Bicycle Vacation: UBI Framebuilding Course

I finally took the plunge and attended the United Bicycle Institute bicycle framebuilding course in Portland, Oregon. It’s something I have wanted to do for several years and I was long overdue for a vacation. It’s been about a year and a half years since I took a framebuilding course with Tim Sanner when he was located in Palo Alto, California. (I wrote about it here.)

The time since, I had purchased an oxy-acetylene setup, taken a welding course and a couple of machine shop courses at Marin College. I wasn’t sure whether or not I would attend UBI during this time, but I figured that if I wanted to pursue bicycle framebuilding as a lifetime hobby that these courses would really help me along the way.

The last course that I had taken with Tim Sanner was lugged bicycle construction. With the rising price of silver and the expense and geometry restrictions of lugs, I thought learning how to fillet braze and potentially building a fork to match would be a good reason to take another framebuilding course. Both of these methods were something I would want to learn eventually.

Compared to Tim Sanner’s course, UBI was way more stocked when it comes to tools. Many people build really high quality frames without as many machine shop tools, fixtures, jigs, etc. than what UBI carries, but having access to the tools does speed up the process when they are used properly. And it was nice to get some hands on time with a wide variety of the industry standard tools to get a sense of what I would eventually be interested in purchasing and which tools are not absolutely necessary. Given bicycle framebuilding tools are for a very specific purpose, they are typically built in small quantities and are very expensive.

Another thing I should mention is that most every tool that’s out there still requires a good “framebuilder’s eye” to use properly. Because of the complexity of circular and ovalized tubing and and some of the complex joints, precision can be gained from taking concrete measurements, but some things still have to be eyed to see if it looks right.

This course has been taught many times over the past decades by UBI’s owner Ron and more recently by guest instructors that are very established in the handmade bicycle world, so the curriculum was very dialed in. We were given a course handout on the very first day and it pretty much established what we would be doing every single day for the two week duration of the course. Just so I don’t have to get into it into too much detail, I took a couple photos of the curriculum.

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The instructor for my course was Joseph Ahearne. I think the biggest benefit of taking this course was gaining the insight of someone that has been building bicycles as a profession for quite some time as well as watching him work. During the two week course, Joseph was always a step or two ahead of us building a demonstration bike so we could see his exact methodology. Watching someone of Joseph’s skill level work is something that you can honestly only experience in person to benefit from. His subtle torch movements and precise yet aggressive file strokes really helped me understand what I have and have not been doing properly in the past. But there are still some things that only come from years of experience.

One of the biggest benefits of taking this two week course as opposed to the one week course that I took in the past was obviously the extra week. This allowed extra time for general discussions and demonstrations. It also gave us a day or two of practice for hand mitering, brazing joints, and cutting them apart to see which techniques worked and which did not.

At the end of the course, I had built a fillet brazed frame with a randonneuring geometry I had based off of Curt Goodrich’s bicycle featured in Bicycle Quarterly. I chose to build a fork (time usually doesn’t allow for this when building a fillet brazed frame) with 64mm of rake making the trail exceptionally low. I figured this would be a little bit on the experimental side and that if the handling is absolutely horrible I can build another fork with more moderate rake.

I have been back in the routine of work and riding or socializing during my free time, so the frame has gone a little neglected in the past few weeks. The frame is essentially structurally finished, but I would like to add a couple more braze-ons as well as finish the filing of the fillets so I can send the frame out to powder coat or paint. I plan to ride the bike for a while unfinished to make sure that everything is dialed in.

I will post more as the frame progresses.

Flickr set from Portland

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