In 2011 I thought I wanted to be a bicycle frame builder. I was getting full tilt into cycling at the time buying all my own tools and building bikes for myself and friends. I worked for a world food market at the time where I got close with a former welding/brazing teacher who immigrated from Laos and took me under his wing so to speak. Under his instruction I purchased an oxy acetylene outfit and took some lessons with him here and there. I learned basic brazing as we did some plumbing lines at his good friends soon to be Thai restaurant. Soon after I took up a job learning the skills of metal fabrication and machining and made recycled yard art and kinetic sculptures for the next five years. Somewhere in my mind I thought that eventually this would all culminate into me getting into frame building, but that proved not to be so.
Fast forward to early 2018 as my good friend and Esperanza community shop volunteer Jim R is expressing the idea of sponsoring me to go with him on a trip to Rifle, CO to attend Yamaguchi's frame building school. Initially I told him that "I would think about it", knowing pretty well that I was not going to jump on his offer. My motivation, time, and funds didn't permit me getting into something that I wanted badly a hand full of years ago, but was now far less interested in. I had basically written off the idea altogether and began moving on with things, but somewhere along the way I had a change of heart. What follows is a brief synopsis of why I did indeed go to frame building school, but not to try and become a frame builder.
good old bikes
Anyone reading this more than likely knows that I like a lot of old bikes and things. They probably know that my thing with bikes is re-purposing, restoring and rebuilding second hand, preferably lugged steel frames along with simple classic components. With my passion for reworking old stuff as strong as it is, I just couldn't bring myself to go with Jim to the school. It no longer made sense to me that I should make an attempt to try and jump into the frame building scene when well made second hand bikes litter the world over. There was just so much incredible discarded stuff that I would come across that turned me off to the idea of buying or selling new bike stuff. As I took on work in bike shops I observed the hyper disposable mentalities and consumption habits that punctuate our bike culture as we have literally created a plethora of forgotten, but otherwise amazingly functional and service-worthy bicycles. A lot of these bikes are left in fairly good condition as they collect dust and remain unridden. Others have had an impact or bad crash of sorts that has left the bicycle to be perceived as prematurely inoperable. In my days working with bikes I have had to throw away "bad" frames far more times than I would like to remember or admit. A bent fork, massively dented tube and cracked dropouts have unfortunately been reasons that people have decided to let go of their old loved frames. Its usually misalignment post crash that seems to be the main reason that a frame is put to rest. This along with other aspects has been one of the most painful parts of the profession.
Moons ago when steel was the main building material, many bike shops used to offer frame alignment and frame repair services. This was common and just as integral as any part of bike repair. When frames were suffering from said issues one typically didn't just throw out the frame; attempts were made to bring it back into working order if possible. This is where my affinity for steel really comes into play. With lugged steel frames it is relatively easy to remove a damaged tube, bad dropout or lug section by melting the brazing filler metal out and replace it with something new. If a frame went out of alignment from heavy abuse or a bad accident that frame could be aligned with proper tools and good skill. Unfortunately the same can not be said for aluminum which can not take cold setting like steel, and carbon which requires an ultrasound or x ray to reveal cracking and stress risers post accident. Though these frame materials have their certain merits in certain circumstances, they do not provide anywhere near the simplicity and serviceability as steel does for the average user. I see the lugged steel bicycle as something like a well spoked wheel; it can be trued after long use when needed and brought back into alignment once again. Almost no one would knowingly buy a wheel that couldn't be trued or have a spoke replaced. Would you buy a frame that couldn't be repaired or aligned if something broke or it was misaligned by a bad wreck?
|some of parks frame alignment tools. The alignment gauge and frame bending on top tool are still being made.|
reviving the dead
After all the mental sorting out and rationalizing was done I decided to go with Jim to Colorado. I knew that though I would be able to take back with me a frame and fork that I could say I build for myself, I would really be bringing back a skill-set that I could truly grow with. After it was all said and done that's exactly what happened. While out at school with Yamaguchi I asked as many questions as possible, often veering heavily off curriculum. I wanted insight into the industries manufacturing practices, opinions about the merits of particular frame design and materials, ideas about repairing and realigning frames and tips on how to resolve certain question mark raising issues.
What I want more than anything at this point is to apply these new skills to help me branch into deeper bike service. Being able to save some of these good old frames from a premature death sentence is what I wish for. With many of the tools already acquired and just a few more to find, I will soon try to take on some projects of full frame alignment and the re brazing of frames when need be. All in all I went to this frame building school not to build frames but to learn how to modify and save them. Hopefully there are still people out there that like the idea of putting the energy and resources into fixing their lovely old damaged bike. If I can keep even a few good frames out of the land fill I will be happy in putting these skills to future use.