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.