Monday, February 8, 2010

Bicycle Headbadges: Going Custom

A post on ecovelo some months ago noted the increasing scarcity of bicycles that come with headbadges. Alan writes:
"Bicycle head badges are ...slowly being replaced by decals as a cost saving measure. I love head badges and in my opinion any bike without one feels incomplete and cheapened due to its absence. Some are works of art, while others are downright kitschy, but they all speak volumes about the bike on which they’re mounted. Let’s hope they don’t completely disappear in the coming years."
I could not agree more. Both my Pashley Princess and my Rivendell Sam Hillborne frame came with beautiful headbadges, and I knew from the start that I would want one for my custom mixte as well. After looking around a bit, I discovered that Shane of BostonBiker.org is a metal worker and makes splendid bicycle headbadges.

["Getting Schooled" Alleycat Race headbadge, by Shane S. ]

What I like about Shane's work is that it is artisanal: every badge is hand made, which I think is a good match for the "expressionist woodcut" style logo I have chosen. In the course of making arrangements with him to create my headbadge we also discussed the process itself, and I paraphrase it here in case others are curious how this works.

[Boston Tweed Ride headbadge, by Shane S. ]

To order a custom headbadge, the customer needs to decide on three things: image, material and size. If you know exactly what you want your headbadge to look like, it is best to provide the exact image in electronic form. But if you just have a general idea or a theme, Shane can also create the design himself. He begins with a sketch on paper, then transitions to photoshop, resulting in a final image which is then printed out and used as a stencil to create a metal cutout. The headbadge can be flat, or it can have an etched or layered design. The latter can be done on copper, brass, and bronze.

Selecting the material for the headbadge really depends on your preferences. Brass is probably the most typical metal used for headbadges, but Shane also works with steel, aluminum, silver, copper, and bronze. Copper is relatively easy to work with because it is thin, and the green oxidation it produces can make for an interesting effect. Sterling silver (like the headbadge on the left, made for a customer) is a very special choice, but pricey. Steel is durable, but difficult to work with when it comes to fine detail. Once the headbage is completed, the surface is finished according to the customer's request: mirror, matte, or brushed. Each metal and finish has a unique look to it, and you should consider how these will suit the style and colour of your bicycle frame. I will be getting a brass headbadge for my mixte, because it is classic and will complement the "sea-mist" frame colour nicely.

The size of the headbadge is entirely up to the customer. Consider the proportions of your headtube - or measure an existing headbadge that you think is sized just perfectly.


[Cogs for Cans Charity Race headbadge, by Shane S. ]

Once the customer receives the finished headbadge, they (or their bike shop) can use a rawhide mallet to gently bend it to the shape of their head tube. Shane can drill holes in the metal to allow for screws to affix it to the bike. An alternative is to use double sided tape from 3M or epoxy to affix the head badge.

And then of course there is the matter of price. Shane's custom headbadges start at $50. The price depends on the cost of the materials (the choice of metal itself plus its size) and the complexity of the image. I was tempted to ask for a price-quote for a 14K gold headbadge with a photo-realistic rendering of my cats, but held off in case he took me seriously. If you are interested in Shane's work, get in touch via BostonBiker.org's contact page. If you have other headbadge makers to recommend in your area, feel free to chime in.

23 comments:

  1. Nice post on something that adds "class" to a bicycle.

    It is a shame that headbadges are less common on bicycles these days. There are still a bunch of American frame builders (those who build the frame in the U.S.A.) who put headbadges on their bikes. Co-Motion has started offering headbadges as a part of their "classic trim package", at least on the Americano.

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  2. $50 minimum for a custom headbadge? Bargain!! Seriously, if I were building a bike from scratch with a custom frame, $50-$100 for a headbadge would be the finishing touch. Having one's own design that reflects one's personality or the bike's personality (and are you sure you were joking about the gold and the cats, Velouria? :-) is like having your own seal, in the days of yore, for your correspondence. I love headbadges on bikes - will be very interested to see what you and Shane come up with, Velouria.

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  3. Will the headbadge be "3D" at all?

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  4. I would love brass for my ['future' headbadge(s)].

    To be off track a little: :p
    One way to keep brass shiny in an eco frien dly way is to mixed a dollop/or a teaspoonful of tamarind (could be got from 'asian' or East-european (say Turkey)stores in the U.S.)with a pinch of common salt (NaCl)(... cheap & good too besides being eco-friendly). Rub the brass surface with it and (almost instantly) wipe way with clean cloth - the surface would shine brightly. I'm using this for some brass parts of my bike & car fixtures as well as on household ornaments.
    (This mixture may work with bronze and copper)

    Lemony ;)

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  5. Very cool. I agree that headbadges add a lot to a bike's personality. I love my Betty Foy headbadge.

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  6. We have a couple artists here in Calgary who are now making custom badges too. If anyone is interested in having one made, drop us a line and we can put you in contact with them. Sorry no pics yet, soon - very soon.

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  7. there's something about a headbadge that puts a very human touch on the bike. not only the design itself, but the fact that it's secured on with rivets or screwed on reminds me of the very physical connection between bike and builder. a hand-painted badge may have a similar effect.

    velouria, i thought you were going for a hand-painted art-nouveau "RH" headbadge?

    my shogun originally came with a decal headbadge, so the headtube had no rivet holes. i decided i wanted a metal badge, so i just glued one on with my favorite adhesive.

    i am intrigued by shane's designs! one idea i like is to have a headbadge with my initials.

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  8. somerville - The Royal H mixte has a painted logo on the headtube for now, but eventually that will be covered up with a headbadge. I can also wear it as a necklace. Versatility is good.

    I am reluctant to use screws/rivets. How exactly does that work anyway? They are screwed into the headtube right through the paint and everything? The thought of it makes me cringe!

    Giffen - That is a good point and I should add that info to the article. Shane can etch copper, brass, and bronze, and can also do layered designs. I haven't seen any of his headbadges that illustrate this, but check out this custom bridge for a Royal H bike.

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  9. screws or rivets will in fact make the badge permanent, as you are right in that they go right through the head tube. i do very much like the look of a riveted headbadge compared with a "stick-on" (without rivets, it just doesn't seem "real", but that's just my personal opinion), but like you, the thought of drilling into my shogun's head tube made me cringe. so instead, i fabricated "faux" rivets onto the headbadge (which had holes for rivets) and glued the badge to the headtube. you can see this in my flickr set, but the blog doesn't let me paste the link.

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  10. Like somervillain, I also think that the headbadge won't seem "real" without screws. In fact, just the knowledge that there is a painted and glue underneath would drive me over the edge. :)

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  11. I agree that with rivets looks better than without, but like somervillain, I am willing to fake it. That's a great idea actually.

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  12. Nice to know there's someone out there doing this sort of work! Those are some gorgeous headbadges. I am very sad that my Peugeot just has a decal (though most of a similar vintage that I have seen don't have one either) and have an eBay search for an actual headbadge set up. so far, no go!

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  13. I think it depends on the bike. My $300 Motobecane single speed cross bike has a faux badge that looks fine. My Serrotta road bike has a painted logo. Both seem appropriate for those bikes. A Pashley or Rivendell deserve real badges. Or, as the saying goes ... (insert fake Mexican accent and line from the Treasure of the Sierra Madre).

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  14. Jefe - Interesting point. So do the Rivendell and Pashley deserve headbadges because they are handmade and traditional?

    Trisha - My Motobecane has a small headbadge, but I suspect it is plastic. I should find out really.

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  15. off topic, but it just occurred to me that "RH" are the initials not only for "royal H", but also "rene herse", whose bikes had those initials hand-painted on the headtube... fortuitous?

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  16. Yes, they do, and yes that is plastic.

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  17. somervillain - That was my reasoning for wanting to keep it painted on the headtube initially : )

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  18. A removable headbadge carries the extra benefit of being able to, well, be removed during competitive rides to shave off a little extra weight from the frame. :)

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  19. MDI, think of the aerodynamic drag of a headbadge, as well... :-)

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  20. I will ask Shane if he makes carbon fiber headbadges.

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  21. Once offered $200 for my Legnano's stamped brass headbadge (yes, 3D!) - a depiction of the war hero Alberto Da Guissano - I angrily declined and promptly left the person's company.

    Tooling to produce these in volume, or time to make them each at-a-time - there is a lot of expense.

    I'm sorry to say this, but the above photos strike me as badges that could EASILY have been laser or waterjet-cut in seconds, from a scanned drawing. The technology is everywhere.

    Really valuable art of this type takes time and patience.

    - Mike

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  22. Mike - Granted, the headbadges pictured are not as elaborate as the 3D ones that take days of work, but they are affordable to the masses, which is also important.

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  23. I actually came to this post interested in replacing the headbadge on my Hillborne which I find terribly uninspired, especially when compared to every other one from Rivendell. What I wouldn't do for the Hunqapillar's!

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