Foresta: Craig Ryan
In the framebuilding world, I'm one of the new guys. It's a place every framebuilder has to go, a place established builders may hardly remember, and a place you don’t want to hang out long. Posting after Mike Zanconato, and before all the others to come, is an honor. It’s hard to believe actually. Mike is pure inspiration to me. This is my story; forgive me if I ramble.
The internet has changed framebuilding, especially in how it’s learned. I am an “internet framebuilder.” Big statement, but I think there are quite a few of us out there. Good or bad, it comes down to the person doing the building, and I'm hoping I'm one of the good ones. I like to document everything I do in my blog. It may be the teacher in me, but I get a lot of enjoyment sharing. I hope to help others get started with the building process, and set a good example through my work. My message is “You can do this, but do it right.” Hopefully, someone will read my blog and slow it down, get it right. I wish I knew more people who were following the same path and blogging as they go. I'd enjoy watching. Some of the pro's do it well, but the little guys are harder to find.
I am a teacher, it is how I define myself. I find peace amongst teenagers. As I approach retirement age, it's hard to imagine spending my life any other way. Teaching art has provided many opportunities to me, and is largely responsible for my “can do” attitude. I developed the curriculum and taught the photography program at our school for 15 years. I was very heavily into the darkroom for my personal work and still have a darkroom in my home. I switched over to drawing and painting when it all started changing and the supplies and cameras weren't quite the same. The last time I used my darkroom was for a large multiyear project I did shooting roadside memorial crosses with a 4x5 pinhole camera on sheet film. I got a couple of shows out of it, and am very proud of my work with it. But that's a whole different story.
I was born in the Fox Valley of Wisconsin along Lake Winnebago, and remember my first Schwinn Collegiate. In high school during the bike boom I moved up to a Gitane Interclub, bought some tools and from that point have done all my own wrenching. An Atala with chrome lugs followed, then a '73 Colnago. While in college at Beloit I rode the roads of Southern Wisconsin with buddies and am proud to have been a part of Zucchini Bike Shop. Back in the day I was one with my Emily K's and riding was my life. In '78 I first envisioned building a frame while living in Oregon. I'd picked up one of the first Trek frames before moving out west, and vividly remember having to stack it on the bottom of the pile whenever we loaded the van for races. I was working in a bike shop and saw a lot of nice west coast builders work, but a lack of money, focus, and opportunity kept framebuilding from happening. Many years went by, until at some point I realized I could do this, and a lifetime of experience with bicycles helped give me the start. Or maybe I had something to prove? Most people don't know I have Rheumatoid Arthritis. It's not good, and it's been a battle I've had to overcome. I have joint damage in my hands and feet, but I work around it and my meds control it. It's just one of those life things we all face sooner or later. If you make it to 55 and it’s the worst thing you’ve faced, life is good!
I just did it. I just started building frames. Got some tubes and did it. That is how someone with no personal connections to the bicycle industry starts building frames. It'd be great if we could all say we worked at xyz bicycle company for a number of years; I have a career, and to be honest, this started as an art project. The information is out there if you look, so I made a drawing, got a torch, some files, and prep tools... it went pretty well, so I built more. And now I've built quite a few more, bought more tools and it's going really well. Scary? Maybe, but don't confuse me with one of the guys who took a class, made a web page and hung out his shingle, or gave bikes with no brakes to all his friends for barter, or is going “Leonardo” inventing a better bicycle. I’ve come to realize framebuilding starts with the rider and getting the pieces in the right spots. Good design starts with the intended purpose. I believe there is a right way to do things and it’s not always apparent until you’ve done it wrong. I am looking forward to building nice frames, for a long time. The name I put on my bicycles is Foresta. It was totally a whim, and I love it.
I've yet to sell a frame. I haven't felt it's time yet. I've been working hard at getting better, and I am very close. I didn't start building frames to go into business, so until now I've just bided my time, and built. Selling them seems to make sense. After all, how long should I keep cutting up perfectly good frames? My joints are strong, my tubes are straight, my design is improving. Something I've given a lot of thought to, but at any moment am very unsure of. The future will tell. For the time being, my Mission Statement will guide me and I'll keep building.
You don't have to look far to see my mentors, and I'd like to thank them for everything they don't know they've done for me. For a builder like me, learning the way I have, it's the little things that define a difference. There is no doubt I would not be where I am except for the excellent example set by other builders. And perhaps it is for this reason I have been so reluctant to market my work. There is a standard being set, and the bar is very high. I'm a bit competitive, I put a lot of effort into my work, and I want to be one of the best.
Thanks for reading, I welcome your thoughts. Keep in mind I teach all day, so am away from the computer for extended periods.