Sunday, November 4, 2012

Real Gone

Paterek Manual, Old Version
Friends began to suspect it some time ago, but I didn't want to talk about it. I didn't want to admit it, even to myself. But now it's gotten to the point that it's affecting my sleep, my social life, even my work on the blog. And so the time has come to tell the truth: I am building a bicycle frame. 

My mentor is Mike Flanigan - fabled builder, instructor, and patron saint of the local steel-addicted youth. So at least I am in good hands. But why do this at all? I don't think it will lead anywhere. I don't think I will be good at it. It's something I simply can't help. 

In part, I blame my environment: Boston is so replete with framebuilders, that the behaviour has become normalised here. Perhaps naively, I thought that I could watch friends light up those frame joints over and over and not get tempted. But after 3 years of it, I caved. "I'll try it once," I said.

Then there is the annoying combination of my curiosity about things like bike handling and frame geometry, coupled with my poor ability to grasp abstract concepts. In the end, I do not see a good way to "get" this stuff other than the hands-on method. If I want to understand tubing diameter and thickness, I should work with some tubing. If I want to understand frame geometry, I should put one together and see how everything fits. 

Finally, having worked on a few collaborative projects with framebuilders now, I kept feeling uncomfortable with not understanding their process as thoroughly as I would have liked. When working with a fabricator on a future project, I want to be 100% aware of what I am looking at and agreeing to, not 90% as I was during the latest one. If I am interested in bicycle design, I need to go through the fabrication process myself at least once.

So those are my reasons. Maybe they are logical, maybe not, I have lost perspective at this point. But in any event, here I am: eyes blurry after weeks of reading and re-reading what I only somewhat grasp, and elbows deep in tubing which I am almost certain to ruin. And I haven't even gotten into the hard stuff yet. The brazing, that point of no return, begins next week. Mike seems to think I will actually be able to ride the bike I make, but I am not getting my hopes up. 

I've been taking a lot of notes, and will continue to do so in the following weeks. I plan to post at least some of these notes online here (the name "Not a framebuilder" is a joke, inspired by my encounters with Bruce Gordon and Richard Sachs). There is not much content there at the moment, but the notes are coming. I will also write up a few cohesive posts about the whole thing on this blog, once it's over. In the end it might be a story of failure, and I am willing to accept that. Won't know unless I try!

41 comments:

  1. Good for you! I'm in the same boat as you are (but without any contacts in the business -- I'm learning how to braze frame bits by chopping up old frames and using the tubes for practice) with a stack of tubing and lugs sitting on the floor of my office, waiting for me to sketch out a frame and start to glue them together.

    If you ruin tubes, eh, you can get more. Ditto for the lugs. It's just parts until the last braze cools.

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    1. You can get more tubes and lugs, but they are um, expensive, if you are foolhardy like some people and get the good stuff. But actually the most expensive thing of my supplies was the silver filler; I had to get an entire roll.

      I would not attempt this project without Mike. When it comes to things like this, I need to watch someone do it in person, then imitate them; it's the only way I'll learn. Kudos to those who can learn on their own.

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  2. How exciting, what sort of bike are you building?

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    1. Low trail 650B fat tire road frame with canti/v-brake bosses. I figured I'd start easy.

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    2. Great, suits your current stable of bikes and ambitions. The lugs you have chosen in your notes are lovely looking. Geometry is not something I understand as you but would it be worth trying a bike fitting rig to play around with the geometry choices before committing to the drawings. Perhaps your tutor could modify the lugs without the tutoring if it is going to give the results you want.

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  3. Go for it! I for one am jealous. Perhaps framebuilding will one day overtake restaurant ownership (which itself took over film and media) as the occupation du jour of educated young things in the inner cities of the world.

    I am starting to plan a custom frame. But I vow I will never, ever be tempted to try and make it myself.

    Ever.

    Really.

    b

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    1. Yeah yeah I vowed that too.

      Restaurant ownership took over film and media? Interesting, I would think it would be the other way around.

      Anyhow, I would never in a million years attempt to do the frame thing for a living, even if I had an aptitude for it.

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    2. Oh really, thanks, I mean thanks for the Paterek manual. Now you've got me considering self-assembly of said custom bike...

      Loved your reflections on "making" on the other blog BTW. There's something in that, how people are too easily amazed by those who construct things themselves. What's that about?

      My Dad passed away three weeks ago and it is fascinating to see how the things he made (woodworker and silversmith) still speak for him beyond the grave. Makes me feel sorry for people who only have words to communicate with. b

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  4. Cool. Several frame builders out there have art background.

    Could not have a better mentor than Mike.

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  5. This is so exciting. I think you represent many of us who find the idea of building a bike fascinating. A good number of years ago I built a small wooden boat and was completely engrossed in the process. I remember wondering if I'd enjoy sailing it as much as I enjoyed building it. In the end decided that the two become part of one deeply satisfying inseparable whole. What a beautiful opportunity!

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  6. So who's going to get you to try rollers, or wheel-building? (I am hardly an expert on either, but it turns out that neither is as hard as I had thought it would be, and both are enormously helpful. Hardest part about the wheel I'm building is getting my hands on the rim.)

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    1. Jon Harris almost lured me into trying rollers last winter, but I ran away crying. Maybe this winter : ) Wheel building is a ways down the list for now.

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    2. I'm a long way from being a wheelbuilding expert, but I've ridden thousands of miles on wheels I built with instruction from a friend. It's a bit like following a recipe.

      To me, wheelbuilding is a much simpler task than building a frame.

      I tried rollers the same day I got clipless pedals. It was a great idea.

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  7. Velouria, this is absolutely thrilling! Life is too short to pass up the opportunity to explore. Have fun, and see where the road leads you.

    ~ Mistik-ka

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  8. That's just great! Makes me happy!

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  9. What fun! Details, please! Randonneur, sports-tourer, racing, all-rounder, cross, commuter, fixie ...?

    What special features? Suggestions: left seatstay pump peg (minipumps aren't worth the effort, and this leaves your top tube free for portage and for workstands); chain hook highish on right seatstay (just got a clip-on Minoura for my commuter; the chainstay "shelf" on my gofast fixie is good but not as good as a higher, seatstay hook); rear light bracket (especially if you plan to obscure your seatpost with a saddlebag).

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  10. I can't say I'm surprised, but it's still cool! I'm excited to see how this project unfolds. My obsession has taken me only to the point of wheelbuilding.

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  11. I like your choice of paperweight.

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  12. Hey! Good for you! It's always fun to learn new things. And the best way IMO is to just throw yourself into the fire and go for it. Just think, you're either going to have a bike that you made all by yourself (with some help) or an interesting piece of wall art. :)

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  13. Ooh, exciting! I will be watching this with interest, as it is exactly what I have been wanting to do... The exact bike with the exact builder.... I just need to aquire the finances. It will be fascinating to follow your experiences. Love it!

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  14. You first dipped your toe into the current and now you've jumped in! See where it takes you and enjoy it, what else can one do after they've jumped in?

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  15. Whats wrong with a little recreational framebuilding? It's legal and like you say, lot's of people are doing it...

    It seems to me that framebuilding is one of those activities that has the potential to help us re-calibrate our desires and expectations. If we take on a project to build something that requires a high degree of skill that we don't already have, it brings into focus just what is involved with some things we might take for granted.

    If you decide to make some furniture instead of just going to Ikea or somewhere and buying a rigid wood-like furniture substitute, you will likely decide that, when you finally produce some of whatever you decide good furniture is, it should last a long time. And after discovering how much frikk'en work it takes to make that table or bed or whatever, you will also have a better idea about what features and details are actually important to YOU and which are just over the top snooty affectation. Plywood is great sometimes, not every stupid plantstand needs to be solid quartersawn fumed red oak. It's helpful to be able to decide for ones self rather than having to check everyone elses boxes.

    Framebuilding has become one of those crafts that we sometimes demand be treated as art. I think that's silly and the more people who build a frame or three for themselves over the course of their lives, just because they want to have a bike to ride that they built themselves, the better. Those people will probably feel less pressure to have EVERY bike they own custom built, be less affected by stupid marketing trends and ploys, less likely to take sides in dumb arguments about "what's best" and on and on.

    They will also be more likely to change their own tires, grow a few vegetables for the hell of it, be happy with the useful, well made things they already own even if they are "old" and un-cool, etc. The less we surrender to cultural consumerism the more time we'll have to enjoy life and ride our bikes whether or not we built em' or bought em'.

    So I say BRAVA Velouria! Build you a dang bike and have a great time doing it (and it would actually have to be a pretty "bad" frame before it wouldn't be nice to ride, especially with somebody like Antbike Mike providing some guidance).

    Spindizzy

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  16. Like Don, this revelation makes me happy!Good luck.Building my own frame is a thought that crosses my mind probably only slightly less often than thinking about Sophie Marceau. Trying to decide what kind of frame for which purpose and all the feasible or not delicious details is agonising-(should I have my initials cut out under the bottom bracket à la Gios Torino or perhaps a neat little braze-on for carrying a wine decanter on the seat tube?) I'd like as not end up with some sort of monstrous dog's dinner of over engineered too clever-for-it's-own-good bling.

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    1. I suggest combining the fantasy into building a frame with Sophie Marceau. Maybe a tandem?

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    2. THIS "I'd like as not end up with some sort of monstrous dog's dinner of over engineered too clever-for-it's-own-good bling" is exactly why I stay away.

      Painting a bike was bad enough; it seemed so plain, I really thought it would be fun to scan some characters from the Moomintroll books, laser-print them onto decal stock, and then clear-coat them on (turns out clearcoat dissolves printer binder, so I put a clear decal over a decal. http://www.flickr.com/photos/dr2chase/8157800733/in/set-72157631934225867/

      You can see how easily this sort of thing gets out of hand.

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  17. Holy Moly - you are building a bicycle frame! Good luck, and I bookmarked the note page.

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  18. Yipeee, if had access to a good frame building course, I would do it. I watched a video from the late Jack Taylor studio of the elderly brothers building a frame, and had it down to such a simple art. I lose sleep over bikes all the time, and had a dream this morning that I was finally getting 650b wheels and had some white 650b tires. Why white?
    For me, I'd want to know everything, learn everything and make the darned bike I keep looking for to no avail. While you may view yourself as being nontechnical, that in itself brings design ideas. We need more women and equal representation in bike design and building.

    Oh, and unrelated I had been wondering if there would be any coverage in New York or New Jersey about people getting around by bike and found this. So inspiring I want people to see it.
    http://bikeportland.org/2012/11/01/while-sandy-recovery-continues-signs-of-hope-on-two-wheels-79511

    yet another reason why bikes are so great, definitely the future.

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  19. I found the process of specifying a frame design with mercian and selecting components to be an extremely involving and introspective process - going the extra step and building the frame myself would be intense! but that's what love affairs are like... This could be the start of something beautiful.

    Oh - I wish I had the time!

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  20. How exciting for you ! I built my own bike frame a few years back with the help of a local hobby builder here and enjoyed it IMMENSELY ! I dove right in and built a rando/pass hunter style frameset (cantis, brake bridges equi-distant for clean fender lines, lowish trail for fattish tires (I went with 700c though)...) Due to my mentor's help and watchful eye I came away with a very rideable bike. And there's something to be said for the pride you feel in riding your own creation.

    I may be reading too much into your blog, but it sounds to me like you might be over-thinking the whole thing. Just have fun and follow the guidance of Mike - I'm sure he'll not steer you wrong and he'll keep a close eye on your progress. You'll do fine, really.

    By the way, I used both silver and brass on my bike (guessing you will too, brass at least for the canti bosses) - I found silver MUCH easier to braze with than brass.

    Are you designing your own graphics/decals ? If you need a source to produce them I can offer who I used.

    Good luck. Looking forward to the reports of your progress.

    John Price

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  21. This is such an exciting project. I'm sure you will do a fine job, with the guidance and expertise from Mike F.
    I made a similar choice a few years ago when my wife and I first got into sea kayaking. She bought a really nice fiberglass boat, but I opted to build a wooden and fiberglass kit boat. It took me about six months, but it was a really fun project and the boat still gets a lot of attention, both on the water and when it's loaded on the car.
    These days I'm doing more bike wrenching than boat building. It takes up less space and you can walk away without worrying about completing a step before the epoxy hardens.
    Good luck. Looking forward to seeing your progress.
    MT Cyclist

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  22. I did the Yamaguchi course in 2007. Loved it. I still take enormous pride in showing people the bike I built.

    But more than that, two weeks over the shoulder of a master craftsman, who works in a medium I love, was an amazing experience.

    However, a week of sneezing out black stuff, healing burns, feeling my hands come back to life and costing-out tooling-up, disabused me of the notion that framebuilding might be for me.

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  23. Very fun. I look forward to following your progress. Here's an interesting KickStarter project that might be of interest: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1640002012/the-jiggernaut-bringing-bicycle-frame-building-to?ref=search

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  24. Well why not, look on it as a sculpture that you can use.
    Given that brazing is the most expensive part how about using a cheaper metal to develop you skill.

    Good work anyway, sounds like a fantastic way to enhance enjoyment of cycling.

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  25. Yeah, some of us saw it coming from a *really* long way off.

    Congrats on the beginning pic you posted in the Twitter feed.
    Now you can say you're brazen without feeling like blushing.

    Congrats!

    When you've gotten this one off to the frame painter and tried and mastered rollers, there is a spot at one of my benches and enough good material for a seven-string acoustic guitar. ;)

    (Not that I am anywhere near Mike F's level of teaching, or yours, mind)

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  26. I can't wait to see what you build.

    I once had a bike built by an artist. I'll write a post about that after I find some good photos.

    If I'm not mistaken, Sheldon Brown built a frame of his own. But he didn't become a builder for the same reason most others don't: It's a very, very difficult business. Some have stayed with it for a few years and moved on to other things; others, like Tom Kellogg, are bought out by larger bike manufacturers.

    What frame builders often discover is how expensive it is to build bikes. It's more labor-intensive than most people realize, and the costs of tubing and other materials are much higher for small builders because they don't buy in the quantities that larger manufacturers buy.

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    1. Looking forward to seeing your pictures!

      The cost of materials is higher than I thought. Unless you are prepared to buy in bulk or have friends who have the exact things you need to sell to you cheaply, be prepared to spend $$ on supplies!

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    2. Tom Kellogg still owns and runs Spectrum Cycles in PA. I don't believe they were bought out by another company.

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  27. 3 things might happen--you'll either build one and get over it, you'll build a small number over the years (I just put #21 on the road, plus dropout replacements 150 and 151) or it will turn into your bull time occupation. I started in 1998. Tim Paterek used to live in my neighborhood and he was the enabler--aside from having written the only worthwhile book on the subject. Worth it? Yes, especially the day my wife test rode the 26" wheel touring bike I built for her four years ago, and declared if the best bike she'd ever ridden.
    If you get over it, good, if you don't get over it, also good.

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  28. Have you tried No. 209? More floral than the cucumber-y Hendrix, which I also enjoy, although I'm typically a Bombay guy, with Vya vermouth and a twist, straight up. After cycling, not before.

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