Saturday, February 21, 2009

First Frame - Finally!

Here it is folks... the first bicycle frame I've built from scratch! It's been a long journey, but it's been one of great learning and exploration, and in the end I have a bike I'm proud of and will get a lot of joy out of riding. That's it to the left there, a complete, whole bicycle, save for some accessories I'm still in the process of adding (fenders, racks, lights, etc.).

The story begins, oh, back when I was in my teens, in the 1970s. Back then, I lived in suburban Maryland, not far from Proteus Design, a bike shop that also housed a framebuilding operation. I used to go over there and drool over the hand built frames, and the gorgeous components they'd hang on them, and dream of one day owning one. (Parenthetically, I finally did get one, about a year ago... more on that another day) Then I learned that they offered a class in framebuilding, in which you'd build your own custom frame under their guidance. It was just a dream then, one I couldn't afford, but I finally managed to take a course from United Bicycle Institute, in Ashland, OR, in Novemeber of 2005.

The class was amazing... Ron Sutphin, who runs the school and teaches many of the framebuilding classes, is an excellent teacher, and the other folks he had in to help teach were also very good. And the class was a fun bunch of people... there were 8 students total, and I was the old guy in the group, in my 40s... most of my classmates appeared to be in their 20s or maybe early 30s. A pretty varied set of backgrounds and interests... some others from bike shops, others not. And the bikes we all chose to build varied quite a bit as well. My choice was to build a touring bike capable of handling some mild off-pavement journeys loaded with camping gear.

As a starting point, I took the dimensions of my 1986 Miyata 1000 touring frame, and then made a few modifications. The two primary changes I made were designing in clearance for larger tires (700x42mm with fenders), and using larger diameter tubing with thinner walls. The first was to make the bike better suited to the off-road riding, and the tubing choice was largely an experiment, to see if I could make a lighter frame that would be as stiff as the Miyata.

One of the first things we did in class was take measurements of each other (it's hard to measure yourself) and begin a full size drawing of our frame. Throughout the rest of the two week process, we kept going back to that drawing, in many cases working right on the drawing to lay out and mark the pieces for cutting, as shown here to the right. The overall structure of the class was for the instructor to demonstrate a step in the process, after which we were given a chunk of time to do it ourselves with our projects. I have to say, they really have it down to an art with the organization of the class... while at any given moment each of us might be at a slightly different point in the process, nobody ever got totally behind or ahead of themselves, and we all learned a lot, and had fun doing it.

At the end of the two weeks, we each had all the basic brazing and assembly of our frames finished. We learned the procedures for checking alignment on a surface plate, as well as using more basic tools, and the final frame "prep" was also covered - facing and reaming the head tube so both faces are parallel and the correct inside diameter; facing and chasing the threads for the bottom bracket; and reaming out the seat tube to accept a seat post. What remained for us to do once we returned home was "clean up" work... basically filing any imperfections and smoothing out some of the joints in the frame (particularly where the dropouts meet the stays or fork blades, which you will understand better if you look at my Flickr album). After that, we could take it to a painter or powder coater and then build it up into a bike.

And therein I hit my snags. Long story, not worth going into, but after a good start on this part of the process, I hit a pretty major motivational slump, and aside from a few sporadic stabs at making more progress, the project lay idle for a long, long time. So I had a partly filed frame gathering dust, and as time went on, that in itself made getting up the gumption to move forward difficult.

This past autumn, however, as I've noted, things improved, and I began to get some neglected projects completed (see my flurry of Bridgestones in October/November). And this helped me to get the energy to put the frame back into the workstand and pull out my files... and after a couple of weeks of working around my work schedule, and I was ready to take it to be powdercoated. Thanks to a combination of Crag's List and a friend of mine, I found a shop that does a lot of bicycle work, and seemed to "get" what a bicycle frame requires, so I took it to them. Two weeks later, I had the frame back in my hands, and began building it up into a bike. And there at the top of this post, you see it, in all it's glory. As of today, it also has a rear rack (a Tubus Cargo in black) and a green Carradice Nelson Longflap saddlebag. Soon to come is a set of fenders... silver aluminum ones from a company called Velo Orange, in Annapolis, MD... a style they call the "Zeppelin", because the cross-section is faceted, much like the cross section of an old dirigible. I think they'll look really sharp.

I've posted some photos of the process and the bike, from start to today, on my Flickr account:

And watch this space for future developments. If all goes well, this will only be the first of many.


Jerome said...

That's awesome! I've got the Paterek Frame building manuals, and a buddy is lending me his DVDs, but I hadn't take a course yet. I'm scoping around for a used torch.

Your frame looks great! I can't wait to see more of them coming out!


Tim said...

The UBI class is great. There are some others though that sound good, particularly Doug Fattic's. The Paterek book and videos are also very good... I have both. I managed to get a very nice torch from a guy who built one frame then decided it wasn't for him... too many projects kind of thing.

The Driver said...


Troutbum74 said...

Great looking bike. Ride it with pride.