced items are used for a short time until we either break them or grow tired of them. What happens next is that the items wind up for the most part in landfills that are presently overflowing.
Let's see what this container ship flotilla does, at least in my opinion:
#1. It sends manufacturing to China that used to be done here.
#2. It causes a waste of fuel and is not good for the environment.
#3. It encourages our society to accept crappy goods that fail soon as the norm , rather than providing us with goods that are lasting valuable posessions.
#4. It creates an artificially low price for everything so that anything that is well made becomes unaffordable.
#5. It leaves us with jobs at the big box stores and other low-skill trades in place of the now non-existent manufacturing jobs.
#6. It creates wealth for the owner of these big-box enterprises to buy our politicians and further erode our democracy.
#7. Had enough ? -Think about it.........most of us are riding bikes from China. Most of us are wearing clothes from China as well. Look at all the goods in your house and you'll see how really pervasive offshoring of manufacturing is. How do I tie this into the carbon bike repair article ? It's not a reach, really. The sacrifice of our domestic bike manufacturing over the last 30 years is a very high price to pay for cheap ( and many of them are not cheap..) carbon fiber bikes from China. All the negatives we get from importing so much stuff is also a high price to pay.
While I do applaud the folks repairing these carbon bikes, the great bulk of which are not made in the USA-I firmly believe that the statement in the article that carbon bikes are cheaper and easier to repair is complete and utter crap.......just as I believe that cheap goods at the big box stores will eventually be our ruin as a free society. We have become a people that is all into 'aquisition' for a temporary fix , rather than getting something that one will use for a long time.I really hope some day we will all wake up and figure out that we are not getting any kind of bargain in this transaction.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Thanks, but no thanks.

In an earlier post I wrote about the 'Nontragers' I built after getting the dregs of the Bontrager shop after Trek shut down the Santa Cruz operation. This story is not over and I, for one have been ready for it to be over . This post will hopefully drive a stake through the rotting corpse of an era of my life. For those of you waiting for a real rant, here it comes-'be careful what you wish for ' was never more true than now.

When I was building frames out of Bontrager leftovers it was mainly to use stuff that would have been destined for the scrap heap and also provide some industry folks with really cheap handbuilt steel frames. The word go out and all sorts of requests came in , all the while I'm supposedly building Rock Lobsters at twice the price.It was an odd  time- filling orders for both frames and for awhile thinking that it was a pretty good thing....that was until I started getting low on the easy to work with materials in the Bontrager heap and had to dig through the boxes to find the tubes that weren't too bent, rusted , had holes drilled off center or cut too short. At this point I felt that the time I was spending looking through this pile of old , rusty metal was a total time toilet-especially in view of how little I was charging for these 'Nontrager' frames.

I started getting odd requests: " Hey, could you make a Nontrager disc-brake MTB for a 120 mm shock with Breezer dropouts?" -Of course not....Bontragers came with proprietary dropouts and never were made for 120 mm shocks or disc brakes. I got request for all sorts of Bastard-trager monstrosities , none of which I agreed to build. Funny though- none of the folks wanting these oddball frames were asking me to build a Rock Lobster, the bike that I normally build and could have easily made to their specifications.

After building over 100 of the Nontrager frames I got the idea that a lot of the folks buying them were not willing to pay for what I normally built. Naturally, I started to get a bit tired fulfilling these Bontrager devotees wishes and decided to make a clean break from the rusty scrap heap and get back to what I really had been devoted to all bikes.I gave away the remaining tubes to another builder , keeping only a small stash for myself.

Fast forward to this week: I got a request to repair a Bontrager CX  frame with a cracked chainstay. I agreed to fix it and started to look through my last remaining few tubes from the original stash. What I found was a small pile of totally rusty garbage, not suited for building or repairing anything. I luckily had a chanstay from the stash in another tube shelf in my shop that was exactly what I needed and fixed the frame. The customer was really happy and seemed to be a super good guy. Even though I had done a decent job, saved the frame and made somebody happy, I still felt a bit worn down....then it came-an email with a similar request about a Bontrager frame with a cracked stay. I emailed the person back and said I would look though my tubing to see if I had the tube to complete the repair. I got an email reply asking if I had enough tubes to make a complete frame......not one of mine but another Bontrager. I said no and  wrote sarcastically that I had been known to build frames under another brand name-Rock Lobster.

This gets to my point. I am really tired of people asking me to build Bontragers, Nontragers.....any tragers. I'll admit-Keith is definitely a legend in the bike world and for better or worse, I am not. What I am is someone who has devoted a really big part of my life trying to constantly improve my bikes....Rock Lobsters-have you heard of them ? Yes......I'm pissed, and why shouldn't I be ? Imagine people emailing Keith Bontrager asking him to build Rock Lobsters ? Or calling up Bruce Gordon and asking him to build a Vanilla ? Or emailing Colnago asking them to make a frigging Bob Jackson ? I know that the requests I got for Nontragers have come from good meaning folks for the most part.....real fans of bikes they can no longer get from the original source. It's the reason wax museums exist-also why some people insist that Jim Morrison is still alive and that Elvis is hiding somewhere drinking a milkshake , alive and well.

My advice to well meaning folks looking for their Bontrager fix : Craigslist......ebay......yard sales....flea markets.......just not me !  Want a Rock Lobster ? -I can help you there, just as I have been doing since 1978.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

How to succeed in business with really trying

Walking through the handmade bike show back in 2007 I was on a mission to see which of my fellow framebuilders were actual self-sustaining entities rather than part timers, spouse subsidized or hobbyists-not that builders of these categories are inferior-I just wanted to know who was making a fulltime living at the trade. I was pretty sad when out of around 80 or so exhibitors I found less than a dozen folks like myself. Did I feel special ? Did I feel like I had something figured out that most others were missing out on ? Truthfully, no. I felt like maybe I was beating my head against a wall trying to prove that frame building was a viable profession and that there were not many other folks willing to be so stupid as I.
             That was then and this is now, 2012. I have seen an economic downturn that really slowed my business but thankfully did not kill it. I always had work, just not as much. Things are really picking up now and though I never trust that my work is a reliable thing, it seems to be getting more so as of late. I guess it is time for me to give my observations on how my so-called profession has maintained viability after several decades. I'll give some rules to follow, although I must say that these are the things that worked for me and they might not be the prescription for all fools wanting to tread the same career path as I.

1. Learn to build frames with minimal'll need to get the feel of filing, sawing and all the metal working skills by hand. If you don't do this first , you'll forever be disconnected with the 'feel' of your materials and be too reliant on power tools. Only when you get the manual skills down  will you begin to figure out which machine tools will aid your ability to produce good work efficiently.

2. Don't 'create' an identity......just be yourself and your identity will grow from that. By identity , mine is 'Rock Lobster'.....makes one think of the B-52's , the Santa Cruz mountains......groups of riders that generally don't take themselves very seriously-at least, that's how it has manifested itself-a kind of  image of fun without much pretense.......a club that does not exclude. I can't say that I created this identity but I roll with it as I think it comes from an sincere place......I might have chosen the name but the identity created itself.

3. Don't spend money that you don't have. Low overhead is crucial as you are a frame builder, correct ? Figure that for the first few years you'll be giving away a lot of your work so income will be microscopic at best. I built about 300 frames in a one-car garage before I got brave enough to rent a 450 square foot shop. There are so many ways to get rid of money in the bike business.......try to not get too far into a financial hole.

4. Show up to work and bust ass. Yeah, this sounds so frigging obvious but over the years I have seen so many builders with idle shops and angry customers hearing all sorts of bullshit excuses why their frames are not done yet. Guys who don't make an effort to get the frames done on time are risking getting lampooned on the many bike chat forums-you don't want that.

5. Don't waste a lot of time on the computer (  As he writes....on a computer...) on forums. Spend the time answering your customer's emails first....then if you have time to kill , check out what folks are saying about the latest tubing, jigs or whatever. There is some good stuff out there to read but there's mostly a lot of useless shit storms amongst some really twisted, bitter folks. Frame building can bring out some dark shit in people.

6. Don't be afraid to share stuff you learn that really works. If you have a good trick that helps you with a building issue , share it with your fellow builders-believe me, the good will come back to you .  Don't share heresay that you read on the forums unless you have proof that whatever it is , it is absolute truth from someone who can prove it.

7. Fix your mistakes and give the customer the benefit of doubt. If you do your job well you will not have a lot of boo-boos to fix. And......If you have a lot of boo-boos , fixing them for free will be an excellent incentive to get your shit together.

8. Know when to say No. You will have to narrow down what you do in your shop to be efficient so don't take on jobs that are too unfamiliar . I have gotten myself involved in some serious time-wasting unsatisfying ( for myself and the customer ) pursuits over the years and knowing when it is best to refer the customer to someone else is a valuable thing for your survival.

9. Pay your bills. If someone gives you terms , be sure and get the bill paid well in advance. Being good to your suppliers will come back to you in ways that you will not know for quite some time. Nobody in any part of the bike business is making a ton of money so we all have to look out for one another and take care of each other-that is unless of course you are a shithead.

10. Don't be dismissive about stuff you have no experience with. Sure, I'm not a huge fan of stainless lugs but I have built a couple of frames with them to come to my opinion-it might not be your opinion ,but at least I have a little bit of experience to back up what I say....for what it's worth.

11. Ride your bike. Yeah, I know......we all ride our bikes. What I'm saying is really ride your bike-do a tour , do some racing, some group rides.....a big adventure....something that involves a group of folks . You will be more in touch with the craft the deeper you get into riding, as long as you can still find time to work.

12. Be truthful about what you can and cannot do. Don't tell your customers that you'll build them a frame in six weeks when you know that six months is the reality. You'll be ahead of more than half the builders if you just do this one thing. I'm not saying that most builders are liars.....they just have a habit of coming up short on time-related promises. We all do it at one time or is best to really try to avoid this.

13. Don't assume that if you fuck up, you'll be forgiven. Maybe a certain church bases a lot on being forgiven, but the reality for a frame builder is that you have to make good on what you are supposed to do......provide good service. You can forgive yourself after you make good on your promise.

14. Get folks on your bike who really ride the crap out of them. You'll get great promotion and some invaluable real-world testing on your work. I get a lot of cyclocross racers on my has always been a good thing for me-probably the best promotion and the most fun times are centered around the races I attend.

15. Be accessible. Answer your phone , return emails-be active on social media or whatever-don't hide from your customers unless you are so under the gun with work that you have no choice. Be sure to explain  politely to folks when you need to be undisturbed  to get things done. Most folks actually will understand.

16. I figure that I'll save the best for last : Know when to give a psycho a full refund. You cannot argue with a sick mind-or so it has been said. Hey, maybe the sick mind is you  and the customer needs to get hooked up with someone less pathological. Go ahead and do the right thing by giving the customer the chance to try the same drill with someone else. You never know.....sometimes the transaction is just not a good fit. You can't make everyone happy..........

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Sorry, Mom....I just had to do it...

Making parodies of things and people seems to be a preoccupation that I was born with. I try to keep it lighthearted but there's a underlying trace of menace in my sarcasm, probably a byproduct of being the butt of a few jokes myself. The most notable one happened in 1995-I became involved in sending bicycles to the U.K. , following in the footsteps of Salsa and Bontrager....actually getting distributed by the same company. A couple who ran a bike shop out of a van decided to put together a little club newsletter for the fans of Bontrager and Salsa bikes. The little magazine was called Bad News and even featured Q&A columns written by Ross Shafer ( of Salsa) and Keith Bontrager....all very sarcastic and all in fun. The Bontrager column was persented with a question, most likely put in by the magazine's editor-it read : "Rock Lobster bikes have internal gussetts and Bontragers have external do they compare ?"
To this Keith replied :" Lobsters are exoskeletal so their gussetts are naturally on the inside. The Lobster is a bottom feeder and does not compare with your Bontrager ."
I found the reply from Keith clever but I also got really this time Keith was bringing his ugliest warranty work to me as I was willing to fix anything for a bit of cash......that was, until I read his little play on words. I spent the next few weeks exchanging faxes with Keith that were to be published in Bad News , me arguing the point that Keith had many more broken bikes than I so I really doubted that my bikes were inferior. This war of words was something I was never going to win so I ended it and asked the magazine folks to not print anything I had written. I also told Keith that I would no longer work on his bikes for any amount of money.
Did I learn anything after this exchange ? Maybe , maybe not. I did realize that I can get pretty indignant when my work is called into question, unless of course I had done some shitty work.....I usually cop to that right away-it's hard to hide the obvious. I also figured out that this kind of sarcasm goes on all the time and that I should not take it personally when somebody says something in print that might make me look like a loser. Hey, Keith is entitled to his opinion regardless of how I may feel about it. There's no denying that he is a far bigger wheel in the bike business that I'll ever be.
So, you may ask-If I haven't lost you already to boredom with this bunch of drivel-What is the next joke ? -Take a look at the photo-it is my latest personal bike. I took some reject materials out of my scrap bin (stuff I would never use in a customer's bike)and did the unthinkable: I built a custom frame out of whatever didn't make the cut for a client's frame. I christened the frame and fork the "Dumpstervaagen". I'm sure that all you custom bike fans don't need any clue as to the reference in my name. The thing is, I'm not parodying any particular custom bike.....I am making a parody of all custom bikes-that includes mine as well.
The root of this parody is the notion that a certain brand of steel or a particular shape or guage is elemental in creating 'Magic' in the ride of a custom bike. While I do appreciate the fact that folks read up on tubing and get excited about air-hardening this or stainless that, when it comes down to what makes a good bike very little of this actually matters ! The 'Magic' of a custom bike is when one first rides it- and if the job is done right , there's no need to get used to the new already feels like and old friend ( To quote a rider I know).
So, that is my latest sarcastic jab at the custom bike world-I could choose any tubing from any manufacturer but what did I choose to make my very own big-tire travel bike ? Well, don't look in my garbage can as I already emptied it onto my work bench , cut and welded it together and tomorrow I'll probably ride it !

Friday, March 16, 2012

Here we are now...entertain us.....NAHMBS 2012 review

NAHMBS 2012 in Sacramento is in the books, finished-done-gone-not to return for a long time to these parts. Was it a bike show or an art show ? I guess it depends on where you stood. MY show was all about standing in my own booth surrounded by people leaning in to see the odd guy and all the old dusty bikes he brought. I made it a point this year to fill my booth with history rather than flash. Don't get me wrong...there's an unrealistic and spiteful part of me that wants to try to make some really whacked-out art piece for the show for folks to gawk at , but reality keeps me from going there. I got some really good feedback from folks who seemed to get what I was trying to show at my booth-a 34 year time line of building frames shown in seven examples. I was not afraid to show my older bikes with all of their respective and my bikes , off-brand culls in a sea of art-bike fetishism. I'm sure that some folks dismissed my display-I'm totally fine with that.....what can I expect if I bring old and dusty stuff to such a show.I even went so far as to enter my uncleaned seven year old cyclocross bike into the awards for that type knowing full well that the chance of a win for such a bike would be impossible. National wins and such really don't enter into the qualifications at a beauty contest.

The good : For me, the show was a huge success, in spite of the lingering thought in my head that I was really not fitting into the mold of a true participant in this show. # 1, I did not build a special bike for the show. # 2, I didn't make any new fixtures for my booth but elected to use mostly old stuff and a couple newer banners left over from races. # 3, My focus was on what I had done over the last 34 years, not what I had most recently built in attempt to out-bling my fellow builders. # 4, I stupidly neglected to get anyone to help me in the booth ....a mistake I'll hopefully never make again.
Even with all of these factors I was pleasantly surprised at the positive reception I got from the press, industry folks and show visitors alike. The best thing at the show were the volunteers at the load-in. They cut the time of the load-in by half and were super helpful through most of the show. I must also praise the publicity as this show broke attendance records for NAHMBS-they really put the word out so that everyone knew the when and where.

The bad: At the risk of being banished from the show for life there are some of the aspects of the show that I find to be...well....unfitting with what I think is the essence of bicycles. # 1, the awards are purely for the physical look of the bike and it's presumed ride-ability based on visual characteristics. In other words, none of these award winning bikes are ridden to determine their performance as bicycles !! To me, this completely invalidates the awards from a cycling standpoint. If the awards are purely a beauty contest, so be it-otherwise , I call bullshit on the whole exercise.
#2, There were frequent and really disruptive P.A. announcements during the show, invariably right when I was attempting to talk to someone in my booth-after all, that's what we come to the show for, right ? We as builders are there to represent our craft and be available to the people at the show. While I understand that some of these announcements were important, there were some that were questionable. I'll cite an example: " Will the ''Original six please come to the stage". Really.....the 'Original Six'......soo.........the show is calling attention to the few builders who have been at all the shows-Hmmm, and who might that be ? Perhaps one of those 'Original Six' is the founder of the show, Don Walker himself. So Don-you are calling attention to the fact that you have attended every one of your shows ? You want an award for that ? -Sorry, but that is downright comical. Of course you have to be at every one of the shows.....YOU PUT THE SHOW ON !! You do not deserve an award for showing up to your own show.....come on ! It's idiotic. You want an award ? I'll give you one: It's called the NAHMBS and you created it and it is huge and you justifiably should be proud-it is a hell of an accomplishment.I bow to you....we all do ! When you are at the show you are literally surrounded by your award -accept it and chuck the fake demeans your achievement. The other 4-5 'Original six' builders would probably rather be back at their respective booths selling bikes - not standing uncomfortably on stage for some award they don't really care about. The award all the builders want is viability-sales ! Without that they won't survive in this fickle business. I'm sure they can survive without an 'Original six' award and the show's survival depends on the builder's viability as well.

Whew ! O.K., now that I have probably ended my eligability for being at the next show I can speak freely. Call me crazy but I have this misplaced notion that bikes are made to be ridden. Sure, there are some that are so priceless and rare that they should be preserved for artistic and historical significance-this is as it should be....bikes like these are usually old and fragile and irreplaceable , but way back when they were built they were built to be ridden. What I do not understand is a crop of builders creating bikes like this that are meant to be Smithsonian exhibits as soon as the paint dries-needless to say , these bikes were really amazing to behold and the work that went into them was staggering. Don't get me wrong....I saw plenty of other fancy bikes -but the builders that made them that were showing bikes to ride , not bikes to acquire as status symbols . These bikes may be artistic but they were created to be ridden and the outward artistic appeal was secondary.

In years to come I wonder what folks will say about this era of the re-birth of the hand-crafted highly ornate bicycle it a living , breathing art or is it akin to a brain-dead patient on life support unable to sustain itself. When people start buying these bikes in numbers and the brave builders crafting them start making a living wage, we'll be able to take it off life support and it will breathe on it's own again. The show displayed a lot of amazing craftsmanship but evidence of actual economic sustainability was scarce. All the art bikes remind me of a time about 600 years ago when amazing art was being produced for the royal families and for the Vatican..........primarily by slaves , guided by artisans -many of whom died in poverty or in prison. Let us hope that we are witnessing something that won't crash and burn like the real estate market, the stock market and just about every other artificially inflated human folly since the beginning of humanity.

Friday, February 17, 2012

How don't you like me, now ?

Back in 2007 ...or was it 2006 ? -Hell, I don't know...all I know is that I tried to pander to the gawkers at the San Jose NAHMBS with a stainless lugged frame. I am not known for doing this type of work but I still wanted something with some shiny bits to fool the primitives.....which is a really coarse way of saying that I wanted the folks to know that I, too was able to build a nice rolling house of ill-repute fit for the Maharaja of whatever.
The frame was an arduous undertaking and I was to find myself seething after many hours of dealing with the labor intensive process of getting a frame like this together. After the first two days I christened the frame :" The bike that hate built " as it wore me down like no frame had done in a decade or more. It turned out quite nicely and was quickly sold after the show for about half price. During the show it did not attract much attention-what folks were really gravitated toward was bike # 5, a time trial bike I built in 1979...primitive and dusty, this old dinosaur was the star of the booth. This was an epiphany of sorts for me-the history of what I have done was much more appealing to people than the attempt I had made to be Mr. 'fancy bike '. I took note.
Now it is 2012 and I fully intend to fill my 10x10 foot space with older work, some of it older than a good many folks showing frames at the show. One bike I took down from a hook in my shop is a road bike from 1982. I remember it as being a bike that I had never crashed, never even fallen over on....something of an anomaly for me. I always crash my's in my nature. This 1982 bike is so stable, so friendly of a bike that it won't let you crash ! -At least, not yet. So....I took it down, put some new tires on it for the first time in about 14 years and have been riding it a bit. made this frame and fork with no fixtures of any kind, just a hand drill, some files and a torch and tanks. When I took out the rear wheel to mount the new tire it glided out of the bike. The same thing happened with the front wheel......I was stunned. I knew that I had liked this bike immensely and had ridden it a ton for nine solid years before building something to replace it. What I didn't expect was the precision.
So now it is still 2012 and I am bringing this bike and six others to the show...most with grime and crappy paint-some with a good deal of wear and tear , but all of them authentic bikes of their respective periods. These were all my own personal bikes and they all did some sort of duty-built of some inspiration back in the day. They may be old, but in their time they were good-I can't imagine building frames the way I did back then and getting the precision that is evident , such as the 1982 bike. I'm not blowing my own horn here.....I'm honestly in disbelief that I was able to pull it off......a really nice straight frame and fork built in neanderthal conditions.....primitive and for the most part, clueless.
I accept that folks coming to see the show are looking to see who is out-doing who.....what new take on traditional framebuilding will shake the foundations of the craft-how cleanly the shorelines of the stainless lugged rolling heirloom quality frames can be. For me, the shoreline I'll be thinking about is the one to my right as I'm rolling down highway one north of town on my 1982 bike , still in effect, still good and still under the art-bike am I.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Thank you notes

My wife is a big Jimmy Fallon show fan and the part that she likes best is when he reads his 'Thank-you notes". Here's my cheap-ass framebuilder inside-joke pathetic version. If you haven't seen the show, don't's just more irony for you.

1. Thank you, cyclocross....for being a sport where even the last place guy gets cheered on .

2. Thank you, team skinsuit......for holding my gut in on race day.

3.Thank you , Don Walker.....for successfully herding the cats and creating the handmade bike show. Maybe its time to stop trying to herd the cats......

4. Thank you , insecurity and self loathing......for giving me the psychological makeup for being a 'Rock-star frame builder".......not my words.....

5. Thank you faithful customers , Cyclocross magazine and U.B.I. for making me feel like I'm somebody.

6. Thank you disgruntled customers and Gary Mathis for reminding me that I am really nobody.

7. Thank you Bruce Gordon ....for being able to out 'dark-side' me any time.....there's the imitators and then there's the real master.

8. Thank you, frame building.....for providing me a way to not have to be worrying about my retirement..........there won't be any.

9. Thank you, stainless steel lugs........for giving me something to loath.

10. Thank you, regret.........for giving me something to come to grips with on a daily basis.

11. Thank you , blogger......for providing me a no-charge outlet with which to vent and annoy people.

12. Thank you, cheap Chinese medals that I get every once in help fuel my rise to mediocrity in cyclocross racing.

13. Thank you, hobby frame builders who spend 300-400 hours on a I get to see what I thought I was going to build back in the late '70's.-Bravo!

14. Thank you , mega-bike companies.....for not building the sizes and types of frames that my customers want.

15. Thank you, my racing team.......for showing that a guy in a shed can make you bikes that don't hold you back when you want to go fast.

16. Thank you, my own race bike.......for not complaining when it is I who is holding you back from going fast.

17. Thank you mail man.....for not going 'postal' on us.

18. Thank you ,all the people who comment on this blog.......proof that somebody is actually
reading this...........dang !

19. Thank you, internet......for allowing anyone who has a computer and internet access to become the new expert on bicycle frame construction , even if they are a hopeless idiot.

20. Thank you again, cyclocross......for being a sport where a small builder's work can still be seen in the peloton.

21. Thank you, Giant bicycle co. .......for copying my 'wavy gussets' a few years ago.....then later discarding them as a waste of time. -I defer to your expertise......

22. Thank you, Joe Bell......for terrifying me into my best work when I send a bare frame to you to be painted. Ever wonder why you don't get many of them ? -I'm too scared !

23. Thank you, Kurt Cobian......for creating a sound track for those angst filled afternoons at my previous shop. I'm sorry you aren't around any more....really sorry.