Guys, I’m long winded, so I hope not to bore you all. I have to say that I’m humbled to even be taken into consideration on “Smoked Out” and to be able to share my story with so many great builders.
My name is Jay Clarke and I am Phantasm Cycle Works. I’ve been riding bikes all my life, never even started with training wheels, went straight to a rigid tired bike and pedaled it down the street with Dad holding on to the seat—they were seats back then, I didn’t have a saddle yet.
As many of you guys, I went through the BMX, Freestyle, road, MTB, fixie, chopper, cruiser, etc. phases in cycling and was “building” wheels when I was just 12 years old. I was always the “wheel guy” and still am in the Dallas area. I calculated the other day that I’ve literally “built a ton of wheels”. That’s sort of cool to me. I just love cycling. As a kid, it’s your first form of transportation and independence and a new bike is as significant as a new car is as an adult, or even a new bike as an adult for some of us.
I got into MTBing when I was in college in the early 90s because it seemed to combine BMX and road and I loved it right away. My first “DH” trip was on a Specialized Stumjumper FS w/ a whole 63mm of front suspension and canti brakes. It was a hideous green color with gray Umma Gumma tires and grips. It didn’t fit me and I was working at a machine shop at the time and machined a custom stem for it with the letters “Stout” in Snap On Tools font. It was bad ass, must have been all of 140mm long w/ about 15 degrees rise. I started taking school more seriously and MTBing fell onto the back burner for a few years until I got out and I found myself right back on a bike with disc brakes, full suspension, and I was hooked again.
After a while, I found I was bored with my bike and wanted something else. I tried the single speed thing and slowly got hooked. Then came the first custom, a 26” wheeled Holy Roller SS from Soulcraft. I enjoyed it for a bit but got bored with it too and just wanted to build my own. Hey, so does everyone right? But I figured I was way ahead of the curve with my previous shop experience.
To expand on that, I worked at a machine shop for about 5 years. Yeah, it took me a while to get out of school, but I was working full time for most of my stint at the shop, supporting myself and just making it in school. I finally had saved up enough money that I could focus on my Junior and Senior years without having a “real job” to pay the rent/bills/tuition/etc. Running Bridgeports and a Clausing lathe was so much fun at and I “learned” how to TIG weld to an extent. TIG was the “machining” of welding to me. MIG was like drill press. I was always fascinated by TIG and tried my hardest to learn it on my own, without any instruction really. I never got great, but I could stick things together and under paint, well, the welds didn’t look all that bad. I learned more there than I did in Engineering School about how to design and build something. I’m one of those engineers that has a background in both and I share the frustration of someone that has actually built something being told by someone who hasn’t that “this is the way it should be done”.
After school, life got real, I found a “real job” and I’ve been doing that ever since. As mentioned, already bored with my bikes, I saw a new 29er SS frame from DeSalvo that a friend of mine had commissioned w/ Spectrum powder coat. That frame inspired me to finally take the plunge and get serious about building my own frame. I started lurking on MTBR.com, talking to guys that I thought really knew about custom frames because they’d ordered one before, went to the 1st Annual Texas Handmade Bike Show
in Frisco, TX and met some good local builders and really got interested. Walt Werner of Waltworks had sponsored a “free tubes” contest on MTBR for a 1st time frame builder if they’d document the entire process. I threw my hat in the ring, check out my application here:
Free Tubes! - Mountain Bike Forums
So, I lost. I didn’t win—I was certain I’d win and I didn’t. I was sort of defeated until the original guy didn’t get the job off the ground after the 1 year time frame and Walt went ahead and asked for votes and I won the opportunity overwhelmingly—it’s good to have lots of friends that ride I suppose. I was as scared as I was stoked. Now I had to build something and I wasn’t willing to accept that I wouldn’t be able to ride #1 as everyone seemed to advise. No, this was going to be a nice bike and I was going to be able to ride it for a long time.
As I continued to progress with #1 (BTW, you can search MTBR for “wwtp” and the whole process start to finish will come up), logging each detail, the whole thing morphed from me just building a bike I could ride to something more, something bigger. I was building a “dream bike” for myself I thought. Building my own bike, no matter how bad it was would still be a dream come true. A Phantasm as the thesaurus showed when I typed in “dream” and found the following definition:
phan - tasm [fan-taz-uhm] –noun, An image formed by the mind and supposed to be real or material;
That’s what I was doing, I was taking that image in my head and turning it into a frame. Phantasm became a company in my mind, something that I could do as a hobby that kept my engineering and fabrication desires fulfilled.
So what now? Well, I read the Smoked Out topics and I’m amazed by the way that folks got to where they are now, again, I’m so humbled to be listed with you guys. But there is a common theme, something that I see over and over again. There was a point in time where everyone started to become who they are today as a builder, an event, a culmination of events, whatever, but there is a common theme where they crossed over into that path and started to build on that. It was the foundation that their brands were built on. That’s where I am right now. As I write this (and it sounds like you’ll see this a few weeks after I write it), I am on the eve of closing on a new home. It’s a home with more space, a big yard, and the room for a separate shop so that I can get more serious about building frames. I’ve got three under my belt now and a list of folks waiting to get on my waiting list should I ever start to sell them. It’s been less than two years since my visit to the 1st Texas Handmade Bike Show and now I’ve ridden three frames that I built for myself, two single speeds and a geared road bike. A geared MTB is in the works now and #1 didn’t only look pretty good, but it has more miles on it than two of the Taiwanese steel frames (both broke) that it replaced.
I’ve met several local builders and have learned so much from each of them. I’ve always been fascinated with the fact that other builders are so willing to share so much about building with each other. It seemed like intellectual property being given away. However, the more folks I meet and the further along I get in my own progression, the more I find myself sharing what I do. See, to me, and I’m sure to many of you, the upping of the bar by another builder forces me to up my own bar and our craft just continues to become higher and higher quality. It’s fun, it’s exciting, and I’m looking forward to sharing that with other folks that want to ride a Phantasm bicycle.
I’m not sure how long it will take, or that I’d ever want to do it full time like so many of you, but I am sure I’m a frame builder and I’m so very happy to be accepted as such by other frame builders. I’m not sure if Phantasm will ever be more than a few frames I built for myself, my buddies, or the public at large. I know there is a lot to making it a real business and I’m not ready to do that until I’m 100% sure that I’m ready. Another common theme I read about is folks that started selling too early. I want to be completely blown away by my own product before I charge money for it. I am getting there. #3 turned out pretty good and I’m very satisfied with it. I know I can do better though and #4 will be even better. One of these days, I do intend to be able to say, “wow, I am doing the kind of work I need to do to charge” and I’ll get my insurance in order and start filling the slots on the waiting list.
Thanks to each of you for taking your time out to be on this forum, having conversation/debate with me on the few topics that I’ve posted on, and to each of you that have reached out to help me either locally and/or via PMs/email/offline. I hope to pay it forward one day when I am more experienced and find someone that is just starting out and looking for some guidance.