Let’s just start by saying that I’m 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 ’96 or’97 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 “stuck” on a particular process or part. But in 1999, Dave moved on from Serotta and I was “on my own” so to speak. It wasn’t as though I didn’t 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 you’re 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 wasn’t 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 he’s really happy. His departure was a mixed blessing, I didn’t 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 Kirk’s carved stainless lugs on a frame and Richard Schwinn took notice of this. It wasn’t 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 “flame” 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, it’s my middle name, for folks who’ve been wondering. Now I get to take all the knowledge I’ve 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 it’s begun to distill. I’ve gravitated toward simple, classic lug designs, and understated paint schemes that highlight the time I spend on every detail. I’m 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 it’s just pretty and rides or fits lousy, I haven’t 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. She’s worked plenty of overtime to make sure I have a roof over Ellis Cycles, and I couldn’t do it without her!