Friday, December 21, 2018

Why I didn't go to frame building school to build frames..

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.

A photo Yamagucho snapped of me tacking the rear triangle

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.

Monday, November 26, 2018

I started an Instagram!!

Its official; I am the last person on the planet to have finally created an instagram account.  Luckily its not going to be selfie forward with posts of every place I go and meal I eat.   I felt that it was time to start photographing and sharing images of some of the bike related stuff that I come across throughout my days.  I spend a good chunk of my week working at the bike shops as I come across the some of the most blue collar, mass produced bikes of today and yesteryear to the ultra rare, super high end specialissima bikes that you don't typically see out on the roads.  From vintage mountain bikes to classic road bikes and all types of cruisers in between; I absolutely love observing the big and little details that give character to classic inspired and vintage/retro bicycles and components.  Typeface stamped into bits, patterns formed and machined onto surfaces, cool head badges, old bike shop stickers, odd component designs, bike related literature, whimsical mechanical encounters, memorabilia, ephemera and anything that strikes my interest has been deemed worthy of a snap shop.  Each images/set has a little backstory and elaboration for any nerds interested enough.  Being able to quickly document and archive images is something I am having a ton of fun with as I am super lucky to have been given a lightly used smartphone with a wonderful camera.  It's been a great outlet for finding more people with similar interests and great photographic eyes.  Connecting with and seeing the work of others has also been hugely inspiring and educational thus far and I can't wait to connect with more people out there!  I also hope to peak some local interest for classic inspired projects/repair as I build up images of new work moving forward.  For those interested I can be found on instagram under the name group_b_tuning 



Monday, November 5, 2018

Freewheel death: thoughts about compatibility, marketing and the industry's path dependence

The gear race wars of the late 80's early 90's was not a thing of accidental coincidence.  With the "advent" (although going as far back as early 19th century) of index shifting we saw a seemingly unanimous, industry wide adoption of numerous iterations of 6 and 7 speed indexing drivetrains.  From Campagnolo to Sachs and Shimano to Suntour; the message was sent with enough conviction to convince nearly anyone that not only was friction shifting dead, but was the freewheel just as well.  If you wanted to "upgrade" moving forward you were now effectively dictated to a completely new series of standards; each company more or less adopting its own spline patters, pull rates, cog and rear wheel spacing requirements.  Campy would no longer work with Shimano and Sachs no longer with Suntour.  No longer could the DIY mechanic piece together a fluidly functioning bicycle with the bits and pieces in their toolboxes.  Gone were the days where small local bike shops could function without a dealer account with either Shimano or Campagnolo.  The industry wide push toward index shifting was not remotely just about indexing shifting, but moreover about consumer marriage, maintaining the illusion of perceived technological supremacy, planned obsolescence and a subsequently direct trajectory of path dependence.  There was much more money to be made and our drivetrains were the next best and most lucrative thing since the early fitness/green induced 70's bike boom and the dawn of the safety bicycle.

 the 6 speed SIS push triggered the beginning of the end for freewheel production

Some history

Heavy, slow-shifting, obsolete: perhaps thoughts that come to the mind's of many when the word freewheel is uttered in a non-historical context.  Stigmatized into a lesser category of bike antiquity, the freewheel is well seen as a relic-like object in cycling's lexicon.  There is no question that the freewheel realistically began to die off  in the early 90's; forever relegated with the behemoth index/freehub sales inertia that had the big component manufactures never looking back.  Companies like Sachs were the last to hold out into the late 1990's with freewheel production in the struggle against complete obfuscation.  Eventually it became commonplace to find freewheels outfitted on primarily "entry level" and "fitness" bikes that lined the lower tiers of bike shops and department stores.  Only iconoclasts and traditionalists were said to hold onto their freewheel drivetrains and wheels. 

The race toward the "more gears are better" attitude (that exists in an even stronger form to this day) acted as the primary catalyst in the dissolution of the freewheel/friction drivetrain.  With commonly maintained perceptions that freewheels offered racers (and in turn copycat would-be-racer consumers) an inadequate edge due to their lack of ramped/profiled teeth, lower gear count, and ever-so-slightly higher overall weight; what stood as an industry staple for well over 100 years faded into periphery seemingly overnight.  With the now well instilled rational that upgrading to the freehub/cassette and index shifter/derailleur is a must; we began to see the boneyards of bike shops littered with freewheels, freewheel hubs and pre-index compatible derailleurs.  Suddenly decades worth of reliable take off kit that was often better made, more reliable and ultra serviceable was now ultra acquirable.  Next to no one any longer cared for these amazingly long lasting and beautiful parts as they began making their way into the hands of  classic/vintage/retro/DIY bike lovers for pennies on the dollar.  Garage sales, bike swaps, shop boneyards and eventually Ebay hosted what I am guessing (purly spectulation here) might have been the height of used bicycle component sales.

One common bit of industry rhetoric for these quick "upgrades" was that axle breakage occurred due to excessive outboard bearing load and was a prominent factor in many ditching their old freewheel/friction systems.  Although Phil, Bullseye, American Classic, Mavic and others solved this problem as early as the the late 70's with their larger axle diameters and cartridge bearings, one has to question if this was ever really a common issue on pre-7/8 speed freewheel hubs in the first place.  Many career mechanics that I have spoken with throughout the years recall that freewheel axle failures began to occur mostly in conjunction with the gear count hike that followed index shifting.  Innumerable are the bicycles I have seen with 5/6 speed freewheels that have been heavily ridden and still continue to see miles to this day.  From my personal experience as a mechanic as well as many other peers of mine, we usually see only the heavily abused 7/8 speed freewheels on cheap-alloy, threaded-axles suffer from the dreaded fatigue induced cracking.

image from restoringvintagebikes writing about how most freewheels can be overhauled, often new and old.

Why still use the freewheel

With all this having been said the question still begs; why still use freewheels?  More times than I can remember I have answered this question in person which like so many others, has led me to this hopefully well fleshed out blogpost.  The fact of the matter is that my freewheel affinity is in no way an anti-freehub/cassette driven sentiment.  I have owned many bikes that have used 8/9/10 speed freehubs/cassettes but the main reason that I use and will continue to use freewheel/hub and friction shifting stuff is because I do not wish to be eternally interlocked into a product marriage with any one particular company.  I take great care in being able to exercise the creative freedom of utilizing my favorite shifters with my favorite freewheels, hubs and derailleurs.  I love having the ability to take apart the freewheel, its bearings and all its individual cogs; replacing a worn one when necessary (which seldom happens) as opposed to throwing away the entire gear cluster as with almost every cassette.  Being able to use the same chain/chainrings and rear cogs for the equivalent time (my personal experience here) of three 11/12 speed chains/chainrings/cassettes is a huge deal breaker for someone who is not monetarily well off like myself.  Having the ability to put on a new freewheel as opposed to scraping a hub/wheel because a company stopped offering service parts or replacement freehubs is also a luxury.  Really I use all this stuff because it usually lasts incredibly long due to it's not so high strung nature and racing-tight tolerances.  I can run it into the ground if need be with poor lubrication, muck, grime as worn bits often providing positive shifts during continued usage (not endorsing the use of unmaintained drivetrains).  Thankfully there has been a recent resurgence in the interest of freewheels/hubs and friction shifting.  With IRD reintroducing their freewheel lines, Velo Orange/Phil Wood/Dia Compe with their hubs and many index/friction thumbies/barcons/brifters available there are some good options out there for those struggling to locate good used bits.

Gevenalle offers some beautiful friction/index shifter mounting brake levers.

Some questions

I am not and never will be a racer, and will never require the razors edge of performance that gives professional cyclists their marginal this-or-that gain.  My big issue with the aforementioned is that such attitudes and marketing gimmickry have encouraged a world of consumers to prematurely dispose of often amazingly well working, ultra serviceable and reliable equipment in the name of supposed promises of excruciatingly-marginal speed gain, weight reduction and shifting speed.  Does any of it really change our overall riding experience?  Could I still have as much fun on a 100 mile Randonneur inspired ride using friction shifters and a 6 speed freewheel as I would with my bike outfitted with Campagnolo Eps 11 or 12 speed shifting?  Could I still climb a big dirt road up a mountain using a 24 or 26t low gear on a tripple crank with a 30 or 32t rear cog as I might with a 42 or 48t rear on a 1x drivetrain?  The answers to these questions are clearly individual and I would not try to answer them for you or anyone else; but what I would love to do is encourage some introspection and digging into the nature of how and why we have gotten to some of the places of excess waste and supposed obsolesence in this huge bike industry of ours.  Was it always for better and did it always improve out cycling experiences?  Did it lock us into a companies jaws of highly proprietary products marriage? Did it leave our wallets strapped to the point of not having enough time and left over cash to actually go out and ride? Il leave you to answer these questions for yourself; and for me, I' be quietly mourning still dying, ever versatile, ever servicable and ever cross-compatible freewheel.  

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

The subtlities of bike shaming and the unseen effects of othering

We have all done it.  Its terrible to have to say it as we look in the mirror, but the fact of the matter is that at some point along the line you just as well as I have been on the giving end of some form of bike related shaming.  Whether it was a subtle assumption we harbored about a cyclist based on their apparel, or an idea we dismissed due to supposedly improper or lacking vocabulary, bike savvy or overall presentation, we have more than likely put someone, for some reason, into a confining box.  Though it may not be perceived as divisive; every time that someone is otherd they are slowly made to feel alien, distanced, confined and relegated into some lesser realm of existing.  The byproducts of said shaming are often initially small and subtle, but the overall cumulative effect of constant affirmation that one is not hip, wealthy, sporty, knowledgeable or experienced is enough to subconsciously vex anyone's psyche.  The real question that persists is how one can possibly feel comfort, inclusion and reciprocity when we are constantly being made to feel that we are constantly beneath a perpetually impossible level of cool.

Magazines, blogs and instagram feeds are still lined with images of expensive, high end, race-forward, white, rich, male and often sexist imagery.  Bike shops still sing the sounds of hollow banter that sends messages of snobbery and elitism that would likely make even the most confident shy.  Group rides still see the aforementioned riding in clique-ish like groupings that only further distance feelings of inclusion.  

a middle aged, white, female cyclist that isn't afraid to get off and walk

Stepping back with compassion

Everyone was a novice at some point.  We all pick up with an interest and start somewhere with our ambition regardless of background or previous experience. The fact of the matter is that generating the inertia of a future hobby/passion/career can be one of the most difficult moments during any new process.  By having the support and love of friends, peers and acquaintances we can solidify our steps toward already existing goals or new pathways.  Though support and care often go unspoken, it is this foundation that oftentimes generates an otherwise lacking amount of confidence.  Seeing both those close to us and faces in distant places encouraging us to work with what we have, when we have it, wherever we might be so fortunate as to have it is such a massive step in forming tangible images of ourselves.  When we are shown and told that it is perfectly ok to be a novice, to make mistakes, to fall on our asses and get back up laughing; we become so much more comfortable in our own skin, whether alone or in public places.  

It is when we see these messages from people of power, status and popularity that we often begin to revert the mentalities that dictate our feelings of subparness.  It is when writers, athletes, artists and business people decide to flip the script a bit that we begin to feel a little more human.  When we are shown that it is ok to make goofy errors: use seemingly inadequate gear to accomplish activities often otherwise depicted, cycle with riders of better fitness than that of our own and congregate with differing genders, classes, ages and skin colors we slowly begin to water seeds that grow in a way that is contrary to negatively normative imagery and conditioned ideologies. 

a woman of color, working on a second hand bike, in normal clothes, in public

Walking and talking with purpose

 Its easy enough to talk about and conceptualize a world where marketing, individual actions and overall acceptance, inclusiveness and adequacy are a reality across the board.  One can sit back and think that by saying we subscribe to a certain attitude, mental trajectory or lifestyle that one is suddenly freed from said confines.  Much easier it is to talk up the aforementioned than it is to implement them into an active practice.  Much more convenient it is to criticize and point fingers than it is to engage in a consistent line of action that parallels our words and ideas.  

It takes braveness, confidence and motivation to start negotiating scenarios and lifestyles with a newfound element of purpose.  To step into situations and places where scrutiny and shaming might inevitably come to surface is a massively important element that could not be more important in the fight against any form marginalization can take.  Walking into a bike shop or group ride as you are; with the equipment, age, fitness etc that you already poses is one of the most empowering things we can do for ourselves and others.  By showing people that the general consensus and status quo will not dictate our goals and attitudes, we show the world that we can truly be who we are, go where we want, move at a rate that is our own and be truly confident in step along the way.  So please, help be a patient, loving, compassionate member of this struggle we all face in nearly every realm of life.  Please help others believe that they to can walk through the doors of acceptance and inclusiveness.  Most importantly, please help do it by allowing your words to correlate with your own direct action.  The next time you go out for a ride try inviting a friend of differing sex, color, age or identity.  Try going for a group ride on your "commuter" bike.  Try walking into the bike shop wearing the same clothes you would if you were shopping for groceries.  Please, make efforts in practicing ways that show everyone that it is ok to be human, that it is lovely to be yourself, just as you are.  Set the example you want to see, and help show people that they can be themselves with confidence.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

How bicycle design was ruined in the late 80's/early 90's and what its remnants entail

If by some divine swing of fate, unlike half of the worlds population, you never threw a leg over a  late 80's/early 90's bicycle, you managed to miss out on the snapping sound of plasticky index shifters, overly twitchy handling characteristics, the bland in overall appearance (bar loud flashy neon splashes and loud, attention getting decals) and uninspired lack of accents and artistic touches that graced the lines of bicycles from previous generations.  You missed the feeling of oversized tubing and over inflated tires deadening the ride quality of your already rough-in-nature ride through myriad neglected suburban streets.  You missed the simple, elegant yet understated aesthetic of design that spoke for itself without the need for gimmicky acronyms or hyper-branding-logo-mania.

  What you didn't miss was an overall feel of quality, care and craftspersonship.  You didn't miss the longevity of a hand built wheel, the nuance of a pin stripe, the inherent suspension in a reasonably gauged tube set and the buttery smooth feel of solid and rebuildable components.  Come to think of it, you probably didn't miss much, so no need to fret.  The only problem is that we have hardly shifted from the M.O of the 90's as things seem to be mostly status quo as usual.  So what the hell happened and where did the lines between quality and cheapness become so slowly blurred that we ceased to realize that we were eventually buying products that were literally designed to be obfuscated if you were lucky enough to get said life expectancy in the first place.

A quintessentially 90's bike: riveted chainrings (non replaceable), plastic everything, narrow bars, Jurrasic park logo kit.

Fast and easy 

What ultimately gave rise to the design of late 80's early 90's bicycles may still be up to speculation, but my opinion is that its lineage can very much be traced back to a few key variables occurring simultaneously.  Ever increasing use of automation, plastics refinement and the proliferation of cheap, inexpensive electronics and manufacturing processes gave rise to the rapid growth of the ultra poor in quality, copy and paste, mass produced bicycles that we now see gracing the back yards and garages of millions of houses and apartments the world over.  Couple this with the inertia and subsequent deflation of the mountain bike boom and you effectively have what may be remembered as the definitively pronounced era in throw away bicycle design and overall quality degradation.  Poorly manufactured, designed around racing/fitness-fad fueled marketing campaigns and slapped together by underpaid department store assemblers (wanting so badly to call them mechanics): the common-day 90's bicycle was born.  

Long gone were the days of hand brazed frames, tubes bent/mitered/handled by humans, head badges riveted to frames and components that one could actually mix/match and truly rebuild.  The good-ol reliable bike that could be handed down to another person after having had a previously good spin at life is very much a thing of the past now.  Out with quality aluminum bits and ornamental ques that denoted old derailleurs and shifters and in with the stamped steel and pressed on polymers that were seemingly snaped together like a cheap kids meal toy.  Old sun rotted plastics render shifters and derailleurs inoperable.  Vinyl and nylon flake and chip away after a generation under the rigors of normal use.  Unevenly wound up and tensioned machine built wheels lack the longevity of their handmade, quality counterparts and develop fatigue induced spoke breakage and failure.

Sure; many of these elements of poor quality and cheap, rushed manufacturing stretch back to the bike American boom of the 70's and further, but the speed and growth at which we saw the throw away bicycle proliferated was never as prevalent.  The worst part is that what followed was a staple benchmark for entry, mid and often high quality bicycles throughout the world.  As the successes of Americans in the european racing scene became common place (twig, hampsten, phiney, lemond etc..) we saw a huge resurgence in fittness oriented cycling right around the same time as mountain bike grown was exploding.  The lightweight, race-forward mentality of road cycling crossed over with the demand for mtb bikes and helped spawn a new generation of hybrid-ish road/mountain fitness machines with low manufacturing standards to meet the demand of  the "more for less, quicker" mentality that had already permeated the psyches of the every day, 1980's consumer.  Sales boomed and franchise shop growth skyrocketed as bicycles that serve a generation-at-best worth of life necessitate frequent parts replacement or outright replacement in the guise of "upgrading".  A mammoth surge of worldwide popularity saw what might range in the billions-figure of bicycles produced well into the mid 90's under said practice.  Eventually the momentum and sales figures tapered off, but the industry adopted standards that well eclipsed the 00's in terms of design, manufacturing, materials usage, proprietary componentry and overall paralleled build quality that continue to underscore the "consumer" bicycles we still buy at department and outlet stores.

this is what mass production tig welding looks like.. your bicycle, like many of mine most likely bore a similar inception

Poor components on solid frames

If there is a huge plus side to the aforementioned it is that many of these nearly dead bicycles were thankfully built around what often times were fairly sound cromoly bicycle frames.  Though rough in build quality and and inelegant in appearance, as bicycles of the early 90's shed their plastic pods in a cocoon like fashion they simultaneously birth innumerable frame sets that predicate the function of community bike shops and co-ops alike.  Many aspiring DIY mechanics such as myself have cut their teeth tinkering on old steel mtb and hybrid frames.  Replacing said parts with quality replacement bits is as educational as is cost effective in making good with the forgotten stuff of yesteryear and can be done with few specialty tools.  The quantity of these bikes is so pronounced that small bike repairs can supplement business by repurposing/retrofitting mountain bike/hybrid machines for new students and commuters when repair volume is low.  The fact of the matter is that my job at the community bike shop would probably not exist if these old bikes were not kicked to the wayside. My work is to literally rebuilt old forgotten, neglected or unloved bikes that are usually in horrific, seemingly unrehabilitatable condition.  More often than not it is the lower end, late eighties/early nineties  diamondback, fuji, trek, specialized, etc that underscore these bike builds and help get people out on two wheels.

 I can't help but wonder if bike shops could thrive or some even exist if the quality of bicycles had not become so poor, incompatible and proprietary in nature.  Would we have shops in the same numbers if the service life of bicycles was what it once was?  If obsolescence and incompatibility were not so commonplace I wonder what our garages, landfills and bike shops might look like today?

Monday, September 24, 2018

The road to Rifle: Attending the Yamaguchi frame building school

In 2011 during the height of my fixed gear/single speed bike interest I stumbled upon some images on the internet of what appeared to be a one on one style frame building program.  The school was in Rifle, Colorado and taught by the legendary frame builder Koichi Yamaguchi.  In time I rolled around the the idea of saving money to attend the not so cheap class at some point.  My interest in hand built (particularly lugged bikes) was super high and I seriously contemplated the thought.  At the time I was riding a Japanese track bike that was just as fun to ride as it was beautiful to look at as I knew that one day I would want to build at least one for myself.  Though I considered the merits and was probably better off then taking the class than I am now, I did not go through with it and moved forward with my many other bike related interests. 

I now fast forward 7 years to the last night of Summer of 18 as I pack my finished frame and fork into the trunk of my friends car before leaving little Rifle Colorado.  It finally, actually, oddly enough happened as I am back in town now reflecting on what passed.  I was unbelievably fortunate enough to have help with this trip from my friend Jim, without which I would not have been able to do.  I learned some amazingly useful skills and techniques, made new friends (Ken/Koichi/Barbra), learned interesting history, went on beautiful rides, had a great roommate/traveling partner and built a bicycle frame.

 The following is a short recollection of my thoughts that pertain more to the actually experience and composition of the school than a log of the steps, days and progress regarding curriculum.  This write up is more about Koichi Yamaguchi as a person, his philosophy and attitudes towards frame building, the bicycle industry, automation, and the experience of learning about these things from a person with such a concise understanding and steeped background of bicycles.



Koichi, as I would call him him throughout the duration of my trip, is a fairly reserved man.  Generally quiet and  massively down to earth are attributes that anyone would immediately pick up on.  His demeanor is calm, his appearance modest and his tone confident yet humble.  When it comes to bikes the guy has done it all.  A list of his accolades would necessitate a separate tangential blog post that I am not interested in writing, but in short his direct experience spans continents and composes decades.  From spearheading the trajectory of the legendary 3rensho company to designing and building USA Olympic and world champion yielding bikes; Koichi may be the winning-most, still practicing frame builder in the world (someone step in here).  Not that numbers are everything by any means, his track record (pun intended) at 3rensho alone eclipsed 4 thousand frames.  He single highhandedly taught the true temper tubing company how to specially form radical tapered, s-bent tube sets, lays claim to developing the highly used and still revered Serotta fit-bike and has been the secret builder behind custom one-off race bikes displaying decals that misleadingly advertise Huffy, Serotta, Raleigh etc.  After all the racing dust settled Koichi and his partner Barbra relocated to Rifle, Co from Colorado Springs and began teaching the Yamaguchi frame building school in 2008.

Koichi is a very friendly, yet ultra direct and to the point kind of person.  As I would discover during day one, his style of teaching allows students to ask questions that reveal their own varying levels of interest.  Though he of course shares any and all information necessary to moving forward with class and progressing along with the steps involved with frame building, he particularly comes into his own when you start asking questions and dropping hints at things.  The more you show curiosity the more he opens up and begins revealing bits about his past, ideas regarding his approaches to things and the history behind his practice.  He was more than happy to talk about his disenchantment with the UCI (one of cycling's biggest race organizing body's), failures and successes with frame building techniques, love and hate relationship with the industry and overall fondness for the simplicity that is the bicycle.  He never hesitated whatsoever to discuss his reasons for doing things in certain ways, be it traditional or exploratory in nature.  His willingness to elaborate upon request was almost to the determent of the class's forward motion at times; something I am happy to take some credit for perpetuating.


The Yamaguchi frame building school as well as cicycle frame building technique has been heavily documented via forums and tutorial videos to the degree that I don't find it necessary to do any sort of full breakdown of the practices employed in Koichi's curriculum.  Suffice it to say that we thoroughly traversed the full gamut of frame building technique.  What I am interested in talking about with regard to class is the nature of it all.  Hand-everything was the reoccurring theme in our steps along the way.  Often Koichi would go into great depth about how frames fail, what makes the fail and how to avoid such shortcomings by build a strong, lightweight and long lasting bike.  Nearly every aspect of the frame building course was hand done.  Miters were hand filed, blue prints were hand drawn, bronze was hand sanded and all brazing was done by us after practice and instruction.  Koichi's aim was to sufficiently demonstrate before allowing us to practice and make our own mistakes, but of course never at the expense of destroying our bicycle frames or forks.  His emphasis on doing things primarily by hand was not just an iconoclastic approach to building, but a necessary measure in maintaining quality control and keeping things to a one step/one hand at a time basis.  It is mostly for the sake of joy that he still hand cuts and files tubing himself for custom builds.

The Bike


When reading about the frame building school you often see that students get right to the chase when it comes to talking about and photographing their freshly built bikes.  Often the bike ends up getting the spotlight from what I have seen other students report on and I very much wanted to break away from that trend.  What I will say about the bike that I wanted to build is that I went for something that would be as versatile and clean looking in those versatile incarnations.  I have a knack for owning few bikes at a time (2/3 usually) and I knew that I would be doing myself a favor by building up a bike that I could run either fully geared, internally geared or single speed.  The trick was trying to do it in a way where the bike looked fairly purpose built in any of the three hypothetical builds.  As part of a throwback to my original desire to go to the school years ago with the intent of building a fixed gear bike, I will be doing a somewhat upright single speed build initially.  Clearance for 38/40c tires, cantilever brake bosses, fully horizontal dropouts (with a derailleur hanger), eyelets for front and rear racks/fenders and 123mm spacing to run either a 120mm Single speed hub or a 126mm road hub with a 6 speed freewheel has this bike setup to be about as versatile as possible.  I tend to change up my bikes a bit and knew going into this that I would inevitably be doing so.

Photo Dump


One day before the trip I was given a free phone with an amazing camera on it.  I was super trigger happy and snapped shots wherever I got the opportunity.  Though I did bring my film camera I seldom had time during class to go grab it and set up a composition.  These pictures are a semi-cohesively ordered hand full of photos taken from the beginning of the trip to the end.

Colorado bound in Santa Fe, NM

The Yamaguchi island, VW and all..

Barbra and Jim smiling and talking business in their museum of a house

The 3rd student Ken and Koichi in what would become a familiar sight for the next 2 weeks

A few very rad one-off Guchi bikes: Would love to have a Yamaguchi built ATB!

Many bicycle tubes, but no where near what lives in the basement...

Part of Barbra's cruiser collection

What would inevitably become the mess hall during class lunch

Tools and broken frames
Our morning commute to the house over the Colorado River

The work area that Ken and I would share

Beautiful hand built lugs we would not be making...

Koichi's Vertical jig

A few to be finished bikes:  The far left bike is a traveling bike for Barbra with a personal bike for Koichi to tour on

a beautiful gravel pass that became one of my favorite after school rides. 

The drafting board and lugs

Koichi's computer/music/food/stem zone

Practice brazing "towers"

Frames littered the top space of the work shop

Koichi Showing ken good filing technique

Barbra getting her post card hustle on.  We all bought handfulls

Deltas on a Guchi near the community bathroom

Post miter dry fitting

The boys regular lunch..

Some cool bits on display

This frame came in the mail from paint on the first day of class...

My rear dropouts getting brazed up

Jim getting down to business with stay cuts

Ken climbing a nice hill we found north of town

Kens fastback

My headtube all fluxd

Lugs.. and that clock...

Super zoom on the bits display

Koichi worked briefly as a sports journalist in between bike work

Ken tacking dropouts to seat stays

The fork bender

another beautiful little bit of found dirt

the boss jig

super cool super scale

Koichi's only 3rensho


Head tube reaming and facing

Koichi's personal Cinelli that he used to ride/race in japan

Barbra is a typewriter nerd.. and nerd of all things well made

my frame in final alignment

fork jig inverted for brazing

Jim cruzing in town.  We found out he was the only student to show up on a Yamaguchi built bike

Their beautiful upstairs hangout

Some more windy gravel sections

BB detail

Barbra made us brownies..

Class notes

The night after the final day of class.  From left to right; Tired, beer hungry, contemplative