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Thread: Equilibrium Cycle Works

  1. #1
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    Default Equilibrium Cycle Works

    The story of my path to frame building

    It started very unexpectedly, once upon a time in London. All of the sudden I noticed gorgeous slim steel frames on the streets. Very soon after this, I bought an old Raleigh made from Reynolds 531. I didn’t have experience with racing bikes, and was surprised that the Raleigh pushed me to the edge all the time. I discovered new horizons with my new steel friend that never let me down.

    The feeling of a freedom and simplicity of being made me think that a bicycle is one of the greatest devices ever invented. I was attracted to the simple lines and aesthetics of a steel frame. Almost from the first day of my romance with steel, I wanted to experience what it would be like to build one from scratch with my own hands. This was 7-8 years ago, but that desire never disappeared.

    Later on I got sick with “fixed gear disease” and started to experiment with different parts, frames and materials, swapping around components, repainting frames, building the wheels etc. I spent a lot of time on the internet studying the cycling history and bicycle makers. In London, I met my future wife who was Japanese. She had to move back to Japan after her visa expired and I followed her a year later. To Japan I brought only myself, my fixing tools, and undisturbed belief that I’ll make a living from my passion.

    For a while I stayed at home, learned some Japanese, and checked the internet for the cycling bargains. I sniffed around shops trying to figure out if there was chance I could become a part of the industry. I found a source in Italy with a huge vintage bicycle collection and started to bring them to Tokyo. I cleaned, fixed, and customized them on a tiny balcony in our one bed room apartment. I didn’t care about the space and circumstance; I’d sleep with a bike just to be able to keep on going.

    Along with selling the bikes, I used to take them for the spin comparing different tubing, set ups, and brands. After a couple of years working on my balcony we moved to another place where I could have a separate space for my workshop. It was then that my desire to become a frame builder started to grow even stronger.

    I looked around for a course or person who could introduce me to the trade. One evening I was walking around our neighborhood and noticed Mr.Ohtaki’s frame building shop. At the first meeting I didn’t dare tell him about my sacred dream, but I had a sense that he was quite open to communication. Fortunately I was able to speak some basic Japanese on a conversational level. After a few visits to his shop and bringing some frames to refurbish, I finally told him that I want to become a frame builder and asked what necessary equipment do I need to start with. Without any hesitation and asking for nothing in return, he gave me a list of tools and showed a place where I could get them. The list was pretty simple: iron surface plate, drill press, bench grinder, a few files, bevel protractor, height gauge and acetylene set up.

    I still didn’t have a frame jig, so the first 3 frames were fitted and tacked on Mr.Ohtaki’s jig followed by the thorough explanation of the process. The things that he paid attention most were the strength, precision, and stress free construction. Building for Keirin is a highly competitive ground with the riders being very picky about the slightest detail, such as measurements and ride feel. Sometimes when a rider orders a few similar frames from one builder, he would complain after a short testing that one of them doesn’t feel right and he’ll never use that it anymore. That’s why the NJS stamp on the frame first of all stands for the craftsmanship and skill of the builder.

    For me to witness that kind of attitude was very precious life changing experience. My mentor is a gentle and caring person on the outside yet with a strong and undisturbed core like a mountain deep down inside. I could watch his skillful moves forever, never analyzing but trying to tune up and get the feel rather mental conclusion. Nevertheless it was a very important to remember the order of the building process to minimize brazing stress. His approach is to build one joint at a time, starting with TT and HT then ST and TT align it on the surface plate by clamping HT in the fixture , then join DT, make sure all the tubes in one plane and parallel to the surface plate , then BB shell is brazed in. Like all Japanese builders he uses bronze for the brazing lugs and silver for the BB to keep that area with less damage to ensure spring like BB flex.

    For the center alignment he uses torch, slightly heating particular areas of the tubes. I use same techniques with some changes because I use mostly silver for all my brazing. I can cut some corners because of lower brazing temperature and less heat distortion compared to using brass. Although I learned the sequence form my mentor, the brazing I do is the result of a lot of practice and experimenting with flame sizes, fluxes, and brazing rods.

    I’ve never been rejected when asking for advice or help. I could always use all the tools in Mr.Ohtaki’s workshop. He was always willing to explain whatever I was stuck with. Once I showed up unannounced, and he put aside his own work and was ready to give me a hand. It was a true revelation of real Japanese spirit. I took lessons not only in frame building but also in a way of living.

    Our communication helped me to prioritize what was important in building the frame; is it made for the customer to satisfy his needs or do I make it to satisfy my own ego? These days in Japan it’s quite common to see young builders doing all crazy stuff trying to impress each other by using exotic shapes and decorative details. In that respect I’m very grateful to my teacher for setting me up on the right track from our first meetings.

    I just want to mention a few words about the concept behind my brand, Equilibrium Cycle Works. It’s a constant reminder to not to get lost on the way and always remember why I’m here. Equilibrium is a state of balance when two opposite parts merge into the One and bring unconditional happiness and joy of living. It’s directly related to what I’m going through and the kind of experience I’d like to share. I build frames because I enjoy every moment of it and never get in a rush to finish it off just to see the final result. For now my goal is to build simple, quality frames and extend my education in cycling.

    Despite having a full time mentor, making a living by building frames in Japan is a very hard job; the hardest part is not the making, it’s the selling. The market is very specific and people are used to trusting established names only. Not many can see and understand the craftsmanship of the product. They are fascinated by the heritage and want to belong to the lifestyle of prestige and status.
    Vladimir Balahovsky
    Equilibrium Cycle Works

  2. #2
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    Default Re: Equilibrium Cycle Works

    Some absolutely stunning work shown on the website and the accompanying Flickr pages atmo.
    https://www.flickr.com/photos/pedaller2009/

  3. #3
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    Default Re: Equilibrium Cycle Works

    Welcome Vlad. Your work is beautiful, still taking it in. Thanks to you for participating and hope to meet and ride someday.

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    Default Re: Equilibrium Cycle Works

    Wonderful story, wonderful workmanship. Welcome
    Tim To | Granville Bicycles | flickr | instagram | Smoked Out

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    Default Re: Equilibrium Cycle Works

    i like your philosophy and also the one behind the brand, and also your courage to step into such a specific market.
    and of course your brilliant craftmenship documented in you flickr.
    Keep up the good work!
    Our communication helped me to prioritize what was important in building the frame; is it made for the customer to satisfy his needs or do I make it to satisfy my own ego? These days in Japan it’s quite common to see young builders doing all crazy stuff trying to impress each other by using exotic shapes and decorative details. In that respect I’m very grateful to my teacher for setting me up on the right track from our first meetings.

  6. #6
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    Default Re: Equilibrium Cycle Works

    Quote Originally Posted by Too Tall View Post
    Welcome Vlad. Your work is beautiful, still taking it in. Thanks to you for participating and hope to meet and ride someday.
    Josh , thank you very much for the kind words this forum is a truly amazing place
    and Iím honored to become a part of it .
    If by any chance youíll be traveling to Japan - give me a shout , there are lot of beautiful places to have a nice ride .
    Vladimir Balahovsky
    Equilibrium Cycle Works

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    Default Re: Equilibrium Cycle Works

    Quote Originally Posted by timto View Post
    Wonderful story, wonderful workmanship. Welcome
    Tim I'm glad you enjoyed the story , will keep posting on my progress .
    Thanks a lot for embracing .
    Vladimir Balahovsky
    Equilibrium Cycle Works

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    Quote Originally Posted by Pippo View Post
    i like your philosophy and also the one behind the brand, and also your courage to step into such a specific market.
    and of course your brilliant craftmenship documented in you flickr.
    Keep up the good work!
    Just wanted to express my personal attitude to the frame building -
    performance and function , simplicity in construction , looking beyond the form .
    Same time I can appreciate any kind of artistry if someone likes to spend and extra hours at the bench I got no objections whatsoever .
    Vladimir Balahovsky
    Equilibrium Cycle Works

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    Default Re: Equilibrium Cycle Works

    Are you still using a minimum of tools in your work?

    Quote Originally Posted by PLAIN View Post
    The list was pretty simple: iron surface plate, drill press, bench grinder, a few files, bevel protractor, height gauge and acetylene set up.
     

  10. #10
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    Default Re: Equilibrium Cycle Works

    Quote Originally Posted by Todd Mosley View Post
    Are you still using a minimum of tools in your work?
    No , not really . My tool box progressed according to my skill .
    But I find being " in the raw " first half a year helped me a lot , it would definitely miss something if I got everything in the beginning , even it wasn't so pleasant experience .
    Once my hands started to cut straight and eyes to see I moved forward looking for efficiency in production .
    Vladimir Balahovsky
    Equilibrium Cycle Works

  11. #11
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    Default Re: Equilibrium Cycle Works

    Following you now on Flickr. Those are the nicest fillets!

  12. #12
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    Default Re: Equilibrium Cycle Works

    Welcome Vladimir

    Some interesting phrases/thoughts on your story!

    Konnichiwa!
    Aimar Fraga Angoitia
    www.amarobikes.com

  13. #13
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    Default Re: Equilibrium Cycle Works

    Quote Originally Posted by Nate Zukas View Post
    Following you now on Flickr. Those are the nicest fillets!
    Thanks a lot Nate ,
    I kept an eye on your work already for a while too , you got some interesting solutions and I really like your paint jobs .
    Vladimir Balahovsky
    Equilibrium Cycle Works

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    Default Re: Equilibrium Cycle Works

    Quote Originally Posted by Amaro Bikes View Post
    Welcome Vladimir

    Some interesting phrases/thoughts on your story!

    Konnichiwa!
    Konnichiwa !

    Arigatou for the warm greetings , pleased you liked the story .
    Vladimir Balahovsky
    Equilibrium Cycle Works

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    by EQUILIBRIUM CYCLE WORKS, on Flickr

    Fine fillet work indeed!

    Looking through your Flickr pics and the few shop photos you have - it looks like a relatively small setup and no milling machines or lathes. Are you doing all of your mitering by hand or do you have a hidden machine shop in another corner? Have you "downsize[d] the fantasy"?
     

  16. #16
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    Default Re: Equilibrium Cycle Works

    Actually you right my work space is very small I got about 6square meters between the iron surface plate and jig where I do my finishing and brazing ,
    but here is Japan and everything is relatively small compare to the other countries I perfectly got used to it long time ago .
    I was on the budget when I started but wanted to become a builder by any means and my limited amount of tools didn't bother me much ,
    as long as I had some gas to burn and some rod to melt I was fine.
    Same time I could use my mentor's machinery if I needed to but anyway was mitering tubes by hand a few first months cause I believed it was unavoidable experience and the basic skill
    that one must to master , it takes a time in the beginning but saves a lot afterwards .
    There is a milling machine for cutting the tubes just behind the door got it from my mentor a year ago when he bought a new one , it didn't change
    that much but on some occasions its very handy to have one .
    I'm not against having extra fixtures or some machinery but if the one's hands not on the right place yet all short cuts will be only an obstacles .
    My fantasy is huge but the means are small and I like it that way .
    Vladimir Balahovsky
    Equilibrium Cycle Works

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    That's how I see it , how much tools one needs to rock'n'roll

    Vladimir Balahovsky
    Equilibrium Cycle Works

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    Default Re: Equilibrium Cycle Works

    I don't have a thing for handmade stems. These made me stop and stare for a while, however. Beautiful lines and proportion.
    Zuzuís pedals

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    Default Re: Equilibrium Cycle Works

    HOLY F*******


     

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