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Thread: Ellis Cycles

  1. #1
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    Default Ellis Cycles

    Letís just start by saying that Iím a very lucky framebuilder to have learned the craft the way I did, and probably one of the last guys who had this particular type of opportunity.

    It must have been about í96 orí97 when Kelly Bedford gave me my first brazing demonstration after work at Serotta. I was working in the Final QC/Shipping department at the time, but I must have bugged him enough to show me. After that first experience, I spent many evenings just fillet brazing scrap tubes together and getting a feel for the brazing process. I also built a pair of barends that are still seeing use today! The beauty of this situation was, I could do my brazing one day and then show Kelly or Dave K. the next morning and get their feedback on what I was doing right and more importantly what I may have been doing wrong.

    Fast forward to 1998, I returned to Serotta after Ben bought the company back from his investors with the promise of training as a full time framebuilder. Where this process starts is in the finishing department, lots of files, emery cloth and raw fingers. I struggled along for a week or so, when Dave Kirk decided to do a demonstration for me. He took an unfinished frame, finished one side of every lug while explaining how and why he did it that way and then turned me loose to try and duplicate his work on the other side. After many more weeks of finishing I started on braze-ons and chainstay subassemblies. Once again, Dave was there to answer any questions I had and give me advice on how to do not just an acceptable job, but one that I could be proud of. It was exhilarating to see the progress I made even day to day as I got more comfortable with the torch and rod. During the time I worked with Dave at Serotta, I came to rely on him pretty heavily for advice and to help out whenever I got ďstuckĒ on a particular process or part. But in 1999, Dave moved on from Serotta and I was ďon my ownĒ so to speak. It wasnít as though I didnít have anyone I could ask for guidance, but what it really forced me to do was problem solve on my own without immediately asking Dave. I found that if I just took a few minutes to do some critical thinking, I could usually solve my problem without bugging anyone. Not a bad thing to learn if youíre going to be a custom builder. I stuck it out for another year, but in 2000, I felt like I needed a change for both personal and professional reasons and I started exploring where else I could do the brazing work I loved.

    Waterford. I called, told them who I was, what my skills were, and the rest is history. I took a trip out to see the area in Jan or Feb?, and I still decided to move to Wisconsin! I met the head brazer, John Sotherland, and found him to be extremely knowledgeable and helpful. He showed me the processes that Waterford used for their (silver brazed) frames and after taking me through a frame build, I was off and running. I took some getting used to, but with the experience I had from Serotta I picked things up pretty quickly. John worked with me, getting me familiar with all the different models and options, like stainless lugs, that Waterford offered, and then when he felt like I was ready, he packed his stuff up and quit! I wasnít expecting that, but after many years with both Schwinn and Waterford, John was burned out and ready for a change. He runs a nice little shop in Whitewater, WI and I think and hope heís really happy. His departure was a mixed blessing, I didnít have a go to guy for questions any more, but once again, it forced me to make thought out rational decisions a on a daily basis. As time passed at Waterford, I started building frames for myself or occasionally for a friend. It was on these frames where I would experiment and try new things. I tried to copy some of Dave Kirkís carved stainless lugs on a frame and Richard Schwinn took notice of this. It wasnít too long before I saw my first set of stainless Pacenti lugs and after that I was off and running. One of the first carved lug bikes I built was displayed at the 2003 Interbike show, and interest in them grew slowly but steadily. Over the next 5 years, I built numerous carved lug bikes for myself and Waterford customers that ranged from simple modifications to over the top custom lugs like the ďflameĒ bike I displayed at the 2007 NAHBS. During the 8 years I spent at Waterford, I worked hard to improve the processes and quality to something more than just a decent production bike, but in 2008, I again felt the need to move on for what I hop e will be my final career chapter.

    Ellis, itís my middle name, for folks whoíve been wondering. Now I get to take all the knowledge Iíve built up over the last 10 years of building production and custom frames and build my vision of the perfect bike. When I first started, the question was, what does an Ellis look like, ride like? Over the first 2 years, I think itís begun to distill. Iíve gravitated toward simple, classic lug designs, and understated paint schemes that highlight the time I spend on every detail. Iím flattered to have won some awards, but I value the feedback I get from customers who ride the bikes much more that all of the awards. If itís just pretty and rides or fits lousy, I havenít done my job.

    Finally, I have to thank my wife Lisa for all of her hard work over these first couple years of Ellis Cycles. Sheís worked plenty of overtime to make sure I have a roof over Ellis Cycles, and I couldnít do it without her!

  2. #2
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    Default Re: Ellis Cycles

    Hi Dave,

    Congrats on winning Best of Show at NAHBS this year.

    In your opinion, do you feel that Stainless Lugs have any advantages, aside from being pretty when they shine? Is there any one type or brand of lug that you use most? Are there any you steer clear of?

    Thanks!

    DW

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    Default Re: Ellis Cycles

    Quote Originally Posted by Slapshot View Post
    Hi Dave,

    Congrats on winning Best of Show at NAHBS this year.

    In your opinion, do you feel that Stainless Lugs have any advantages, aside from being pretty when they shine? Is there any one type or brand of lug that you use most? Are there any you steer clear of?

    Thanks!

    DW
    Don,

    Thanks for putting on the show!

    As for the stainless lugs, your bike isn't going to ride any different or be more durable with stainless lugs, but they sure are pretty! I've been using some Long Shen lugs for 1 1/8" steerers quite a bit lately, but I've also used Richie's lugs, Henry James and even some old Haden pressed lugs depending on the frame configuration and the "look" the customer is after.

    I've had a few stainless lugs over the years that have voids in the castings and I'll usually steer clear of them if it seems like a common problem with a particular brand of lug.

    Dave

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    Default Re: Ellis Cycles

    What is your process to fit a rider to their bike if the customer is not able to travel to you? haha don't write a book only the broad stroke unless you are highly caffeinated today!

    What the he!! is a "regular" coffee?

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    Default Re: Ellis Cycles

    Quote Originally Posted by Too Tall View Post
    What is your process to fit a rider to their bike if the customer is not able to travel to you? haha don't write a book only the broad stroke unless you are highly caffeinated today!

    What the he!! is a "regular" coffee?
    This is a great question, and I end up answering it frequently.

    There's three different types of customers that I work with when it comes to fit.

    1. The guy (or girl), but usualy a guy who's got a set of numbers (seat angle, top tube, head tube) that he's been using for years and I just have to plug it into my drawing program and go. We can discuss sloping vs. level top tube and some other details, but for the most part it's set.

    2. The casual rider who's stepping up to a custom frame. Usually has a couple bikes, and is pretty close, but needs some tweaks here and there. What I'll do here is have them take some pics, or bring their bikes by the shop and I can assess the setup and take measurements from the bikes. If it's photos, I can usually access geometries if the bikes aren't super old and the picture is worth a thousand words. I'll see a bike with the saddle pushed all the way back or forward, super short or super long stems and these are the tipoffs for where to start setting up a new geometry. This, plus a discussion with the customer about any issues they're having will usually get me where I need to be.

    3. Finally, there's the folks who have no starting point at all. Either they're just starting out, or becoming more serious and switching from a hybrid to a "real" bike. In that case I'll recommend that they find a local shop they trust and have a more comprehensive fitting done. Since I worked at both Serotta and Waterford, I have a bit of a network of shops with trained fit guys that I can guide folks toward. I'll usually call ahead and let the shop know I'm sending along a customer to give them a heads up too.

    Not a book mind you, but maybe a short story?

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    Default Re: Ellis Cycles

    Those dropouts and your execution of them make me cry. Happy cry.

  7. #7
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    Default Re: Ellis Cycles

    Dave,

    You wrote a ton about your experience learning and perfecting your metalworking techniques. That was great.

    Can you tell us more about how your philosophy and experience with design and geometry developed?
    GO!

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    Quote Originally Posted by vulture View Post
    Those dropouts and your execution of them make me cry. Happy cry.
    Thanks!

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    Default Re: Ellis Cycles

    Quote Originally Posted by davids View Post
    Dave,

    You wrote a ton about your experience learning and perfecting your metalworking techniques. That was great.

    Can you tell us more about how your philosophy and experience with design and geometry developed?
    This one's a little harder to pin down. I really turned into a bike nerd back in the mid 80's and I can look back at the bikes of that era as a design influence. I started working in a bike shop in 1989, my Junior year of high school, and I really haven't left the bike industy since. I did one year of college for Ceramic Engineering, but it wasn't for me, and since then I've worked in a number of shops and then at both Serotta and Waterford. During these years I've seen geometry go from laid back road and tour frames to super steep crit bikes, 18mm tires to 25's and everything in between. What I keep coming back to is a "classic" geometry that just works, ie. (73 degree angles for mid sized bikes and slight variation for small or big frames). Personally I tried going with a steeper seat angle for a couple years and I never could get it to feel right. I think there's a reason why the classic geometry works and never really gets improved upon.

    I've simplified this explanation a bit, not every frame gets parallel 73's but you get the idea.

    As for the material side of design, I like the "look" of classic lugged frames, and the fact that there's more good quality tubes, lugs and other parts for everything from standard gauge tubing to super oversize, makes my job in designing bikes specifically for a customer much easier. I still really like standard gauge tubing for small bikes, it just makes sense, heck, I've even got an SLX singlespeed (60cm) I built for myself a couple years ago and I love the ride.

    I kinda feel like I'm rambling a bit here, hopefully I've answered at least part of your question?

    Cheers,
    Dave

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    Default Re: Ellis Cycles

    Quote Originally Posted by davids View Post
    Dave,

    You wrote a ton about your experience learning and perfecting your metalworking techniques. That was great.

    Can you tell us more about how your philosophy and experience with design and geometry developed?
    The more I've been thinking about your question, I would say my design has been most influenced by what I liked and didn't like about the Serotta's and Waterford's I built over the years.

    For example, at Serotta used this seat lug for Atlantas.

    phpyna3Q6PM.jpg

    After building many hundreds of Atlanta's, I got pretty burned out on this particular lug, but I went back to it a couple years ago since I needed a good lug for attaching "fastback" stays and I've been really happy with it. I've been lucky to have a chance to try out lots of parts and know ahead of time what will and won't work for what I'm doing. I still try to order some interesting parts from my supplier every so often just to see what they look like and try out new things as well.

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    Default Re: Ellis Cycles

    Hey Dave,
    I know that when I purchased my first custom bike (and hopefully not my last) I came into the experience pretty ignorant of what the experience was going to be like. As a customer I had be to educated by my builder that if I wanted an exact copy of the Colnago Masterlight that I’d had years ago, I should just go and find the exact same model and size and be done with it. He explained (and I now understand) that his job as a custom builder was to worry about fitting the frame to me, rather than fitting me to a frame. I was pretty lucky that he was as blunt and honest about the matter as he was and I have the best bike I’ve ever owned.

    The question is, have you ever had a customer who didn’t get what your job as a custom builder was? Have you ever had to “fire” a customer because you realized that no matter what you did they would claim to “know better.”

    On the flip side of that, have you had customers that gave you a blank check and said "make me awesome bike" and given you free reign on not only geometry, but also on the esthetic qualities of the bike, ie. Lug design, paint, etc etc? If you have had customers like that, are those builds more fun and interesting for you?

    Thanks again for sharing.
    "I think I know what military fame is; to be killed on the field of battle and have your name misspelled in the newspapers."

  12. #12
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    Default Re: Ellis Cycles

    Great work, Dave. I frequently have to pick my jaw up off my keyboard when you post pics.

    My question is: You seem to do lugs and fillet brazing equally well, is there one you prefer over the other? Does that preference depend on what kind of frame it is?
     

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    Quote Originally Posted by dcpdpayne View Post
    Hey Dave,
    I know that when I purchased my first custom bike (and hopefully not my last) I came into the experience pretty ignorant of what the experience was going to be like. As a customer I had be to educated by my builder that if I wanted an exact copy of the Colnago Masterlight that Iíd had years ago, I should just go and find the exact same model and size and be done with it. He explained (and I now understand) that his job as a custom builder was to worry about fitting the frame to me, rather than fitting me to a frame. I was pretty lucky that he was as blunt and honest about the matter as he was and I have the best bike Iíve ever owned.

    The question is, have you ever had a customer who didnít get what your job as a custom builder was? Have you ever had to ďfireĒ a customer because you realized that no matter what you did they would claim to ďknow better.Ē

    On the flip side of that, have you had customers that gave you a blank check and said "make me awesome bike" and given you free reign on not only geometry, but also on the esthetic qualities of the bike, ie. Lug design, paint, etc etc? If you have had customers like that, are those builds more fun and interesting for you?

    Thanks again for sharing.
    This is a great example of Carl Strong's philosopy, "you buy the builder, not the bike". I'm guessing most new builders, or in my case newly out on my own, have to face customers who want to dictate the bike design. I've had guys who want a seat lug like a Weigle, head lugs like a Toei and dropouts like XYZ..., you get the picture. I think when you're new, no one really knows what your bikes "look" like or what your design philosophy is. It's hard when you've just hung your shingle out, the phone's not ringing and someone finally calls with a recumbent tricycle order. Do you stick to your guns and send them on their way or do you try to make something work to get the $'s?

    Now that I've been around for a couple years and folks can look over the 35 or so Ellis frames, they'll get a feel for my bikes and whether I'm the builder for them before they even call. I'm open to ideas, and I'll tell folks if something they want just isn't sitting right with me and why that is.

    To answer your questions, I have had to "fire" one customer, not fun, and I've also had orders where they basically said "go nuts". I love them for it, but these always make me nervous after seeing some real cluster #!@#'s at both Serotta and Waterford. I always try to check in with the customer as the bike progresses to make sure we're still on the same page. The last thing I can afford is a custom build "dream bike" with no owner.

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    Default Re: Ellis Cycles

    Quote Originally Posted by edoz View Post
    Great work, Dave. I frequently have to pick my jaw up off my keyboard when you post pics.

    My question is: You seem to do lugs and fillet brazing equally well, is there one you prefer over the other? Does that preference depend on what kind of frame it is?
    Thanks for the compliment!

    As for fillet vs. lugs, I probably prefer lugs slightly, but on the right bike fillet is pretty special too. Most of the bikes I've filleted it's because of some design limitation like angles or shaped tubes that preclude me from using lugs, but I do offer all my frames with a fillet brazed option if that's what folks want. I gotta admit, the bi-lam 29'er I just built has really gotten to me and it's only a matter of time before I have to make one of those for myself!
    Last edited by Dave Wages; 05-17-2010 at 07:11 PM. Reason: spelling

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    i never knew what "bi-lam" was until seeing some recent pics (and your answering my question on the topic) on a different thread somewhere here on vsalon.

    your bikes are amazing. bravo!
     

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    Default Re: Ellis Cycles

    Do you regularly ride any bikes you didn't build? Are they from smaller shops like yours, or do you own some mass produced bicycles as well?

    What was the last bike you built for your self? What will the next be?

    thanks,

    paul

    ps-if you ever make the quick jaunt down to chicago, i'll buy you a beer.
     

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    Default Re: Ellis Cycles

    Quote Originally Posted by soupless View Post
    Do you regularly ride any bikes you didn't build? Are they from smaller shops like yours, or do you own some mass produced bicycles as well?

    What was the last bike you built for your self? What will the next be?

    thanks,

    paul

    ps-if you ever make the quick jaunt down to chicago, i'll buy you a beer.

    Interesting question.

    The last bike I built for myself was this one;

    phpfxSHB2AM.jpg

    I showed it at NAHBS with the 1991 Campy Record kit. This was my "dream" bike from around the time I got seriously into cycling, I managed to find the kit last summer at Ben's Cycle in Milwaukee and I knew I had to build this one. Since the show I've taken the NOS Campy stuff off and I'm riding it with some less precious parts.

    phpygVYJsAM.jpg

    The next bike will probably be a new 29'er frame. I built one for myself in the winter of 2008, showed it at the 2009 NAHBS and at the Cirque du Cyclisme. A few weeks after Cirque, a guy who'd seen it there called and asked if I'd sell it, which I did! I kinda miss it, but I didn't have a lot of time last summer to build a new one, so I got a cheap Spec. Rockhopper 29'er to ride until I get to building one. That's the only bike I have other than an Ellis.

    Thanks for the question Paul, you know you're welcome to stop by the shop in Wisconsin if you ever find yourself up this way!

    Not that folks from Chicago ever go to WI!

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    Default Re: Ellis Cycles

    Quote Originally Posted by 54ny77 View Post
    i never knew what "bi-lam" was until seeing some recent pics (and your answering my question on the topic) on a different thread somewhere here on vsalon.

    your bikes are amazing. bravo!
    Thanks!

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    Default Re: Ellis Cycles

    Hey Dave,

    I really enjoy looking at your stuff.

    As you made the transition from Waterford to self-employed what was your process of going about setting up your business?

    Sure you had to come up with a name, design some decals, get a website up and running, etc., etc., but how did you go about getting the "word out?"

    Additionally, did you work with a business consultant or anyone to provide advice on branding or marketing?

    Lastly, you mentioned a drawing program. I presume this is for frame design. Is this something that you designed and built yourself or are you using an off-the-shelf program?

    Thanks,

    Conor

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    Default Re: Ellis Cycles

    Dear Dave,

    4 questions for you:

    1) What is your fascination with those overengineered, underpowered paperweights known as Campy Delta brakes?

    2) Do you prefer to "scorch out with your torch out", or "style out with your file out"?

    3) How close did you come to "firing" me?

    4) Where's my frame?

    cheers,

    Me

    PS. Has the inspector ever rejected any of your work?
    Sharp as a lemon, with the zest of a knife

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