I'm a late bloomer. After saving my lawn mowing money for two years, I got my first mountain bike in 1989 when I was a sophomore in high school. It was a Lotus Viking and I was a kid who hadn't ridden a bike for six or seven years. Every free moment I had was spent exploring the trails in the neighborhoods near my house. Probably like a lot of kids who have more enthusiasm than riding ability, I was breaking everything on the bike and couldn't afford to replace much so I learned how to fix it to the best of my ability. Despite years of hassling shop managers, I didn't get a toe in the door at a shop until 1994 when I began assembling bikes at night while I kept my day job and I've had a foot in the industry ever since.
I can't remember a time when I wasn't completely obsessed either with making parts or making existing parts work better. I painstakingly pulled the liners out of kevlar wrapped compressionless brake housing so I could run Gore liners and cables to make the braking on my trials bike smoother and more predictable (I did the same thing on the MTB...before hydro discs). I spent a great deal of time modifying the Dia Compe 987s on my '92 MB-2 so I could flip them around on the brake posts in an attempt to get firmer braking (it didn't work, I ruined them). I had a special "Homie Hop Up Kit" that I made for Rock Shox Judy's (the elastomer period) that made them actually work. It was a source of pride when people would come into the shop to ask for it by name. I worked with the founder of 5.10 to develop a trials specific brake pad compound to work with an aluminum backing that I designed for Maguras. Ultimately, none of it ever made an impact but I had fun tinkering and was always inspired to work on something else. I never really "got" custom frames despite owning a couple of Steve Potts built WTBs. I DID know that if I sketched out a design and sent it along with some $$ to SAPA or Kinesis, I could get some "me" branded frames...it never felt right and I never pulled the trigger because ultimately I wanted to make them myself.
In the summer of 2005 I was looking for a builder to build me a Rohloff compatible titanium 29er. I called a few builders, most were generally uninterested and one genuinely offended me by calling my simple idea "ridiculous and stupid" and telling me that I had no idea what I was talking about. That was pretty much all I needed to hear. I had seen "framebuilder" in an article about Portland in the month before we moved here. I thought "never heard of Vanilla" so I Googled it, didn't see any mountain bikes so I didn't look any deeper. A few months later Sacha had his open house as part of Pedalpalooza and in such a genuine and passionate manner described framebuilding, showed us some bikes in progress and told us that it could all be done with simple tools. He connected the dots...there were no robots, no magicians or wizards, no incantations...it all seemed very sensible and very tangible.
In the summer of 2006 the company I worked for wanted me to move back to the D.C. area and I wasn't about to go back, so I signed up for a ti frame building class (not at UBI) and built my first frame, incorporating the "ridiculous and stupid" idea that I presented to the builder the year before. The frame looks terrible and the welds are awful but it was very satisfying to finally build my own frame on my terms. I'd still ride it if I didn't need something "in the family" that I can depend as bike show material.
Four years later, I've built a bunch of frames and I'm at a point where I'm proud of everything that's put out into the world. The goofy one-off stuff is what I find truly enjoyable and it seems to be why my customers call me. If I ever get bored, stop learning or run out of ideas I'll find another line of work.