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Monday
Mar072016

Siblings

I sometimes look on the bikes I built as my children, and like any parent it does my heart good to see them doing well, like the one pictured above.

Still owned by the original owner since 1985. He recently sent this picture with the comment, “Apart from two small nicks in the paint, the bike still looks the same as the day I picked it up from the bike store.”

The Fuso was a limited production frame, still very much hand built and brazed by me, but unlike building custom frames one at a time, these were built in batches of five frames all the same size.

This was more efficient because not only were the frames all assembled on the same jig setting, but as I first brazed the Bottom Brackets, by the time I finished number five, number one had cooled and I could move on to the next step which was brazing the head lugs.

Then on reaching number 5 again, number 1 was ready to have the seat lug brazed. By rechecking alignment after each brazing step, there was very little movement in the final step of the brazing process.

The whole frame was assembled in this fashion, 1,2,3,4,5, and move to the next stage and repeat. When the frames were finished, they were stamped with a serial number in sequence.

Today it is interesting to see these batches of five same size frames slowly being added on my Registry. Occasionally, the more popular sizes were built in batches of up to 10 frames, depending on the demand.  I tried to keep all sizes in stock ready to be painted to order.

Like siblings these frames went their separate ways, now like a family reunion they are reconnecting on the registry. The red and grey Fuso at the top is #522, and lives in Dallas, Texas. Here is #523 painted two tone blue and lives in Las Angeles. #525 (I don’t have a picture.) lives in Boulder, Colorado. All are 56 centimeter, and interestingly are all three owned by the original owners.

Bikes in some ways are like people, some age well, others don’t. People do well if they eat right and exercise, and look after themselves in general. It also helps to have good genes, to come from good stock. Bikes too, where they came from and what they are made of plays a big role in their ability to stay “Young Looking.”

I have mentioned before the red paint I used was a Candy Apple Red, over a bright orange base coat. The reason this red looks so rich and deep is because what you are seeing is the almost fluorescent orange shining through the translucent red.

In bright sunlight this is even more evident. When I went to trade shows, (Which was how I built a dealer network, in pre-Internet times.) I went with a simple ‘Home-made’ display made of peg-board and painted white, and used florescent ‘Daylight’ lighting. The chrome and componentry sparkled like jewelry, and the paint colors, especially the candy apple colors, and pearlescent finishes just popped.

The best red pigments are made from cadmium, but due to the expense and the toxicity of cadmium, red pigments in paint, printer's ink or any other medium, are now-a-days synthetic and usually have a tendency to fade over time. Especially when exposed to a lot of sunlight.

I remember driving behind a car with a faded bumper sticker that read ‘OBER RIVERS.’ I was thinking, ‘What a great name for a rock band.’ Then knowing what I do about the pigment in the color red, I quickly figured out the this sticker had originally read SOBER DRIVERS, and the “S” and the “D” had been printed in red and had faded to the extent that it had completely disappeared. Leaving behind the rest of the message that was printed in black.

My point is that the Candy-Apple red method I used was not prone to fade over time. This is evident in the top picture of a frame that is over 30 years old and exposed to bright sunlight almost daily. The durability of the paint also speaks volumes for DuPont Imron, but another reason is that I “Cured” my paint by baking in an oven to a temperature of 250 degrees. The paint was ‘Hard’ from day-one, rather than waiting to cure naturally over a long period.

The other thing helping the durability of the paint job is the primer I used. It was an “Etch” primer, that contained phosphoric acid, which is also a rust inhibitor and being a mild acid, it etched itself into the metal of the frame, providing a key for the finish paint coats that would follow.

It gave me great satisfaction to build these frames, and it gives me even more satisfaction today to see them still being ridden, rather than being hung on a wall to be looked at. It is the gift that keeps on giving.

Addendum 3/16/16

Here is Fuso #525 mentioned in the above article.

 

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Monday
Feb292016

Art and Function

I love when a comment on one of my blog posts gives me food for thought, and better yet subject matter for another article. Steve wrote such a comment on my last tribute to Brian Baylis. He stated:

A bicycle, 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?

(See the complete comment on my previous post.) 

So is a bicycle art or just something you ride? Well, yes and no. There is pure art, objects that serve no practical purpose other than to be pleasing to the eye. To live a life without art would be a pretty bland existence.

I am not a material person by any means. I do not place much importance on stuff, but I do have pictures on my walls, and a few pieces of handmade pottery around. They bring me pleasure, and my life and my home would be missing something if they weren’t there. That is the only purpose of these art objects.

Everything ‘man-made’ whether handmade or mass produced, is either pure art, completely practical, or mostly what I call ‘Functional Art.”

Because given a choice between two objects of equal performance and price, one will choose the one more pleasing to look at.

Furniture is a good example of functional art. A chair has to be comfortable to sit in, but also needs to be pleasing to look at, because it becomes part of the décor of our homes, along with the pictures on the wall.

There are degrees of function and art in functional art, and when one takes over from the other the product often suffers one way or another. But it all comes down to what the consumer or owner of the object wants, and what he can afford or is willing to pay.

When a chair becomes a piece of pure art, it may be uncomfortable to sit in, or too fragile for everyday use, and one might ask, what use is it.

If it brings pleasure to its owner just to look at it, that is its purpose. I would not criticize anyone for owning such a chair, or the person who made it.

So is a bicycle frame any different? I got into building frames to build a better bicycle. One that rode better, handled better, and was more comfortable. My customers in the UK were almost 100% racing cyclists. The bike was needed to compete in bike races, it sold because it was functional and the price was right.

When I came to the US I had to up the ante on my finish work because that is what the American consumer demanded. The bikes did not lose any of the ride or handling qualities, but I did reach a point where people began to say, “This is too beautiful to race, I will be afraid to crash it.”

This annoyed the hell out of me. I had been forced to move towards pure art in order to stay competitive, then the bike was no longer practical as a racing bike, because it was too fine and too expensive.

That is why I moved away from the pure custom frame to the limited production model like the Fuso. A Fuso will handle exactly the same as one of my super expensive customs, but the price was reasonable, and the degree of finish was acceptable to the people who wanted a piece of art.

On Steve’s point that the framebuilder only makes the frame, not the complete bike. It has always been that way. Even today, companies like Trek and Cannondale, design and produce a frame only, then assemble it with the same components as everyone else. And the bicycle always takes on the name of the frame builder or manufacturer. It becomes a Trek bicycle, or a Dave Moulton, a Fuso or a Brian Baylis bicycle.

Even lower end bicycles are built this way. The only exception I know to this was Raleigh Industries, in Nottingham, England. They had a huge factory that made everything. They had different thread standards, and even different rim and tire sizes, so if you bought a Raleigh bike, you were forced to buy spare parts and even tires from Raleigh. They went out of business some years ago, and I don’t know of anyone manufacturing the whole bike anymore.

To sum up, I believe there is room for art and room for function, and when you can successfully combine the two you have the best of both worlds. I never spent as much time building a bicycle frame as Brian Baylis, but I did spend a year and a half writing a novel. Was that a waste of time? You tell me, because I often wonder about that myself.

 

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Sunday
Feb212016

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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Monday
Feb152016

Rear Dropouts

 

Have you ever had the misfortune to break an adjuster screw in a rear dropout?

Or worse still a thread tap which is hardened and can’t be drilled out.

The best way to deal with this problem is to seek out an engineering company who have Electrical Discharge Machining (EDM) equipment. This machine can burn through steel with precision using very little heat.

I would occasionally break a tap in the dropout of a brand new painted and finished frame. I would take it to a local EDM shop where they would burn out the broken tap and not even touch or mar the paint work, and not charge me too much money. 

On another subject have you ever wondered what those two little threaded holes are for in the right hand side Campagnolo short rear dropout. Mostly seen on frames built through the 1980s. (See the picture above.)

This was for a special chain hanger Campagnolo introduced in 1977. Called a Portacatena, it consisted of a “C” shaped steel plate that attached to the inside of the rear dropout with two screws in the threaded holes I just pointed out.

The idea was in the event of a flat tire, with the aid of a special extra lever on your down tube shift lever, the chain could be shifted onto the Portacatena chain holder where it would stay while the wheel was being changed. 

After the wheel change, the rider got a push start and then shifted the chain onto the rear freewheel in the usual way. The idea never really caught on because it was only suited to a race team with support kind of situation. It was also necessary to use a five-speed freewheel on a six-speed hub spacing (125mm.) 

Soon after its introduction six speed freewheels became commonplace and the idea died a natural death. In spite of this Campagnola continued to produce rear dropouts with these two threaded holes to my knowledge through the early 1990s. Why? I have no idea.

Finally, while on the subject of rear dropouts, I have been selling stainless steel replacement dropout adjuster screws for about three years now.

Recently When I replenished my stock I decided to change over to Allen socket head screws.

These are fiddley little beggars to fit with a flat screwdriver, Allen head screws make the job a whole lot easier.

A long "T" handle Allen wrench would work nicely with these screws, as long as the handle clears the chainstays. The ideal tool is a nut driver, which takes a hex socket for tightening small hexagonal head screws and nuts. (Picture below.)

The required size 2.5mm. Allen tool bit then fits into the appropriate size socket and fitting these new screws is a walk ride in the park.

If the threads in your frame happen to be full of rust, or dirt and the screw comes to a grinding halt, don’t force it but rather apply some grease to the screw, and each time you come to a stop, back off (Unscrew) half a turn or so, then go forward again.

Each time you will usually progress a little further before having to back off again.

Patience is the key, rather than trying to force the screw in and end up breaking it.  (Which is where we started today.)

(Picture right.) I sell these new stainless screws on eBay for $9.50 a pair, and postage is free anywhere in the world. They weigh less than an ounce and go in a regular business envelope with a stamp. There is also a permanent ad in the right column of this page.

 

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Monday
Feb082016

Two from the Eight Decades 

I was born this day February 8th 1936, in a village called Dunsfold in Surrey England. Just South of London. I tried to write a brief decade by decade account of my life, but found 80 years was too long to summarise in a blog post. So gave up and decided to post some pictures from the first two. The earliest picture I have is the one above. Already learning to keep my head down and my eyes open.

With my Dad in my first year or so. He was so proud of me back then. WWII took him away for 5 years when I was 4 and when he came home I was 9 years old. I realize now how annoying 9 year old boys can be. No wonder he hated me.

My earliest picture with my mother, as she was usually the photographer. Aged about two I'm guessing.

1940 Aged 4. Why so serious? WWII had started.

About the same time. The tents in the background are an army camp. With my Uncle David, who I was named after.

1944. Left to right, my Mother, My younger sister Betty, my step-sister Joyce and myself.

A school picture. My mother wrote the date on the back, 1944. I was eight.

1948 The war was over, I was 12. Here with my sister.

1949. Aged 13, with my first new bike. A Hercules Roadster.

The local church choir. Me on the right age 13.

1950. Age 14, on a horse at my Aunt's Riding School.

1951, One of my last school pictures. Aged 15. (Is that a hint of a smile, or a fuck you smirk?)

1952. My first year racing. Age 16.

1952, At the end of my first season racing, collecting my trophies. After years of my father and school teachers telling me I was useless, people were praising me and telling me I was good at something. No wonder I fell in love with cycling.

1953. Aged 17. Riding in the National 12 Hour TT Championship. Covered 220 miles in the 12 hours.

1954. On the right aged 18. Wearing the fashion of the day, discovering girls. Into music, modern jazz mostly. Rock n' Roll was yet to burst on the scene a couple of years later. Mick Jagger and Keith Richards were only 11 years of age. And People think those guys are old?

 

And that was only the beginning, I'm off to enjoy the rest of my day, after all I will only turn 80 once.

 

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