Many of us who build bicycle frames either as a full time profession or a legit side job were the recipients of fair bit of serendipity, blind luck, and a helping hand along the way. My story sees all three. I grew up in rural Maine and was fortunate to ride a tiny Bridgestone mountain bike when I was a kid, but there was this Cannondale down the road with these oversized tubes that I lusted after. When I was in high school I saved enough from working at Record Town to buy my very own Cannondale (an F1000 with mango paint) and I thought I had the best thing on the planet. I can’t remember a time in my life when I didn’t want to be an engineer, or when I was young what I thought an “engineer” was. Remembering it now, I think I specifically wanted to be the guy who designed the shape of automobile bodies. While my dream was to attend MIT, I did follow my path and enrolled at WPI in Worcester, MA.
I rode that first Cannondale way past when I grew out of it and eventually it was stolen from the basement of my fraternity house during college. I'm not really sure why this worked, but fortunately my parent's homeowner's insurance covered my personal belongings while I was in college, so I was able to replace the F1000 with the current model year edition. This was 2003 and it was another hard tail with the "Full Wood" paint job and a Lefty fork. Again, I thought I had the best thing on the planet. Within two weeks this bike was stolen. We didn't want to submit another claim so soon, so I was without a bike and broke like any other college student. I sent an email to my college's cycling club asking if anyone had spare parts I could buy to Frankenstein a bike together with used stuff just to have something to ride.
One person responded and actually had enough stuff (including a frame) to build up a complete mountain bike. He said he was interning at a place across town called Hot Tubes and we could go over there late at night to use this guy's tools/stands for assembly. I met JB at the address he gave me and essentially I had a life changing moment. We put the bike together in the middle of the night and he was telling me what Toby Stanton did there with painting and building. While my father and I had built furniture from scratch, produced stained glass lamps from scratch, assembled picture frames from scratch, etc...I had a similar moment to what Sacha White said...I had a moment where I realized people built bicycles from scratch. I was hooked immediately.
The next day I went back to Hot Tubes and asked if I could work for free and learn what he was doing. He said I could, but I don't think he thought I'd actually return. I did return and worked an hour or two basically everyday my senior year of school in between classes and crew practice. I was the grunt hand sanding stuff and doing all the dirty jobs. Zank was also working in the back and I got to become, and continue to be, good friends with him. I learned to paint first. At the time, Toby was still painting all the painted Sevens and I eventually was doing some of that work too. The frames in the 2005 catalog were painted by me. Over time he taught me to TIG weld and after about a year of practice I built my first frame.
The summer after I graduated from WPI with a degree in mechanical engineering, 2004, I had a naïve view of life. I went to bartending school and thought I would work at Hot Tubes during the day and mix drinks at night. Four months went by and my impending student loan repayment schedule snapped me back into reality. In yet another serendipitous event, the person who taught Toby to build frames, Eric de Rivera, was in Hot Tubes one day during the summer of 2004. It was the first time I had met Eric and once he heard that I was looking for a professional engineering job he referred me to his former employer, Simonds International in Fitchburg, MA. After interviewing at Simonds I was offered a job and have worked full time as a manufacturing engineer there for the last 6 years. Being a professional engineer has helped my framebuilding and framebuilding has helped me as a professional engineer. The latter more than the former I believe.
Somewhere in these past 6 years I thought I had enough experience to build a frame for someone else. I bought liability insurance right out of the gate and the first frame I built was for the daughter of John Langdon, who designed my logo. Having a steady “day-job” has allowed me to take my time starting the business and I have assembled a collection of the best tools in the trade to compliment my continued learning process. I continue to paint all my own frames. There is a comfort knowing that I do not need to build bikes to put a roof over my head or to put food on my table, but there is not a day that goes by where I don't desire to resign from my engineering job and build full time.
I rented space from Toby and used his equipment for a couple years. Now I have my own shop, which is literally across the hall from Toby's. While we each have all of our own equipment I find myself still popping into his shop nearly everyday to say hello. I meet all of his framebuilding class students and enjoy imparting some of the knowledge I have learned to them. I am building my 45th frame as of May 2010 and average about one per month. Balancing my travel schedule for Simonds, a healthy home life, and my shop time is a struggle. While first hand experience trumps everything, I would not be where I am without having had received so much advice in the beginning.