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« Art and Function | Main | Rear Dropouts »

R. Brian Baylis 1953 – 2016

It was a sad moment this morning when I learned that framebuilder and painter Brian Baylis had died the previous evening. I felt I definitely needed to write some sort of tribute, as Brian was one of the first people I met and worked along-side when I came to San Marcos, California in the early 1980s.

But what to say in writing such a piece, that is the problem. Brian Baylis was such a complex character, even when you knew him, you didn’t really understand exactly where he was coming from, so how does a person begin to explain that personality to others who never knew him. I’ll just have to start at the beginning and do the best I can.

October 1980 I arrived in San Marcos, San Diego County. Having come over from England just the previous year and landed in New Jersey. And if I found that strange, I may as well have landed on a different planet when I arrived in California. I had come to work for Ted Kirkbride, who was sub-contracted to build the Masi frames.

Ted had a frameshop and paint facility, and to defray some of the operating cost he rented space out as a co-op type of situation, to different framebuilders and painters who then shared the space and equipment. Brian was one of the builders who also painted his own frames.

Brian and I were worlds apart when it came to our approach to framebuilding. I set myself a certain high standard, and did my best to maintain that same standard over the years. I didn’t want my customers feeling I had built a better frame for someone else than I had for them. I tried to be consistent.

This is where explaining Brian Baylis is difficult, because I am not suggesting for one moment that he had inconsistent standards or ever turned out shoddy work. It was the exact opposite. He seemed to set some standard beyond even his own capabilities and strove towards that, until he thought he had reached it. Never caring for how long it was taking him to achieve this level of workmanship.

On hearing of his passing, for some reason I thought of a story I once heard of an old wood carver, working on a huge pair of double oak doors. The design was an intricate one with oak leaves and acorns, scrolls and winged cherubs in each corner. Someone asked him, “How do you know when it is finished?” He replied, “It is never finished, they just come and take it away from me.”

For some reason I feel that Brian was like that except there was no one to take it away from him. But he probably kept filing until the desire to paint it took over. Brian’s intricate lug work and filing, was only surpassed by his painting.

I owe a lot of my success to Brian Baylis and indeed the other painters, Jim Allen and Jim Cunningham who were there at that time. I had painted my own frames in the UK, but after arriving at the San Marcos shop, I realized the American market demanded paintwork that was at a whole different level.

Talking to a mutual friend, David Ball, this morning, I mentioned about the little painting tricks I had learned (or stolen.) from Brian. David said, “Brian learned a few tricks from you, in particular frame alignment tricks.”

Looking back, Brian Baylis was the only person who never gave me any grief, at that crazy San Marcs co-op. There was always conflict over the schedule for using the paint booth and other equipment. Brian took two weeks to build one frame so he was never tying up the paint booth or the frame jig.

When I left San Marcos I saw very little of Brian, but always heard how he was doing from our mutual friend. I would see him occasionally at cycling events and shows. It was from David Ball I heard of Brian’s passing this morning.

It is an understement to say Brian Baylis was a colorful character. If my writing here has not done him justice, I have no worries, because I know the body of work he leaves behind always will. I will miss you, Brian, rest in peace my friend.


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Reader Comments (15)

Thank you for passing along word of Brian's death.
A friend of mine rode one of his frames, and we always marveled at the workmanship (some of it on items that didn't matter at all).

February 21, 2016 | Unregistered Commenteredstainless

Oh, so sorry to hear this. May he rest in peace.

February 21, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterResty

Nicely done, Dave. I love the picture of him... a lot of character shows there. And man... The little bit of the lug that shows... insane! :-)

February 21, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterNeale Barret

Lovely tribute Dave. Brian was, indeed, a character. I will certainly miss him.

February 21, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterWayne Bingham

Very nice job, thanks Dave. Yes, Brian was a character, having those high standards and almost never repeating the same pattern or design. So each frame was a new challenge for him. But after being charmed by his work, we mostly remember his warmth and generosity. He WILL be missed. Dale

February 21, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterDale Brown

Brian was a friend. I was not his closest friend by any means, but I feel his loss very deeply. He was a very interesting man with a huge heart and an artist's soul, and not only did he do some truly super-human work for me and others, he put everything he had into everything he did. He cared. It's a rare quality in these times of ours.

I will miss him inexpressibly.

February 21, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterCharles Andrews

Many years ago at at LeCirque in Greensboro, I went on Dales Fixed wheel ride. For some reason or other I found myself riding alone, when riding up to me was BRIAN. He and I rode together for about 15 20 mins. He was very interested in my English life and my racing there, also the 1950 Mercian road path machine I was riding. He told me about an old Bentley car that he had and was going to restore. I knew about his riding and racing and frame building. I must say that I felt very privileged to riding in the company of such a fine person. I did Email him back and forth for some time, I even thought that I may have him build me a frame and forks, but of course, costs became a factor. A great loss to the cycling world. John Crump

February 22, 2016 | Unregistered Commenterjohn crump

"The greater the sorrow, the less tongue it hath."

Joe & Cathi Corvi


If you have and idle moment see


Have pictures/Magazine of 1982 Connoisseur
"World's Best Bicycle" - featuring Brian Bugatti Baylis and his
favorite bike.

February 23, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterJoe/Cathi Corvi

Just heard the news.......Rest in peace Brian

February 23, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterRay Etherton

To borrow from St. Augustine:

“If someone doesn’t ask me about class, I recognize it. If someone asks me what class is, I don’t know.”

February 24, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterSteve

Dale Brown on C/R blog has many tributes to Brian. One thing that concerns me are the comments, that the work that he did could have caused his demise. I know that now, frame building is not as wide spread as its was. Dave. I assume that you have had no problems due to your work as a premier frame builder. So what precautions did you take, that Brian did not? Any advice that you can give to others to avoid what happened to Brian. IF in fact that is what caused him the grief.

February 24, 2016 | Unregistered Commenterjohn crump

“It is never finished, they just come and take it away from me.”

What a great illustration -- we have a similar saying in the software industry where I work -- sometimes you just gotta shoot the engineer and ship it! If you work on it until it is perfect, you'll never be able to release it!

February 25, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterRubeRad

NAHB show in Sacramento has a booth in Brian's honor. We had 30 second silence for his memory.

February 27, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterRick

The allegory of the wood carver, to me, is symbolic. A craftsman keeps working until he is “taken away”, or dies. He is doing what he is good at. Also, perfection is never attained:

“Perfection is achieved not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.” –Antoine de Saint-Exupery

As for a bicycle, it isn’t a piece of art, but something you ride. Because really, no frame builder builds all the components hung on his frame: wheels, tires, saddles, cables, brakes, derailleurs et al. It is, in the end, a simple device envisioned hundreds of years ago as a means of moving men (yes, it was envisioned by men for men). So really, how much time should one spend building a frame, when all its components are produced by someone else?

"Any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent. It takes a touch of genius — and a lot of courage — to move in the opposite direction." –Albert Einstein

Seems that is what the software engineer who posted above is saying. We have a lot of “intelligent fools” running corporations, governments, city councils, foundations, and even small businesses, which have lost common sense (this is not the same as intelligence!).

Do we leave it up to the next fool to figure out what is wrong…?

February 28, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterSteve

Rest in peace Brian

March 8, 2016 | Unregistered Commenterbaby bottles
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