Roots - disenchanted with our current tandem’s capabilities, my wife Christi and I decided to embark on designing a new tandem to meet out needs. With a goal of having a bicycle that could easily traverse diverse surface conditions, from full on road to the rough double track of some of our favorite Vermont areas, it had to be nimble, tough, and fully suspended…a difficult combination to achieve in the early 90’s with production models. With a Utopian design in hand, I began contacting the few custom builders I could find to see if anyone would be willing to work with us to bring our dream to fruition. I landed at Grove Innovations in Centre Hall, Pennsylvania, where Bill Grove was not only receptive to working with us on the project, but was excited about it as well. Months went by with frequent exchanges in phone calls and a few prototypes making their way across the state line between Ohio and Pa before I finally traveled to the shop to watch the final steps in completing the frame take place. When I arrived, I was overwhelmed with the authenticity of the process; a few individuals performing each step of the creation in house, meticulously cutting, brazing, welding, and painting. It was like watching a new mechanical life being born. I was enamored with the union of man and machine, taken with the focus and dedication these guys possessed…I wanted to experience that for myself. Knowing that nothing in life is ever easily attained, I asked Bill if would consider taking me on as an apprentice, willing to work for the experience alone as money could never match that. With hope glimmering in my eyes, I was quickly rebuffed; “We are a small shop with a very busy workload, I can’t afford the time to bring on someone new.” Though disappointed, I was grateful to have been witness to the inner workings of a frame shop, and the smile quickly returned to my face.
My visit ended the following day and as I loaded up our new tandem frame into the car, Bill strolled up and fired off a few serious questions;
“You know, I’ve been thinking about your request. If you are willing to work long days and keep your mouth shut, I think we can work something out.”
“I’m willing to put the work in…but I can’t guarantee the second” I replied with a dimple to dimple grin.
So began my time working in a small custom/production shop. I had the opportunity over the next two years to learn from many of the guys who specialized in specific parts of the process; mechanical design and engineering from the boss, frame layout, machining and tube mitering from Hubby, the art brazing and Tig welding in Steel, Ti and Aluminum from Johnny, and was mesmerized by the colorful talents of Tommy in the paint booth.
When I began building on my own, I took with me experience and a belief structure that I have continued to build upon…to bring a customers dreams to reality, a builder MUST be part of the entire process, from listening to the customers needs/desires through final assembly and delivery. Mastery is never achieved, but one must strive to move closer to it with each build.
My knowledge, experience and style have slowly morphed through the years to reflect the hurdles and required changes that the passage of time challenges each of us with.
The first obstacle that was thrust upon me was due to my own impatience and laissez-faire attitude; a toxic exposure to Imron vapors caused coronary vasospasm resulting in a heart attack at the tender age of 26. The damage resulting from the event has left me to this day with an internal defibrillator and on daily medication. Despite the prognosis that I’d forever be a cardiac couch potato, I’ve been able to battle back and continue to cycle, enjoying one of the purest meetings of man and machine.
January 1, 2000 was another turning point in my frame building when I received a phone call at noon that the shop was on fire. Careless handing of a wood stove, used to heat the shop, by my shop mate had resulted in a total loss by the time I arrived. A loop hole exclusion in my insurance had left me with at 10% reimbursement, without equipment and trying to determine what to do next. Fortunately for me, two friends and I had been talking of building a few custom choppers. They had the money, I had the knowledge, so when faced with no shop or tools, they had me make up a list and they pulled the trigger. Suddenly, I was back in the game, working on custom choppers and doing frames after hours. The custom motorcycle game was a hoot, as we did everything the way I had been conditioned…in house. We got to make new fixtures, English wheels, and work with tubing that bent easily without kinking J In many aspects, the fabrication is much the same as with bicycles; solid design work, tube mitering, joining processes, alignment, and paint were all requisite skills. Creating smooth tanks, fenders, and machining custom mounts were all skills gained and transfer seamlessly into the metal work I do now. We took awards at Daytona bike week, got a photo shoot with a PMOY, and had all the excitement of rubbing on chrome pipes till our fingers were permanently black with compound. As my partner’s desire waned, so to did my time in that shop, landing me in my current location in 2003.
Now, the most difficult hurdle I struggle with is time. I’ve been very fortunate that I have a customer base that not only desires a working relationship with me, they are very understanding of the current work load and time constraints. Difficulties enrich the value of life, and reinforce just how lucky we are to carve out a niche in this field. That said, the one aspect of building that I most enjoy, the one reason all is worth it, is bringing the customer’s dreams and desires to fruition, sharing the process with them. Seeing an excited face in person or in pictures never gets old…bicycles truly do bring the child out in all of us.
I feel very blessed to have been afforded the opportunity to begin my experience by learning from those more knowledgeable than I. Even today, I am constantly amazed by how little I know and how large the knowledge pool can be to draw from. I do my best to share the little I possess with others, a goal that is made more attainable with the proliferation of the internet, and want to thank my brothers in this art for their participation. Thanks to V-Salon and Richard for a venue to make it all possible.