Thursday, July 31, 2008

Day 12: Brake and Chainstay Bridges

The first I did this morning, before Doug had even come in, was to braze my second seatstay to the seatlug. Then I brass brazed the seatstays to the rear dropouts. All this went quite smoothly. Unfortunately, though, when I put my nearly completed frame in the Anvil fixture to set up the latter braze, Doug noticed that my bottom bracket drop was way off — 90mm instead of the 75mm I wanted. When we slid the dropouts to the middle of the long 1010a dropout slot, it was still around 83.5. The thought passed through my mind: "Well, I guess I won't be staying up all night filing the lugs. This frame is un-rideable." Since it's a fixed gear and you need to pedal through corners, low bottom bracket drop is hardly desirable.

The problem came from the second day of class. Doug used my frame as the example of how to set up the design fixture. And, in the course of doing so, accidentally set it lower than he was supposed to. I likely would have double-checked all my measurements if I had done it myself, but I didn't think there was much point since Doug did it. Of course, little mistakes like this happen easily when one is concentrating hard on doing something like teaching a lesson, and I should have double checked. But anyway, it's not the end of the world. My desired drop was based on 700x25 tires and 170 cranks. I was planning on using 700x26 and 167.5 cranks anyway, but I wanted to introduce a bit of a failsafe — and I've used all of it up now. I'm pretty sure everything will be fine. I'll just be sure to situate my rear hub toward the front of the dropout slot.

After that I spent the rest of the day mitering and working on my bake and chainstay bridges. It took a long time but it was fun. I found the time to braze water bottle mounts into each of them for easy and clean fender mounting. Doing little things like that makes me feel like a "real" builder of custom frames.

Robert's bike is now done, sans filing. Doug put most of the braze-ons on for him, which was the only way of ensuring his frame would be finished. It looks great. Dan is certainly on his way, and is right now designing a rear mount for his disc brakes.

I'm about to head back into the shop for a few hours to do some filing. I'm not going to make my lugs look perfect, but I will at least clean them up and get the casting marks off. And I'll put scallops in my front dropout joint and seatstay/dropout joint. If I can manage it, I can do some final lug filing back home. Tomorrow I'll do the braze-ons. (It will be weird without Robert there!)

(NB: when I said in yesterday's post that Doug brazed three lugs, I meant three joints — I'm not quite so pathetic as to arrive at framebuilding class unwilling to actually build any part of the frame myself!)

[More photos here.]

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Day 11: Brazing the seatstays

I woke up this morning even more tired than when I went to bed. This is a very demanding experience, physically and emotionally. The phrase "bicycle boot camp" is not far off the mark. Nearly every day we've been in the shop from 9am to 11pm. By this morning it had caught up with me and I was in a foul mood.

Mitering seatstay caps by hand was probably not the ideal way to get over this foulness. It's very finnicky business. I probably worked for at least three hours before I got them just right (i.e., before that little tube up there fit perfectly in the shape I'd filed out...), and by then it was lunch time. My foul mood persisted.

But after a sandwich and with some caffeine in my system, I returned to the shop a bit early from lunch and fillet brazed the seatstay cap in place. Oh man do I like brazing. It went smoothly and immediately reversed my mood. Indeed, it kept me happy through the approximately four hours of filing and shaping that followed. And it was worth it: I think they look incredible, and they fit the style of the bike, too.

After dinner I got ready to braze them to the seat lug. It's a somewhat complicated braze: a fillet braze using silver. The reason brass isn't used is that the seatstay cap is brazed in with brass, so you don't want it to come loose. Anyway, it went smoothly, and after that, I was ready to call it a night. Tomorrow I'll do the other side, attach the seatstays to the rear dropouts, and add some brake bridges. I'll save my braze-ons for Friday and my filing for tomorrow night (I intend on pulling an all-nighter. I have no files and no work bench at home!)

Robert is ahead of me, but it seems like he'll have no time to file his lugs and will have to do that at home, which is disappointing for him. Dan is a bit ahead and will finish, I'm certain. His energy levels are absolutely incredible.

As for my frame, I've adopted an attitude — borrowed from the title of the new Richard Sachs film — that will ensure it gets done: imperfection is perfection. This is only my first frame. It's not my "calling card," and it's not even really entirely mine since Doug brazed three lugs. It's just the frame I built while I was learning to build frames. When I have my own equipment, I'll make a really nice one with lots of personal touches. I'll just make this one as nice as I can in the time I have... Every file mark and every skewed radius is just a reminder of the honest truth: that I'm a beginner.

Oh framebuilding, teacher of humility.

[More photos here.]

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Day 10: Brazing the Chainstays

Uff... after a day like yesterday, where the end seems in sight, days like today are even harder to take...

I filed my seatlug and my rear dropouts all morning, taking it easy and enjoying the finish work. Then, after lunch, I was ready to braze in my chainstays. Then Doug reminded me that I wanted to fill the screw-holes for the dropout adjusters, since my bike is a fixed gear. He's suggested sticking a bit of brass in there, heating up the dropout, and letting it melt. I gave it a go on my own, and it looked like it melted. Then Doug wanted to have a go, and my little piece melted out the bottom, and he couldn't get any brass to flow in to the hole. A lot gobbed all over the dropout, in fact. He did eventually get a tiny bit in (enough to cover the hole), and then we got a pretty nifty brass-shedding demonstration. Basically, heat it up and flick it off. Well, not all of it made it off, so I had to wait to braze on the chainstays until I filed it off... (He did the other one too, with the same result. And he did help me with the filing!)

Then, when it came time to braze them in, the angle they wanted to sit at was way off from where I wanted them. We had to push them up with all out might to get them to line up with my design Unfortunately, all the pressure there were being held under made the joint nearly impossible to braze, since the tubes were pressing against the lugs so hard that there was nowhere for the silver to flow. Luckily Doug was somehow able to get the silver in there, but I would have been happier, I suppose, to have done it myself.

By this time it was about seven o'clock. Then I spent quite a while aligning the rear end. The last task was preparing the seatstay attachment. Like Robert and Dan I've decided to go with Masi-style ends. Do make them, you file a miter into the top of the seatstay by hand. Then you braze an inverted section of tubing into it and file away. Unfortunately again, this hand-mitering is difficult. It took Robert about four hours to do. Dan spent about an hour and half on it before he figured out a trick: hold a piece of sandpaper against the tubing into which you're trying to fit the miter, and in a few minutes, the fit is perfect. I was only about half an hour into mine when this trick was revealed. I'll get to work on this tomorrow morning!

Yes, I'm behind again! Luckily I have until 9pm Friday to finish my bike. Robert has to head home Friday morning, and is worried he won't get his finished. The braze-ons will get in, the seatstays will get finished, the brake bridges will make it. But we're all a bit concerned we won't be able to file our lugs as much as we want to. It would be nice to have a whole day for that. Things are getting a little crammed — and this when I felt last night like there was plenty of time for infinite filing...

Well, perhaps things will turn around as quickly. For now, sleep.

[More photos here.]

Monday, July 28, 2008

Day 9: Finishing the Front Triangle, Starting on Lug Filing

Allow me to speak for all three students in the class and say that today was the best day so far. For one thing, we're finally all at the same point — we all have our front triangles brazed together. And for a second, this point is a very satisfying one: it's awesome to see our frames really coming in to shape. (At right: my main triangle, with my Phil Wood hubbed rear wheel.)

This morning I did my last two lug brazes: first, the downtube into the bottom bracket shell, and then the seat lug. The seat lug was a bit tricky since the seat tube isn't double-butted. It's only butted once, and the thin butt is at the seat lug. It's thus easy to overheat it. If you get it cherry red, it bulges and deforms, and your frame is wrecked. It did get red easily, but the braze went fine. (Later in the day Mark, who worked with Doug for ten years, paid a visit and showed us a frame he had ruined in just this way only a few weeks ago...) In any case, before lunch I was done my main triangle — very exciting!

And — somewhat astonishingly! — Dan and Robert also did their main triangles today. Dan's persistence in sticking to his 700c wheels resulted in a compromise geometry that ended up totally working. Robert just kept on with his steady progress and is also on pace. Now we'll all get the same lesson tomorrow and will all be working on the same thing. This will help us all finish our frames on time: we're good at teaching one another and helping one another along.

I spent my afternoon and evening filing my rear dropouts and my seat lug. Lug filing is very time consuming and very satisfying. I'm again super happy to have chosen Henry James lugs — they pretty, and they're small, which makes them easy to braze and file. Filing is not just about thinning but also about giving shape. Lugs in their pre-filed shape bulge out and are non-parallel with the surface of the tubes, and don't dip evenly into shoulders. Filing takes care of that.

Today's note of advice: I am very, very happy that I chose a simple frame. While the bike I most wanted going into the class was not a fixed gear (what I wanted was a bike built around the Grand Bois Hetres with a rod-operated front derailleur and a Simplex SLJ rear derailleur...), it makes a lot of sense to do something along those lines. By picking simple lugs, I got easier brazing, minimal profile filing, and a small area to do shape-filing. By using horizontal dropouts, I've made the chainstay braze much easier on myself. And instead of being stressed out all week and constantly rushing to catch up, I've managed to stay relatively relaxed. The point, after all, is to learn to build other frames — not just to get a new frame. (We discussed with Doug the option of having students build bikes for his Ukraine project — I wonder how the experience would change if you weren't even building for yourself...)

And today's highlight: the very reticent Doug telling me, while I filed better than he expected — remember, last week he took one look at my filing and said "You're going to have a hard time with brazing" — "If you stick at this, you'll make some nice frames." I take what I can get!

Tomorrow morning all three of us braze our chainstays into our bottom brackets and get to work on our seatstay attachments.

[More photos here.]

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Day 8: Tacking and Brazing the Front Triangle

After a day of laying around yesterday, I was dying to get back in to the shop and do some more work. Indeed, I sneaked in last night at 9 and did some filing on my fork blades. I stayed in until 11.30, and the time flew. Filing is going to take a long time.

This morning as I ate breakfast I read the chapter on brazing the front triangle in Doug's framebuilding manual, and "visualized" my plan for the day. Before noon I would spot up the full front triangle in the jig; between lunch and dinner I would braze up all the lugs; and then after dinner I'd return to my filing.

It didn't get quite that much done, but it was still a good day, and one in which I made lots of tangible progress. So. First I tacked the frame together in the jig. Each of my lugs meets its two tubes in four points: the lower headlug, for example, touches the downtube in two points and the headtube in two points. When you spot braze the frame, you clamp it down in to the fixture and then make little spots brazes on two of these four points, one joining the lug to each of the two tubes it joins together. When these are done, you take the frame out of the fixture and align it. Doug's system for doing this is visible in the first photo. (Basically, you clamp the bottom bracket shell into a faux-bottom bracket on an alignment table and use a little height gauge to make sure every tube is equally high off the table.)

When the alignment is ready, you prepare to braze the lower headlug. So, you spot braze the two remaining points on the lug, let it cool, and then realign the frame. Once it's aligned, you get ready to braze the lug. Doug gave each of us a practice lug to try out before we actually did our own (the practice lugz were factory reject Richard Sachs Rene Singer lugs -- they were nice!). It wasn't very much harder to do than the other joints we've worked on, but it was cooler — it's very satisfying to see the silver actually traverse the miter from one tube to another and peek out the other side of the lug!

Unfortunately my "actual" brazing didn't go so smoothly. I hadn't completely sandblasted the inside of the lug, so the silver didn't want to move as it should. This was a "bad" thing, I guess, but it also signaled something good: I could tell that the silver wasn't moving the way it should. Anyway, I called Doug over to finish the lug up, and walked me through it. That's him working on my bike up above.

When that braze was done, I let the frame cool down. Then I checked the alignment. Then I spot-brazed two more spots on the upper headlug. Then I let it cool. Then I checked the alignment, which was actually pretty far off. I took the necessary hour or so aligning it. Then I brazed the upper headlug. This was my best one yet: I'm really beginning to feel in control of the torch, and can move the silver where I want it. I think I've had decent "feel" for things from the start (everything has gone so much easier for me than for Dan and Robert!), but it's really getting fun now.

As for Robert and Dan: Robert has tacked his frame and is ready for his first lug-braze tomorrow morning. Dan is busy taking apart his incorrectly spotted frame to fix its problems (he's insistent on using 700c wheels!). He's had to cut out the down tube and get a new one, and also shorten his head tube. He is indeed in the shop right now doing that.

Tomorrow I'll finish my front triangle and maybe also finish filing my front and rear dropouts. Then it will be time to fiddle with chainstay length and seatstay caps. My frame is really beginning to look like, well, a frame!

[More photos here.]

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Day 7: Rest

I was planning on doing some filing in the basement today (there's a vise down there...) but haven't done a thing. I slept in, I watched the time trial in the lobby of the Niles Inn with Dan and Robert, ate a gigantic breakfast at Blueberry Hill, bought some earl grey tea at Martin's, and have since been laying around and reading. At 9pm or so I'll go in to the shop and do some filing. Until then... more rest.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Day 6: Lots of Brazing by Me... Disaster for Dan

Each of the three of us wanted to get lots done today. Doug is a Seventh Day Adventist and observes a Saturday sabbath, so there's no activity in the shop from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday. We we're all eager for the day off tomorrow (timed well for the Tour-deciding time trial) but were also very eager to finish off as much as we could.

My first task, which I dreamt about all night last night, was brazing the front dropouts to the fork blades. My dropouts are slotted Suntour GSes with eyelets — I got them with my rear dropouts from David Wages of Ellis Cycles. Robert is using the Henry James plug-type dropouts, which can be silver-brazed into the stays. But mine need to be brass brazed, since (as I believe I said yesterday) brass fills the gap between the dropout tab and the circular stay. The brazing proceeds in two steps: first you heat up the tab until it's red, and melt the brass where it meets the stay, drawing it into the stay with the heat until it fills up the stay; then you add brass above the top of this pool, creating a pile of brass to file down into a smooth scallop. This all went fairly well, though the fixture created an awkward angle on one of four sides and Doug had to complete it for me. (There are, apparently, two types of students: ones that want to do everything themselves and ones that don't mind passing the torch to Doug when things get in a mess.)

Next up was brazing the bottom bracket to the seat tube. First I did a practice braze, which went fairly poorly, and then the real thing. The trick is to get the seat tube coming out straight from the bottom bracket shell. So first you tack the seat tube to the BB shell in one spot. Then you bend it until it's straight. Then you spot the other side, and bend it again if it has deformed. Then you braze it up. My tacks were sloppy, but the rest was fine. That's my flame working away at the top of the post (Doug took the photo).

The last thing was cutting the chainstays to length and brazing the rear dropouts to the chainstays. (I'm using Campy 1010A dropouts from which I have filed off the derailleur tab and am currently engaged in re-shaping.) I decided on a length of 450mm, which is nice and long and leaves plenty of room for 26mm tires and fenders. I actually thought I had cut them a little short at one point and thought I'd need to pay for another set of stays, but then I tried them out in my wheel, which I brought along, and they fit fine. This near miss served to remind me once again not to hurry, even though I was dying to get this one last task done before sundown — if I could, I'd be officially "on schedule."

As it happened, I did. Indeed, I put the dropouts on an axle, got them square, set them in the stays, and did undoubtedly my best braze to date. The brass filled in perfectly and stayed where it should have, and then I added just the right amount. Doug was busy helping Robert with a braze, so I did it by myself — which was nice. But just as Doug was beginning to admire my work, I noticed that one dropout was not centred in the stay. So he had to heat the whole joint back up, melting all my good work, and re-center it. I think the gods wanted to correct my brass-brazing pride.

Then came the letdown of the day. On the very first day of class, Dan made an error in calculating the clearance needed on his fork. Instead of putting in the wheel radius (which includes the tire) he used the rim radius. So he has about 20mm too little clearance. He has since tacked his entire front triangle, and it's wrong. His choice is either to un-tack his entire frame and perform some sort of surgery on his lugs or else use 26" wheels.

In the meantime, I'll be filing scallops into my dropouts...

[More photos here.]

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Day 5: More fork work, etc.

Today was a pretty slow day, and none of us got very much done. We're all at different stages of our frames at this point and all looking to Doug for different things, so we spent quite a bit of time waiting around. We're also at the stage where we're starting to think we know things better than Doug — that we're expert brazers, even though we've only been doing it for two days. Naturally, a dangerous combination.

Despite this, I did get some things done. In the morning I brazed my fork blades into my crown with some success. Herbie watched me as I went and gave his usual gentle and helpful advice. It came out only very slightly less sharp than the steerer joint. I really like the way my fork is looking!

The afternoon was spent learning to braze with brass. I need to know how to do this for dropouts: I'm not using "plug in" types, so there are gaps to fill where the dropouts meet the fork blades and stays, and you need brass to fill gaps. Brazing with brass after learning to silver braze it a bit odd. With silver, you know you've overheated things when the steel turns red, and know you've completely ruined the metal when it turns bright cherry red. With brass, it's ready to melt at red and slightly overheated at cherry. I can see why silver is the preferred material! I did two practice brazes and will attempt the real thing tomorrow morning.

[More photos here.]

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Day 4: Starting on the Forks

Last night around 11.00, Doug came over to visit Robert, Dan, and I. The three of us are staying at Doug's parents' house, which is right next to his house and shop (it's also empty — just the three of us are here.) I was already pretty sleepy, but the conversation woke me right up. Doug's a very friendly and very knowledgeable guy who's been doing this forever and knows just about everything. We talked about about builders, their bikes, about frame design, and about making it as a frame builder. The short version of that last item is that it's very tough, especially if you're a perfectionist like Doug (and like me, for what's it's worth!). Some builders can make a living if they're willing to work fairly quickly and put out bikes that are "good enough" but not immaculate. Doug thinks a perfectionist makes about $5/hour on his frames when all is said and done, which obviously isn't enough to live on. We talked about the issue of frame prices: should people pay, say, $6,000 for a "perfect" frame from an experienced builder? It sounds nuts, but seems like a "fair" price. (Doug tells a funny story about a plumber who complained about the cost of his frames. Doug replied, "How much do you make per hour?") Anyway: the real "artist" framebuilders seem to have other sources of income, or spouses with good jobs.

Well, back to the class. Today was fork day, and it was really fun. We're at the stage now where we're refining skills rather than learning totally new ones. So far it's been not only a framebuilding course but also machine shop, filing, basic carpentry, etc. Now I've begun to get those skills down to the point where I'm not cutting horribly crooked lines into tubes and can sort of file smoothly. AND, I can sort of braze now.

This morning, after helping Doug unload a tractor trailer's worth of True Temper tubing into his shed (for his Ukraine project), we started on the day's project: brazing the steerer tube into the fork crown. We started by practicing with a "practice crown" (a Miele crown, in fact, bought when it went under), and I did a fairly good job with it, though not great. A little later I did the "real thing," with my beautiful Richard Sachs Newvex fork crown and my True Temper 28cm steerer. Doug was busy watching Robert do his practice braze, so I did most of it "on my own," and it went extremely well. There was one little gob, but otherwise it looked just about perfect, and way better than my practice crown. It felt really good to get that done, especially since I only learned to braze yesterday, and it's a "real" joint. Enlarge that lower picture and try to spot the golden-looking silver braze joining the crown to the steerer.

After that the task was to put the rake on my fork blades and cut them to length. I wanted a nice low, even bend for my 53mm of rake. And this too came out really well. Doug has a cool bending fixture and it was pretty fun to put all my weight into it. One fork came out with a nicer radius that the other, but I don't think it will be at all noticeable. I was getting pretty sleepy by the time I cut the fork blades to length, but I did manage to get that done before we wrapped up for the day.

It's really cool to be here. A week ago, writing and editing English papers, it would have pretty impossible to imagine myself fully engaged in filing and brazing from morning to night. I'm trying to enjoy every minute of this.

[More photos here.]

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Day 3: Brazing

After yesterday, the three of us were almost scared to step in to the shop. We were asked to sleep in a bit and to come in at 9.30, and we took full advantage of the extra time. Our anxiety was not helped by the fact that today we were to learn that most intimidating of tasks: brazing. Having now made it through today, I can say that it wasn’t nearly as bad as I feared. Actually, it was the best day yet. (For instance, I'm done, and I got through with my tasks by around 6pm.)

We started by working on a lot of the things we didn’t quite finish last night. Some mitering, namely. I got my two down tube miters done by about noon, and, since the Bridgeport mill was busy, did the down tube/bottom bracket miter by hand. Going in to the course, I would have thought that mitering was something you needed a mill to do. I can now see that, with some extra time, you could do it by hand. Since I’m in absolutely no position to be buying a mill, this is reassuring. I will be able to build my second frame almost entirely with hand tools – it just might take a few months!

After lunch Doug gave us a brazing demonstration. Since he’s so skilled at it, he makes it look easy, and does everything so smoothly and with such coordination that it’s extremely hard to see just what he’s doing. Luckily he called on Dan (and not me!) to be his first test brazer. It didn’t go very smoothly for him, but it sure was instructive to see the mistakes he made. I went second, and did, I think, a pretty good job. If you keep your torch movements gentle, slow, and even, it’s pretty easy to make the silver flow without burning up the joint. See my very first joint at right: a sleeve brazed to a tube. (Ed: I forgot to take a picture!) I brazed two more sleeves after that one — the first with the assistance of Doug’s assistant Herbie (who is an incredibly good teacher) and then one again with Doug. It felt pretty natural to me, and it was really, really pleasant. Mitering was interesting and necessary, but brazing is fun! I guess we’ll see how actual brazing of lugs goes tomorrow. (But note: the "artsy loser" did better than the predictions of doom set forth yesterday, and I consider that a victory!)

Another thing, before I forget. Before I came to the class, I had assumed that a customer ordering a custom frame could have whatever sort of lugs they wanted. If they wanted Richard Sachs Newvex lugs, or Pacenti lugs all files up into a certain pattern, or Henry James lugs, they just had to say so. Well that’s not at all the case. These lugs are only made in a few angles — so if you’re lucky, and your body proportions and riding style just happen to match the angles the lugs come in, you can get them. Otherwise you can’t. For example: I was thinking about using Rene Singer lugs from Richard Sachs before the course started, but the angles didn’t work. And Richard came to class with Henry James oversize lugs, but was forced to use the Pacenti Artisan lugs, because they’re the only oversized lugs that work with his design. (This means a lot more work for him, filing them into shape.) The exception to this (and there may be others) is the Henry James lugs for standard diameter tubing, which come in a variety of angles. Fortunately that’s what I’ll be using.

A final note: I was reading the fixture wrong. My frame will actually be around a 62.5cm c-t-c. I guess that’s a lot more sensible, but I sure was excited about a monster 65cm frame.

Tomorrow: forks!

[More photos here.]

Monday, July 21, 2008

Day 2: Lug Shaping and Mitering

Uff... what a long day.

We started off with lug shaping -- essentially filing all the lugs so that the tubes fit into them. For me this was an incredibly quick process -- my Henry James lugs are small and simple, so it didn't take much work. I then moved on to shaping. Again, my lugs are simple, and all I did was centre the points a bit. My filing technique was not superb, but I did eventually get them to the shape I like. (A note about my "character" in the class: I am very clearly the "artsy loser" in the group. Robert is a very experienced bike mechanic with experience fixing airplanes; Dan works in an auto plant. People aren't expecting much from me, and I'm more than happy to very slightly exceed their expectations.)

Robert had a very different experience with his Pacenti lugs. Good lord it took him a long time to get them reamed to the point the tubes fit in. In fact, it took from about 9am to about 5pm. By this time Robert and I were starving and dead tired, though Dan was still rearing to go. Unfortunately this is when the milling and mitering demonstation happened. My stomach was grumbling too loudly to make any of it out. But after a nice big dinner and a lot of caffeine, I was semi-ready to get mitering.

That's was we did starting at about 7.30. My very simple 73/73 parallel frame again made things really easy for me. Though it was pointed out many times how amateurish my filing and hacksawing techniques were, I managed to get my seat tube and top tube mitered before 11.00 (when we finished.) Robert and Dan weren't so lucky. An errant measurement by Dan led to a top tube cut too short and ruined. Robert was still behind from all that reaming, and then had to trade top tubes with the now toptubeless Dan. While all this was going on, I went and did my second top tube miter -- with the wrong cutter. Well, I didn't wreck my top tube anyway. Just nearly did.

That tube is still fixed in the mill, awaiting the beginning of class tomorrow morning...

[More photos here.]

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Day 1: Designing the Frame

Today, after an early wake up and breakfast, we headed in to the shop, where things started gently with a history lesson. We got to hear a bit about the genealogy of American framebuilding — the web of links between Doug, J. P. Weigle, Richard Sachs, Ben Serotta, Albert Eisentraut, Bruce Gordon, Brian Baylis, etc. It's a remarkably coherent family picture. This is a skill that is handed down, so this shouldn't be much of a surprise.

Next came the time to choose tubing, which satisfied the consumer in all three of us. In light of the recent Bicycle Quarterly tests, I managed to talk Doug down tube by tube from 1/.7/1 to .8/.5/.8, mixing and matching Kaisei, Zero Uno, and True Temper. Robert and Dan are using oversized tubing and don't share my Bicycle Quarterly-induced obsessions with planing.

After lunch came the fit session. Armed with pedals, shoes, crank lengths, handlebars, brake levers, and saddles, we got on the Look fitter and set it up for our desired handlebar height and reach, saddle height and setback. Robert in particular came out of this with some dramatic results: he's been riding a 57-56 for years, and now looks like he'll be riding about a 62-56 (!). Dan's even taller: he'll be on around a 65, though he's using a sloping top tube. The position I've gotten used to on my randonneur rides this summer turned out to be just right.

The last thing we did was to design the frame. A quick breakdown of what we're all making is in order. As I said in my first post, I'm building a "winter training bike" — a fixed gear with fenders, a front rack, and 700x26 Grand Bois tires. Dan is building a pretty serious commuter bike: internally geared front hub, disc brakes, bullhorn bars, Schwalbe Marathons, and probably a belt drive. Robert's will be a sport-touring bike ready to carry a heavy load. He'll use it for commuting.

My frame was shockingly easy to design. 73 degree seat and head tube angles, 60 degree down tube angle, a 65cm seat tube, and 53mm of rake, 75mm bottom bracket drop. The parallel seat and head tubes will make mitering (tomorrow's task) easier. The Henry James lugs I'm using all will fit in to this design easily, and there's no need for a headtube extension with my 6cm handlebar drop and Nitto Technomic ("short quill") stem.

Dan's was pretty smooth too: 73.5 head angle with 3 degree rake built in to the crown, 72 degree seat tube. The top tube will slope with his lugs (Llewelens), but that's what he wanted...

Robert's was a bit trickier: with only 3cm of handlebar drop, he needed a headtube extension to get the bar high enough. The Henry James lugs he was planning on using don't incorporate one, so this is where mention of using the Pacenti Artisan lugs was first made (they have a 15mm extension). Then the angles (72 seat, 72.5 head) worked better with the Pacenti than the Henry James lugs. Robert is now staring down the prospect of lots and lots of carving -- the Artisan lugs are gigantic compared to the Henry James, the idea being that they're a "canvas" for builders to show off their carving skills. Since my lugs are so simple, I've volunteered to help with the filing! These Pacenti lugs do necessitate a sloping top tube, though, which was too big a challenge to handle at 10pm, so we called it a night.

[More photos here.]

Day 0: Toronto to Niles

My day began to 4pm in Windsor, where I was graciously hosted by classmate Dan and his family. Then from 5 to 6.30 in the less than cavernous Detroit Amtrak station. Then in the train to Niles until around 11pm. Now I’m in my room in Doug Fattic’s parents’ house, where I write not only without internet but also without cell phone service! Some have pointed out that framebuilding can be accomplished with tools dating to before the industrial revolution, so perhaps it’s appropriate. (Though note: others note that the materials of even lugged steel are decidedly high tech — all that butted steel in all those alloys was not happening in 1800.)

Downtown Detroit is beautiful and utterly deserted. This is an important city! French explorers, Ford, Motown, Madonna, Eminem, the White Stripes, et cetera! But there doesn’t seem to be anyone in the downtown (certainly not those people!) Most obvious was the aforementioned train station — the main Detroit station is about the size of a small donut shop. Toronto’s may be kept busy mostly with commuter trains, but it’s big, old, and lively. And I’m not the first to say so, but the evacuation of industry from this area is pretty remarkable too. Of course I’m en route to build something.

It’s just the three of us here in the house — Robert, Dan, and I — and it does feel like camp. Existing as I do in a field where I’m always suspecting others of faking enthusiasm, it’s nice that we’re all so excited and passionate about what we’re about to do. We all sat down and talked about bikes for over an hour as soon as we all assembled here, even though we’re all exhausted from travelling. I only was in Doug’s shop for two seconds to pick up a cot, but it seems like a special place – and seemed especially so all lit up across a dark field.

Finally, Niles seems like a nice town. The train station is pretty if slightly spooky. The downtown looks attractive and old, and there are lots of restaurants in the area of Doug’s shop. I’ll send this from the Starbucks I spotted, which I’m quite sure will have internet access!

More frame-buildish content to follow tomorrow…

[More photos here.]

Friday, July 18, 2008

Off to Niles...

So, tomorrow I'm off to Niles, Michigan for my framebuilding course.

I signed up just over a month ago, and quite suddenly. I had the idea of taking a framebuilding course in the back of my mind, and was only really awake of UBI's program. But then a friend returned from the Cirque du Cyclisme having met Doug Fattic, and was enthusiastic to go. I was free during the two weeks of the course, so I decided this might be one of those once-in-a-lifetime chances, and took it. (My friend was not so lucky -- I'm heading there solo.)

photo © Bicycle Quarterly

About myself: I'm a 27 year old graduate student writing on English literature. I just finished the first chapter of my disseration, which is on the way that three writers (Wyndham Lewis, Virginia Woolf, T. S. Eliot) responded to the political crises of the early 1930s by writing in new genres. (It is my honest belief, and the belief of these writers, that certain genres are better able to train readers as democratic subjects, and other genres make them more susceptible to authoritarianism -- I am happy to discuss this!) I've been a cyclist since my second year of university, when I got my first bike -- a beautiful green and white Marinoni Special -- which, though it's definitely a racing bike, I took on tour from Los Angeles to Eugene, Oregon (yes, heading north) in 2005. I'm now an active randonneur. I consider bicycles to be about the most aesthetically pleasing things there are.

As I am a PhD student, and as I have lots of time to think, I have decided to become a professional framebuilder about seventeen times in the last month, and about eighteen times decided not to do it. Since the thought had never really crossed my mind before last month, I expect this will remain a hobby. But creating things with one's hands is a very good complement to intellectual work -- I want to and expect I will keep building bikes. My immediate goal is to volunteer my framebuilding skills to my campus bike shop, repairing frames.

I was also not prepared for the course in the sense that I didn't know what sort of bike I wanted to build. I was lucky enough to get on the wait list for a Velo Orange Randonneur about a year ago, so my bike will be ready soon -- and so I don't need a randonneur. My original idea was to build a bike around the 650bx42 Hetre tires, but that quickly proved too much of a challenge, requiring fork crowns not in production, difficult-to-braze vertical dropouts, etc. (Many, many thanks to iBOB list member Bob Lovejoy who sold me a set of Mafac Raids, which I unfortunately now will have to save for frame #2). So now my idea is to build a bike something like the Rene Herse "winter training bike" from Bicycle Quarterly 5.2 (see above). This is admittedly premature, but I want to paint it the purple colour on the t-shirt at right.

I'm going to keep a daily blog of the frame building course, with lots of photos. I have no idea what to expect, and am quite worried about how I'll fare with a torch. But hopefully this blog will be useful to show others how the classes work, and to get some more insight to the way bikes are made. I look forward to your comments.

(By the way -- the blog name, Two Serious Bikes, is the name under which my girlfriend and I make bicycle pant straps, caps, and bags. I'm not sure if I'll put this name or my own name [or no name] on the bike I make... Some sort of prize goes to the reader who can spot the reference.)