At about the age of 7, I rode my first bike. It was my sisters Schwinn, and because of its Ďgirlsí frame, I could straddle it while standing and peddling. By the age of 9 I had my own full size Schwinn, a Typhoon in red. For me the bike was my car Ė offering a measure of freedom.
Naturally my bike provided a quick means of visiting friends, running errands, or getting to school. For 8-9 months of the year, it also provided me with an escape from home life. As an escape, I was in no hurry to return. Because I rarely had a destination, that meant riding farther and farther.
By then, I met a new friend, someone with older brothers. The oldest of them were attending the U (University of Minnesota), conferring on them a major coolness factor. Naturally my buddy liked to ride, but when his brothers discovered fine European bikes, our interest in bikes and riding grew exponentially.
John worked and saved his money for a used, basic, Gitane. My father didnít believe in all that flimsy junk from overseas, nor in the uncomfortable skinny saddles or downturned handlebars. So my savings were directed into a Schwinn w/ a five-speed Huret Allvit setup. Sprung vinyl seat, chromed upright bars, heavy steel frame and wheels. It wasnít sexy, but I had gears and could cover more ground.
A few years later, I entered High-School (outside of Chicago). By then, the seeds of the bike boom were planted, and my savings were focused on a Peugeot PX-10. My father drove me the hour-and-half down to Chicago and a real bike shop. My first reaction on seeing the bike, with its flat tubulars, was that something must be wrong. Naturally, my father remarked about the tires and everything else about this crazy, expensive, bike. All of which convinced me that the PX-10 was perfect.
I had a lot to learn about bike maintenance and repair. Like the time I rolled a front tire and ended up on my back, still clipped to the pedals w/ hands on the brake hoods, with the bike pointing up into the air. There werenít any shops closer than 30 minutes away (by car) from our house. And even these didnít cater to higher-end equipment. There was, however, a shop in Minneapolis with a mail-order catalog Ė I donít remember the name - which carried everything I needed and wanted. Most of the catalog seemed to be illustrated by D. Rebour, and I studied it cover to cover for every clue I could find Ė as I steadily developed my mechanical skills.
More importantly I rode. Compared to the Schwinn, this bike felt like it floating on clouds. Just coasting was a magical experience. The fit, however, never felt right to me. So in college, I sold it and bought a Bob Jackson Ė mustard yellow with a black head-tube and seat panel Ė that I used to explore the countryside.
About then, I ran across the Proteus Framebuilding Handbook at the Student Bookstore. Looking at the book now, explains the process of how to build a frame. But at the time, it struck me as sketchy and seemed to gloss over important details of brazing.
In fact, I made the wise choice not to build a frame with only the Handbook as my guide. But the desire to build a frames was lit and would continue burning for many years to come.
I believe that some folks are more creative than others. Not that they are better, or more clever, rather some folks have more of a need to create. And this need can be addressed in many ways Ė not necessarily by what we normally would consider arts or crafts. I am someone who needs a creative outlet. Part of what I enjoy is problem solving. I also have a clearly logical side to my thinking, which questions much and demands good answers (at least according to my terms).
Some years ago, after surviving more than 15 M&As (the count was lost somewhere after that), I was downsized during an acquisition. This was near the beginning of the Internet economic slump, and for the IT industry, this was exacerbated by the completion of Y2K projects. For two years I had good success in the recruiting process, without making it past the brides-maid stage. At about the same time, I turned 50. This seems to be a combination of magic numbers Ė because suddenly phone calls were no longer returned by headhunters and hiring organizations.
So, with family obligation, I turned to other employment which paid bills Ė even if it didnít satisfy my creativity and problem solving Jones.
Magically, in this period, I stumbled across some evolving resources where frame-builders Ė really big name people Ė were beginning to use the Internet to share knowledge of the process of frame-building. There were a number of antecedents to this, including the publishing of several books more comprehensive than Proteus, and certain frame-builders offering courses for hire on how to build a frame. Today we see the results of this mass of interest and knowledge-sharing which has reached a sustainable boil.
Iíve been learning to build bikes now for about 6-7 years - yet Iím probably the worldís slowest builder. Iím different from many because I build using either steel, or carbon fiber. The learning processes for each material is probably more different than the respective construction processes. Some of my builds are for commission, some are for experience. I donít market (unless you count a primative website), focusing my efforts within my local community. My shop isnít weatherized, limiting me to about six months of building a year; itís a small shop, about 9 x 11. To get work done, I move my wifeís car out of the garage, and spread things out until itís time to shut down for the night.
Iíve focused on road bikes, ranging from rando to racing. This summer calls for building a couple of cross bikes Ė and weíll see how that goes. My first love is the steel frame Ė and where I started my building odyssey. But, carbon fiber is very popular. People came to me asking me to build with it Ė so that has been a medium into which I naturally expanded.
The aesthetics of steel and carbon fiber are obviously different. Apart from some logos, and my ideas of frame design, there isnít much that ties my steel and carbon frames together. On the other hand, Iím still trying to figure out what are/will be my signature licks on a frame. So maybe Iíll find something to unify the two materials yet.
For steel, there have been many sources within the community to guide my methods and materials, which has been great! We stand on the shoulders of giants. Carbon fiber, however, has been a bit different. I havenít room (nor electrical circuits) for an oven to cure pre-preg materials. Thatís a shame because I think they are easier to handle than wet layups, and this has put me outside the mainstream of carbon-fiber frame building. Consequently, Iíve relied on sources outside of frame-building.
Most dry uni-direction fabrics arenít suitable for the complex shapes of a bicycle frame. They donít happily drape or conform to the required shapes. On the other hand, woven fabrics lose some of their strength because the threads bend as they cross each other. Through luck, I have found sources for rare fabrics that address these issues. These fabrics are made of layers (from 2 to 9) of uni-directional fibers, woven together loosely with stretchy threads, so that the fabric drapes easily and keeps the layers properly oriented to each other, while building up the joint. Cool stuff, and I hope I can continue to source these materials until such time as I move to pre-preg.
For all that has been cool about working with carbon fiber, the process leaves doesnít give me the tactile impressions of working a tool against steel.
Note: I have a drill press, but no other machine tools. This isnít a metaphysically defined setup Ė I just donít have the space or money to play with machine tools. So I push a file, saw, or sandpaper against steel tube and fittings by hand. And I find that this gives a greater feeling of creating something (at least for me), than does working with carbon fiber.
Donít get me wrong, both methods build a great bicycle. And either bike can be beautiful. But there is something more intimate for me about building with steel than with carbon fiber.
Where am I now? Well Iíve built around 30 bikes. Iíve been insured since the beginning. Iíve cut up lots of bikes, and thrown out my share of partially completed frames and/or forks. But my finished bikes seem to work well for their riders. My build times are improving and the mechanical processes are becoming more rote. More importantly, I enjoy what Iím doing. So Iíll keep at it, and one of these days show up at NAHBS.
Before ending, a few props are necessary:
1 Painting is hard, but done well it can make almost anything look good. Thank you to all the painters out there.
2 Thanks to the community of builders and their willingness to share.
3 A big shout out to e-Ritchie, who has done so much to keep this community thriving over the years.
4 Thank you Too Tall and the V-Salon for the opportunity to share my story.
Re: Cycles Noir
Nice to see you up and about. I think I remember some of our early (2001/2002) internet conversations back in the day.
I realized you gravitated to carbon as another material from steel and it sounds as though you use it slightly differently without having the room for an oven/cure system. Could you elaborate more on that? Is necessity the mother of invention on this? From your initial description it sounds as though you're doing a full monocoque layup, is that true?
Are you doing any mixed steel/carbon bikes? Not just carbon forks, but I mean carbon rear ends. If so, how do those ride compared to their full steel or full carbon counterparts?
Do you find both materials have their place and intended usage? I mean if you had to choose only one would you stay with steel or go for the future of carbon?
Re: Cycles Noir
Rick, it sounds like your clients find you by word of mouth and reputation. I like that, it means your clients are self selecting and will tend to be a better match to your personality and abilities. Is that right or am I off the mark? Building bicycles is a VERY personal service of which I know a thing or two (chuckle). How strongly do you feel about making some sort of a personal connection with clients or is that not on the agenda?
HEY THANKS for your tremendous backstory and good words.
Re: Cycles Noir
Originally Posted by conorb
I started with Deda's DCS, but found it to be too kit-like and not enough flexibility for true custom. Also, some builders were having reliability issues with it - and I didn't want to go down that path. So I started sourcing tubing, first from Mclean, then Edge and Deda, and using CF to bond the joints.
In my experience, it is harder to make aesthetically good joints than to make structurally good joints. Vacuum bags work, but it can be hard to hold wet layers in place while getting the wrinkles out. So, depending on the joint, I may some a combination of shrink tubing, wrapped tape, and vacuum bags to get the necessary compression.
My building sequence is:
1 glue and partially wrap the BB to the chainstays.
2 glue up the keel and work the BB joint. I don't wrap the BB as a single operation.
3 glue in the top tube and wrap the head tube joints
4 glue in the seat stays and wrap their joint to the seat tube.
I don't really like to install internal cable runs, but have figured out some ways to make these work. For example, its possible to give the downtube a more parabolic entry profile - which is actually helpful from an aero perspective. For this I bond balsa strips to the tube, which I sand to shape, and lay a light CF layer on top. Before the CF layer, its possible to groove these strips and glue in cable guides - which are external to the structural tube, but for all practical purposes are internal. This is an example of necessity being the mother of invention - so yes to that question.
I haven't mixed my steel and CF to date - and can't comment on the ride characteristics. I've thought about it, and its very doable - certainly others have made this work. It isn't clear to me, however, what the benefits are. Not saying that there are no bene's, they just haven't been obvious enough to me for me to feel compelled to make the experiment.
Yeah, both materials have their place. CF can be incredibly durable. Steel can be a bit fragile. All steel failures are not graceful. All CF failures are not catastrophic. Epoxy doesn't melt from sitting in the sun. Well cared for, steel doesn't easily rust.
I don't generally push weight limits. If I did, my first choice would be to do it with steel - even though that would make for a heavier frame - I'm just a bit more comfortable with steel at its limits. More importantly, its possible to hit minimum racing weights with either material - buy choosing the right kit. Consequently, I don't think folks should get too hung up on frame weight - and I don't commit to weights up front, nor report them at completion of the frame.
Call me a contrarian, or an independent thinker, or just crusty, but I don't think there are substantial differences in how a frame feels based on its material. I think tires, and to some degree wheels, control the ride qualities. Frame design controls the handling. At the end of rides, we'll be sitting outside the coffee shop and someone always starts the debate on material qualities. I've learned to just sit and smile as various views are aired, usually just has they have been written in one of the various mags. All I know is that my two primary bikes are split - one steel and one carbon. And I can't ascribe a certain ride quality or feel to either that relates to its material.
If I had to go with one material, it would be steel. Both for the tactile qualities during building, and an old school aesthetic. But that doesn't mean I don't like carbon fiber, and I would prefer to be able to continue to work with both.
BTW, there wasn't room in the original post to point out that given the bully pulpit, I tend to get a bit windy. ;)
Cheers & I love your work!
Re: Cycles Noir
Yeah, you bring up a few points that I haven't addressed.
Originally Posted by Too Tall
I could build bikes without ever having a rider (other than me) and derive a certain amount of satisfaction. But that clearly isn't the whole cycle. Its tremendously rewarding when someone first looks at their new bike and clearly are in love with it. Its even better when they've ridden it for a while, and come back with stories of how much they enjoy it. And I love when I'm close enough to observe one of my riders telling someone else about all the wonderful things about their bike and how much they enjoy it. So that all very very cool from where I sit.
To date, my riders have not been demanding in terms of trying to tell me how to design their bike - guess I'm lucky there. Some have come to me with good and well established fits - which makes that side of things easy. Others appear to be in need of some adjustments. For them, I prefer to try to tweak their current bike first, get them close to where I think they belong, and get their concurrence on the changes before committing them to steel of CF. This process has worked pretty well for me.
I've only had one rider that I gave up on. Changing demands and impatience made it better to refund the deposit and send him along to someone else than to try to meet his needs.
So far, no one has asked me to build something outside of my comfort zone. If they did, I would have no problem pointing them toward someone better equipped to meet their needs.
Clearly you are on point about the self-selecting clientele. Also, re the personal connection. Without the connection, its not really possible to have the dialog about adjusting fit, or what I will or won't build, or even to say lets break up but stay friends. But I've been lucky that in most cases, the personal connection was established before the issue of building came up. Going forward, this will probably be a CSF to grown the business.
One last thing, I've probably read just about everything you've written here. What always shines through is your enthusiasm - bet you make a great coach and riding buddy.
Thanks for you input and support.
Re: Cycles Noir
non tech question, How did you name your company? I like and agree wtih your comments about weight. Some folks will never be convinced.
Re: Cycles Noir
Ever since my PX-10, I've been aware of and impressed by the French influence in bike design/construction. Here in the states, its taken a back seat over most of my life to Italian and British influences, IMO. So the contrarian in me was attracted to the French image. When I decided to add CF to my efforts, it seemed appropriate for the name to reflect black fiber, hence the Noir.
I should point out that nothing about my bikes to date, apart from design of Rando style frames, show much French influence - so I suppose that its all a bit tongue in cheek. But when the idea of Cycles Noir came to me, I liked and stuck with it.
Re: Cycles Noir
OK, I had an offline question about learning to braze.
Basically, it was through trial and error, but to say I am self-taught is to claim way too much credit. There is lots of dialog on how to braze on the frame-builders list, with Doug Fattic making especially useful contributions. Even more important for me was Freddy Parr who has always been as close as my phone, and ever generous with his time to diagnose what I'm doing and how to do it better.
A second benefit to Freddy has been access to some great brazing materials. Here is a shot of the head-tube of my first fillet brazed frame, which just happens to be one of the very first frames built with Fillet Pro. This bad boy is still going strong about five years later. Fillet Pro is a great filler.
Re: Cycles Noir
Very nice work. Is there a certain type of bike that you really like to build?
Re: Cycles Noir
I'm still refining my ideas about how to achieve best handling for a road/racing bike. I'm working on one now for someone who needs a short TT and it sort of pushes the boundaries a bit. His feedback, especially while racing is going to be important. Otherwise, I like a traditional look with out too much Frou Frou.
Re: Cycles Noir
What did you build for yourself most recently?
Re: Cycles Noir
Now that's a good question I wasn't expecting to get. The truth is, the first frame I completed had a wickedly out of alignment rear end. I tried to figure alignment by measuring off of a bar bolted to the BB. I miscalculated, and ended up with something unridable.
About a year and half ago, I had a little time and pulled that frame off the scrap pile, cut off the rear end, and brazed on a new one. It looked pretty good, so I built a fork for it. It rode pretty well so I had it painted. And now its one of my primary bikes. It's single oversize Deda tubing w/ Columbus fork tubing. Ends are Henry James, lugs some basic shortpoint - probably Walter.
It's a basic road bike, but it easily fits 28mm (maybe even a 30mm) tires and uses long reach brakes. I'm amused because most of the riders around me don't notice it, 'cuz it isnt' Ti or CF.
For what its worth, I'm working (in the background) on a new steel frame for me based on Dazza's Slant Six (aka XL Compact) using 2X oversize tubing. And I've had a new CF bike on the drawing board for some time. But its a bit like the cobblers kids - its hard to find time for my own bikes.
Re: Cycles Noir
hi richard i am woefully behind on reading and posting to this board but wanted to say hey to
you and comment that, for as long as i rcall being online at frame chat places, you too have
been one of the players. i recall several (or even many...) threads we have been on together.
to have watched your blog evolve and to see your work and ideers shaping up is a very, very
cool thing atmo. like craig (whose internet persona i have also closely followed), it's a treat to
see how far you have come on your own grit, self-teaching, and determination. mad props to
you and continued success at the workbench atmo.
Re: Cycles Noir
damn, your interesting to layman ronnie....
no hdtv on with this good stufff...
Re: Cycles Noir
I saw a guy on a group ride last night riding a Trek that's 6 or 8cm too small because it's .xx lbs lighter than his old steel custom that fit him like a glove. 3 in of spacers under the stem and a foot of seatpost sticking out. I wanted to cry.
Originally Posted by vulture
Re: Cycles Noir
Apologies for being slow, family and work have been time intensive just lately.
1st Richard, thanks for the kind thoughts. I wouldn't be here except for you and a few other key people like Fred Parr (long-distance brazing teacher par-excellance), Doug Fattic (who has done a fantastic job of documenting various problems/solutions in clear readable language), and Joe Bringheli (great support, affordable tools and materials).
Ronnie, thanks for the encouragement! Hope we meet someday.
Edoz, I hear you. Those of us who didn't benefit from growing up in a club environment have probably all suffered from the stupids - odd fits, poor priorities, etc.
I finally got fed up with my weight last fall/winter - although I've been fully aware of this issue for some time.
So far, I've dropped about 23 lbs (17 to go). This has done so much more for my riding abilities than any bike. In fact, I've improved more since last year than my buds who have trained better than me over the winter.
Because it took me some years to get over the eat-too-much stupid, I ahve a bit (not too much) more sympathy for the bike-weight stupid.
To me, custom bikes are about fit/comfort/handling in no particular order. All are important, and everything is a compromise. To me, a great bike disappears under the rider. It isn't thought about, its assumed. It plays its role reliably, without complaint. To do this, its weight will be appropriate for its role (type of rider, type of riding). And that's all a rider or builder should really be concerned with. Ah, this is begining to sound like a rant - so I'll stop here.
Thanks to all,
Re: Cycles Noir
You mentioned that you don't feel that there is a definative ride feel diference between steet and carbon, that other factors are more important in the ride of a bicycle. As someone who builds with both materials is there a difference in the way you approach designing a bike depending on the material, and if so what sort of changes do you make to the design? Thanks!
Re: Cycles Noir
The question is interesting, but doesn't really have a meaningful answer (at least for traditional diamond frame bikes, within the normal range of adult sizes). But I feel a rant coming on so let's start with the simple parts.
The bike has to ride well, and to do so it needs to fit.
Your contact points are your contact points and they don't change with material. So fit isn't driven by material, nor is material choice driven by fit.
Then there's handling. Handling is determined by geometry and fit (which impacts balance). At size extremes fit may be compromised for handling - but this just means that an ideal middle-size geometry can't simply be scaled up or down to achieve fit - because handling would take a hit. Instead, steering and seat tubes angles are varied, as are seatpost setback and stem length.
Material choice doesn't change this process of achieving fit within handling.
That's the short answer, and you can stop here if you like.
Yes I choose different diameters and wall thickness for different materials. That's a necessity, but this doesn't really change the bike being constructed, apart from visually.
Material choice may help determine weight, but weight is also a function of the desired durability. To a large degree, durability is a function of weight, not material. Pushed to the limit, I admit that my carbon frames are lighter than my steel frames. But this ignores the overall bike weight and its true (un)importance to the goals at hand.
Ride quality is poorly understood, due largely to bicycle company PR departments and their friends in the media. No complaints, but that's a fair statement of how things work.
Aluminum, Carbon Fiber, Magnesium, Steel, Titanium, and apparently Flax, all ride fine. If you want a softer ride, get softer tires. If you want a harder ride, get harder tires. Not all frames have the same flex characteristics, but there is precious little information regarding how flex impacts your ride, except some theories which assume "...all other factors equal...", which they never are.
There is no such thing as vertically compliant and laterally stiff.
A diamond frame is essentially a Howe Truss - like on many older bridges. A design intended to eliminate vertical compliance.
A diamond frame is essentially a beam when viewed from above or below. Side loads will flex a beam. The beam can be stiffer or less stiff, but there isn't anything in the structural design to make it more or less compliant. Material, size, and profile of the beam determine it stiffness.
I have yet to see a study of the beam stiffness of bicycle frames where: 1) stiffness was primarily a function of material; or 2) where riders could regularly, accurately, rank the stiffness of bikes by riding them. It's much less of an issue than the official scribes make it out to be.
The vertical Howe Truss horizontal beam style of a bicycle frame makes it more horizontally than vertically compliant - period.
A certain minimum stiffness is required by a frame to: 1) ensure against failure; 2) provide consistent handling. That's what a builder needs to be concerned about, and all the regular materials can provide this stiffness.
The possible exception to the foregoing is: the fork - which is a cantilevered structure, and typically bends in various ways while riding. To the degree that the builder designs and builds their own forks, or at least knows the characteristics of purchased forks and designs around them, the fork can tune ride characteristics. Here again, we have to work within some limits of including: 1) a fork stiff enough to be durable; 2) some forces or inputs to the fork are mitigated by the fork turning on its steering axis; 3) forks can be made more or less stiff from: steel, carbon fiber, aluminum, or titanium.
How big is the tune-ability of a fork? IMO that's hard to say. Some authoritative folks claim that a straight-legged fork responds to bumps in the road just like a curved-legged fork. Others disagree. I think the profile of the fork leg and gauge of material is more critical here.
IMO, except for cases of heavier load handling, a fork stiff enough to provide appropriate handling is generally too stiff to offer compliance on rough roads. Again, tires not frames (and forks) are (or should be) the source of compliance on the bike.
So, does material drive frame design - no except that one needs to understand the material being used, and use appropriate amounts of it in appropriate places to create a successful bike.
That's the long answer, now I'm going for a ride.
Re: Cycles Noir
Hey Rick "G" !
You know I always look forward to our phone coversations, you always leave me thinking !
We would have never gone forward with "Fillet Pro" if you hadn't have done all that "Beta"
I started out as just a rider in the 1950's - along the way guys like you kept making suggestions and one thing lead to another.
You have great ideas that tend to push my buttons and that is a good thing.
PS I got my old web address back http://www.fredparr.com
Georgine says Hi !
Tags for this Thread