Saturday, September 10, 2011

In the Raw

Raw Lacquer Brompton
During a recent visit to Harris Cyclery I had a rather emotional encounter with a creature I had not seen in some time - a Brompton bicycle in raw lacquer. The raw lacquer finish was offered as a standard choice when we were first considering Bromptons several years ago. And then - bang, it was suddenly unavailable. I forget the precise cause (something to do with changes in finishing technique?), but at some point I was told it was impossible to get one, at least for the time being - which of course only exaggerated my memories of how beautiful and unique the raw lacquer was. I mourned its disappearance and fantasised about its return. And now there it was, in the corner of the bike shop - unapologetically glorious in its nudity.

Raw Lacquer Brompton
To be clear, this is not just about the Brompton. In my early days of bicycle shopping I had to be talked down from an unreasonable crush on the Rivendell Bombadil (the original version), which at the time was distinguished by its raw finish. The bare steel frame looked dirty yet shimmery underneath the clearcoat, and the juxtaposition activated some aesthetic hot-button in my brain quicker than I could pronounce the bike's name. In the Brompton this effect is multiplied tenfold because of its diminutive size and complexity. The multitude of miniature brazed joints fascinates while the warm glow of the bronze lures. Oh dear.

Raw Lacquer Brompton
This is what the bicycle looks like in its entirety. It can look either charcoal or olive depending on the light, at times bearing a resemblance to tree bark. With a brown leather saddle to set off the frame, the look would be even more organic.

Raw Lacquer Brompton
Because the Brompton is a folder, there are countless opportunities to exhibit brazed joints - which is no doubt why they chose to offer this finish as an option. It underscores the labor and thought that must have gone into designing the fold - so many tiny bits and pieces, all brazed.

Raw Lacquer Brompton
Even this!

Raw Lacquer Brompton
And this.

Raw Lacquer Brompton
Not to mention all of this. (I am curious about that uncapped seatstay though - how is the moisture kept out?)

Raw Lacquer Brompton
An interesting feature of the clear coat is that it makes everything look wet, giving an impression of the frame having been freshly completed moments ago. Of course, frames aren't wet when they are brazed, but the impression of immediacy is still there; the process of construction feels alive and vibrant.

Raw Lacquer Brompton
I can imagine that the raw finish is not for everyone. Some might find the resulting colour scheme drab. Others might feel it's too busy with all those contrasts highlighting the joints. Others still may not want to be constantly aware of their bicycle frame's construction - I suppose it could make one nervous. But for me, it is a true visual feast.

Raw Lacquer Brompton
There is some unresolved debate regarding whether a clear coat is enough to protect a frame from rust, and that is one issue that's prevented me from getting a bicycle with that finish. But if I ever finally take the plunge and acquire a Brompton, I believe that this will be the one. Hopefully it will always remain available as a classic option.

47 comments:

  1. I recently saw photos of a Rivendell Protovelo in raw finish. Gorgeous! And now I want one...

    -Damien

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  2. Let me not be the voice of temptation, but you can get naked Pedersens too -
    http://www.pedersen-rad.de/page2/page12/page12.html

    As for Bromptons, my wife proclaims herself delighted with her M3 in hot pink: http://www.flickr.com/photos/pantsmonkey/sets/72157627530199318/

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  3. Hello I am Japanese Fun of your blog.

    My bike!

    I had been looking forward to your comment about Brompton RAW.

    Your article increases my affection for my bike.Thank you.

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  4. I've seen a lot of steel bikes with clear-coated "raw" frames over the years (largely BMX bikes, which are generally an alien species for the purposes of this blog) and never noticed a clear-coated frame having any greated predeliction for rust than a painted frame, don't let that be a concern.

    As for the look, I love it!

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  5. Naked Pedersens! Those photos are... um... I better close the browser window!

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  6. A folding bike is more likely to be kept indoors, so the finish also likely wouldn't be exposed to the elements as often as a full sized bike.

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  7. Well, Harris Cyclery does not appear to want or need any new business. I went to their website to see what the Bromptons sell for. It said "For prices please e-mail or call". I went to the Contact site and it said "We do not answer the Phone" Huh?! That is absurd. When I e-mailed them I got an answer that said "out of the office until September 26". Now, being the owner of a small business, I would say Harris Cyclery is very customer Unfriendly.

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  8. I just e-mailed them a second time using the orders e-mail. This is the response I got to that.


    Thanks for emailing Harris Cyclery.

    "Emails regarding existing orders are answered ASAP (usually within an hour) during normal business hours.

    All other inquiries are usually answered within 2-4 days."

    So, they don't answer the phone and will answer an e-mail seeking the price of a bicycle in 2-4 days. Really? Pitiful.

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  9. Great look but a word of caution: I ordered a raw lacquer Brompton with "Path Less Pedaled" specs from Clever Cycles at the beginning of the summer. About 8 weeks later I inquired about the status of the build and was told that Brompton was having trouble with the painter for the raw lacquer finish and there was no estimated date of completion. I changed my order and am now the very happy owner of a sage and racing green folder that will soon be headed to Thailand for some touring. Great bike, but there have been problems with that finish since it came out.

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  10. JimP - Harris Cyclery is a uniquely competent shop that focuses on in-store customer service first and foremost. They are also a very popular shop and they get bombarded with more emails a day then their staff has the ability to answer. It is best to phone them, or to email a specific person (such as Elton, who is the Brompton expert). They do answer the phone at this number.

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  11. ...and we all know how you feel about welds. I think this could be characterized as "welds presented as lugs", or "fluid lugs", lol.

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  12. It is actually brazed, not welded : )

    Paul - This must have been during the time period they were unavailable. I am not sure they were having problems per se, versus just changing some aspect of the method and ironing out the details before they put the new version into production. Anyhow, they are available now. Though the sage green is beautiful also!

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  13. I adore the raw finish as well!
    -Jen

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  14. This was July/August, well after the new version had come out. I hope all is well now, though, it looks great.

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  15. I've been powdercoating things in clear all summer because it looks so dang tough. I've been doing mostly 60% gloss but am about to start doing some high gloss. I'm finishing up making a big enough oven to allow doing whole frames so I can do more than just forks and stuff. If the workmanship is up to a high standard why hide it. That Brompton is so hot...pant pant.

    Spindizzy

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  16. Paul - Hmm looks like they could use someone who'd test those bikes, you know just to make sure the finish holds up well. Who on Earth could such a someone be...

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  17. I think I would be a bit dubious of the ability of just clear lacquer to prevent rust long term but your anonymous poster's comment regarding clear powdercoat might just shine a different light on things.

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  18. About the uncapped "chainstays" (more like seatstays, really) -- Fold the bike, and that hole is now at the bottom of the tube. It drains when you park, if there's any water inside. It's also open on the other end, so it can drain while unfolded.

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  19. It's a neat look. I could see that with a brass bell and a black Brooks or Berthoud saddle with copper rivets and rails.

    You're going to need a roundhouse -or at least a barn- for your bikes at this rate.

    The nakey Pedersen *was* nearly Steampunk Pr0n.

    Spindizzy- got pics?

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  20. If you do end up getting a raw lacquer Brompton, I'd be very tempted to add the brass hinge clamps from brompification.com. Here is a link to their photostream:
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/brompfication/5127770269/in/photostream/

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  21. 'There is some unresolved debate regarding whether a clear coat is enough to protect a frame from rust'

    Is there?

    I'm not sure most Bromptons are ridden enough to ever suffer from rust.

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  22. pete - Seriously? I know loads of people who put lots and lots of miles on their Bromptons. None of them have the raw lacquer finish though.

    Andy - Oh my goodness, yes, I would be tempted to add them! Great pictures.

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  23. I have a 2011 Raw Lacquer M6L for sale on EBAY if anyone is interested. I would love to keep it, but I need more of a road bike for my commute and club activities

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  24. I remember reading the article going back from Rivendell when they were coming out with that ew bike. They had toyed with doing clear to. I don't think lacquer would hold up all that well to soft. Friend had his car painted in it back in the 70s when he was a teen said it had great shine to it but didn't hold up all that well compared to powder or even enamel paint.

    Now me I have been seriously toying with going naked on my old Sonic Sport 1000. But with a twist part paint part raw steel think that would look really cool specially round the lugs showing the brazing off.

    Gotta say I am drooling over the Studie and afraid to look at the price gotta say though myself don't much care for the looks of the folders the Brompton cool lookin bike

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  25. I doubt riding a bicycle has anything to do with oxidizing metal, Brompton or Mongoose. My Iver Johnson hasn't been riden in decades, and it's all "patina".

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  26. Merlin - you're right, uncapped seat stays!

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  27. BTW Are you following the Path Less Pedaled Bromp+train cross country trip? Here is a post on Brompton touring.

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  28. Still, I wonder why Brompton doesn't properly finish those ugly welds. Their bikes are expensive enough to warrant a smooth finish.

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  29. Technically I don't think these are welds. Is there a name for non-lugged brazed junctions?

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  30. The naked frame can be a beautiful thing. When I brought my naked Peugeot frame to the bike shop to check the rear frame for alignment it received a lot of looks. A couple of people suggested I have the frame clear coated. I believe the non lugged bits are filet brazed. Here's a pic in its raw state. http://actcyclist.blogspot.com/search/label/Rebuild

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  31. Don't know if it's technically correct, but I've always referred to them brazed joints, or junctions.

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  32. Welding is a process of fusion by applying heat, brazing is soldering by means of an alloy. In German "schweissen" is melting two metals together, "löten" is in fact the same procedure but with a metal alloy in between to help bonding. In both cases the junctions usually are rough, and it is quite possible to smooth them over by sandblasting, and if the workshop is too small to have such equipment a file or sandpaper will do nicely. Decent bike manufacturers do just that. If you glue two pieces of woodwork together you also remove the excess blobs of glue. If Bromptons were cheap I wouldn't mind, but they aren't.

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  33. Non-lugged brazed junctions are usually called fillets (or you might say that a frame is fillet brazed rather than welded or lugged). I wish more builders would clear coat fillets rather than hiding them, and I'm particularly fond of unfiled brazing. I'm not crazy about folders, but this one does it for me.

    -Matt

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  34. If you like that Brompton, the chances are you may like this one too...
    http://ibrompton.blogspot.com/2011/05/adventures-of-brahma-out-and-about.html

    Peace :)

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  35. Matt - So all non-lugged brazing is fillet brazing?

    Chandra - Very nice! So I assume you modified the drivetrain? How has it been working out?

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  36. The fillet serves the same purpose as a lug, it distributes the forces over a larger area and provides more surface for a stronger bond. The bigger the better, strength-wise.A big fillet is more like a traditional lug, a skinny fillet is just like a really skinny lug. Really skinny lugs have some disadvantages.

    Brazing is easy to do to an acceptable standard but pretty tough to do to a much higher standard. Lugs help us reach a higher degree of practicality and can be a whole art-form of their own. Some early Mountain Bikes had fillet brazed frames where the fillets were 1/2" wide and perfectly radiused(I think of the old Ritchey's in particular), the work was flawless but not as attractive to my eye as a well done lug. Maybe that's because the best bits were covered with paint. After looking at some of the "naked" bikes out now and the Bromptons in particular I think Tom Ritchey should have just dispensed with the paint...

    Spindizzy

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  37. What I mean is somewhat more basic. I understand what fillet brazing is and have watched it being done; same with lugged brazing. What I mean is, is there any other kind of brazing besides fillet and lugged? Or is it always one of the two? Sorry, don't know how to phrase this more intelligently!

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  38. Velouria,
    I am totally enjoying the modified drivetrain, the modified SA and the conveniences afforded by the Schlump Speed Drive.
    Peace :)

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  39. I guess that's a good question. I have always called non-lugged brazed frames "fillet brazed" but I could very well be wrong about that. Fillet indicates a smooth radius curve between the joined pieces and many of the Brompton's brazes look more akin to welds with evenly spaced puddles. Yet with a little filing and welding, like most fillet brazed frames receive, this joinery would look no different than the work of a builder such as Eric Estlund of Winter Bicycles (which is damn near flawless without sanding).

    If in doubt, I suppose you can't go wrong with calling it lugless brazed construction with the exceptions of the bilaminate (lugged) top tube hinge and seat collar joints.

    -Matt

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  40. @Frits B

    have you ever brazed something? those fillets look incredibly nice for serial production frame!

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  41. "many of the Brompton's brazes look more akin to welds with evenly spaced puddles"

    True, I thought this too when I first saw them.

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  42. @florian
    No I haven't (electrical circuit boards yes, but that's an entirely different area). What I meant to say is that Brompton could easily have these rough junctions smoothed, if only for aesthetical reasons, like many builders in this price range do. As they are now, the bikes look a bit unfinished, which is then accentuated by the contrasting paint. And I happen to dislike that. Lugs would have been so much more pleasing.

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  43. I get what you mean about what to call the joints on the Bromptons. While they are certainly fillet brazed, in the bike world that term does mean the finely finished approach where the joints are smoothly radiused(either by file and emory cloth or perfect torch control). Maybe we should just refer to them as Brompton style joints. I'll admit that I always assumed that they were welded due to the appearance of the joints with all that paint on them... I'd like to be able to braze that well consistently.

    Spindizzy

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  44. samuel wallingford of englandSeptember 14, 2011 at 6:57 AM

    I may be wrong but i am guessing Brompton have deliberately gone for an unfinished brazed joint as a style statement. I'm sure they are quite capable of filing the joints if they want to. I had never seen unfinished brazed joints on a bike before, and i must say i rather like it. also it seems "fillet" implies a radiused smooth curve see here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fillet_%28mechanics%29

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  45. I bought an M3L in Raw a while ago. I can't wait to ride it later.

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  46. Hi -

    I thoroughly enjoyed this review and in fact this helped me to decide on the color configuration of my Brompton.

    I have written about my decision process and a review of my Brompton here:

    http://www.bromptonyc.blogspot.com/

    Cheers

    Michael

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  47. This has been such a popular topic that I wanted to try it on an old ornately lugged Puch Bergmeister and it turned out very nice.
    http://www.biketourings.com/3/post/2014/01/clear-coating-a-steel-lugged-touring-bike-frame-by-rideon.html

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