Iím Darren Crisp, the guy behind Crisp Titanium. I appreciate the opportunity to be here and to shed some light on my path to frame building or other aspects of my life that may be of interest to you.
Iíll start off by saying that I do not come from cycling pedigree. Iíve never worked in a bike shop or at a frame shop. When I started building frames professionally, I thought this would be my downfall. It has taken what seems to be a lifetime to discover, but I honestly believe that this has served me well. Similarly, Iím not a bona-fide business man nor had I ever had the schooling to assist me in my business decisions. Needless to say, itís been an interesting road to get where I am today.
Add to that, I live in Italy (Iím Texan by birth, Texas is a country, right??). Iíve lived here for 15 years. Iím a happily married, 41 year-old, father of two who remind me on a daily basis how life outside of bikes is just as important in the grand scheme of things. Sometimes that gets lost when youíre trying to meet deadlines or keep on top of your game.
I graduated with an architecture degree from Texas A&M in í92. At the time, there were few positions available in my field due to a repressed construction industry so my buddy and I took off to Italy where we were to buy some time and work out our next great life plan. I was racing mountain bikes at the time and instantly fell in love with the sight of the Tuscan hills and the racing competition that I found here. It was nothing like back home. After a few years of floundering around, I had a pretty bad accident on the bike that took me back to the US to convalesce for the next few months. At the time, I had no other choice but to get a real job.
My career path started when I was working for a blacksmith/sculptor in Jackson, Mississippi. I had spent seven years here growing up so I had some good work leads and a familiar network of friends. I was responsible for the shop production which included mig welding, brazing (copper lanterns), some tig, and drawing/design. Typical steel shop stuff. At the time, AutoCad was running on MS-Dos and I could generate most production drawings by hand before the computer could get warmed up enough to open a file. I was building important stuff like iron beds, handrails, mailboxes, and signposts. At the time, it seemed like trivial work, but it gave me a base for familiarizing myself with the equipment and social skills that I would carry with me to this day. Ironically, living in Italy gives me a new-found appreciation for street signs.
After a few years there, I realized that I had the tools and basic know-how how to piece a frame together. This was kind of a necessity as there were no bikes that fit me within a 5 hr radius. To familiarize myself with the frame building process, I checked out and photocopied Talbotís frame building book. I made a go at it and had a blast learning to braze with silver and brass. That started the ball rolling.
I gave myself three years. After that time was up, I was to get back on a plane with my new skill set and seek work in Italy which was my new life goal. I am a logistics freak and left 3 years to the day. It was hard leaving behind the double-wide trailer that I rented from a real estate developer. Difficult to believe, but living on 250 acres of prime mtb riding land was an epoch that Iíll cherish till Iím dead. The trailer was quite the experience, too.
So now Iím in Italy, portfolio of some lame steelwork in hand, trying to figure out what to do next. All while racing mtb around the region. I didnít speak the language and my options were few. I was washing dishes in the school cafeteria (where I had studied a few years prior) and assisting the local architecture professor for the next two years (with my wilting architecture degree clutched in my dishpan hands). It was at the end of this two year stint that I got a call from a steel company not too far from Florence. I did the interview which I concluded had gone poorly, and thought my days here were numbered. I did manage to get a call back, but my Italian was so poor that I didnít even realize that they had been waiting for me to show up for work for two weeks. I was in.
My first few jobs took me (ironically) back to the USA where I oversaw construction installations on commercial retail spaces for Italian fashion houses. My team was involved in the metal work only. Well, I guess you could call them a team. They were a group of about 10 guys from Napoli and the surrounding area (Casal di Principe, Caserta, Google for more detail). They seemed more interested in working as a team to loot me for our construction budget and were more interested in local tourism that getting along with our project installations. Did I mention that I still didnít speak any Italian and certainly not their local dialect those first few months?
From there I travelled the globe building and installing these boutique stores. Great experience if youíre 25, but after I began leveling and rebuilding on the same properties I had built just a few years earlier, I began to wonder why and who I was working for. The lack of challenge and my personal ideals led me to contemplate other career possibilities.
I was six months into a project in Manhattan when the twin towers event took place. All union steel workers were called to Ground Zero to clear debris and the work was suspended indefinitely. It was at this time that decided to make a run for UBIís frame building course while work at the office back in Italy was on hold. That time in Oregon sealed the deal for me: Time to implement my new career strategy.
Again, three years. In 2004 I left the company to start Crisp Titanium. It may be quite obvious by looking at my previous work how it has shaped my current fabrication method: clean, no frills, minimal. So here we are today. Iíve gone out to build on my dream, instead of the dream of my former employer. Iíve taken some lumps and will continue to do so forever, I guess. No regrets. Iíve been blessed to have great clients who speak well of my work and this is my biggest investment in marketing. Iíve been able to grow the business every year since inception and will continue to do so as long as I can remain ďsoloĒ. It gives me great pleasure to build for my customers and to convey that sense of excitement that I captured so long ago in building my first frame in the steel shop. It is my goal to make the best product I can, but no less important to give my customers a glimpse into the thrill of the birth of a custom titanium bike.
I hope that gives an idea of where I came from and what is behind my work. Iíll be happy to go deeper with any questions. I enjoy talking about my experiences (both personal and business) and hope that you find interest in what you read here. Sometimes my English goes astray, so please bear with me.