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Thread: Thursday Bicycles

  1. #1
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    Default Thursday Bicycles

    This is Jon Norstog, the macher behind Thursday Bicycles. Story of my wasted life! I started riding bicycles when I was an undersized seven-year-old. My father took away my trike and for my eighth birthday gave me an “English racer” - a 3-speed with a gaspipe frame. I never quit riding bicycles and had quite a few, including some very nice ones during the bicycle boom of the 1970s.

    I rode those bicycles when I went away to college, when I was in the Coast Guard, when I went back to college and got that degree in architecture, when I dropped out and lived outdoors, in vacant buildings, on the road. And when I resurfaced and went back to graduate school. There was always something about those bikes I wanted to change ..

    That graduate degree took me half way around the world, to Thailand and back, me and that red Raleigh International. The one with no upper rack mounts. Finally I bought some bosses and silver-brazed them on with a propane torch. Then I re-brazed a loose seatstay bridge on a nice frame I picked up for my daughter.

    I convinced my wife that “we” needed as set of oxy-acetylene torches so I could repair a bashed-in fender on our old Volvo. I could really swing with those torches. By then we were living in Dine’ Bikeya - the Navajo reservation – where I was a tribal official. That’s another story. It was usually pretty hectic, but Thursdays tended to be slow, so I started taking Thursday afternoons off and puttering around with bicycles. I was cutting and brazing frames to change geometry; adding braze-ons galore; brazing on racks; even cutting up old frames to make new ones. Window Rock is in Arizona at about 7,000 feet elevation. I set up my workbenches out back of our Tribal Housing duplex and was able to build ten months of the year.

    I found out about Aircraft Spruce about that time and started building frames with new material. Not much later on I got hooked up with Reynolds USA and was able to get bicycle tubing. I started surprising myself how nice the bikes were. They actually looked and rode better than what the majors were producing.

    There was no place within a couple hundred miles to get a bike painted so I broke down and bought a compressor and a cheap detail gun. I soon realized that toned down car colors were not intense enough for an object the size of a bicycle. Fortunately there was a Navajo guy, Chuck, who owned a paint shop in Gallup and loved to mix paint. I still have some of the colors he mixed for me. Window Rock was great for painting, sunny, early mornings before the wind kicked up, just enough breeze to move the overspray and vapors away from you.

    I started building bikes to geometry and specs I found in the bike magazines, and painting them car colors. My thinking about frame design evolved pretty quickly; two early influences One was a Keith Bontrager mountain bike frame I saw at Cosmic Cycles in Flagstaff. It was radically different from the mountain bikes of the time – it looked fast, it was light, looked like something you could win races with. So I copied the angles and built a couple frames in my size, with the old Reynolds 653 tubeset. I sold one to a Tribal attorney, and still ride the other one, twenty-some years later.

    The other influence was the Lynn Kastan “Mosh” twenty-incher. What a revelation. You could do anything with that bike provided you could keep the front wheel on the ground. I had built a few BMX bikes pretty much copying Redline geometry of the day. After riding the Mosh, I shortened the chainstays on my BMX bikes to under fourteen inches for a twenty, and fifteen or less for a twenty-four-inch wheel frame, and started using a 1 1/4” seat tube with 7/8” round chainstays.

    By this time there had been a tribal election and someone’s relative needed my job. So the last half of the ‘90s I had time to make LOTS of bicycles, which I did. I also started racing BMX, first so I could get a feeling for what worked in a BMX frame, and then, once I had it pretty well dialed in, just for the hell of it. My son was 11, 12 those years so he wanted to race too. I’d build the bikes and we’d race them at Duke City BMX, joking and laughing on the long drive back to Window Rock, waving our trophies at people in passing cars …

    The BMX bikes, that fast handling and out-of-the-saddle riding style, started working its way into the other bikes I designed and built. I built cross country bikes with a low standover and 72/72 angles, bikes with short chainstays and fast handling, bikes for dual slalom, four cross and technical situations. I built for advanced riders, bikes that the majors couldn’t mass-produce because they had to build to the lowest common denominator of rider skill.

    Stories! Every bike has a story behind it; why it is that way. My Navajo friends used to joke about making a bike for sheepherding, so I started making them. The design concept evolved into the Muttonmaster utility bike. Memories of running away to Europe with my future wife, and riding the paths and cobbles on those nice 3-speed bikes they had, led a city bike. I called it “Je Ne Regrette Rien” and turned out a few of them. My young son picked the names for two bikes: “Phantom of the Opera” was a 20” BMX bike with somewhat easier geometry and water-bottle bosses; the “Bumblebee” was the name he gave for my yellow-and-black slalom bike. I raced a lot of latino guys at Duke City, so I called the pro model BMX bikes “Mi Vida Loca.”

    The move to Idaho was kind of a step up. I bought a house with a big garage and had a shop indoors at last. There were three or four BMX tracks within easy driving distance so I started racing a lot, and got a lot better at it, winning five state championships. There was at least 50 miles of singletrack I could ride to the trailhead. There was internet service so I could really reach out, website and all. I had everything I needed except customers! Oh well, that’s life.

    I lost my day job and my wife retired and moved in with me. We had some money so we bought a house in Portland where I am still building a few frames. I crashed pretty bad in a BMX national in 2014 and have hung up the gloves. What has taken the place of racing for me is bicycle touring. I rode Italy last year and am thinking about doing it again this year, plus Thailand and Laos next winter. The market for custom frames really never recovered after 2008; the people who would ordinarily be young clients are too broke to afford a frame, while the people who CAN afford one already have one. Or two. Or three...
     

  2. #2
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    Default Re: Thursday Bicycles

    Ya'ta'hey, Hastiin!!!!

    Man.......I remember meeting you at Cosmic Cycles in I think 1992 when you sold Brad a mutton-master, I thought it was so cool!

    I think you forgot the part about being a jazz trumpet player too

    - Garro.
    Steve Garro, Coconino Cycles.
    Frames & Bicycles built to measure and Custom wheels
    Hecho en Flagstaff, Arizona desde 2003
    www.coconinocycles.com
    www.coconinocycles.blogspot.com

  3. #3
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    Default Re: Thursday Bicycles

    Yeah, I had to leave a lot out. Those were kind of desperate days, on the front line of the so-called Navjo-Hopi land dispute. There were days I thought I would end up on federal charges or worse. It was Roman Bitsuie, Patterson Joe and I that did the years of community work that led to that (lousy) settlement. Has it been that long?

    63XC.com ran a story on the Muttonmaster bikes 63xc.com--Stories | The Muttonmaster Story

    Good seeing you this winter - I was gonna ride Baja in the cool months but I rode Thailand instead. Next year!

    jn
     

  4. #4
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    Default Re: Thursday Bicycles

    Not kidding, you are one of my all time framebuilder heros. Many years ago I stumbled on your story and read about the mutton master, your history and was sold.

    Damn son, nice you have you here.

  5. #5
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    Default Re: Thursday Bicycles

    Had the pleasure of Jon being behind me at the Oregon Handmade Bike and Beer Festival last fall... He pulled the horn out and gave us some good blues.
    DT

    http://www.mjolnircycles.com/

    http://www.bridersplace.com/

    Some are born to move the world to live their fantasies...

    "the fun outweighs the suck, and the suck hasn't killed me yet." -- chasea

    "Sometimes, as good as it feels to speak out, silence is the only way to rise above the morass. The high road is generally a quiet route." -- echelon_john

  6. #6
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    Default Re: Thursday Bicycles

    This is a good time to mention or thank some people who have helped me out, or who given me one big idea or another ...
    Andy Newlands - the first actual framebuilder I ever met in person ... I sort of knew there were a couple old guys in the US still making bicycles, but his Strawberry shop in Portland was the first time I ever saw a frame shop or a real live 'builder my age.

    Mike Devitt of SE Racing was my angel. Sold me Landing Gear forks, bars, and chrome-moly bottom brackets at a bro price. Always had time to talk on the phone, I always had a place to park my buns at the SE tent at a national..

    Bill Ryan, SuperCross BMX. Coming through with the ProForx, bars and those insane platform pedals after SE went bust. Always helpful, always a kind word.

    Brent Steelman, took the time to humor me and sell me his beautiful bottom bracket shells.

    Dirt Rag Magazine, Maurice Tierney and Karl Rosengarth particularly for a couple good reviews that brought a lot of clients to my shop. Dirt Rag would review a 'builder bike jast as if it came from one of the majors.

    The late Jim Bedeaux, Arquebusier, of Albuquerque, who showed me how to weld chrome moly tubing.

    The BMX racers, family and track officials/crews I have known, raced, and hung out with, especially Duke City BMX, Snake River BMX and Cherry Hill BMX.

    The old Reynolds USA, especially Mr. Noronha, who sold me bicycle tubing direct. I didn't buy much at any given time, but I did buy a LOT of the stuff. 525 was actually cheaper than straight gauge aircraft grade tubing for a while. While I'm at it here's a shout out to Lon Kennedy at Nova.

    Manufacturers and suppliers who gave me OE pricing or wholesale accounts, when there was hardly any money to be made ... WTB! White Brothers/MRP! Answer/Manitou! Marzocchi! Cane Creek! Paul! Thomson, thank you for those unbreakable, unbendable 29.8 seatposts! Profile Racing, for those wonderful cranks, hubs and for making up those disc brake BMX hubs when no one else would do it. And suppliers J&B Importers, BTI, Primo

    Here's a thank you to Alex Wetmore for setting up the framebuilder list. It was my only connection to the big, bike world back in the days of landlines and modems and no WWW.

    That's a few.

    And there have been some pretty memorable clients as well ..... mostly fine people, some of whom have become friends. And a few real stinkers!


    jn
     

  7. #7
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    Default Re: Thursday Bicycles

    Quote Originally Posted by jon_norstog View Post
    Yeah, I had to leave a lot out. Those were kind of desperate days, on the front line of the so-called Navjo-Hopi land dispute. There were days I thought I would end up on federal charges or worse. It was Roman Bitsuie, Patterson Joe and I that did the years of community work that led to that (lousy) settlement. Has it been that long?

    63XC.com ran a story on the Muttonmaster bikes 63xc.com--Stories | The Muttonmaster Story

    Good seeing you this winter - I was gonna ride Baja in the cool months but I rode Thailand instead. Next year!

    jn
    Hi Jon,
    The Muttonmaster article is an interesting story.
    You talked about gas welding frames.
    I bet that takes some really good heat control (and LOTS of practice)!
    I don't hear about anyone else doing this except for the old big production bikes like Schwinn Varsities.
    It is interesting to know that this works well.
    Can you tell us a bit more about it?

    By the way, I recall running into you on the Trumpetherald site years ago.
    Mark Walberg
    Building bike frames for fun since 1973.

  8. #8
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    Default Re: Thursday Bicycles

    This is kind of long, but covers the OA welding .. I wrote it up for Bicycle Quarterly a few years ago, but it never made it to the page.

    " This is a story about a method of making bicycle frames. It is a technical subject, but there is a human dimension to it as well. Call it a passion if you will.

    I make bicycle under a nom de guerre, Thursday, which is also the brand on my frames. In the spirit of the old French constructeurs, I make a lot of my own dropouts, stays and racks and frame fittings as needed. I have a small shop in an attached garage, with a frame jig, tube bender, a mill, torches, compressor and air tools and a beat-up workbench made out of an old solid-core door. I do my own paint. I'm an artiste!

    With these tools and using a few simple gauges and carpenter's levels, I make frames that are straight and accurate. It took years to learn the craft and some of my older frames would probably not meet the standards I now set for myself. Oddly enough, the people that have those older frames love them.

    There are two basic toolkits used for joining up steel frames: torch-and-tank sets where an intense flame does the work, or shielded arc welders such as TIG, where an inert gas “shields” the arc and prevents oxidation or burn-through of thin tubing material. Shielded arc welding is a fairly new method and the tools are expensive. It's fast. A good welder can TIG up 10 frames a day. It's even faster in a production setting. Oxy-acetylene involves a pair of gas tanks and a torch where pressurized oxygen and acetylene mix and burn with an intense, beautiful blue jet flame at the torch's tip. A good torch set, with tanks, caosts hundred dollars, whereas a decent TIG-welding setup will cost a few thousand.

    Most framebuilders use Oxy-Acetylene torches, and mostly they braze frames together with bronze or silver filler, either with lugs or by fillet brazing. That was what I did too, starting out. It was natural, it was how bikes were all made, right? I was making mountain and dirt racing bike frames, fillet brazing them because no one made lugs with the angles I needed.

    I was in Albuquerque, had picked up a frame from the sandblasters and then gone to see Bedeaux l'arquebusier (gunsmith) about my hunting rifle. Jim Bedeaux had been a French-speaking marine in World War II, thrown in with a unit made up of Louisiana Cajuns. After the war, he worked in aircraft plants on the coast before moving home to Albuquerque and settling in as a gunsmith. He was a good one, too. That particular day I showed him a fillet brazed mountain bike frame. He asked me why I wasn't welding my frames. “I didn't know you could weld this stuff with a torch,” I replied. He said that was all BS and all you need is a steady hand and a neutral flame. I thought about it, about those 300,000 airplanes the US made during World War II, most of them with tubular chrome-moly subassemblys. All welded with torches, mostly by women. Take that, Mr. Hitler!

    Next time I saw Mr. Bedeaux I had a few sample joints. They looked like shit but you couldn't break them. The old man gave me that look. I went back to Window Rock and welded up some more practice joints. It was kind of fun. I had started using aircraft-grade tubing, so the next order I included some special welding rod, Oxweld 32CMS.

    The process is like fillet brazing, but at a much higher temperature. You wear darker glasses. What you see is a puddle of what looks like molten lava at the joint, formed from welding rod. You heat the puddle and let it eat into the tubing. As in fillet brazing, you have to add filler from the rod. Unlike brazing, the molten steel is viscous, it moves slowly and has a natural tendency to form a perfect fillet. It won't run or droop the way bronze will. This is a slow, kind of meditative process. There is no buzzing arc, just the torch in one hand, the rod in the other hand, and two pieces of metal becoming one. If you turn up the fuel just a hair over a neutral flame, the puddle loses its crusty look and becomes glassy-smooth. This is perfection. But if you overdo it on the fuel, then the molten steel loads up with carbon, enough to make it hard and brittle.

    It took a while before I was ready to actually weld up a frame. I started welding my BMX frames, because the riders preferred a welded frame to one that was brazed. And I welded racks, then whole utility bikes. Once I got the hang of it, it seemed I could do no wrong. I took my files and tried knocking down the welds a little. The files bit deep into the welded areas taking them down quickly without loading the file. The result was a beautiful fillet of steel at each joint.

    I started working with thinner tubing. Tubing with .9 mm walls welded up easily; at .7 mm I started burning through the tubes and having to quickly patch the holes before they cooled. Later I got better at welding thin tubes, using a tiny, 00-size tip on my Victor torch.

    Bicycle Quarterly had an article a few years ago about Andre Reiss, a French constructeur of the 1930s who welded his Reyhand frames from .03 and .04 mm tubing. The article notes “today many consider it unwise to gas-weld thinwall steel tubes. But there are no known failures with Reiss' machines, nor do his frames show signs of heat distortion.” My own thought is those numbers represent the thin center of the frame tubes, which would have been thicker at their butts. If the tubes were .7 mm at the butt, welding them would have been challenging, but not impossible. On the other hand perhaps Reiss sold his soul to the devil in trade for unearthly skill with a torch.

    What are the advantages of welding chrome-moly tubing? First and foremost is a welded frame can be modified or repaired by welding at any time. You can cut out a piece and weld in a new one. It can be heat treated post-weld, and the Oxweld rod is heat-treatable as well. You can braze a welded frame if you need to, but you can not weld a piece of steel if there is bronze in the weld area.

    What about heat? The weld is definitely hot, much hotter than a brazed joint. The puddle of molten steel completely wipes out the miter joint, replacing it with a monolithic fillet of steel. The frame tubes are discolored for several inches around the joint, and the weld itself may be covered by a dull scale. Unlike a nicely TIGed frame, the welded frame looks like a survivor of the blitz. The weld joint is not a rippling series of little discs; in order to run a decent weld bead, you would have to start at one point and weld right around the joint. If you do this, the joint will distort when it cools. The alternative, if you want a good-looking joint, is to put lots of heat into the the weld bead, moving just fast enough that it collapses into a fillet, slow enough so that it penetrates the metal being joined and becomes one with it.

    “On the other hand … There is no other hand!!” That's what Teviye bellowed in Fiddler on the Roof, when his youngest daughter eloped with a goy."

    jn


    "Thursday"
     

  9. #9
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    Default Re: Thursday Bicycles

    Here are some photos of a welded frame in-build. I usually give the welds a once-over with a file to find any spots where the weld is embrittled, and knock down any gormlies and nerds. Sandblast is prior to shooting white or black epoxy primer ... then comes wet paint.

    weldig_6.jpg

    welding_1.jpg

    welding_b.jpg

    welding_c.jpg

    plan_B_in_build.jpg
     

  10. #10
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    Default Re: Thursday Bicycles

    I got an eMail today from a man in Albuquerque who had just bought a mixte frameset of mine at a cycle donation coop in that city. I built it about 15 years ago for an IHS doctor in Gallup who had a bad back and bum leg. He had to ride upright and couldn't get a leg over a standard "men's" frame. Halfway through the build he decided he wanted the Rohloff hub instead of derailleur and gears ... and a SON dynamo. The Peter White wheelset, with Mavic ceramic rims, actually cost him more than the frame!

    He seemed really happy with the bike and I wondered what happened with him. Looks like he is either gone or in assisted living and someone has taken responsibility for getting rid of his possessions.

    He was a really sweet guy, and I kind of hoped he would have a long life riding that bike...


    jn


    pink_8.jpgpink_2.jpgpink_7.jpgpink_4.jpg
     

  11. #11
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    Default Re: Thursday Bicycles

    the man who picked up the frameset sent me some pictures ... he says he is going to pick up a Rohloff and SON hubset.pink_rescued (1).jpgpink_rescued (2).jpgpink_rescued (3).jpg


    Pink rides again!


    jn
     

  12. #12
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    Default Re: Thursday Bicycles

    Maaaan I love what you do. That's a heartwarming story and the bike isn't half bad.

  13. #13
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    Default Re: Thursday Bicycles

    Thanks, 2-tall. A word about the color: the client said he wanted the bike painted pink. I said, well, that covers a lot of chromatic territory. Like Pepto-Bismol Pink? Or flesh pink? How about the pink that Mary Kay is using on their Caddy SUVs?

    He said "I think maybe a wild rose color."

    It was June so I went and picked some wild roses and took them to the paintshop. The lady runningthe place liked the idea and mixed the exact color ... "How about some pearl in that?"

    "YEAH!!" I replied.

    I still have half a can.

    jn

    "Thursday"
     

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