Sunday, March 26, 2006

Just some odds and ends

Life continues to be hectic.

Let's see... I retrieved my carbon frame, untouched, from the local paint shop. The delays didn't bother me. The excuses and misrepresentations (can I say lies?) did. So, after some research, I managed to bundle it up and dropped it off with UPS last Thursday for shipment to Gordon Lechner in S.C. Gordon was recommended by David Sem. It's a busy time of year, but its funny that not everyone contacted bothered to respond. David and Gordon did.

It was touch and go getting this out the door. A frame isn't officially in the queue until Gordon receives it (which make sense). Meanwhile things were feverish as I tried to get work sorted out so before taking the family out to California for a week. But, Carbon 1 got shipped.

Gordon explained how to build reinforcing into the box with triangles of corrugated board. These keep the sides from squishing together and position the frame to float in the box. I'm not sure how well these reinforcements will hold in place - but have some ideas percolating for other means of attaching these pieces. It'll be clear if my methods worked when I hear from Gordon.

It will be nice to see the finished product in a month or so.


There was an interesting thread in, which got me to research the archives of framebuilders and classic rendezvous.

Custom framebuilding is a broad discipline. Apart from the various uses to which a bike may be put, there are a number of different framebuilding methods and materials. So, it stands to reason that one price is probably not right for all custom framebuilding efforts.

A framebuilder should charge enough to make a living. That means covering overhead, supporting a family, planning for retirement. Even a newer framebuilder should be able to do this, and this should represent the pricing baseline.

How long should it take to build a frame? That's a big question. Get three or more builders together and they will give you three or more answers. But, it seems like a well crafted, lugged steel frame should take about 40 hours of building time. To this are added time spent on sales, administration, research & development, and customer relations. This can easily add another 30 hours to the effort. And, paint (which may be farmed out - or done by the builder) must be added on top of this.

This process can be made faster by: Welding joints instead of brazing lugs, setting up jigs to simplify and speed the sizing/fitting of various pieces, doing related work in batches, and increasing capital equipment (Drill Presses, Lathes, Mills, etc.). For some builders, 20 hours is the right length of build time pre-paint. This doesn't necessarily limit the time spent on sales, admin, R&D, and customer relations.

Some frames begin to approach works of art and naturally require additional effort. Hand cut lugs require more than the time to cut and file. The take time and effort to conceive of and refine a design. The use of jewels (precious or semi-p), totems and head-badges, and complicated paint designs all add significantly to the effort required to build a frame.

Just polishing stainless steel lugs and doodads is in incredibly time-consuming effort. It's also a bit numbing to the builders hands.

If a top-end manufactured bike costs from $2500 to $9000, why shouldn't a custom built bike cost a step beyond. Taiwan produces great bicycles. It's probably the global hub for fine bike building. The product is well engineered and well assembled and can be had for really incredible prices.

If a buyer is price sensitive, they should look to these manufactured bikes as the opportunity to have a great bike at a great price.

If the buyer wants a frame and bike tuned to their body, their riding style, and purpose, then it stands to reason that a manufactured bike isn't the way to go. But, in moving to a custom bike - one is moving to the high priced spread. It's not realistic to expect the custom builder to compete with manufactured bikes on price. Heck, the manufacturers don't compete on finish, fit, or usage.

A custom builder can be your best friend - especially if you let him/her eke out a reasonable living. A custom builder doesn't need to sell you his available stock much less his excess inventory. As good as many local bike shops are, they can't say this. Theirs is a business of turns. Do you like Campy? There's lots of reason to. For example, if you're decent with tools, you can rebuild your shifter/brake levers when necessary. Not everyone else allows for that. But, the overwhelming majority of manufactured bikes coming into the LBS are not equipped with Campy gear. Manufactured bikes have good gear and the shops knows it. So, they don't want to stock two incompatible brands - and often steer your parts purchases even when you order that special frame. This doesn't make bike shops bad - they're just trying to make a living. But its something to take into account when looking for a top end bicycle

Not everyone can afford to ride a custom handmade bike. It's a specialty purchase for folks with the motivation or means. Do you need a custom? Do you need to drive a fancy car? Probably not. But for someone who really cares about their riding experience - the custom bike will add to their enjoyment.

It's funny how much people will pay for certain production frames. These are great frames, but aren't tailored to the rider. It's also funny how, for many people, having a top end grouppo is more important that having a great frame.

Is a custom handbuilt frame right for you? You have to decide that. But, the reality is that compared to the top name manufactured frames - a custom handbuilt bike is a bargain.

Just my 2 cents.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

It's been a slow week

Not a lot to report this week. No progress on 010106 - too much "real" work going on.
Carbon 1 is still in the paint shop. Latest excuse is sick staff. The problem with that is that on the last and previous calls, they claimed they were "mixing the colors right now". My confidence level is low and I'll pull the frame if they aren't ready by Friday.

I did score some components on the web. I got a nice pair of MKS road pedals - old campy copies. As usual, the bearings need to be repacked and adjusted, but prior experience says that these will work well for a long time. And personally, I like bearings I can tune, repack, etc. I also scored some old Simplex Prestige front deraillers. They were available in lots of 1, but lots of 3 were so cheap that I couldn't resist. Anyhow, I have everything now to put together my vintage style bike. This will be built with standard size tubing using some nice Tange lugs and fork crown.

There is something irresistible about the simplicity of the Prestige front changer. There were other similar ones produced at the time, but the Prestige is what dominated the market and hence is easiest to find. The cage moves only laterally, on a rod. The works of the derailler are contained in a plastic case on the back of the seat-tube. The rod has a rack ground into it, and there is a pinion gear on a pivot, with a lever sticking down out of the case. The cable connects to this lever and pulls it one way while the return spring pushes it the other. Very simple, few parts, light, easy to manufacture, and it works. I'm not sure front derailers have progressed much since then.

I'll have a a new (used) pair of track wheels soon for a project bike I have forming up. It'll use std sized tubes with fleur de lis lugs, and a real track fork. It'll have some of Kirk P's track dropouts (the prettiest form of the current crop) with SS faces from John Kundziera in Madison (although Kirk now offers them too). Should be pretty.

Also, my next carbon tube set has arrived, this time DCS. This promises to be fun. Also, my lug vices came from Omar so I can try some carving projects.

Now, all I need is some time. Oh, and for the painter to get to work.