Monday, March 27, 2006

So much to write, so little time.

So much has happened since the last time I was able to write here that I don't know where to start. I've been really working in "wrap it up" mode. There have been way too many projects floating around the shop and the house that are almost done. I want them totally done and gone, not almost done...

I've delivered almost all the repaints that I had in the shop, which cleared out a nice bit of room. Felt really good to finally get this Ritchey frame back to the Vitch since it had been sitting in my shop since before Kenwood closed up. He's a patient guy, but really I don't like having any projects in my shop that long.

Of course the downside is that as soon as I got rid of 4 repaints, I got two more in. Guess that's business, there's always work waiting.

I'm almost done with another frame build as well. The customer will be providing me with a few critical components for the frame so that I can wrap up the final fit of the chainguard (yes I'm making a chainguard from scratch for this one). I know he's probably anxious to get the final product so I'm eager to get that frame finished up too.

The really big news is that the copper plated nature bike is heading to it's final destination, the lucky lady out east who still hasn't seen any hint of what it looks like. This one has been a long time in the works, but I really hope she feels the final result was worth the wait.
Here's a shot of the whole bike. Now I didn't have all of the actual parts for the build, those last few items will go on when she get's it. So the front wheel, seatpost and saddle are not correct, but I needed something for the photo's. It'll look much better with matching wheels, and a brooks saddle!

Really the beauty of this bike is in the details. The copper finish really lets them all shine through as it shows all the brazing and filler.

I really love the seat-cluster and how that whole area came out.

Below is a shot of the BB area and the kickstand plate. I'm not a big fan of kickstands for most bikes, but this is a full-on touring bike and those double leg kickstands are pretty sweet for holding the bike up while you dig through your panniers.

Getting my logo on the downtube was one of those things that I really put a lot of thought into. After seeing how cool and antique the copper was looking I wanted to make sure the logo fit in, a regular modern decal just wasn't going to cut it.

So I applied mask of my logo to the tube, then used a chemical etch to darken the steel in the shape of my logo. After that I was able to apply the copper right over and get this cool antique look. I just love how textured the copper came out and the light and dark areas around the lettering. In many areas the finish look more like weathered leather of mahogany than metal.

As I said earlier, this is a fully loaded touring bike. Lights were definitely a requirement. In this case, the fork is designed to take a B & M dynamo and headlight. It's actually set-up to take either a right of left hand dynamo for maximum flexibility, and there are about 5 ways the lamp could be mounted to accommodate many rack configurations. Again, I love the way the copper naturally darkens around the lug edges, highlighting all the carving that went into this bike.

The dropouts are pretty standard BBC issue, but it's worth a few pictures of how the brass filler shows through the plating. Initially I was concerned that this would look bad, but in the end, I think it only adds to the overall appeal of this finish. The color around the eyelet is actually a small amount of copper oxidation that occurred prior to clear coating. I expect the copper will oxidize slightly even under the clear, but it will be a slow process and should only add to the charm.

One thing I will say is that this is not a finish to be applied to sloppy brazing. As you can see, everything shows. Here is a shot of the driveside dropout. Filler has to be only where it's supposed to be or you'll see it. If you click on the photo to enlarge it, this pictures shows the texture of the copper quite well.

In other news, I'm still hacking and coughing constantly. This thing just won't shake loose, but I know several other folks with similar problems and it sounds like the cough hangs on for about 3 weeks. yuk. I still managed to get in a couple of rides this weekend despite hacking the whole way. Did some hills with the kenwood boys Saturday, during which time I discovered that I still felt pretty weak from being sick. Then went out Sunday on what should have been an easy ride, but due to my tired legs and a stiff headwind I really felt the hurt.
That ride pretty well took the wind out of my sails the rest of Sunday, so I layed low and tuned up an old commuting bike for a friend and then installed a couple sections of trim upstairs in the new room. That was about all I had the energy for.

Talk at you later,


Monday, March 20, 2006


I'm feeling pretty drained right now. I've been fighting off what I thought was a cold for the last week or so. I'm starting to wonder though since the cough just isn't going away and I feel like my lungs are still full of crap. I'll give a few more days to see if things improve, but I'm getting tired of hacking all day. I felt quite a bit better on Saturday, and not bad Sunday (after a long nap), but today's not going so well. I think it might be time for another nap soon...

Due to feeling like crap, I haven't gotten any kind of exercise since the long fixie ride the previous weekend. This isn't helping my fitness kick that I was on. Usually I just keep going right through most colds, but this one seems to really be draining my energy. Maybe I'm just getting old, I dunno. Either way I'm not exactly on track for getting in shape for my upcoming trip to the Fruita fat tire festival.

I have been doing pretty good at getting stuff out of the shop lately. Both work that I've finished up, and stuff that I've sold off. That's a good feeling, I always like it when stuff leaves, one less thing to think about. I'm excited to finally get to build up the copper-plate nature bike this week (hopefully) and get that on it's way to the owner. It's been a long road, but that should be one heck of a cool bike. And I'm nearing the end of another frame for a local customer.

I also made some good interior house progress this weekend. We got the final 2 interior doors finished and hung. That probably seems like a job that should have taken an hour or two, but I actually spent most of Saturday just getting one of them up! As you may recall, we got a screaming deal on two maple flat panel interior doors, unfortunately they were not pre-hung doors, and me being dumb assumed that it wouldn't take long to make door-frames. Well, I was right, it didn't take long to make the door-frames, but it took forever to hang them and get them straight, rout out the recesses for the hinges on both the frames and the doors, drill all the holes for the doorknobs, and then actually hang the doors in the frames and re-shim to make everything straight. In the end it turned out as most of my projects seem to, I saved a bunch of money on the purchase, but ended up spending 2 days labor to make it work. But those maple doors and frames sure do look nice and we probably could not have bought what we ended up with unless we had the doors custom made for us. Pictures soon!

In other news, the band has a show this Friday night. I haven't sent out an email about it yet, but I will soon. We'll be playing at the Terminal Bar in MLPS, so come on out and get Derailled Friday. We haven't played out in a while, but we're pretty pumped up to get back to it!


Saturday, March 11, 2006

fixie death march

Yup, that was this morning's ride. I missed out on last week's off road death march due to my own inability to find the ride start on time. So this morning I was right on time for the start of this certain-to-be disaster.

I left the house at 8 am after debating if I should ride to the start or drive. I decided to ride and get in the extra miles, besides it was dry out and the forecast was for rain so I figured it would be more time of dry riding. So I rolled over across the river to Minneapolis on my fixie and met the others about 9 am.

Four of us rolled out about 9:15 and headed east. There was a strong wind out of the east so we figured we'd rather have the headwind at the start and tailwind coming back home. I navigated a route across St. Paul and onto the gateway trail. I thought we could take that out to Stillwater and avoid some cars. Wrong. It was fine until we crossed 36, then the trail was still all packed ice. Not great riding, so we ducted off into the local neighborhood and found our way back towards Stillwater. Stone was complaining about something not feeling right on his bike as we pulled off the trail so we stopped to check it out. Turned out his drive side crank arm was loose, so we tightened it up and headed east.

We rolled into Stillwater and Stone's crank was acting up again and he was pretty sure it would keep it up the whole ride. So we stopped at a coffee shop for a quick bite and to analyse the crank situation. Unfortanately the crank was aUltegra splined model, so once it's loose the splines quickly go to hell. Since there was no bike shop nearby, the best option was to shim it. So after eating an egg salad sandwhich and cup of potato soup ( I don't usually like soup, but it really hit the shop) we started crank surgury. Otree spend some time making shims from his Coke can, and we managed to get about 6 thin strips of metal in there and crank'd 'er down good. Seemed to hold, so we rolled on.

We decided to head south towards Hudson, incase the crank fix didn't work we could stop by Art Doyle's there and see if he had another crank arm. Unfortunately if you want to cross to the wisconsin side of the river in Stillwater, you have one heck of a hill to get up. County road E in Wisco is steep, I mean really steep. We were all riding fixed gear bikes and had about 35 miles in already. Otree was the smartest one, he walked the steep part. I pulled it off with my 46-17 gear but it took a few minutes before I could actually breath at the top. I thought my legs were literally going to fall off, I was in no shape to be trying this crap.

Anyway, we all made it up and pressed south to Hudson. The wind was good enough to switch direction, so we still had a head/cross wind, so we did a little pacelining to make things easier. Rolled through Hudson, crossed back over into MN and headed south towards Afton. We made the call to skip the really big hills in Afton since we had a long ways to get back and I think everyone was feeling it. We took Indian Trail back up towards Woodbury and suffered a bit on the rolling hills there. The wind had completely shifted to coming out of the west now and it was only getting stronger, so we got the bonus of a headwind all the way home too. Finally crossed 94 again and rolled into Lake Elmo. Once we got over the last big climb in Lake Elmo, the ride got really quiet. All of us were quickly fading and running on autopilot. The legs keep turning, but the brain is shutting down. I thought I would ride back to Minneapolis and then home, but I was quickly fading. My legs were on the verge of cramping and I knew pressing further was a bad idea. I was about 5 miles from home, so I decided to pull off and head home. I had put in an extra 12 miles getting to the start, so I didn't feel too bad about ditching out.

Rolled in about 3 pm. I felt remarkable good for having just spent more time in the saddle in one day than I have this whole year. I think we had about 5.5-6 hours of ride time, and I suspect we were averaging about 16mph with all the in-town riding, faster out in the country. So if we didn't make a century, we must have gotten damn close. None of us have computers on our fixies, so we'll never know. My legs think so though...

Not a bad day. Never did rain on us.


Monday, March 06, 2006

Bike shows abound

This weekend there were not one, but two bicycle shows that have impact on my business. The first one I'll talk about was the Minneapolis Bike and Travel Expo. This was a first year for this show, so it was a little on the small side, but very worthwhile. It was held in the Minneapolis Convention Center on the same weekend as one of the largest events at the center, the Home and Garden Show. I'm sure the idea was that visitors to the Home and Garden show would trickle down to the lower level to check out the bike show, good thinking. The big downside was that if you drove there for the bike show, parking was a mess. I wanted to stop by the show to see what it was about and see if I should have a booth there next year. When I pulled into downtown I was immediately greeted with gridlocked traffic, bad enough that I decided to just turn around and go home. I mean I just wanted to see how big it was, I wasn't really interested in looking at vendors booths. But as I was heading out, I spied a parking spot on the street, took it and walked a few blocks back to the convention center.

I headed in and was actually surprised at the size of it. I was expecting it to be pretty small since this was the first year, but it was bigger than I anticipated. I don't honestly know how many booths were there, but I spent some time walking around. There were a lot of travel destinations, chambers of commerce, that sort of thing. Not too many manufacturers, but a few of the bigger places. What was nice was the amount of bikes available to test-ride. They had set up a big area in the middle of the show with a test-track for riding. You could ride the concrete around the perimeter, or there were obstacles in the middle from some pseudo-off-roading.
There was only one framebuilder there, Dave Anderson, who is brand new to the game. I got to meet him for the first time and he seemed like a nice guy. He's only a few miles away from me, so I look forward to talking to him more. I think this show was ripe for more builders showing off their work to the local audience, So I'll probably try to get a booth here next year.

Secondly, the North American Hand Made Bicycle Show was this weekend in San Jose CA. This is basically a bragging rights show among builders. Period. I can't think of any other purpose it serves. Honestly I really wish I could go to this show just to met other builders, but realistically it just doesn't make sense. The show is in CA which hurts in two ways; first, I can almost be guaranteed that there won't be a single local customer for me there. I really don't feel any need to grow my internet based work, I've got plenty of that, I want to be working with local customers who I can meet in person and work with in person. Secondly, it's in CA, that's not exactly next door to MN. Sure the plane ticket is expensive, but when you add it up, that's actually the cheapest part of the show.

Flying to CA for the show would have been about $350 with a screaming deal on airfare. But the Booth would have cost $700, then add in a hotel for several nights and you're well over $1000. That's still the cheap part of the show... In order to have a proper display, I'd need to have a handful of bikes to show. Right now as dumb luck would have it, I could have had 3-4 show-quality bikes to bring, but next year I probably won't be in that position so I'll have to build something for the show. Then have components on all those bikes. Then take a week or so to carefully assemble, then partially disassemble and pack all those bikes. Ship them all out there, then have a day or two to re-assemble them (which is always fun in a hotel room). Did I mention I'd need to take time to build a display which could travel too and ship that out there.
Ok, so now I"m at the show and display my wares for the weekend to a bunch of other framebuilders, not a single one of which will ever buy a frame from me. Then I get to pack them all up (another day of work in CA) and re-ship them back to MN. Then fly back home and spend another day unpacking bikes, hoping they all made it back unscathed.

In the end I would have spent the equivalent amount of time as building two whole frames, so consider that $4000 in lost sales, plus the cost of all the shipping and handling, this thing adds up to about a $5-6000 investment when it's said and done. All to show off to other builders and probably not reach a single customer I want to reach. Hmmmm.

I just browsed through a few photo albums take at the show, and I have mixed emotions about that too. The work displayed is really over the top. It's readily apparent that many many builders spend a lot of time making show bikes for this event. The creativity is outstanding, I think it's great that the show promotes that. On the flip side I saw an awful lot of really ugly crap too. At some point people need to realize that just because they can do something doesn't mean they should do something. The theme of the show seemed to be gaudy paint jobs, or what can I do to this frame to hide how ridiculous it is. I like intricate details, but they need to be refined, elegant and perfectly executed, not garish for the sake of being different.

One of my biggest pet-peeves about much of the work I see is that it's not actually hand-made as the show's name should imply. There's more and more lazer cut parts out there. It's cheap and easy to do these days, but it doesn't actually showcase any skills on the part of the builder. I see dropouts, headbadges, downtube logos, and all kinds of other stuff that was programmed into a machine the machine cut. Where's the art in that? Am I sounding too old and grouchy yet? I just don't see how slapping some pre-cut crap onto a frame shows talent. Ok, I'll stop before I offend anyone too much.

Even with all my whining about this show, I still really do want to go. Maybe next year, if they don't have it the same weekend as the Minneapolis show.....


Friday, March 03, 2006

bike talk

Let's talk about bikes for once. I've been pretty madly trying to finish up a boatload of repaints lately. It's nearly spring so everyone who's ever considered repainting their frames calls this time of year and I always get slammed with paint jobs. I think it's time to re-align my pricing to adjust for demand!

Anyways... The best part about doing repaints is getting to see naked frames! Seriously, I love seeing how other builders or companies do things and you can't tell that through layers of paint and putty. I've got a unique batch of frames in right which include an Original Tom Ritchey fillet brazed bike, an 80's Pinnarello, a 70's Falcon, and a few other regionally made handbuilts by several builders who shall remain nameless. They really represent a variety of construction methods and quality levels.

The Ritchey 1s probably my favorite in terms of the sheer amount of time Tom must have put in to this thing. It's a unique design that Tom used with "pseudo-lugs" at the head-tube and seat-tube. He made tubing sleeves to slip over the tube, then layed down huge fillets over those to make the appearance of lugs, but they're not exactly lugs. The seatlug shown here is the closest thing to a lug as it had sleeves on both tubes. The finish work on the fillets is amazing, they're huge and flowing and hardly a pinhole anywhere. The shape is great (if you like huge fillets) and very even.

The headtube is pretty neat too. With paint on it, this looked pretty close to being lugged, but in reality, the bands on the ends of the headtube were machined in place. Yup, he turned down the headtube from a thicker tube just to get those reinforcing bands on the ends. Again, the huge fillets give a very unique look to the joints, and the "lug" points are filed very thin and even. Very clan brazing on them as well, especially for using brass. To be honest, these are the best shaped (in terms of not needing any filler to look like a perfect radius) that I've seen on any bare frame.

The brake bosses are impressive as well. No need to worry about those suckers coming off! this is the largest build up of brass I've seen on a boss, but he sculpted it very well. This is purly an artisan touch, no functional value at all. Probably not something I would do as I don't like the look, but the execution is fantastic.

Overall, nice work Tom.

Then compare that to this early 70's Falcon. There really isn't much comparison. This thing has filler material all over the place, especially in places that there really shouldn't be filler. There's brass all over the shell, and lots of copper showing. The copper is a direct indicator of overheating during brazing. When you overheat the brass filler to the point that it boils, the zinc is boiled off leaving the copper. In reality this is very typical for English made bikes of the 70's & 80's, tons of heat applied, sloppily throw some brass at it and call it good. Functionally this fairly sloppy construction method wasn't much of a problem because the tubing used was pretty thick walled and gave them a big margin of error.

This next one is a mid 80's Pinarello. I've done a few Pinnarello repaints and I have to say I'm consistently impressed with the quality on these. Most Italian frames of this era were constructed similarly to the Falcon shown above; overheated and sloppy. Pinnarello seemed to actually care about build quality though and really hit the details. This frame was actually silver brazed which is quite unusual due to the higher cost of silver. The lugs, shell, crown and dropouts were all investment cast specifically for Pinnarello (which is a huge investment). All the cast part shave detail engravings, and all the brazing is clean and well done. The lug shorelines are pretty crisp and there isn't any extra filler material floating around. I've seen far worse work from some fairly "high end" US custom builders.

Honestly these are the only Italian made frames I've come across that really impress me. Most of them historically have been pretty shoddy.

I keep thinking more and more about my painting business and if it's worthwhile. These repaints are really kind of a time-sink. I raised my prices pretty significantly last year and it cut out a certain portion of the business, but not as much as I figured it would. The paint supply market keep changing too, which only makes things harder. My local paint supplier used to have 3 locations, one of which was within walking distance. Now they're down to 1 location and it's about a 15 minute drive for me each way. I'm sure the reason for this is the raw material costs keep going up causing them to have fewer over-the-counter type of customers (the small guys like me). VOC requirements keep getting tighter, which I'm in favor of, but it makes the product more expensive.
Lately I've been having decal issues too. More and more people seem to want restoration style finishes, meaning they want exact replacement decals. Often I can get them, but it takes weeks and they have to be shipped from Europe, otherwise I have to recreate them and have them made locally. I've got a fantastic decal guy here in town, but he recently moved to the complete other side of town, so if I need to work in person with him to fine tune colors or patterns, that's an hour's drive each time.

I figure as an average, I spend about 1 hour of my time just driving to get materials per paint job. When you have 5 to do in one week, that's a ton of time that could be spent building frames. I still do make money painting, and the paint service brings customers to me that otherwise would have never heard of me, but it also take a big chunk of my shop time away from building frames. That adds lead time to every order and probably costs me some orders for that reason, so there are trade-off both ways. Maybe I'll just raise my prices again and see what that does, otherwise I may even consider not doing re-paints at all (just painting my own work).

well, enough whining, I gotta run.