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!