The Drawing Board

I find it enormously satisfying to follow the framebuilding process from the drawing board. Maybe it is because as a painter, I have grown accustomed to "needing to know" the process that underlies the finished object.

You can always spot a painter among the crowds in a museum or an art gallery: They are the one trying to get close enough to a painting to see the brush strokes, examining the side of a canvas, looking for cracks in the paint, possibly even sniffing at it.

This habit has followed me as I explore the world of custom bicycles. In the photo above is a drawing board of a local frame builder whose work I greatly admire - the same person responsible for this lovely bottom bracket.


  1. Although I'm not an artist, I once had trouble getting too close to a photograph in a museum. The friendly stuff told me that I would trigger the alarm that way :-). Luckily that can't happen with bicycles and probably also not with frames on the drawing board.

  2. I think the "come too close and the alarm will ring" thing might just be something they say to make you take them seriously. I've been within centimeters of paintings in many major museums and the alarm hasn't gone off yet. The trick is to do it very quickly, before the guards notice you : )

  3. I love the composition of that photograph. A beautiful, almost abstract artwork; the elements could be autumn leaves but in a mechanical way.

  4. I agree, there's something really beautiful about frame building in its process that's different from the finished product.

  5. I love the care and thought process behind everything crafted, I am always fascinated by sketches as they show the thinking process which is what intrigues me the most, also because it gives you an insight into the person's personality too, if you can decipher them that is ; ) mine I think must look like random scribbles on paper with no meaning at all to the eyes of others : ) lol!

  6. In some weird way, that photo reminds me of some of what Jacques Louis David painted during the Revolution. It is certainly a beautiful composition.

  7. Justine - French Neoclassicism is not my forte, but that's an interesting association. Maybe it's the colour scheme.

  8. What cool tools-
    I wonder if those are custom crafted layout tools, or if they're something you buy from the "frame maker's supply store"

  9. Actually those are not tools, but pieces of a future bike - It's a design layout for a part of the frame.

    I am curious now whether anybody is able to tell what it is that's being depicted here? Maybe a prize of some sort will be in order : )

    Typically, the framebuilder buys frame parts from various vendors (often lots of different vendors), then modifies them as needed and brazes/welds everything together. Sometimes the modifications are minimal, and other times they are drastic - depending on the framebuilder's abilities and how unusual the frame they are trying to make is. Some builders make their own lugs and braze-ons from scratch, but this is very rare (and reflected in the price!).

  10. It would be a hoot to go to a musuem with you. I could watch out for security while you sniff paintings :)

  11. This one would interest many :

  12. Ah ha! I knew there must be a reason behind the visually aesthetic pleasures I was finding on your blog. You're an artist, a painter!

  13. Dottie - Any time : )

    cyclemaniac - Thanks for the links. I love the clean unfinished look of the bottom bracket on the first photo. But I sure hope this does not happen to any of my bikes!..

    Riding Pretty - Thank you for the kind words. Yes, a painter - though I also have an academic dayjob. Keeps my split personality nice and balanced : )

  14. A truly lovely bicycle is not in my immediate future, but I'm retrofitting my Specialized hybrid with higher curved handlebars and adding fenders. What I'm wondering is if I can somehow change the top (boy) bar without hurting the integrity of the frame?

    I've liked this bike and it serves me well though I'm always holding to the handlebars by fingertips because I like to ride more upright. And I'd really like more flexibility about the clothes I can wear (skirts? wide-legged wool pants?) Any helpful suggestions? (or should I just keep saving up and dreaming?)

    word verification: "wingstr" - I like it!

  15. Emma J - On a modern, mass-produced welded bicycle like a Specialized hybrid, the quick answer is "no way".

    What is your budget and location? Have you considered a vintage Raleigh 3-speed, such as the Lady's Sports? A Biria Classic? A KHS Green?

    By the time you are done switching out the handlebars, and installing fenders/ chain guard/ skirt guard and what have you on the Specialized, you may be better off starting from scratch with a vintage bike or a new budget bike...

  16. "something you buy from the "frame maker's supply store""

    I'm not sure if we're actually in a Golden Age of frame building or not yet, but we certainly have a greater variety and quality of goods available from the "frame maker's supply store," and the Internet to access it with. The things we used to have to go through just to get a few sets of cheesy lugs and real tube sets.

    It's almost enough to make me lease some gas cylinders again.

    ". . .the quick answer is "no way"."

    And the long answer is, "No way, Jose."

    Either learn to ride a diamond frame in the clothes you like, or it's trade in time. I've ridden traditional high, level top tube bikes in ankle length sarongs. It can be done. As for wide-legged pants my solution may not suit everyone, but; one word - "Plas. . .," oh, no. Sorry, wrong word - "Ropers."

    Ropers are designed to let you go between tucked and untucked in a jiffy; and look great either way.I favor rubber soled Ariats myself, as they're perfect for both riding and walking.

  17. forged dropouts. rear, specifically.

    what's my prize??!!

  18. somervillain - You have to be more specific : ) Okay, I will give a hint: Why are they arranged in a heap like that? What exactly is the builder trying to make?

    kfg - I've been seeing some really nice Ariat boots lately (not the Cowbody style, more of a classic style) and had just been thinking that the thick inflexible soles would be perfect for pedaling.

  19. "What exactly is the builder trying to make?"

    Just an educated guess, but, ummmmmmm, a bicycle?

    ". . .been thinking that the thick inflexible soles would be perfect for pedaling."

    They're inflexible in the arch (stirrup support, these are real riding boots, not "dimestore" stuff), but quite flexible in the toe. Part of what makes them both great to ride with and great to walk in. Work great with Grip King pedals (I don't think Grant hits all home runs, but he knocked one out of the park with these). Should work really great with rubber blocks as well, at least in the dry.

    I will warn that they are properly rockered, so they WILL let you know if you've got your ball properly over the axle. This might be disconcerting at first to someone who isn't used to riding with cleats.

    They have a nice line of English style paddock boots, and of course the dressage high boots if you want to go for that "Helga: She Wolf of the SS" look (personally I LIKE that look, but not the attitude, thank you very much. Can't we just cuddle?), but neither of these offer a solution for wide legged pants.

    Disclaimer: The above is a personal endorsement based entirely on personal appreciation of the product. I am not associated with Ariat in any way, but if they'd like to make me an offer I can't refuse, I can't be bought, but I can be rented.

  20. From the pieces in the photo, the builder is going to build you a nice mixte frame. The piece in the center is the right-side dropout; the piece above and to the left of it is the left-side dropout. And at the top right-hand side is the lower part of the seat lug.

    You're right about the colour scheme, Filigree. It is one of the reasons I associated it with David. I also thought of how he would use things like splayed or crossed arms and swords to anchor or focus a painting, as he did in "The Oath of the Horatii."

    I'm not an expert on French neo-classicism, either. For that matter, I'm not an expert in any era or movement, although I love art. So take my comments for what they're worth

  21. Justine - You got it. The layout plans out how he would make rear dropouts for a mixte out of two sets of diamond frame drop-outs. (If anyone is confused: mixte dropouts need to accommodate for 3 sets of stays, whereas diamond frame dropouts only for 2.) Email me your mailing address and I will come up with something interesting!


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