Saturday, August 2, 2008

Day 13: Frame is finished

Well, I've completed my first frame. Or — mostly.

I stayed in the shop last night until 3am... and instead of filing all my lugs and scalloping all my dropouts, I filed one side of each rear dropout/seatstay joint. Which is to say, not much. The fine finish work takes lots and lots of time. One can see why there is so little money in framebuilding: if you want to make a perfect bike, you need to take a whole day for each lug — even, seemingly, if you're a pro. Humility and patience.

I woke up this morning ready to just get my braze-ons done and to bring it home for filing, and I was happy with that plan. And, with this more reasonable goal in mind, it ended up being a very fun day. The water bottle bosses went on without too much trouble. I agonized a bit about whether to use the star-shaped reinforcements but ultimately went for them. The reinforcements scream "I'm a handbuilt bike!!," which is a message I would perhaps like to send more subtly. But they also seem (to me) like a hallmark of the US-centred renaissance of framebuilding going on right now, and my bike is a part of that, so it's fitting. Anyway, I digress.

The next braze-ons to do (and here I was thinking my fixed gear bike wouldn't have too terribly many of them...) were my pump pegs. Doug learned to build frames at Ellis-Briggs in Shipley but originally inquired at Johnny Berry in Manchester. Doug remains a very big Johnny Berry fan — and he also acquired a lot of Berry's framebuilding equipment and bits when he died. Well, a few days ago I was poking around amongst Doug's braze-on bits and found some very nice pump pegs which resembled the ones on the Rene Herse fixed gear
I've been keeping in mind. Doug said these pump pegs came from Johnny Berry and so weren't available, but that he had some similar ones. So we decided to use those. Like nearly all of the other braze-ons, these were tricky, so Doug did all the hard work and I acted mostly as an assistant. The fixture we used to hold them in place originally came from... yes, Johnny Berry.

Equally nice are the brake cable housing stops. These also match the Rene Herse bike, but are also very English, and are also the result of my poking around in Doug's braze ons. Originally I had my eye on some Suntour ones, but they're no longer in production and Doug is holding on to them. The cable guides are just cut out bits of tubing. Dan assisted in coming up with an ingenious way of holding them in place for brazing.

Meanwhile, I was setting up the Velo Orange front rack for perfectly level mounting. First I drilled a hole and made a slot in its tang by using the South Bend mill (this was fun!). Then I set the fork up in a vice at the 73 degree angle of my headtube, put in a wheel, and used a level to figure out where — with the rack sitting level and with the right clearance between the tire and the fender-mounting boss — the mouting braze-ons needed to be. This I did, and marked the spots... and Doug brazed them on while I was doing some else important like facing my headtube.

It was a busy day but was permeated with the sense accomplishment. I didn't braze literally every joint, but I feel like I built this bike (that's it there). I designed it, I mitered the tubes, I did as much brazing as I sensibly could, and I have filed and will continue to file it into shape. No one ever builds a bike entirely by themselves anyway: they're following a tradition or putting someone else's advice to use — so the sense of humility isn't something that should disappear with future frames. And yes: I've learned how to make more frames, and am excited to do so.

And I really like my bike, and am very excited to ride it. I ordered a Velo Orange randonneur bike last year that will coincidentally arrive soon, and I'm very eager to compare the ride on them. I suspect, though, that it will be especially nice to look down at this bike while riding it and to know I made it... To strike a note slightly bitterer, I'll be thinking also about my low bottom bracket drop when I turn in to corners! But then again, they say low bottom bracket drop (and mine is by no means unreasonably low...) can be a very good thing. We'll see.

In the meantime I'll continue to keep this blog posted as to the process of completing my filing and of having the bike painted. Doug suggested a solid colour, which I had more or less decided on, but also suggested box lining. A fine idea.

Well, enough about my bike. Robert's was done last night and he headed out with it neatly boxed this morning at 5am as I slept. Dan, meanwhile, was making his disc brake jig, which worked out wonderfully. That's his bike over to the right. I think each of us managed to produce frames that almost exactly represent our respective characters. That's Dan!

A final thought: it's not every class that leaves you with something concrete you get to enjoy for the rest of your life. It's not like I treasure or spend time with the essays I wrote in second year.

Dan and I leaves Niles tomorrow at 11am. It's been a very memorable two weeks.

[More photos here.]


Chris said...

Really nice job!

It seems like there is so much equipment necesary to build a frame. Can you imagine assembling a small shop at home capable of building a frame as nice as you did in this class, without spending a fortune on all of the tools, jigs, etc.?

AH said...

Ah, a very good question! Robert, Dan and I have been talking about this all week.

I think the following are essential: files, a torch, a level surface of some kind, a vise, and some wood blocks.

With these you could hand-miter your tubes (with your files), design your frame on paper (or with BikeCAD), use the level surface for aligning and tacking, and do your brazing in a vise.

It would be way easier with lots of equipment though! A mill for mitering, an alignment table, a fork fixture, a frame design fixture, all the little tools to hold everything in place... the list goes on.

But if you're really a hobbyist and you're able to take your time, you could do it by hand. (I think the Paterek manual is minimalist in this way...). Of course, whatever method you use, you need to know what you're doing!