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Thread: Little Fish Bicycles

  1. #1
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    Default Little Fish Bicycles

    So Richard emailed me and asked me to do a Smoked Out post. Thinking he must be insane, I ignored him. Smoked Out posts are something framebuilders do. Not me. Turns out he’s serious, and emailed again to remind me of the request. Oh well, I guess I’d better get off my proverbial and chime in.


    It all started when I was a teenager. My first full-sized bike, at age 14 or so, was an Avanti “Strada”. A 27 inch wheeled bike boom lugged steel “racer”. Sure, the frame was made from recycled waterpipe, but it had ten speeds and drop bars. All my pocket money went into the bike. My crappy Avanti grew better cranks and Shimano 105 derailleurs. To fit new downtube levers on (there was no boss on the frame), I did my first bit of “framebuilding”. I drilled a hole in the downtube, filed it square, and fit some ¼” square steel rod in, after threading the ends to fit the gear levers. It worked, sorta, and now I had downtube levers, just like they did in Le Tour.


    A couple of months later I was looking for a new frame, after my downtube snapped where I’d put the square hole. Who’d have thought! I found a book called “The custom bicycle frame” or somesuch at the local library; a little thin paperback book that started with a description of what was what, and ended with a dozen or so chapters, each a writeup of an English or French builder. I ended up buying a basic Tange frame from a local bike shop, but the seeds of the framebuilding bug had been planted.


    Fastforward another fifteen years, and I was again on the hunt for a new frame. I’d converted my old Tange bike to a fixed wheel (my main squeeze at the time being an aluminium Colnago), and was having fit issues. This time I had my own garage, and wasn’t above making something. I found the framebuilder’s list and asked all the same dumb newbie questions that everyone else does. Before long I’d bought some tubes and lugs from Peter at Ceeway, and had built my first frame, using Columbus Thron and Long-Shen lugs. It was a bit of a mess, really, with decidedly dodgy brazing, but it worked well enough to hook me.


    Since then, I’ve built three more, and I have a fifth on the boil. I’ve had some success and failures (all documented in glorious detail on the web), and each frame is a little better than the one before it. Each time I pick up a file, or the torch, I try to do a little better than the last time.


    My workshop is pretty basic. A workbench with a good quality vice and a growing collection of home-made tube blocks, a turret drill, oxy-propane torch setup, simple home-made jig, a small spray booth, and a collection of measuring tools and straight-edges. Oh, and files. Lots and lots of files, from nice big 12” half round all the way down to teensy riffler files for shoreline finishing.


    I’m at the point of making bikes for friends and family as well as myself now, with a view to acquiring a few more tools and lots more experience, then hanging the Little Fish shingle out at some point and turning my hobby into a part-time job. Who knows, when my husband retires (he’s nine years older than me), perhaps framebuilding will allow me to chuck in the day job and we can move to a nice place in the countryside, with chooks and a huge workshop.


    Speaking of jobs, my main job is in electronic engineering. I design receivers for radio telescopes, which in itself is pretty rewarding. I’ve had no formal training in metalwork or welding, beyond the standard “shop practices” unit one does as a young trainee technician.


    All my bikes thus far are lugged. I really like the lugged aesthetic. I have fairly strong views on what a bike should look like and ride like, formed as a teenage bike junkie in the 1980’s. I’m a fan of stainless, but not of overindulgent ornate lugwork. “Less is more” probably sums up my views, with crisp, clean shorelines being my goal.


    Anyway, that’s probably enough about me. I’m a prolific blogger (suzyj.blogspot.com), and still see myself as a newbie.
     

  2. #2
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    Default Re: Little Fish Bicycles

    Thanks for posting here Suzy. I had just started trolling those sites when you first popped up and built your own bike. You were a big inspiration and handled yourself with grace and have obvious smarts and talent. Look forward to more bikes from you! Thanks to Richard too for making this place happen and encouraging all participation.
     

  3. #3
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    Default Re: Little Fish Bicycles

    Hey Suzy! You were one of my earliest "non-pro" inspirations from back when my eff-building mind was more malleable. (the mid-00's). I noticed the 'scope in your photo stream the other day. I run into 'scope equipped shops every now and then as an amateur radio op. Was wondering just last night what frequency bands/modes are used for deep space? The "Ten Tec" line of gear is made in my home state, they're noted for having great receivers by the CW-crowd. Yes, we amateurs still operate _all_ modes.

    post up some pics on here. Thanks for playing.
    Last edited by WadePatton; 05-17-2011 at 12:05 PM.






  4. #4
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    Default Re: Little Fish Bicycles

    Very cool - welcome.

    It's good to put a story with the name.

    dave
    D. Kirk
    Kirk Frameworks Co.
    www.kirkframeworks.com


  5. #5
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    Default Re: Little Fish Bicycles

    Suzy -

    In addition to the inspiration you've provided through your postings, sites, and resource lists ...

    Your name, "Little Fish", has always been a favorite (logo too). Where did it come from?

    thanks!
    brian j
    Last edited by b.jenks; 05-17-2011 at 08:06 PM. Reason: spelling
    Brian Jenks

  6. #6
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    Default Re: Little Fish Bicycles

    Suzy

    Almost more than anyone, you showed me that it can be done. Your step by steps were inspiring when I stumbled across your site all those years ago.

    Keep rocking,
     

  7. #7
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    Default Re: Little Fish Bicycles

    Suzy,

    After finding your web write-up of your first frame (the white one...at least I think it was the first), I realized that this was something I could do. I'm now building frame number three.

    Thanks for the inspiration!

    Pete
    Pete Ruckelshaus * Teacher, Fat Guy on a Bike * Collegeville, PA

    pruckelshaus' flickr
    Framejig.wordpress.com effort to collect DIY framebuilding jig designs

  8. #8
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    Default Re: Little Fish Bicycles

    Pls. tell me how you learned to build bicycle that work! Figuring out where to put an rider between the wheels is an art and a science yes?

    Thanks for your tireless and enthusiastic approach, I was an reader of your musings from FF many yrs. ago.

  9. #9
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    Default Re: Little Fish Bicycles

    I recall running across your logo several years ago when I was getting back into cycling after my "teenager with a car" years led to "20 something with a desk job and a need for more exercise" years. Believe it was when I was repainting a budget rebuild of a Centurion that I was going to put "custom decals" on and was looking for inspiration for a "fish" type logo (last name Fischer and all here). Since then I've seen the name and your site from time to time and am inspired by your small scale but persistent nature. Noticed your blog post about building without a jig, something I will have to read fully in the near future. :)
    Jon Fischer
    VeloBase.com

  10. #10
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    Default Re: Little Fish Bicycles

    Great stuff Suzy! Thanks for the inspiration and I always look forward to checking out what's up at Little Fish. =)
     

  11. #11
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    Default Re: Little Fish Bicycles

    Suzy,
    Thanks for joining us here!
    Your site with it's upfront honesty and clear description of your process
    Has been an inspiration to many.
    -Eric
    Zimmerman Bicycle works
     

  12. #12
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    Default Re: Little Fish Bicycles

    Suzy,
    Good to see another Aussie getting smoked out and a shiela as well. Does it frustrate you as much as the rest of us about the lack of raw materials easily available to us Aussie hobby builders?
    Bill
     

  13. #13
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    Default Re: Little Fish Bicycles

    suzy -

    nearly 300 views in the first afternoon. whoa. that's bonza atmo. it's a measurable 38 percent increase over similar attempts
    at this caper. now get off the phone and start wasting time with us here. your chronicles through the years have become the
    virtual equivalent of the proteus, paterek, and talbot books, but way better. you have become a lightening rod of inspiration
    for many who follow the message board and listserve.

  14. #14
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    Default Re: Little Fish Bicycles

    Quote Originally Posted by Too Tall View Post
    Pls. tell me how you learned to build bicycle that work! Figuring out where to put an rider between the wheels is an art and a science yes?
    This is something that I'm really only just getting into. My first three frames were for myself, so I just copied the geometry of frames that I liked, perhaps tweaking dimensions by a tad to experiment with things. Now that I'm building for others, I'm finding the job of fitting is quite involved, especially when people haven't ridden a roadie before, or don't understand the fit 'language'.

    When I come up with a comprehensive answer, I'll let you know. At the moment I'm just going by feel :)

    Quote Originally Posted by b.jenks View Post
    Your name, "Little Fish", has always been a favorite (logo too). Where did it come from?
    Aaah, good question! I used to race - mainly criteriums but the odd road race as well. Being a girlie, there weren't terribly many other girls to race with. The four of us in our club usually just rode with the boys, in the grades that made sense for us. I started in D grade, and made it as far as C grade riding with the guys.

    So when I rode in opens, I'd rock up to register and there would always be barely enough women to have one handicap race. So while the guys got to ride in their grades, us women got to ride with the olympians. One time, trying desperately to stay away in my little group (it never worked, the handicappers always organise it so the fastest riders win), I got to thinking how I was like a little fish, trying desperately to stay out of the jaws of the big fish coming up behind. So yeah, that resonated, and after a little graphic design, I had my head tube logo.

    As an aside, ATMO running women's opens as handicaps does nothing to encourage female participation in racing. It's pretty depressing flogging yourself in what's essentially a team time trial, only to be clobbered on the last lap. Better, I think, to just let the girls ride with guys of their ability - at least then you get a real race.

    Quote Originally Posted by WadePatton View Post
    Hey Suzy! You were one of my earliest "non-pro" inspirations from back when my eff-building mind was more malleable. (the mid-00's). I noticed the 'scope in your photo stream the other day. I run into 'scope equipped shops every now and then as an amateur radio op. Was wondering just last night what frequency bands/modes are used for deep space? The "Ten Tec" line of gear is made in my home state, they're noted for having great receivers by the CW-crowd. Yes, we amateurs still operate _all_ modes.
    Heh. We cover pretty-much every frequency band our telescopes will support. For the 23m cassegrain dishes at Narrabri, it's limited by the atmosphere and by the size of the secondary. We have coverage in L, S, C, X, K, Q, and W bands. That's everything from 1 GHz to 110 GHz, with some gaps toward the top.

    Most of my work in receivers has been at the bottom end of this - doing receivers for ~400 MHz to 2 GHz, so that we can study galactic and extragalactic hydrogen, which has a transition at 1.4 GHz.

    Quote Originally Posted by progetto View Post
    Good to see another Aussie getting smoked out and a shiela as well. Does it frustrate you as much as the rest of us about the lack of raw materials easily available to us Aussie hobby builders?
    I was frustrated in the late eighties, when I wrote a letter (remember them) to the local importers of Reynolds, which was quietly ignored. These days there's no frustration, as there are people like Peter at Ceeway, Dazza at Llewellyn, Henry James, Nova, etc. etc. who use the web as a shopfront. It must have been really hard pre-net to build, without any idea of what you could get and from where.

    Anyway guys, thanks heaps for the wonderful words of welcome!
     

  15. #15
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    I consider Suzy the Sachs or Dazza of hobby builders. She gave me the confidence to build my first road frame, currently being painted. To give further aforemention my 8 year old daughter thinks you have the coolest headtube logo in all of cycling. One question what was involved with getting your newer style decals made?

    Disclaimer: I hope I didn't offend Mr. Sachs, Dazza, Suzy, or any pro builder with my openning sentence. I just think she knows how to put the hobby builder on the right path to building a frame.

    Tim
     

  16. #16
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    That's a great addition! I do really admire Suzy, not only because of her work and how openly shares all her knowledge, but also because of her unpretencious and aproachable way with great modesty. I remember visiting her website some years ago as one of the first steps to get more seriously thinking about getting the hands dirty with tubes and files.

    Great inspiration and super-useful site to learn crystal clear.
    Aimar Fraga Angoitia
    www.amarobikes.com

  17. #17
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    Default Re: Little Fish Bicycles

    Nice to read your story Suzy, I like the part about the down tube shifter bosses. I remember a guy at the bike shop a number of years ago who turned an old road bike into a fixed gear and ground the bosses off his down tube, only to find little round holes underneath. The down tube broke at the holes very soon after.
    Also, thanks for keeping the blog and sharing your work, including the failures. That sort of thing goes viral, and you'll hear more about that one gaffe than a hundred masterpieces.
    Do you have anything in mind for the future that might be a departure from your current work? Mountain bikes, tandems, fillet brazing, tig or any other avenues you'd like to explore?
    Eric Doswell, aka Edoz
    Summoner of Crickets
    http://edozbicycles.wordpress.com/
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/edozbicycles/
    In Before the Lock

  18. #18
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    Default Re: Little Fish Bicycles

    Quote Originally Posted by timdude View Post
    I consider Suzy the Sachs or Dazza of hobby builders. She gave me the confidence to build my first road frame, currently being painted. To give further aforemention my 8 year old daughter thinks you have the coolest headtube logo in all of cycling. One question what was involved with getting your newer style decals made?

    Disclaimer: I hope I didn't offend Mr. Sachs, Dazza, Suzy, or any pro builder with my openning sentence. I just think she knows how to put the hobby builder on the right path to building a frame.
    Hey thanks for the kind words. I'm not offended at all - just think maybe you're losing your marbles.

    The decals have been a perennial source of angst. I'm extremely particular about them (does it show?) and so am the worst possible customer for any decal maker.

    My newest run of decals was done my Cyclomondo - who mainly sells vintage repro decals on ebay. I went to him after Victory Circle said no-can-do, and SSSink went quiet. His process used a Gerber Edge foil printer, which does spot colour (including white, gold, and silver).

    I designed the decals using inkscape (a vector drawing package), and sent them to him as .eps and .hpgl files.
    Suzy Jackson
    Vanity blog: http://suzyj.blogspot.com
    Little fish bicycles website: http://www.littlefishbicycles.com

  19. #19
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    Quote Originally Posted by edoz View Post
    Nice to read your story Suzy, I like the part about the down tube shifter bosses. I remember a guy at the bike shop a number of years ago who turned an old road bike into a fixed gear and ground the bosses off his down tube, only to find little round holes underneath. The down tube broke at the holes very soon after.
    Also, thanks for keeping the blog and sharing your work, including the failures. That sort of thing goes viral, and you'll hear more about that one gaffe than a hundred masterpieces.
    Yeah, it seems every couple of years someone will post stuff on forums linking to the pictures of the failure of my second frame, and getting overly critical. I note they don't then post pictures of their own first frames though. A couple of times I've considered taking those pictures down, but haven't, because they're really illustrative of the sort of newbie mistake that many of us make. I think they're useful, despite the pain they sometimes cause me.

    Quote Originally Posted by edoz View Post
    Do you have anything in mind for the future that might be a departure from your current work? Mountain bikes, tandems, fillet brazing, tig or any other avenues you'd like to explore?
    Hey good question. I feel I haven't mastered lugged construction yet. I'd like to try building a tandem or SWB recumbent at some point - that'll have to be either fillet or TIG. I've done some fillet practice joins, and have been pretty happy with them. The next few frames are all going to be lugged race bikes though.
    Suzy Jackson
    Vanity blog: http://suzyj.blogspot.com
    Little fish bicycles website: http://www.littlefishbicycles.com

  20. #20
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    Default Re: Little Fish Bicycles

    Awesome stereo amp, by the way. I'd like to build myself a tube amp, but electronics was my dad's strong point, definitely not mine.
    Eric Doswell, aka Edoz
    Summoner of Crickets
    http://edozbicycles.wordpress.com/
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/edozbicycles/
    In Before the Lock

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