Monday, June 17, 2013

In the Light of Day

Frame Zero, Powdercoated
The frame I built with Mike Flanigan over the winter has long been completed and powdercoated. I've been staring at it and doing a lot of thinking... which, somehow, hasn't translated into taking any pictures. Before I knew it, a couple of months passed. And now here I am, about to skip town for much of the summer. So before setting off, I took some early morning shots of my so-called creation. 

Frame Zero, Powdercoated
When I look at this frameset and remember all that went into making it, the dominant sensations are those of physical and emotional exhaustion. I was a mediocre student. Making this thing was difficult and I struggled. It was difficult physically: The all-day filing, sanding, and even waving around the heavy torch, was exhausting for someone of my meager upper body strength. But no less difficult was the acute and constant awareness of working on something I was not good at. Of genuinely trying hard and getting at best so-so results, hour after hour and day after day. That was tough to take. 

Frame Zero, Powdercoated
So when I look at the lugwork, rather than admire its beauty I shudder at the memory of what it took to braze the joints correctly and then get the shorelines looking half-decent. 

Frame Zero, Powdercoated
The solidified mess of steel and silver that I gouged away at for hours with a variety of files to define and redefine the outlines. And don't get me started on the fork crown. 

Frame Zero, Powdercoated
Or the seat cluster with its made-from-scratch endcaps on the chainstays.

Frame Zero, Powdercoated
Brazing these on while taking care not to melt the rest of the joint, then endlessly scraping off the extra filler material in hopes of achieving at least a semblance of symmetry and elegance of form...

Frame Zero, Powdercoated
The brake bridge, which I had wanted to braze without reinforcer plates...

Frame Zero, Powdercoated
The bottom bracket, with its myriad of crevices, the tight spaces making it nearly impossible to file without gouging another tube. 

Frame Zero, Powdercoated
The acrid smell of flux. My eyes tearing up. Standing on my feet for hours at a time. The sandpaperlike texture of my fingers. The deep aches in my arms.

Frame Zero, Powdercoated
In the end, most of it looks more or less all right... except, ironically, for the dropouts. I had spent more time working on these than on any other part of the bike, and they look the worst - the one part of the frame that is glaringly amateur. The transitions are not entirely smooth and the braze on the drivetrain side betrays a couple of surface "pinholes." When pinholes happen in a lugless braze, it can be for several reasons. With small surface ones like mine it is likely mild contamination from burnt flux or metal dust. With some luck, they can be buffed out. Those pinholes kept me awake at night. I filed and buffed until I was sure I'd gotten rid of them - but somehow the powdercoat magnified rather than hid them, along with the not so smooth stay-to-dropout transitions. Naturally, this is the part of the frame I notice and think about the most. It hurts to look, but I keep looking.

Frame Zero, Powdercoated
I keep looking. And at first, maybe I feel mostly empty, numb, disappointed at my ineptitude. But with time I notice that underneath it there stirs something that almost resembles love. This thing has cut me, burned me, made me angry, made my eyes water, deprived me of sleep, and drained me of energy... What else can I do but love it.

67 comments:

  1. Looks great, get some wheels on it.

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  2. I don't know if you have any artistic leanings, but welcome to life as an artist / craftsman. Even if you are decent or (dare I say it) possibly *good* at something creative, it is *incredibly rare* to finish a work and think "yes – I am satisfied with this."

    Oh, sure, you might be proud of it. You might show off its better angles, especially if its one of your best pieces. But at the same time, you bemoan everything that's wrong with it. All the myriad things. Things you can't help but point out because DAMMIT I *know* it's not as good as it could be and you don't want anyone to think you aren't such an amateur that you don't recognize them.

    Except that other people have no clue what you're on about. They see something cool and impressive and your harping about the mistakes seems like so much noise.

    So you accept the compliments because, hey, you worked for it. You BLED for it. You earned it.

    But then you get that itch... that itch to make something new. Better. Glorious.

    THIS TIME. This time it's going to be perfect.

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    1. I'm a painter, but - to me at least - framebuilding is very different. It is exacting rather than creative. A material science disguised as an art. It makes for a nicer narrative to think of it as an art, but the process - both the urge to create it, the act of creating it, and even the post-process pangs of whatever - is of a categorically different flavour than the artistic process...

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    2. It seems a good example of a "craft". An activity with aesthetic elements and choices, but those choices are largely dependent upon the materials and design required by the job the tool is designed to do.

      I think perhaps one difference between art and craft is that while few keep or what to ever show their early artistic attempts, even a beginner craftsman can produce a fully functional, if not "beautiful" piece.

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    3. The poet Jean Valentine--one of the best teachers I ever had--once told me that we don't finish a poem; we only abandon it.

      Perhaps the same is true of bicycle frames.

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  3. I feel that I can relate to this.
    2 years ago I spent most of the summer re-building my old university bike which I ran into the ground during my studies and abandoned shortly afterwards. Everything worn was repaired or replaced and the frame was stripped right down and powder coated. The result should have been beautiful but for a long time, all I could see were imperfections and the dings resulting from my lack of skill in the re-build.
    It has taken a long time for me to accept the imperfections and enjoy it again. I believe that this may be a problem with all objects built by an enthusiastic amateur on a learning curve.
    As an outsider, not involved with the process, I can't see the faults you describe. I can only see the whole, which looks amazing.

    John

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  4. I think the traditional lugged construction is very forgiving anyway, and the color is subdued enough to hide the details. Many 10 speeds were extremely crude in their finishing, but somehow still made it up to this day.
    Too bad I am an ocean away from that bicycle, because i would love to see how an absolute beginner's frame rides. It is even my size!
    ... Is there anything better than riding a bicycle you built yourself?

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  5. "This thing has cut me, burned me, made me angry, made my eyes water, deprived me of sleep, and drained me of energy... What else can I do but love it."

    Just the way I feel about my kids!

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  6. I think some perspective is necessary here. You made a bike...from scratch. With your own hands. It was your first IIRC. It looks absolutely beautiful from where I am sitting.

    Rejoice, relax and ride it.

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    1. Wouldn't it almost have been a bit sad if it had come out "perfect"? To find out that that what these incredible craftsman do with apparent ease is just one adult-ed class away for the average person with no background in either the field or even the basic, underlying skill set?

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  7. Thank you for posting this. I too built a frame /fork this spring undrer the guidance of a master frame builder, and experienced the same emotions!

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  8. Jeffrey LangloisJune 17, 2013 at 8:28 AM

    I'm sure all of that will melt away during your first ride on it (or multiply it) :)

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  9. I love the last picture! What size is your frame?

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  10. Powdercoat is dreadful for revealing the pinholes/porosity you thought you had conquered; I suppose it is the heat forcing the trapped gases out in the powdercoat oven. The frame looks lovely though.

    In my experience with metalworking and jewelling it takes 3 times longer to do something badly as to do it well; all those extra hours trying to get it back to looking roughly like it ought to have done in the first place. Watching highly skilled and practiced workers do things right over and over again is mesmerising but just a little demoralising when one tries it oneself.

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  11. As someone who has soldered and brazed for 40 years... you done good.

    Chip V.

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  12. You've just discovered part of being a craftsperson. Every woodworker, metalworking, whatever, I know, if every skill level, is far more critical of her own work than anyone else is of it. You just have to learn to not point out the flaws to people, and they'll never notice.

    I think you did a great job on that frame.

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  13. I built a lugged track frame about 7 years ago and you've nailed something here for me. While it's a point of pride occasionally (particularly with non-bike folks), more often I see it as giant "participant" ribbon in an event I felt sure - given the years I'd spent in the milieu - I'd win.

    I can still remember how much my hands just plain hurt.

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  14. It looks beautiful to me. I'd ride it if I had the chance.

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  15. Congratulations on your first framebuild. As you say, the paint (powdercoat) hides much of the evidence of exhausting hours put into the frame's construction. From your photos, I must say, "Job well done!"
    I've never built a frame, but have repaired quite a few, with brazing torch. Learning to solder copper plumbing fittings while a 15 year-old working at Dad's hardware store, helped enormously in learning the delicate application of heat to just the right areas. This transferred to my brazing activities.
    Again, Velouria, you are to be congratulated for really a job well done.
    Only question: 650b??

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  16. Dear friend-

    Embrace Imperfection.

    I looked at the pics last night after a fully day spent uncovering two septic tanks (if that isn't a metaphor, I don't know what is) and thought, "Wow, how did she do such a clean, even job on those headtube shorelines, especially under powdercoat?
    They look like she put a clean 45 degree roll on every edge.
    Hell of a job for a first timer!"

    I fully comprehend your point on the internal fault-finding.
    Put it aside.

    Are you going to incorporate Peppy into the headbadge design?

    Beautiful color choice, by the way.

    CK

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    1. Peppy is working on the headbadge. It's an artisanal process, don't rush her.

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  17. Good grief, I'm exhausted just thinking about all your bike projects!! At least this resembles a piece of sculpture so even in its half completed state there's something beautiful to look at. I think I would have come up with a one of a kind decal or head plate to give it a 'birthmark' :)

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  18. V -
    Put some wheels'n'stuff on your beautiful new, handcrafted bike and see how it rides - that's the important part, right?
    Congratulations on seeing it through & not jumping ship when it got really frustrating!
    "perfection" mostly comes from machines after all, nes pas?

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  19. This thing looks good to be except the powder. What I was saying wrt lugs hiding workmanship.

    No rack braze ons? Canti posts front but not rear?

    Where you off to?

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    1. No canti braze-ons, yes front rack. Like so.

      Same old, but with faster bike.

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  20. Listen, girl, if someone stole the keys to the Tardis and took that frame back to early 2009, before your "born again" moment, and showed it to you and told you who built it, you'd have been like WHAAAAAAAAT?!?!?! You should be SO proud.

    The flip side is, I used to feel the way you felt about this for years and years as a driving instructor when each pupil passed the test, often with flying colours. It never got easy, just less difficult. The same would probably apply if I was a framebuilder. But maybe everything worthwhile is like that.

    Also, it's a bicycle, not just a frame and forks, or at least it will be when you get it built up. Bicycles are built to ride, not to look at - "I am not to be looked at; I am someone who sees." You'll have the odd blemish even your husband hasn't noticed, and so what? Anyway, it's beautiful.

    And remember "the aesthetics of use" - whatever flaws you think you see will pale into total insignificance over time. The Tardis goes both ways.

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  21. Aren't the creators/crafters always their own worst critics? At least you had the foresight to powdercoat the whole frame, thus hiding all it's imperfections. Build it up; get it on the road. Don't you wonder how it'll ride?

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  22. Old saying to always keep in mind when working with your hands creatively;

    "The only difference between the master and the apprentice is how well the mistakes are hidden"

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  23. Anguish, maybe ever a little frame PTSD, for a creative soul like you who sets such a high standard of excellence for herself, is understandable.

    Don't forget, though, that your endeavor is another illustration of that sterling quality of the pathfinder who blazes the way for her readers. Thanks always for sharing. Jim Duncan

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  24. Really, it's a bike frame. You going to ride it or hang it on a plain white wall under an accent light? If it's straight and sound, you did just fine. Put some parts on it, stop fixating, and go bike.

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  25. I'm wondering if your imminent departure portends another entry about schlepping your luggage via bike.

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    1. Yes! Or rather no. More like schlepping bike via luggage.

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  26. Welcome to the world of manual labor. Imagine building a house, harvesting crops, assembling or repairing an automobile, cleaning a sewer, or slaughtering an animal. Heidegger found Handwerk to be a great inspiration.

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    1. I have done some of the above. Don't get me started on Heidegger.

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    2. The frame is beautiful. Complimenti!

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  27. Those painting panels look ready for work, too!

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  28. In the book 'Art & Fear: Observations On the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking', the authors give an example about splitting a class into two groups.

    Group A was told that their grade would be based on how many pots they could throw. Group B was told to create the most sublime/perfect pot. In the end Group A ended up creating the perfect pot, because they made so many and they learned from all their mistakes.

    I love this book because it always reminds me that we have a long and difficult road ahead of us if we are going to make things. You made this thing and it looks really pretty, and you will make more I'm sure.

    I would imaging that it is like drawing hands. After 100 or so, that shit finally makes sense.

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    1. That's great! Reminds me of the story about the Chinese nobleman who asks an artist in his village to draw a picture of a rooster. The artist agrees and says it will be ready in a year. The artist spends hours upon hours, days upon days, mastering the art of drawing a rooster and when he finally gets it right, he forgets about the picture. A year to the day later, the nobleman walks to the artists house and demands the picture of the rooster. The artist takes a pen and a piece of paper and draws a perfect rooster in a matter of seconds. The nobleman, flummoxed, asks why if it only takes seconds to draw the rooster did he have to wait a year for his picture. In reply, the artist opens the door to his drawing room where thousands and thousands of pictures of roosters litter his floor and says, "Because it took that long to perfect my skill."

      No, I'm not Chinese, but I am a big fan of Hunan Beef.

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    2. Love it! Problem is what to do with all those 'dead' roosters. They sure do take up a lot of space.

      :) Alice

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  29. Okay, on the theme or art, traveling by bike, and the light of day... georges braque 1952......Safe and enjoyable travels!

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/61932626@N07/9069851878/

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  30. Velouria, the frame looks great to everyone but you. Since you built it, you are painfully and accutely aware of every teeny imperfection while the rest of us only see a nicely painted new frame. The trick is simply to start using it. Once you build it up and start riding it, the frame will cease to be a perceived personal failure and magically become an item of pleasure. You'll enjoy it all the more knowing that you made it yourself. Now suck it up, build it up and show us pictures of the final build!

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  31. Veloria,

    That frame is beautiful and I also appreciate the color. Once you get it built up and some one compliments you on your nice bike, you can "I built it myself". I've never built a frame, but I have built most of my bikes up from frames I have refinished. I get a lot of pleasure out of saying that phrase, even if my audience can't really relate to that experience.

    With respect to imperfections, my builds have them too. I have a few related stories, but I think I can only relate one quickly. I found an old steel frame a kid was selling. He lived in his parents basement. It had some parts I could use, so I gave him $125. Someone had spray painted it purple and silver (a local high school color scheme) including the components and it was a real mess. It took me hours (days) to clean up those components, which turned out to be an eclectic mix of vintage Campagnolo components. I uncovered one decal on the fork that hinted the bike could be "Tange Prestige" steel and the other imperfections and misalignments indicated an amateur had hand made this frame. I decided it was worth resurrecting and rebuilding. After powder coat, various dramas with alignments, and improvised repairs, I ended up with 22 lb super stiff, short wheel base climbing animal that I learned to love. We have a local climb we time ourselves on. I have other professionally made frames, but I set PR with this old bike I don't think I will ever repeat. Those imperfections didn't mean a thing when it came down to how that bike performed. I recently sold it to a young guy currently biking around the world on another bike. I basically gave it to him because he proved he had the engine to appreciate it. He was thrilled!

    Your frame is at a completely different level than my old frame, I think you will ride it and love it for many years.

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  32. I'm halfway through building my second mandolin (working from a kit, as I don't have the tool chest to do all the initial cutting and planing) and I'm already second-guessing myself, I feel your pain.
    I've yet to build a frame, but every handiwork project I've ever done came with that "I'm sure a pro could do this better" feeling, followed by the realization that the pros are only that good because they've already made all their amateur mistakes and learned how to avoid them.
    I figure, even if you didn't build the perfect frame, you've built a perfectly good frame, And that's not nothing.

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  33. What bike in your current lineup is this most similar to in terms of fit/geo? I'm guessing the Nordivenden. If so, and if it rides as nicely as the Nordavinden, will you sell it off and keep this one as your go-to 650B mixed-terrain bike?

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    1. It's very similar to the Rawland Nordavinden, but with custom geo and slightly shorter chainstays.

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  34. As a craftsman in my own right, I can sympathize. My other hobby love (besides bikes and wrenching on them), is archery. I've made my own bows, arrows, and quivers and I've NEVER been satisfied with any finished product. I see where you're coming from as a painter as well. In bowyering you can make a bow from a single piece of wood, or thin laminations sandwiched between layers of rigid fiberglass. I tried my hand at making a couple "glass" bows and both times ended up throwing up my hands in disgust. The materials are hard to work with, it's more engineering than woodworking, and ultimately, though a glass bow may have pretty looks, it has no "soul" as an all-wood bow can have. That all wood bow is an almost live thing in the hand and somehow the attention and care of the craftsman comes out more in the all wood bow versus the glass bow. Make no mistake, a frame builder who still builds a frame with custom designed lugs is no less an artist or craftsman than a painter or sculptor. When I see a well made lugged frame, I see it as a form of functional art, much the same as a well made all-wood bow. For all its perceived flaws and shortcomings you have created a piece of art. Be proud of that. The flaws are what make it a piece of functional art created by a living craftsman versus a robotic welder in a giant factory, make no mistake about that.

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  35. What a beautiful baby!

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  36. Ach! That frame is *terrible!* Just awful! As a favor, I will take it off your hands so that its imperfections no longer haunt you. And I'll ... dismantle it and sell it for scrap. Yeah, that's what I'll do...

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  37. Is this the one which will have the Rawland components?

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  38. I'm my own worst critic when it comes to stuff like this- I had my Check modified to accept discs and along the way i removed the rear brake posts for a "cleaner" look on the completed bike. Busted my arse off to eliminate any trace of the posts and yet I can still see the shadows of where they were in the final paint job. Nobody else ever has commented on where they were, mostly they just comment on how good it looks (moments after asking if it's a real Surly) and wonder why Surly isn't do a Disc Check already. But i know they are there and it annoys me a little they aren't completely gone...

    I've been silver brazing light gauge SS and copper together as part of my job for years now and it takes a while to learn how to handle the torch. Doing it correctly borders on an art form as much as a technique and science. Your frame looks great for less than a weeks effort, ride the hell out it and don't let anyone criticize the final product.

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  39. Did you give up on the Brompton?

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    1. In what sense? I ride it almost daily for transportation. Rode it on the day these pictures were taken too!

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  40. Imperfection is perfection... the bike looks great.

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    1. How comforting that quote is! Wish he sold it on decals in addition to the posters and T-shirts - I could put it near the dropouts by way of explanation.

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  41. Colour photography is always a little unpredictable in its reproduction, however, that colour reminds me of Bella Ciao's Verde Arsenale. The FIAT 500, the Cinquecento, comes in a similar colour they call Verde Ciaro. I like it so much I approached a Cinquecento driver as she parked to ask about the colour. Lovely frame, looking forward to the ride report. But maybe you should get someone else, a little less emotionally involved, to write it.

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    1. It's a different shade from the Bella Ciao green. This one is cooler, with quite a bit of slate blue in it.

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  42. I must have warned my wife hundreds of times: "Don't look too closely," as she has eyed one of my repairs, home projects or, more recently, my refurbished bikes.
    I looked closely at the photos and your frame looks really nice to me; every bit as good as the brazing on my vintage Raleighs, for instance.
    Just curious: Are you contemplating lug lining, pinstripes or other decorative flourishes?

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    1. Box lining and an understated decal set could finish that frame up in a way that would never again draw attention to the drop out pinholes and mild filing anomalies.
      Cycles PEPPY et CONSTANCE Cie, perhaps.

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  43. Such is the beauty of the craftsman's trade. It is perfect in its imperfection. That is the one thing that separates it from its machine made counterparts. Embrace the individuality and celebrate its uniqueness for yours will be different from all others; Rejoice and be glad in it!

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  44. I had the same feelings about my first frame.
    But then after a while I loved the frame all the more because of its faults.
    It kinda makes it unique and mine.
    I like that fact that I know all the faults in the frame because I put them there. Its a little secret.

    John I

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  45. Oh yeah, forgot to mention that the experience is not complete until you ride it.

    John I

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  46. ScottUK(Eirelover)June 18, 2013 at 6:57 AM

    Looks good Velouria. You surely did it! Is there anything you havn't done that can be done with a bicycle?

    I bet the learning through doing was a massive output from the work as well as that nice looking frame.

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  47. I am very impressed. Pinholes or not, it is a very creditable first attempt and I look forward to the proof of the pudding which is, how will it ride when you have it built up?

    I am someone with an active imagination full of great ideas and very little manual talent, or mental patience, for executing them, so I have to acknowledge your perseverance and care -- congratulations!

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  48. It is truly a labor of love. Thank you for posting this. It reminds me of the things we all take on without thinking that they are gargantuan, when to others it appears so. Now I think, wow, she did it, I probably could too!

    Also, that's some very beautiful workminship!

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  49. It looks lovely to me - but then I understand how an artist can only see the flaws in their work. (since that's what I do for a living) Artists can be irrational when it comes to judging their work.

    I suppose the larger question is how will it ride? That seems to be the mysterious part of frame making, from all I can gather.

    Anyhow... congratulations!

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  50. I think it looks gorgeous, and I'd be intensely proud to be able to say "I made this". You will always be your worse critic- it's what helps make you better than you would be otherwise, but don't let it continue to nag you once the project is finished. I can't wait to see the whole lovely bicycle.

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