Rebolledo Cycles

A little over a month ago, I met Mauricio Rebolledo when he and I were volunteering for the San Francisco Randonneurs Populaire. Mauricio won best track bike at this year’s North American Handmade Bicycle Show. I had a ton of questions to ask about what a framebuilding hobbyist needs to know and he was very open and eloquent with his answers.

I also mentioned to him that I had a frame that I built at UBI last summer that I was still finish filing when I could find the time. He invited me up to his shop last weekend and helped me make huge progress on the finish work. I probably did more work in one day than I did on the past few days of finish work.

Mauricio specializes in lugged steel bicycle frames and they truly are beautiful. I think you can tell a lot about a framebuilder by touring his/her shop and Mauricio’s shop is well stocked with machining tools, fixtures, and a huge collection of files. He keeps it incredibly organized and clean which I think reflects in his work. Mauricio also spent six years working for Sycip Bikes in Santa Rosa. It seems fairly uncommon for US framebuilders to spend a long duration of time under the supervision of an established framebuilder and I think this shows the level of Mauricio’s dedication to the craft.

Shout out to Rebolledo Cycles!

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

Framebuilding Bits

This past Thursday concluded a semester of machine shop class at the College of Marin. It was my first experience with a metal lathe and vertical mill. When I first signed up for the class, it sounded interesting, but I wasn’t sure how useful it would be to me. I’m hooked! I made this free standing bottom bracket post and some adjustable tubing supports. I ran out of time to make dedicated bases, so I used some of the mitered supports as the bases, but I plan on taking another class next semester and making a few more bits and pieces.

Sometime in the future, I’d love to design and make a frame jig. There are a few really, really nice ones out there, but I can’t justify paying thousands of dollars for one since I don’t plan on selling any frames anytime soon. I have a vision of making one from 80/20 extruded aluminum and I would like to design something similar to what Seven Cycles uses. There are some other 80/20 designs out there that look much simpler, but I think the one in this video looks pretty pro.

Bottom Bracket Post

Here is a photo from my machine shop class up at Marin College. I just thought that the variety of shavings were cool (I’m easily amused). I’m working on making a bottom bracket post that I can mount onto my granite surface plate. It’s been slow progress up until this point (between work, taking a class, and all the rest of life’s distractions), but I think as soon as I can get this piece finished and mounted, I can finally start working on a front triangle.

I got the idea to make this piece from Jonny Cycles’ Flickr account. I saw Jonny Cycles back at NAHBS in 2006 and it was kind of a perspective changing moment. At that moment, I realized that a bicycle can really showcase your personal style.

Anyway, here’s a picture of what I’m essentially copying.

Headtube Alignment Post

This is the first tool in a series of tools I plan on making in my machine shop class at the College of Marin. I purchased the tube centering cones off of eBay (listed as motorcycle frame jig cones). Its purpose will be to align the headtube against a 24″ x 36″ granite surface plate I purchased a while back (which allows you to work on only one triangle at a time). It’s about 11″ long with 3/4″ – 16 threads. I machined two smooth surfaces on either end that are within 0.001″ of each other in diameter. I figure if I get two v-blocks that are the same dimensions, it should put the headtube parallel to the surface plate.

I plan on having a hole drilled into the surface plate so I can make and mount a bottom bracket post. Then I will either need to create v-blocks to account for each tube’s width in relation to the bottom brackets center line or I will need to make some adjustable v-blocks (which I’m not so sure will be easy to do).

I’m going to have a go at making a frame jigless with only the surface plate, some pins, lugs, v-blocks, and mounting points. I’m pretty sure it can be done…I think.

Resources for the Budding Framebuilder

Checking in on the blog stats from time to time, I’ve noticed that there is a crazy high interest in bicycle frame building. My earlier post on a bicycle framebuilding class that I had taken quickly became the most popular post on my blog, so I thought I should share some of the information I’ve collected in the year since.

Reading

Just Googling “bicycle framebuilding” will give you hours of reading material. Lurking in the forums, you’ll find that a lot of the big names in the handmade bicycle world are very active online. Here are some of my favorite places to hang out online.

Velocipede Salon is run by one of the more authoritative figures online and in the framebuilding scene, Richard Sachs. It’s a very active forum and you have to love the Smoked Out section where builders in the industry take the hot seat. In addition to the ever growing knowledge base of the forum, another gem is Friday Night Lights where builders near and far show what they have going on every week.

Frameforum was a really active website where a lot of really recognizable names came to hang out online and share information. Unfortunately, the site’s admin closed down the site to further posts because of the overwhelming influx of newbies. All the content is still searchable and the information is really extensive, so I highly suggest trying to seek your answers here.

Bike Forums also has a really great section devoted to framebuilders. I don’t think you’ll find as many pro builders fielding questions here, but it’s still a great resource none the less.

phred.org is a mailing list crawling with industry pros. The site design looks like it’s straight out of the early internet days, but the content is very rich. Update: Moved to Google Groups.

In terms of reading material that’s actually printed on paper, you’ll probably come across the following books.

The Paterek Manual is considered by many the Holy Bible of bicycle framebuilding. Tim Paterek offers a free download of his older manual. I’ve only read his free version, but it’s one of the most comprehensive resources I’ve seen on the subject. I’m torn whether I want to purchase his updated book or one of his instructional DVDs.

Lugged Bicycle Construction is a very inexpensive book on the subject. I purchased it and probably read it all the day it arrived. I’d give it a rating of so-so. For the price, it’s probably worth it, but honestly I’d save the money for the Paterek route.

Suppliers

Henry James is a supplier of framebuilding tools, frame jigs, tubes, lugs, brazing supply, etc.

Nova Cycles is a supplier of mainly tubes and lugs. They don’t have brazing or welding supply.

Ceeway is a supplier of framebuilding tools, tubes, and lugs. They ship from the U.K., but I’ve heard that depending on the exchange rate you can still get some good deals.

UBI in addition to offering the most popular framebuilding courses in the country sells tools, tubing, lugs, etc. I believe they’re the place to go for Kaisei tubing.

Bringheli sells a very affordable frame jig and tools that you’ll see in a lot of people’s shops. This is the only one I have had experience with and I thought it was pretty nice, but I would definitely like to get my hands on some others to compare. You can also get tubing and lugs from Bringheli.

Anvil Bikes sells what many builders consider the gold standard of bicycle frame jigs and tools. Their tools are muy elegante and muy expensive.

Sputnik Tool sells mitering fixtures, braze on tools, and a jig. Nice looking stuff as well.

Arctos Jigs is the jig that I used at the UBI Portland framebuilding class for making a fillet brazed frame. It’s made from aluminum extrusion and did a pretty fine job in my opinion.

Cycle Design USA, Freddy Parr‘s company, is another good resource in terms of brazing supply. Brazing seems to be a craft that’s popular in handmade bicycles, but not a whole lot else. I’ve spent some time at Airgas and Praxair trying to find brazing rods and flux and the selection is not so good.

Aircraft Spruce isn’t a bicycle specific supplier, but they are a good place to get some chromoly straight gauge tubing for rack building or practice pieces.

Wicks Aircraft Suply is also a aircraft supply shop like Aircraft Spruce and a good supplier for chromoly straight gauge tubing. I’ve been told shipping is better with Wicks if you are putting in a smaller order.

Tube Service is another non-bicycle specific supplier of tubing. It might be worth a look for getting some straight gauge tubing as well.

McMaster-Carr is a great online resource for tools. I’ve found not so easy to find nut sizes, granite surface plate cleaner, hacksaws, files, etc. Some items can be tough to find, but this place seems to have all the angles covered.

Bicycle Framebuilding Schools

In the olden days, if you wanted to learn to build a bicycle frame you would probably either get an apprenticeship with an established builder (I think this may still be the case in the U.K. by law) or perhaps get a job at a bicycle framebuilding factory. These days, a popular route is to take a class. Most of these classes are a quick, intense introduction to the craft where you’ll come away with your own handmade frame, a head full of new knowledge, and new skills that you will need to continue to hone. Expect to pay a couple to several thousand dollars for one of these classes not including travel costs, lodging, food, and incidentals. (You’re looking to get into an expensive hobby, right?)

Depending on the style of construction you are interested in pursuing (lugged, fillet, or TIG) you will probably want to research the different courses and see which instructor caters best to your interests.

UBI is synonymous with bicycle framebuilding courses and offers classes in Ashland, CA and Portland, OR. I would love to spend a couple of weeks up in Portland soaking in the bicycle culture, rubbing elbows with some of the local talent, and honing my skills.

Yamaguchi has a pretty impressive resume. I’ve heard second (or third) hand that he has a very zen like approach to teaching students how to braze.

Bohemian Bicycles teaches out of Tucson, AZ. Dave Bohm has a background as a silversmith and artist and it really shows in the quality of the bicycles he produces and how nice his students’ frame comes out.

Doug Fattic teaches out of Niles, MI. I don’t believe he advertises his classes because they fill up so quickly, but I believe you can call him directly to see what his openings are like. There’s a YouTube video you can watch highlighting some of his students at work.

Alternative Needs Transportation teaches out of Holliston, MA. Mike Flanigan is an ex Indy Fab builder, so his reputation is top notch. I didn’t see his courses online, but I remember he offered either a single frame building class or a more extensive class where he would build all the tooling necessary to start your own biz. Wait, here it is. ANT Bike Class

Brew Bikes teaches out of Boone, NC. This class also offers you the chance to powder coat your frame which is a nice touch. Steve Garn has a background in motorcycle racing and fabrication as well as bicycle framebuilding.

Bilenky Cycle Works teaches out of Philadelphia, PA. Stephen Bilenky is legendary for his fillet brazing and tandems. He might also have the wisest beard in all of cycling.

geekhouse bikes teaches out of Boston, MA. Marty Walsh apprenticed with Mike Flanigan of Alternative Needs Transportation and makes some of the most radical looking fixed, road, and cross bikes on the road.

Conclusion

Bicycle framebuilding is not intuitive. What seems fairly simple in nature becomes ever so much more complicated the further you dig. I’ve been incredibly eager to make my second frame since taking a framebuilding class last year and it has led me down a rabbit hole. I’ve taken a welding/brazing course at the local community college last semester and am currently taking a machine shop course so I can make some simple tools (both of which I highly recommend). Not to mention, I’ve spend a lot of money on tools that I anticipate using during the framebuilding process. But what’s a man without his tools, right?

There are some great community oriented shops in the Bay Area like TechShop and The Crucible that will give you access to some of the tools that you probably don’t want to buy until you try. I would also ask around your local bicycle community. Everyone, and I mean EVERYONE, that I talk to about bicycle framebuilding is interested in it in one way or another. Team up with some people and share the costs of tools, etc. especially if you plan on using them only occasionally. It’ll probably be many years until you feel confident enough to sell one of your creations, so go into it with the intention that it’s an expensive hobby.

I hope this information was a bit helpful. I plan on adding more content when I come across it, but if you feel that there’s something I should include, please add it to the comments and I will try to integrate it into this post.

Also, whenever I come across an interesting site I bookmark it when it’s related to framebuilding or handmade bicycles.

Kate’s Bike

I built up Kate’s bike a while ago, but this weekend I finally had some time to put a couple of finishing touches on. She wanted some Tektro Cross Levers so she could get used to the road drops a little easier. I had put on some temporary bar wrap that was bright yellow on her handlebars that made the bike definitely not photo worthy. I put some natural cork colored wrap that ended up going very nicely with the cream color of the frame and honey brown Brooks saddle.

At some point I will take some better photos and post them. Some day.

Update: I took some more pictures and uploaded them to Flickr.