I was hit by a car, rear ended outside Salisbury, England. My Schwinn World Voyager frame was destroyed along with both wheels. It was the summer of ’75 and my younger brother and I were cycle touring together in England and Scotland for six weeks. We had been in southern England for three days when I was hit (my fault). After being released from the hospital with a very raw back, elbows, hands and knees, I had to find another frame and wheel components. My brother, already an experienced racer at 15, had heard of Holdsworth frames. I hopped a train into London, looked up “Holdsworth” in the phone book and took a local train out to East Penge and the Holdsworth shop. I bought a 21” frame set, a pair of rims, spokes and a seat post and returned to the hostel in Salisbury. Dave and I rebuilt the bike the next day and completed the trip a bit more than five weeks later. During that time, I became a cyclist, not a terribly good one, but a permanent one.
After that summer, I had one more year of undergrad studies with a degree in Sociology waiting the next May. With a degree in sociology, you can teach, go back to school for something else or simply head out in a different direction. What you could not do back then was get a job as a sociologist.
During that winter of ’75 – ’76, there was an article published in what would become Bicycling Magazine about American frame builders. Until that time, I thought that you had to be either British or Italian to build high end frames. Looking at those little black and white snap shots of American built frames transfixed me. One image in particular just blew me away. It was a shot of the inside of a right, rear dropout on a Jim Redcay frame. It was so beautiful, the lines and curves were just so perfect. I knew I could never do that, but I wanted to try. That winter, I wrote (you know … with postage) letters to about five eastern US builders asking for apprentice positions. I got replies from two; Jim Redcay and Bill Boston. Bill hired me for a five year apprenticeship which began the day after I graduated ... he fired me after a couple of months. My understanding was that; a) I wasn’t earning my keep and, b) I wasn’t progressing at a rate that indicated I might someday earn my keep. I sucked. At least from the perspective of an experienced builder, I sucked.
After leaving Bill, I visited a couple of other builders. Peter Weigle at Whitcome, USA gave me the best advice. He said that I had learned enough from Bill and about his techniques and designs that working for someone else would require re-learning in some areas. He thought I should just give it a try on my own.
As it turned out, being forced to leave Bill was good for both of us. He no longer had a millstone around his neck and I could develop on my own. Over the years, I came to understand that I was actually so terrified of messing up at Bill’s that I simply locked up. Once I was on my own, I had more freedom to make mistakes and learn from them. The very steep part of the learning curve at the beginning was the worst of it, at least when it came to the building process. After the first ten frames or so, the curve started to level out, never completely doing so. The other parts of frame building; painting, business, marketing, all have had their own curves and new ones seem to arrive all the time.
I was very fortunate to have moved to the Lehigh Valley very late in ’76. Since it was not very far from where I grew up and they had a bicycle racing track, I figured that it was as good a place as any to set up a shop. Those first few years racing on the track and training with national team members enabled me to jump start my business. It gave me a leg us not only because I got many of the riders on my frames, but also because they taught me what was right and wrong about the frames I built them. They knew nothing about frame design, but they did know what worked and what didn’t work. Early on, they were my teachers. I had to figure out how to eliminate the characteristics that they didn’t like and how to enhance the ones that they did. Somehow, I was good at doing that; figuring out how to make frames perform in certain ways.
That ability is one of the reasons why Merlin took me on as a designer back around day-one in Somerville. Working through a mechanical or design problem still gets me excited. Each time I design another custom frame or frame component, I am challenged in a way that brings me back to the sixth grade when I was introduced to geometry and trigonometry. It was so exciting to me back then because I could “see” it, I could visualize it. It made sense. Frame design is the same way for me. I don’t know where that ability came from, but I still value it and love to work with it.
Our “style” came from my earliest days with Bill Boston and later while spending a lot of time in Jim Redcay’s shop using his paint booth. Both of those guys had developed a very simple, clean, no frills look. When I started building my own frames, I began like many back then using Prugnat long point lugs. You can’t get much plainer looking than they were. My big departure from Jim’s and Bill’s styles was with my seat stays. For some reason, I never liked the “fastback” style they used. I tried a few variations on our current style and settled where we are now about thirty years ago. The actual stay cap is very close to what the old Masi Gran Criteriums used except that we miter them into the seat lug very differently. After using cast lugs for years, we finally gave up on them once we got to the point where over half of our frames required custom angled and dimensioned lugs. Now that we are used to making our own lugs, even standard geometry frames get handmade lugs.
I have been blessed to have worked with and helped by a large number of talented and generous people in the bicycle business. I keep doing what I do for all the obvious reasons;
- I love riding and racing.
- I love the challenges of designing, building and painting.
- I can never get enough of hearing that we have helped make someone happy, more healthy, etc.
- I’d get bored if I stopped.
I wish I had another me to;
- Do the paperwork.
- Sand clear coats.
- Mask lug edges.
- Mow the lawn.