I build bespoke steel bicycle frames with lugs and my desire is use the best of traditional methods combined with the best of contemporary design and materials with an aesthetic that pleases me. Making my best better is my daily drive, while applying cycling bio-mechanics to the rider then designing the frame to fit under their position for the bike’s intended use. This can be hard to bulls eye when you have a less than fit rider but one must take an aim. For me the bike frames and the whole bike must be functional, not just funky for marketing motivations. The bike frame must be durable, thus give loads of value from the many years the bike is in service. The frame’s tubing diameters and wall thickness will be varied appropriately to suit the size and weight of the rider. I generally use OS tube sizes for small to medium riders and the XL for the tall and big lads. I do not think it is correct to use the same set of tube sizes and wall thickness for the full range of rider sizes from 5’/55kg lasses to 6’6”/95kg pedal pounders. There is no possible way the bikes will handle appropriately unless one specs the right tubes and diameters to match the rider’s size and weight. For those who are racing or can ride with a lot of spirit and grunt this is readily apparent, but less noticeable for the softer pedaling rider.
When one designs durable and functional bicycles, there is no reason why they cannot be aesthetically pleasing as well. Many might think I only build elaborate fancy shiny stainless steel lugged frames, however that is a small part of my output. Most of my frames go to their new home with one-color paint and standard logos with only my regularly polished shiny stainless steel bits polished. I feel that contemporary steel frame construction needs to have all the small details considered and covered, such as stronger stainless M6 cap head seat binder bolts through to counter bores on the gear cable stoppers for the adjuster screw to nestle into thus minimizing paint chips. I use many stainless steel fittings in my frame work such as brake cable stoppers, chain hangers and stainless steel dropouts with raised wheel bite facets to keep the paint neat and tidy. These features enhance the frame’s function, durability and appearance especially for those who perspire battery acid. Some details such as stainless head tube logos do nothing with regards to the function of the bicycle, but the clients like them and the result is that they became a standard feature. The stainless heart detail between the seat stays evolved from doing second bridges in big frames and track frames. I started jazzing them up and more and more clients requested them again and again until they became a standard feature. When a rider is following a Llewellyn bike it is instantly recognizable by that stainless heart detail between the seat stays. It does no harm to the function of the bike and no one opts to omit it.
For me to know that a particular detail or step is inserted in the build process is to sate my desire in pursuit of purity in my frame construction process. For example, I use a time consuming step-by-step main frame brazing process to reduce the chances of having to cold set a main triangle. My max tolerance of alignment of the head tube to seat tube is 0.30mm over 300mm length of the head tube. 19 out of 20 times I can achieve this with no cold setting of the HT, and this includes the HT reaming. This reflects my drive to build frames with minimal built-in stresses and with very good alignments of HT/ST/rear wheel plane.
I am tired of the hearing the word “passionate” but I suppose I am a very self-motivated person and I can be intense when I have a vision or have set my course on a compass bearing. Can I blame bike racing and training for this trait? As a young lad I was attracted to individual sports such as athletics and bike racing, because it was totally up to me to train, suffer and be head-tough in competition. At the work bench it is all up to me working alone to make these tubes and parts work correctly.
I started work with frames 31 years ago, was 12 years a part time builder of Llewellyn, and then full time for the last 10 years. When I stopped racing I did a lot of travel while working as a bicycle mechanic with the Aussie national team and the Australian Institute of Sport, living in Europe for six-eight months of the year. This means I have washed bikes in hotel car parks in 23 countries, worked 6 Word Champs, a couple of Olympic gigs, couple of Commonwealth Games gigs, road and track and many Pro and Am races all over Europe, then built frames/bikes in the summer back home in Brisbane while working at a local shop. My ongoing work with Australian Institute of Sport and with the Aussie national teams all around the world has given me a lot of knowledge, understanding of what works, how and what is important and the correct direction in regards to good design.
People often ask who taught me, it was no one in particular. I did not grow up in a true production frame environment. Starting out at 16 yo I was the frame builder/bike shop owner’s assistant (back when bike shops built their own frames). I never just sat and brazed up the left dropout of 500 bicycle frames. I had to be a jack of all trades, doing repairs and serving the punters. Circa 1991 I found Richard Sachs magazine adverts and articles inspiring. That gave me a sense of direction with regards to how to get my message out in my local market as a young independent frame builder. The rest is toil and perseverance.
I am at times dismayed with some aspiring frame builders who think gaining skills and acquiring knowledge is as simple as a few mouse clicks, down loading all the data to one’s Mark 1 cranium hard drive and bingo! It takes time and perseverance doing the toil. At times one has to buy the text books and spend many evenings, weekends learning and practicing such things as 3D CAD programs. For me it is seek, listen, observe and be inspired by others. I like to think I am a student of the world. The environment in Australia is such that until the Internet opened the world up we worked to a large degree in isolation to the rest of the bike world. Then the Internet arrived and opened many lines of communication but it doesn’t replace the toil.
I dig track racing and making track bikes. In the past Australian summers were full of track racing, this is now nearly dead due to the disease that is summer crit racing. Give me a good night’s track racing finished off with a long Madison any time. I consider riding good Madisons as the hardest cycling event to master, skill, tactics, courage, speed and endurance coupled with a good understanding with your partner. I also like making nice fixie bikes and touring bikes because I feel these bikes take one on many adventures, much closer to the essence of cycling than the coffee shop loop with new electric gizmos.
I enjoy learning/discovering new stuff as the days pass and I feel there is so much more to chase in this gig as an independent frame builder when one sees motivated people around the world making nice bikes. As much as possible I like to pass on what I know and I hope it is of benefit to other builders. I am pleased to be part of the Frame Builder’s Collective for it is a way of collaborating on this sharing of knowledge and experiences with other builders.
In the last 6 years I have been motivated to design and produce my own frame parts as there was an absence of certain lug designs for XL tube sizes and also XL and OS sloping top tube lug sets. I jokingly call this my PhD in frame building as creating these has taken up a lot of time, resources and energy but I feel it has strengthened my future as a frame/bike maker until my retirement days are absorbed with making miniature live steam locomotives. One of the latest projects I have just completed is a joint project with Dario Pegoretti called the Cadenzia lug set with a level top tube set for XL tube sizes along with my other recent projects, OS Custodian lug set and the new Limpet cable stops. It is nice to see what other builders do with these parts.
I enjoy early morning riding, I like to see the sun come up while riding and hear the Aussie bird songs and see a few roos. It is out the door ASAP upon awakening for two hours or more of early morning pedaling or I do not bother pulling the knicks on. I ride a fixie weekly doing 3 or more 2 + hours rides each week when fit. I like the hills, huffing and puffing up hills is more fun to me than pretend race rides with a large group. For me it is the ride, the exertion, make the blood flow rather than how fast I can ride over the others. I prefer style and grace on the bike rather than meaningless grunt. When motivated I like to run the engine hard on the climbs. I reckon you pin a number on and race or you ride with the number unpinned.
The bikes have been good to me, I have lived a charmed life with many seasons of road and track racing in OZ and France. I’m definitely not gifted with a big engine but trained and suffered as hard as anyone could and I could scamper up a hill with a reasonable degree of respect on the good days, but my sprint was barely detectable by modern scientific instruments. I never tackled up, never for a moment could I even consider it! (Tackle = Aussie term for performance enhancing substances) My number is now unpinned and has been so for 17 years. I am glad I raced when the powers of one’s youth are at their best.
I am fortunate to have been able to do and experience more that I could have ever imagined I could when I started work as a 16 year old for Eric Hendren at Hoffy Cycles Sandgate circa 1979. I like to think this is my reward for my perseverance of the toil.
Life with the bikes is good.