note - i am readying for race weekend travel and wanted to add some more content here. this post is about the line in the sand that i jumped over and finally ceased using the word "custom" to think about or describe what i do atmo. the issue here relates to a frame i made for a team mate and pal. he was a national team rider in the 70s and still has a motor. this order led to me no longer accepting work in unless it completely overlaps with how i think it should be in the first place. cue frank sinatra and johnny rotten. some comments from two separate interviews are pasted in below...
You typically use 8cm of bottom bracket drop, which especially with skinny race wheels means a low bottom bracket. Were you doing that from the start or what influenced you to go that low in the bottom bracket?
Well, let me try and be specific. I don’t really make custom frames. I make frames made to designed in a way that I think is the best for the person who I am fitting a bike to. In the beginning of my career I had customers who were National team members and people that were just the best riders in the country. Strangely, they always asked for something that was comfortable and stable, and I kind of bookmarked that and I thought this distinction is really odd because people that I am making the bikes for that are racing on the national level, and they want bikes that, by Bicycling magazine standards, were not “racing bicycles”. They wanted the bikes to be, all summed up, longer and lower, just the opposite of the way the bike journalists of the day said racing bikes should be.
I think the line in the sand came when one of my clients, Rudy Sroka, who was also a good friend of mine, was on the first American team to be invited to the Tour de L’Avenir, which for those who don’t know, is the amateur Tour de France. He wanted the bike to be 76 degree parallel, with an 11_ inch bottom bracket, the shortest chainstays possible, and a minimum fork rake. I made the bike because I thought that, “Well, bike makers make bikes to order and this is what Rudy asked for.” He was my pal and an accomplished racer, and I figured, well I’m not going to argue. The bike looked great; you couldn’t tell from the side that it was queer. It was what he wanted. He had enormous success on it, but when he went to the Tour de L’Avenir, which was his first taste of European stage racing, he lasted three or four stages. There, the team manager, Mike Neel, said to him, “If you ever get invited back to Europe to represent America in the stage races, don’t bring that bike. Or if you ever find out I’m the coach, don’t bring that bike.”
Rudy related that story to me and at that point I said to myself, “That’s it.” None of this stuff ever made sense to me. I didn’t know how to say no. I was still getting the information for my other customer’s orders that said they liked their bikes the other way (with the inane geometry). The real racers and the National team guys, all wanted it to be this way, meaning more rationally designed. So I stopped making bikes to order and I decided to use my experience from the sport and say, “Look — there are two people in this equation, and I know more about the design than you do. I will design the bike to fit you perfectly. The result of this will be based on what I think will be correct for a bike.” Rudy’s was the last frame order I filled in which the client spec-ed the geometry and the key numbers. In other words, from the beginning I thought many of the so-called custom frame orders were coming through with requests for design elements that were contradictory with good handling and balance, and the incident with pal Rudy and his Tour de L’Avenir experience galvanized my decision to, once and for all, make my frames my way.
You’ve always been careful to call your frames “made to measure” rather than custom. Can you talk a little about your perspective? It seems many cyclists aren’t clear on the distinction.
Here’s the deal: I don’t understand the word “custom.” I just wanted to make bikes for people who wanted to use them on the road. When I started I just thought, “I want to do what I want to do.” I got to do that from the beginning. But because I came up in the era of Bicycling road tests, I had to deal with people who were reading the reviews. I was always conflicted that the people who were good racers would give me very few measurements. On the other hand, consumer types would come in and ask can you make this like a DeRosa if a DeRosa was recently reviewed. Transposing specs from one bicycle to another is fraught with peril, especially if some specs are misunderstood. In that ‘70s era, I found that many folks took the monthly road tests too literally. Of these, some would ask the framebuilders to copy this, or make it like that. If you’re new and have no backbone, you find yourself executing these orders. One such frame was for my pal Rudy, and when he went to the Tour de l’Avenir he had a terrible experience because the bike was poorly thought out, and not suited for European stage racing; Mike Neel really dressed him down for bringing that bike. That was in ’78. Since then, I make my bike not your bike. How can they be custom if I decide what goes where? I’m a guy who makes what I think is my bike. Though the order precedes the bike, it’s not “custom.” The term “made to measure” comes from tailoring and is used to differentiate between that style and “custom” and “bespoke.” If a tailor has a style, you don’t go to him and ask him to do more than to make it fit. You don’t say, “Make it look like Karl Lagerfeld or Calvin Klein.” Most people understand now you don’t tell a builder how to build a bike. You don’t show up with a blueprint. My view is there might be a million choices, but there’s only one right one.
in february of 2008 i found myself in portland for three days for dw's bigshow. i didn't meet richard until sunday. i _saw_ him friday and saturday, but was too intimidated to walk up and introduce myself. i knew he'd recognize my name from our several and frequent postings to the frameforum. but i also knew that he could be curt and to-the-point with his commentary. was i going to get that? had i said dumb things or pissed him off and didn't know it? was he going to say "scram kid"?
early sunday i caught him without company, walked over and introduced myself.
pals ever since. atwo*
*at once both imitating and appropriating but also having a basis in reality.
richard's techniques, philosophy, and designs have already and will forevermore affect the way i think about bicycles and the design and construction of them.
once again, thanks richie.
cheers and muddy off-cambers to you.
Last edited by WadePatton; 10-08-2010 at 10:31 PM.
here's a reply straight from the hip -
make what you use.
use what you know.
know what you use.
sell what you use.
and never look up to see what anyone else is doing.
no matter how wide the net is cast, all that matters is what you think.
if you ever second guess yourself, pause until you don't atmo.
Last edited by anthonymaietta; 10-09-2010 at 09:00 AM.
no question, just to note that the vsalon, smoked out, and richard himself as expressed within this thread and elsewhere appears to be a special kind of dude. i am lucky enough to have worked with and befriended some of the brightest minds in science, medicine, and business, but i have yet to hear anyone express truths about a life's work and a life well lived as clearly and forcefully as richard except perhaps the bard himself:
This above all: to thine own self be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.
Farewell, my blessing season this in thee!
i think this means that "custom" work is bullshit. rock on.
ronnie not hung up --- "custom made.."
custom to me is .. "the habitual correct way of performing a task the same way over and over.." and the bike i ride a a "habitual red/cream-white frame" crafted to fit ronnie and his habitual/custom, body & riding style ..
ronnie just needs a crafted "body & riding style.." to match the correct habitual custom .....
i use what i know and make what i know and sell what i use.
but i have been second guessing myself at races this year
so take my advice with a grain of salt atmo. i worked hard
to net a 5th and a 6th this weekend in rhode island. here
are two images i mined off facebook...