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Functional Art

Can a bicycle frame be considered art? The term I always use is “Functional Art.” Anything manufactured whether it is made by hand or mass produced, can be considered functional art.

Furniture for example, a chair in order to serve its purpose has to be comfortable to sit in, but when it comes down to making a final choice, quality, and appearance will play a big roll. 

Aesthetics and function go hand in hand, hence the term Functional Art. If someone made a musical instrument that looked beautiful but sounded awful, what use would it be apart from something to hang on the wall and look at? Likewise, the beauty of a well-crafted bicycle is in the way it rides and handles 

When I built frames in England during the 1970s my customers were almost exclusively racing cyclists. They bought my bikes because they handled well and were reasonably priced. On moving to the US in 1979 and I saw that framebuilders paid a great deal of attention to detail and finish of the product, because their customers were swayed by aesthetics as much as what was beneath the paint. 

To take this discussion one step further, does the individual craftsman or artist inject something of himself into whatever it is he is making? Does he breathe life into an inanimate object and give it a soul almost. How else does one describe a feeling?

A handmade musical instrument by a known and respected craftsman will feel different when played and sound better than a massed produced factory made item. How does one describe the difference? 

How do these qualities get into the musical instrument other than through the artist? Through his design and skill. I will go so far as to say there is a part of me in every frame I built. Also when you practice a skill long enough it becomes second nature, automatic without conscious thought.

This is not a new notion, the Native American called this “Hand Magic.” Nature bringing something into creation through the artist’s hands. When an ant colony builds an ant hill, is this any different from man building his cities and roadways? Just on a larger scale. 

The Navtive American sees mankind as part of Nature, not separate from it. There is nothing in Nature that is not beautiful. One can dive deep into the ocean and find beauty, or go to places where humankind rarely travels and find the same.

The only ugliness is man-made. Man builds a barn in a field and paints it red. It is an eyesore, a blight in the environment. Given time the barn becomes derelict, nature takes over and the barn becomes a thing of beauty. Photographers come to photograph it, artists come to capture it on canvas.

If the artist is connected to the creative source in the first place then his creation will be beautiful to begin with. It is not even necessary for the artist to be aware of this.

When I built frames some thirty years ago, had anyone put forward this point of view to me, I would have said they were full of crap. It was only towards the end of my framebuilding career in the late 1990s did I realize that all creativity or art comes from one source only. Be it music, painting, or even bicycle frames.

To put it another way. Back in the 1980s when I was building frames, there were many import frames coming in from Italy and other parts of Europe, as well as Japan. These would be built in factories, usually by a team of builders. One would braze bottom brackets, another head lugs and son on.

Some would be more conscientious than others, but to most it was just a job, a pay check.  Does it strain the imagination too much to see that frames built in this manner can never consistently measure up to those built by an individual builder, whose life passion is framebuilding, and his reputation rests on every frame.

I am just putting forward my thoughts and ideas. Not trying to convert anyone to my way of thinking. If you disagree that is fine, and I would be pleased to hear your point of view.


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Making sense of eBay prices

The Fuso frame pictured above, recently sold on eBay for $303, which seems to be about the going rate for a frame and fork. I would consider this a fair price.

The frame was listed as undamaged, but the original paint showed signs of normal wear and tear, with a fair amount of chips and scratches. My advice would be to build this frame up into bike up and ride it, as is. If you start thinking about re-painting, a good paint job will set you back $700, or more.

Now you have $300 the frame cost you, plus $700, $1,000 invested. Not including the cost of shipping when you bought it on eBay, and then the shipping to, and back from the painter.

Fuso frames or not rare, I built around 2,400 between 1984 and 1993. So the best option is to ride this bike as is, and wait for another to come along with paint in better condition. There were a lot of Fuso bikes that were bought on a whim, then hardly ever used. Rarely does a week goes by that one or two frames I built come up on eBay.

So if one comes up for sale in the size you want, be prepared to pay a little more if it has really nice paint.

It will still be hundreds of dollars cheaper than refinishing, and original paint will retain a higher resale value than a repaint.

Don’t forget too that the original frame you bought for $300 you can put back on eBay and get most, if not all your money back.

Here is where I don’t quite follow the logic behind some eBay bidding. It seems people balk at paying much over $300 for a frame and fork. But as I have just explained if you paid $200 more for really nice paint, it is far cheaper, and better than buying a beat up frame and refinishing.

Plus there is this to consider. The beat up frame probably has been ridden hard for tens of thousands of miles, whereas the frame with pristine paint has had little use, with no more than a few hundred miles on it. It is as if you had gone back in time and just bought it from a bike store.

Take for example this bike shown above left, and below, it was listed recently at $1,400 and had no bidders. The going rate for a complete bike seems to be between $500 and $800. Rarely does anyone bid on anything over $1,000. Regardless of condition, which is what I don’t quite understand.

The original finish on this one is really nice with just a few minor nicks in the paint. It has top of the line Campagnolo components, with Delta brakes. These alone would resell on eBay for $250 or more.

This next Fuso Lux bike is another. (Below.) Currently listed on eBay at $2,000 “Buy it Now” price, or auctioned starting at $1200. I have followed the history on this one. About a year ago, this frame was new in a box, stored in someone’s attic and never used. The current owner bought it and built it up with modern Scram components. Then the owner found it was a tad small for him. Hence it is on sale.

This is a Fuso “Lux,” the top of the line, no expense spared model. It was brand new a year ago, and you could not have got me to build a frame a year ago at any price.  The circumstances of this bike are rare and the $2,000 price tag, I think is fair.

Of course I realze people will pay what they can afford and what they think an item is worth. Maybe most just want a bike to ride, and nice paint is not an issue. 

I would like to point out that I don’t know any of the people selling these bikes or frames that I have mentioned, and I have no financial interest in any of these sales. I just don’t like to see people get ripped off, whether they are a buyer or a seller.

Here are some tips to consider when buying a used frame or complete bike on eBay.

1.)    Don’t buy a frame with the front fork missing. Ask for the fork. Was it damaged in a crash? A bent steel for can be safely straightened, but expect to pay a greatly reduced price. Also make sure the top and down tubes are not rippled.

2.)    When buying a complete bike, look at the components. I built and sold frames to bicycle dealers who then built them into complete bikes. Often they were assembled with cheaper components to keep the cost down. The idea being that the owner would upgrade later. This rarely happened, so when such a bike comes up for sale, bear in mind that the frame is the only thing of value. The rest of the bike’s components have little resale worth.

3.)    Most top of the line racing bikes built back in the day had tubular tires, nice lightweight clinchers were not available back then. Keep in mind you may have to re-build or replace the wheels and buy tires. Wheels for tubulars (Sprint rims.) do have some resale value on eBay, especially if they are in good condition. You may be able to recoup a large part of the cost of replacing the wheels and tires.

4.)    There were more frames built in the mid sizes. But then again it is the mid sizes that are still in demand today so there will be more people bidding. There were fewer very small and the very large frames built, so these will come up for sale less often. But again the small and larger sizes are in less demand. You may get a bargain because you are the only one bidding, but if there are more than one bidder the price may go high.

5.)    Don’t get carried away. Decide ahead of time how much you are prepared to spend and stick with it. If you get beat by $3.00 it does not mean if you had bid $4.00 more you would have got it. The other guy may have been prepared to go much higher, you were the second highest bidder and when your highest bid was reached, the next guy got it for just $3.00 more.

6.)    Don’t bid early. All that does is push the price up. The only exception is, if you can’t be home when the auction ends. Enter the highest amount you are prepared to pay just before the action ends. This does two things, it gives others less time to counter bid.

Possibly more important, if you are outbid, you don’t have time to counter again. Because be honest, you decided before hand how far you were prepared to go. There should be no regrets, it sold for more than you were prepared to pay.

If you have regrets, then you were actually prepared to go higher, and probably should have done so. Either way you will just have wait for the next one to come along, and it will. There is always another day.


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Ebikes, problem or no?


Steath Ebike. 5,000 Watts. 50 mph.

I don’t want to be a kill-joy right before Christmas, and the sudden proliferation of electric assisted bikes, and the lack of regulations for said bikes, I find quite alarming.

There will be a lot of teens and even pre-teens getting one of these this holiday season. And the scary part is, they will receive little or no safety instruction for riding these new machines. Even 20 mph is too fast, if you ride against traffic, or on the sidewalk,

No license is required, so no driving test to pass, or training to pass such a test. I am concerned for my own safety, what do I do if I find one of these coming towards me at 20 mph, or they suddenly appear out of nowhere, from a side street or driveway.

And pedestrians, you thought pedal bicycles were a problem on hiking trails. You ain’t seen nothing yet. Now there are ebikes out there capable of 50 mph. These may not even be street legal, but this is the problem, regulations are sketchy, and there are so many grey areas. Use on off road trails will be one of them. And if 50 mph ebikes are available, they are going to find their way on the streets, legal or not.

It is not that I consider ebikes inherently dangerous, the problem is this. It is more likely that one of these machines will be ridden by someone inexperienced, making them a danger to themselves and others.

Bicycles can be dangerous if used without regard for safety rules and regulations, or even just plain old common sense. But the difference is a pedal bicycle can only go as fast as its rider can pedal. With a power assisted ebike the top speed begins at 20 mph, and it appears it is increasing from there.

What are your thoughts, am I over reacting?

Here is some more reading:


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1983 John Howard in Mint Condition

There is a 1983 John Howard on eBay this week. It is a frame I built in 1983 built up with a Campagnolo 50th.Anniversary Group, with lofty $7,250 “Buy it Now” price on it. Maybe overpriced, but maybe not.

People do ask that amount and more for Campagnolo 50th. Anniversary groups alone. Whether they get that amount is another story. What people ask for, and what the get are two different entities when it comes to eBay selling.

I do not know the seller of this bike or have any interest in the sale. Except that the bike’s exceptional condition caught my eye. It is as pristine as the day it rolled out of my shop 33 years ago. The owner stated:

“I only rode the bike a few times as I was always worried about damaging it. I ended up buying another bike as a daily rider with the intention of only using the Howard occasionally. 

In the end, I didn't even ride it occasionally.  It has spent virtually all of the last 30 years hanging in my basement.”

That is tantamount to buying a beautiful musical instrument and never hearing it played, or buying a classic car and never driving it. What a bullshit business the top end bike business is. I can’t think of any other where an artist or craftsman makes something so fine that it is considered un-useable for its intended purpose.

You see I was dammed if I did do good work, and dammed if I didn’t. When I left Masi and opened my own shop in 1983, I was competing head on with Masi. My new John Howard frame had to be as finely finished as a Masi, or even exceed it. 

At the same time it sold for less than a Masi, because it didn’t have the Masi name. I even remember back then people telling me the bikes were too fine to ride, but what could I do? I wanted to command the highest price possible without pricing myself completely out of the market. 

It is why I took it down a notch with the Fuso and later the Recherche. These were frames that were built straight, rode and handled exactly the same as the finely finished custom frames and the John Howard. But these were a reasonably priced bike that one could ride and enjoy. And believe it or not even race on. Imagine that, a racing bike you could actually race on. 

I cannot envisage someone buying a beautiful handcrafted boat, but then never putting in the water because they were afraid to get it wet.


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Life is all about Ass

I try not to take life too seriously, or to rephrase that, I try not to take my own life too seriously. I have been blessed during my time here to have had the ability to build a few good bicycle frames, and that brings me joy and satisfaction.

The fact that people tell me they get pleasure from owning and riding bikes I built many years ago, to me is the gift that keeps on giving. Also the thought that many of these bikes will still be here long after I am gone, brings further satisfaction.

But in the whole grand scheme of life in general, to take it all seriously would be foolish. I look back at my childhood and it all seems such a short time ago. It is all pretty insignificant. It seems that all creatures, (And we are no different.) are put here to survive and procreate. To ensure that life continues in other words.

Anything else we do is for our own joy and happiness, and if we can bring joy and pleasure to others along the way, it is the sugar that compensates for the bitterness in life. That we largely bring on ourselves, I might add.

When I left the bike business in 1993, I was extremely bitter. My previous marriage had ended at the same time, and I felt abandoned on two fronts. The bike dealers and their customers who had supported me for years were gone. They too were chasing a new love, namely the mountain bike. Depression hit hard.

I got a job, and I decided to do what I wanted to do. As a young man I had dreamed of writing songs and playing music. So I moved closer to Los Angeles, and hung out with the songwriting community there. Learned the craft of songwriting.

I lost all contact with the bike business or anything to do with bikes for that matter. It was ten years later in 2003 when I wrote a novel called “Prodigal Child,” and put up a website to promote it, bike enthusiasts re-contacted me.

Today life is good. I am part of a wonderful community of writers and songwriters in the Charleston South Carolina area. I was recently offered a chance to make a video with the Musical Fiction Alliance of America. (MUFIC) The video is at the top.

It is a little novelty song called “The Ass Song.” Things have gone full circle again and songs like this bring pleasure to others. It makes them laugh. Several local musicians are performing this song in music venues in my area.

Please share the video with your friends, It would be nice if the the cycling community could send it viral. Success today is measured in the number of clicks you get.

If you view the video on YouTube, check out Tim Styles the young man who interviews me. He is an extremely talented songwriter/musician and deserves a wider audience. These songs in particular:

Million Dollar Shoes

Old Outlaw

Meaning of Life  A more serious meaning than my song


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