flickr and some recent stuff

hey all,

  i have made a lot of progress lately, more details to follow. however, if you are looking for some pictures from the work shop in real time, i am working on making my flickr (https://www.flickr.com/photos/128907286@N03/) the most up to date source of pictures. i have the head tube assembly attached to the cargo bike, as well as some progress on the stem for Ben's all road bike. Stay tuned for lots of details soon! "A wise man once said/we all dead fuck it."

Current events!

Well, as y'all have seen, I have been getting a goodly bit of work done the past couple weeks. There are some additional photos in the Projects section of the page under Boson's Bakfiets. The last two weeks, however, have been held up by some unfortunate winter influenza situation in my respiratory system and the possibly related brutal cold that pervades my workspace. However, I will continue cracking on, as I would have liked to get the cargo bike all brazed up by the end of the week. The big hurdles that are coming up this week are the biggest challenges of the whole project: locking down the head tube angle in phase with the centerline of the bike, and rigging up the sweet cable steering rig. Lots of pictures and probably separate blog posts for those coming soon!

The other real news here is that I have another little project lined up, a matching stem for Ben's all-road disc bike. I like doing stems because I actually have a very nice piece of tooling, the Sputnik stem jig (http://www.sputniktool.com/small-tooling/stem-fixture/), which allows me to achieve very accurate angles. Once I do Ben's stem, I may well bang out another couple of them for fun and practice. The other cool thing here is that I will get to try my hand at small-scale electroplating, which I bought a kit for after seeing my friend Lance over at Squarebuilt (http://www.squarebuilt.com) do a sweet job gold plating some lugs on a road bike he built up last year. Lots of cool stuff coming, folks!

Boson's bakfiets: fabrication challenges and methods.

Boson's project presents a couple of pretty interesting problems in construction, as there isn't really a jig to hold all of the bits aligned in place in order to braze them together accurately. When you build a frame or fork, there are jigs that allow for any configuration within the traditional diamond frame design. The bakfiets, however, falls more into the genus of the tandem and the recumbent, weird creatures who live beyond the constraints of traditional frame building equipment. Given that I do not have the money, time, or expertise to fabricate custom tooling just to hold the bits of this one particular project together, other means are needed. In order to keep all my angles as accurate as possible, I split up the construction into several smaller sub-assemblies, little chunks that I could align and clamp and hold down on the welding tables at the Foundery where I work. Then, once I have the sub-assemblies together, then I can carefully and craftily align them in the bicycle repair stand and quickly tack them together. Once tacked, I can complete the brazes and hopefully retain the alignment needed to keep everything centered around the centerline of the bicycle and the cargo bay perpendicular to the vertical centerline of the bike. That way, when it is loaded up, it will be rideable hands free and will track consistently and steer predictably. Here is how it has gone thus far:

Here is the first sub-assembly, the cargo bay floor. I will still add the mounting tabs that will allow for the final installation of the plywood floor. Doing a simple square meant easy miters and an uncomplicated brazing sequence that I could do all on the welding table. This project is also great brazing practice for me!

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Here, we see the second sub-assembly, the bottom bracket mounting bracket, that I have brazed onto the cargo bay floor assembly. I calculated the angle that they join at from the original blueprint, and then did some trigonometry and was able to mock it up accurately on the welding table. All of the miters thus far are very simple, and the brazes were all very accessible, which kept the actual assembly pretty easy. I was also able to clamp everything down to the rigid table top, which kept things aligned while I tacked them in place. 

Next, I attached the first two sub-assemblies to the bottom bracket of the rear donor frame. To get the alignment here correct, I made some wooden blocks to hold the cargo bay floor at the appropriate height (again, from the blueprints) and clamped a dummy wheel into the frame to attain the ideal riding position. I supported everything as best I could and quickly tacked the struts to the bottom bracket shell. Once they were holding, I completed the brazes.

There they are, in all their raw blobby wonder! After attaching the first two assemblies, I could begin building up the cargo bay. First, I attached the rearward vertical supports for the upper rail.

As you can see, it required some very crafty alignment and more applied trigonometry. The beginning of the flare to the sides of the cargo bay is visible nicely here. Once the vertical strut was attached, I cut and mitered the lateral support to fit the down tube and the vertical and then brazed it in. 

I did the same for the other side, and then moved on to the front subassembly. The front sub-assembly will get its own post soon, as it was a whole lot of trickiness all by itself. The front assembly contains the most critical angle of the whole project, the head tube angle that steers the bike. It must be centered, vertical, in phase with the centerline of the rear bike, and set to the correct angle within a half-degree tolerance in order to maintain the desired steering characteristics, so there was a lot of planning to get everything right. 

After a hiatus, back with my current project.

After handing off Ben's bike in December, I started work on a very different project. Boson got hold of me looking for a bakfiets style cargo bike based off of two donor bikes. As it happens, my friend Jake over in Portland, OR (http://www.jrydevisuals.com) has done a couple of these projects, so I had a couple of ideas going into it on how I might best proceed. I based my bike on Josh Muir's Smallhaul (http://www.francescycles.com), which I have always admired in theory and in person. My approach takes the best features of a very cool design keeps the price down and simplifies the construction a lot by using a donor bike for the rear end of the vehicle. Boson tracked down an older Specialized Hardrock Sport frame to use for the back end. Here are my sketches:

I start all my projects with a 1:4 scale drawing. Here, you can see I began by measuring and drawing the donor rear frame, and then built the framework of the cargo bay and steering assembly up front. Often as I move from the drawings to the fabrication itself, I will revise small details, but all the big features are nailed down here. The front wheel will be connected to the handlebar steerer tube by a crafty cable system routed along the top rails (not pictured yet!). The cargo bed is the lowest point on the bike so that the whole thing has as low a center of mass as possible while still retaining cornering and curb clearance. The front head tube, the point at which the bike steers, sets up the small (20") front wheel with a lower than average trail to keep the bike steady at low speeds under load. The front fork is a stock fork, which also helps keep the production simple and the costs down. The cargo bay flares upwards, wider at the top than at the bottom, to allow for additional space within. The rear of the bike retains the ability to mount a rack with panniers as well, which gives the whole bike plenty of capacity for a child seat and groceries as needed. The tubing is straight gauge chromoly, study enough for a heavy load, but not so overbuilt as to make the bike cumbersome and a drag to ride around. Boson is planning to build the bike up with cable disc brakes and a dynamo powered lighting system for practicality and durability. The actual sides and floor of the bay will be made of thin plywood cut to fit.

Construction is well underway, and I will post some more construction pictures soon!

New Bike Day: The story of Ben's bike.

Today, I finally handed off the all-road bike to my friend Ben. This project has taken me a very long time to complete, mostly because in the middle of it I moved from New York down to Baltimore. I actually commuted back up to Brooklyn on a couple of my weekends to get the frame and fork brazed up, as I didn't have my workspace in Baltimore set up yet. I had it powder coated locally and painted on my logo on the down tube. 

Here is how it all began! I do a 1:4 scale drawing to work out proportions, angles, and to start to get a line on whatever details i am going to include. you can see in the picture, I have it built up around 32mm tires, fillet brazed joints, a lugged fork, and capped seat stays. I had just received the tubing and braze-ons and was getting ready to put things together.

I took this while i was working on the miters of the seat and down tube. The top tube is about ready here, while the down tube still has a little ways to go. Once all the miters sit nicely on the tubes, it is time to tack them together. When everything is stuck together, I go back and complete the brazed joints. The order of operations is actually pretty important: if you just forge ahead and braze something while the other end isn't tacked down, the heat from the joint will pull the other end of your tube out of alignment. 

Here is the frame set, complete and aligned. I strapped it to my backpack, hopped on my janky little folding bike, and rode across New York City to catch the bus back down to Baltimore. This is the most deceptive point of the build process, for me. It feels like it is done, like it could sandblast it real quick, send it off to paint, and be up and running in a couple days. However, the longest part is still to come, the finish work to make everything smooth and nice. It also affords the opportunity to add extra braze-ons or make minor modifications. 

You can see the contrast between the finished bit where I have filed and polished the area around the rack mount and the blobby unfinished bits where the stays join to the dropouts. Eventually, after a couple of weekends of solid work, it was all polished up and good to go to paint.

Once everything else is ready, I put the actual parts that the bike is going to be built up with on, just to make absolutely sure that everything is going to physically work. If I do have to change something, I sure don't want it to cost me a whole extra paint job. Happily, everything on Ben's bike was good to go, so I dropped it off for powder coating. Three weeks later, I got it back looking good:

Now, it was just a matter of cleaning up threads, building everything back up, and then painting on my logo. It came out well, and today Ben picked up the bike and took it for its maiden voyage. 

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It was very satisfying to be done with the bike, to build it and have it ride well. I took it on a slightly longer test ride to get a sense of its handling and ride characteristics. It is definitely more road bike than cross bike, and the handling is responsive but not twitchy. You can ride it hands free comfortably and confidently, but if you want to turn, it holds a line very nicely. The brakes are powerful but not crazy: the cable actuated hydraulics feel very much like a full hydraulic system, but with the benefit that they are compatible with a wide variety of different bars and brake levers. If Ben wanted to set it up as a townie with flat bars, he wouldn't have to change the brake calipers, just the levers and cables. Once Ben is satisfied with the fit of the bike, I will build a matching stem just for kicks. The 11 speed 105 group is awesome, it feels great and works very nicely. Although the complete bike weighs in just over 23 pounds, it does not feel like a heavy bike when you ride it. My coworker described it as "airy," which I took as a great compliment. While I know how I designed the bike, it is very nice to ride it and see that everything worked out the way that I had planned it to. There are some more pictures of the bike's details here: www.akratic-cycles.com/work/#/bens-disc-all-road-bike/.

I do have another project in the works already, a very different sort of bike. Once I get some details pinned down in my design, I will have some pictures up! 

Some current events, and a love song for silver bike.

So while I am waiting on Ben's bike to come back from powder coating, I started making another set of the bull moose bars like those that are on my mountain bike. I will have pictures soon, but it was so cold in my workspace the other day that I only got a couple of hours in before rushing home to jump in the tub. I did get the first two brazes complete and the next two miters in decent rough shape. I will be out of town next week for some Thanksgiving festivities, so it will be a little while before I get back into the workshop.

I recently had to fill out an employee biography form for the bike shop that I work at. One of the questions was, "If you could only have one bike for the rest of your life, what bike would it be?" My reply was my silver bike. Silver bike is a 1980 Panasonic Sport Deluxe. Very much not a fancy bike: a low end bike boom frame set, high tensile steel and stamped dropouts. However, it fits my lanky proportions very well. I purchased it my junior year of high school for $30 at a yard sale in Madison, CT. I rode it something like 22 miles home and it was awesome. At the time it had a set of risers on it and looked something like this:

I shipped it out to Oregon to have while I was at school at Reed College. I rode that bike all over town, both around campus but also on longer ventures, 40 and 50 mile loops around the city. The summer of my sophomore year I put some drop bars on it to facilitate my longer distance trips. It looked like this (sorry to my readers for having taken so many non-driveside photos):

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At the time, mostly because I was broke, it remained on its 27" cheap replacement wheels which I retensioned to extend their lifespans. The bike remained like this for quite a while, although it went in a more rando-ish direction as my trips got longer and I got nerdier about bikes. When I came back to Portland after some travels post-graduation, it looked like this:

I had salvaged the front rack from a strange old Bridgestone that had been scrapped. It has twin headlights, at this point both of them the original incandescent bulbs powered by a sidewall dynamo. This is my primary memory of silver bike, this is how i imagined it for the longest time. I really wanted a fancy integrated rando bike, but I had silver bike, and I made silver bike into the best possible version of what I really wanted. The shifters here are Suntour Command butterfly shifters, which provide friction shifting (or 7 speed Suntour indexed shifting) from the brake hoods. They are still some of my favorite shifters. Here is a picture from one of my many adventures:

Working in the bike shop, I eventually built myself up a set of 700c wheels for commuting and touring on. I had a tour planned down the Pacific Coast from Eugene to San Francisco, and for that adventure, silver bike morphed into touring mode:

Rear rack, nice new 700c wheels, a triple crankset, and some real nice Schwalbe Marathon Supremes. Silver bike performed spectacularly on tour, although one of my Suntour shifters did fail at the band clamp and I did need to adjust the rear hub. But, for a 33 year old cheap bike retrofitted with stuff it was never meant for, it handled those miles wonderfully. After I returned to Portland, silver bike changed again into townie mode, a version which has endured to the present.

Here, silver bike is parked in the hallway outside of my apartment in Brooklyn. I am about to run some tubing over to the workspace. I have a Rivendell Shop Sack in a Wald basket as my primary grocery getting set up, and it works very well indeed. Secure, capacitous, and affordable, I can get myself and everything that I might need to carry anywhere in town. It has worked very well in this capacity in Portland, New York, and Baltimore. Sadly, after much abuse, the seat stays cracked off of the lug at the seat tube. I repaired it with a joint very similar to what I used in my mountain bike:

In this version, the somewhat strange looking tube/joint also has a function:

This is only the Mark 1 version of this design, I will refine it further whenever I get around to building up a townie frame set for someone. But for now, it works very well, and I have silver bike back up and running once more.

Silver bike, and other bikes like silver bike, is one of my very favorite bikes. Almost by accident, it is a near perfect around town machine. It fits 700x32 tires with fenders, uses inexpensive and readily available parts that function reasonably well even when dirty, rusty, bent, or just neglected for a while. It has sufficient cargo capacity to haul a reasonable amount of groceries or laundry without being cumbersome. While one of the things that I love about silver bike is how I have been able to make it into many different bikes, I will be building many things that I first tested out on silver bike into frames that I get to design from the ground up. While the bikes that I will get to build someone in the future will be sleek and awesome, to me they will always be love songs to silver bike. 

A Good Repair

  My day job for the past few years has been repairing and assembling bicycles as a professional mechanic at several bike shops across the country. I like the job very much, and I'm going to take the opportunity to get real braggy about how cool it is in this post. Working with my hands is very satisfying and bikes and their systems are often elegant, simple, and functional. The job allows me to encounter a huge variety of problems and come up with solutions. It is engaging, rewarding, and mostly satisfying. A good mechanic is a clever and creative creature, able to improvise and cross correlate a vast network of interrelated compatibilities. As a professional, you can get by just making stuff work, by consulting the manufacturer's spec and replacing the necessary components, but a good mechanic does more than that. The service manager at my first shop would brag, when he was in a good mood about a repair, that "we don't just fix bikes, we improve them." He was right.

Repair, then, is inseparable from design. The process of completing a good repair, of improving a bike, depends upon being able to design a better system than the one that the bike came in with. The problem is almost always complicated by expectations of the customer and constraints of time and funding in the course of a day's work. Today, I had a very good repair, and I included some pictures to show the play between design and repair.

  We had a customer who wanted to put bar end shifters on some crusier style handlebars. Such bars typically do not have an inner diameter large enough to accept bar end shifters. There are a few specialized handlebars made specifically for this purpose, but they are pricey and not something that we keep in stock. Also, none of them were exactly the curve that the customer wanted in the first place. Here is a picture of the end result:

The bar end shifters look like they belong, and they work perfectly. It is not a kludge, it is a synthesis. Here is a picture of the shifter parts as i re-imagined them on my bench prior to installation and assembly:

Here is the rundown. On the left hand side of the photo above, there are the two silver cylinders with the three sided curved faces. These are the original hardware that comes stock on a set of Microshift 9 speed bar end shifters: when you tighten the allen wrench that is next to the cylinders into the black pods to the right of the frame, the curved face pieces press out against the inner surface of the handlebar, keeping everything snug by friction. I could have fabricated up some smaller diameter curved pieces to fit the smaller diameter of the bar that I wanted to fit everything into. However, I tried that once before on a similar project and found that it took far too much time to make sense in a shop setting with the tools that i have access to. Maybe with a mill, and a lathe, and a unicorn...but I digress. 

  My solution was actually a variation on a threadless headset. My first thought was to try to drive a small 1" star nut into the bars. However, the inner diameter was still too small. So, I needed a threaded thing, a nut or something like a nut, of about the same size as the inner diameter of the bar that I could set down a little ways into the soft alloy of the handlebar and use as a fixed point to attach the shifter pod. I started digging through various parts bins, scrounging through brake parts, scrap derailleurs, and hub hardware. I found some cheap skewers, which use a ridged metal insert set into a plastic cap. I crushed the plastic cap in the vice, and just like that I had a piece of hardware that was ideal for my purpose. Ideal, in that I couldn't have made it better even if I had a unicorn working the mill and lathe for me. I drove that metal piece down into the bar with a hammer and punch, where the ridges knurled into the edges got a good grip on the inside of the bar. Below you can see the finished product:

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Now, I needed to have something for a bolt that I could poke through the shifter pod to bear against so that the whole affair could be pulled tight. The end of the shifter pod that faces into the bar had to be open, as that is where the original hardware threaded in. While I could have smushed some sort of bushing into the end of the shifter pod, I wanted the parts to be unmolested as much as possible, so that if the customer wanted to go back to his original setup, his parts would still work. Here is a close up of how I worked it out:

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As with so many things, the problem and solution are more difficult to explain than they are to show. On the lower assembly, you can see how the bolt goes through the threaded bit, which was a salvaged cantilever stud cut off at the wrench flat. The upper assembly has the three pieces put together: the head of the silver lag bolt sits within the cavity of the shifter pod, allowing for free motion of the shift lever itself, and the head of the bolt can pull up against the lip of the top of the sawed off cantilever stud. While the thread pitch of the cantilever stud was coarser than that of the inside of the shifter pod, it gained enough traction to allow the bolt to thread tightly into the plug that I had set into the handlebar. 

The black rubber cones to the right of the frame are actually rear hub seals which I used as a sort of gasket between the end of the shifter pod and the small gap between the end of the pod and the end of the bar.

The rubber seal also is just a nice line that continues the slope of the shifter pod into the grip. It looks cool. I guess my point in laying all this out is to show the wide scope of thought that went into what looks like a pretty simple job. I thought of a threadless headset in order to mount a shifter, saw a star nut in the end of a cheap skewer, came up with the notion of using the cantilever stud as a shoulder for the lag bolt to bear against, and was able to put it all together. This process required a thorough knowledge of a whole lot of different parts of vastly different sorts of bicycles and a sort of creative spark to bring them all together usefully.

My goal is not to brag so much as to point out what makes a good repair, what makes what I do so satisfying, and to show how much is involved in doing it right. It is not that anyone else couldn't have come up with this. We're not saving lives here, folks, just fixing bikes. But it is a beautiful, engaging process that is satisfying and useful. I didn't just plop some shifters from one set of handlebars onto another: I re-imagined the way that the component worked and was able to set it up using parts from around the shop, nothing custom or super obscure. Best of all, it is all un-doable, so if the customer doesn't like it or wants to change it up in the future, I have not permanently altered the parts that they paid for. It started as a simple request from a customer and ended up being a sophisticated process of designing a system under stringent restrictions of materials and time. Pretty cool. 

Some Velosophy

    So, here I am stealing a term that Grant Petersen coined over at Rivendell. I got my very first job in a bike shop after an interview when I told my future manager that, "When I grow up, I want to be Grant Petersen." She laughed at me and said that most places that would have gotten me kicked out, but that she was on the same page. My admiration for Mr. Petersen and all his works and style remains strong, but it does not exclude a healthy appreciation for current trends and technological advances in the industry. 8 speed drivetrains have a lot of advantages, but 11 speed is pretty rad. Di2 works really well and is very easy to set up and work with it, once you get used to the robots. The manager at my current shop once remarked to me, "You really have an appreciation for mechanically sound devices, huh." I had never really thought about that, I figured that everyone had an appreciation for mechanically sound devices. If they are inexpensive, even better. Within the industry and it's weird ways, I try hard to avoid being a retrogrouch: that is, I try not to like old things just because they are old and I am crotchety. I am crotchety, but I only really like the old things that work really well and were/are reasonably priced. Just like how I like new things that work well and are reasonably priced. There are really good new bike things, just like there were really good old bike things. I think the only thing that I can really get behind from days of cycling past that is no longer what once it was is cheap beater drivetrains. Cheap, clapped out 5,6,7, and 8 speed drivetrains work remarkably better than cheap, clapped out 9 and 10 speed drivetrains. You can just beat that stuff down into the ground and it continues to work vastly better than it should. You can fix it with a hammer, a Crescent wrench, a channel-lock, some WD40, and a jug of TriFlow. The flip side of that is that those drivetrains only ever work as well as a 5,6,7, or 8 speed drivetrain will ever work. As a coworker of mine used to say, they will suck forever.

  So, retrogrouching is not for me, but I can see where the retrogrouches are coming from in certain situations. The end user of the bike just needs to understand what performance benefits they reap from the increased cost of 9, 10, and 11 speed drivetrains, and decide for themselves if it is worth the added cost. Many times working in a bike shop I have felt that if all the customers were polled on what they wanted from a bike, really wanted and needed functionality-wise, the vast majority would be on 1x8 cyclocross bikes with some mildly backswept riser bars, 700x32 tires, thumb shifters, and v brakes. But, then I guess if you really held someone to task, all they REALLY need is a single speed with cantilever brakes and 700x32 tire. But, you know, it is nice to have gears that shift smoothly and brakes that perform well in all conditions for long durations without maintenance. And obviously, mountain bike technology has advanced light years in the past decade and half, to very appreciable improvements in performance. People are riding things that simply couldn't have been ridden 15 years ago, and riding everything else faster and smoother. That is awesome. And if we can make those brakes better, shouldn't we? Shouldn't we make shifting smoother, given that we can? And once we have that technology, why not slap it onto other bikes that, while not strictly speaking in need of it, would benefit from some aspects of it? 

  I guess the takeaway from all this blather is that I worry that the industry is in danger of abandoning things that it needs in its progression towards additional rad-ness. One of the moments when I knew that I was in a special place while working at Sellwood Cycle Repair was when I came back from a test ride on an experimental tubeless setup after wrecking and scuffing up the bike, bleeding from my skinned knee and elbow, and my co-worker said "Aw yeah, how rad were you getting?" I am always in favor of developing additional rad-ness. However, let's not stop making 1x8 cross bikes with townie bars that will get everyone where they need to go in comfort. 

Fiat blog.

Well, I guess now that I have a website I might as well have a blog as well. I will try to keep things up to date as I get stuff done in the shop, with any luck, at least once a week. There will be a bunch of shop pictures, probably some drawings/doodles, some velosophy, and some current events. I have a couple of those already! 

First off, let me introduce y'all to my shop. Currently I am working out of the Foundery (http://bmorefoundery.com) in Baltimore, MD.


I have had a couple of little projects come to me through the shop- a separated dropout, some braze-ons for rack installation, a brake cable stop replacement, an experimental seat stay repair, and a home-brewed spoke carrier on a touring rig. If anyone in the Baltimore area has little frame repair or alteration jobs, drop me a line. 

my prototype u-lock integration on my own jalopy/basket bike.

my prototype u-lock integration on my own jalopy/basket bike.


Fixing a dropout- note the structural toe-strap.

Fixing a dropout- note the structural toe-strap.

My biggest project has been Ben's road/cross/commuter. Initially, Ben approached me asking to attach some disc mounts to his old Surly Cross-check. As we chatted about possibilities, it became clear that just starting from scratch was the way to go. The result is a modified cross bike- a mid trail road geometry with clearance for 35mm tires without fenders, 32 mm with fenders. The tubing is a mix of 9/6/9 and 8/5/8 Nova brand stuff, with stays sturdy enough for some light touring/commuting. It is fillet-brazed with a stainless Richard Sachs' Newvex seat lug and Paragon dropouts. If Ben ever decides to do some cross racing, he could throw a carbon fork in there and it would be rad. I put the frame together at the Squarebuilt (http://www.squarebuilt.com) shop up in Brooklyn, where I had done some work earlier this year while living in Brooklyn. Lance is a wonderful human and has been a great teacher and help to me. Once I got the frame stuck together, I brought it back down to Baltimore, where i have since added a seat stay bridge and disc brake support strut. Once I wrap up the finish work in the next week or two here, it will go off to paint. Very exciting times indeed.