The Two Marks
Sometimes we’re fortunate enough to make friends with a skilled craftsman. Take two craftsmen with unique skills and it’s like setting off on an adventure that unfolds in amazing ways. Mark Braun met Mark Nobilette back in the early days of the revered and somewhat mythical Cycle Cellar’s existence. (With two Marks this is going to get complicated so from here on, Mark Braun will go by what his friends call him, B. Mark Nobilette is now simply Nobilette.)
B is also known as Mr. B (his stage name). He’s a master craftsman in his own right, but his tool is the piano and his venue is a wide pallet of blues, jazz and boogie piano repertoire. He learned at the side, literally, of some of the original greats in this arena: Boogie Woogie Red, Memphis Slim, Little Brother Montgomery, and Jimmy Yancey, to name only a few. He’s one of the few living connections to an era rapidly dying away. Less known is that B was also a semi-pro baseball player for a number of years, touring the country with a strong pitching arm along with his handful of keys.
Nobilette is a craftsman of another kind. He takes steel and shapes it into finely honed objects of art that can take you on adventures beyond the gallery. Nobilette was one of the original owners of Cycle Cellar in Ann Arbor, a bike buff’s bike shop for those who think of bikes as far more than unsteady triangles on wheels. When Cycle Cellar is mentioned its memory is immediately surrounded with a misty haze of nostalgia. In Ann Arbor, as elsewhere, those were dynamic days for cycling. This was a Midwest crossroads for those passionate about bicycles.
Nobilette was its Hephaestus. He forged the metal that made the machines of the cyclists’ passion. He was an uncompromising artist with an engineer’s attention to craft and detail. He still is. He’s moved from Ann Arbor to Longmont, Colorado, but his passion for building finely crafted bikes is still strong. Along with his own work, he now does contract work for other builders of finely crafted bikes, such as Rivendell, Lennard Zinn and Rene Herse. Nobilette is called on because of his experience and masterful skills at machining, design and lug work.
There’s much more to the Mark Nobilette story, just as there’s more to the Mark Braun story, and the plan is to expand on this in further articles, but for now we’ll discuss the connection between the two.
B has had more than one bike made by Nobilette. Though B is a well-rounded athlete with more in his quiver than just a biker’s obsession with cycling, he is passionate about his handmade Nobilette mountain bike. It’s his ride of choice on the dirt roads surrounding his home in Washtenaw County. Back around 2003 he had Nobilette build not only one for himself, but a matching one for his wife, Heidi, as well. It was to help her get over the loss of a nice steel bike that was stolen during a bike tour of Washington DC. According to B, she still pines over that loss. That’s the connection we get with certain bikes. That compilation of metal becomes a part of who we are. It gets wrapped in among memories and journeys that map out phases of our lives.
The mountain bike is not the only bike made by Nobilette that B now owns. That, too, will have to be extended into another story, but in short, B’s favorite bike isn’t a bike at all. It’s a trike. A trike with a platform that houses a 352 pound piano. Known as the Joybox Express (JBE) it’s taken him, other musicians and friends on journeys across the state of Michigan for the past three years. In the fall of 2013, if all goes as planned, it will take him and a revolving crew of volunteers from the northern headwaters of the Mississippi River down its longitudinal length to New Orleans. With an average speed of about 6mph it will be a long, slow journey, but along the way the JBE will help raise funds for charities as well as promote good health, good music, and good will.
That trike was build by Nobilette as well. He remembers talking to B about it in the early ‘90s, but it seemed a bit of a dream and “a bit crazy” at the time. Since then, Nobilette was commissioned to design and build pedicabs for Main Street Pedicabs out of Denver. When B approached him ten years later, Nobilette had become well versed in the understanding of what it would take to build a functional trike that could handle all that weight. That crazy dream is now a reality with a proven track record of many miles on the road, both paved and dirt.
There are a couple of fork attachments on the back of the trike’s platform for other bikes to hook into so they can help push all that weight up and downhill. Having helped B transport it the sixteen miles from Chelsea to Ann Arbor, I can attest to the need for good strong legs. There’s no forgiveness even on the slightest uphill slope. Wrestling the trike from the front on the downhills takes the upper body muscles and handling savvy of a body-builder/gymnast combination. B has those. The day we hopped on, a brisk afternoon in mid-January, B beamed like a child who was allowed free reign of the sandbox. “My favorite bike,” he said.
That’s it. Two master craftsmen who meet along the way and combine their passions into rolling art of many forms.
NOTE: Since there’s a lot more to say about both of these guys, there will be future posts with more information and background on their exploits. Until then, as always, if you have any questions please send them this way.
Two Johns Podcast on a discussion with Mark Nobilette, Kent Eriksen, and Peter Weigle. Great discussion on frame building by those who know what they’re doing. If you haven’t heard the Two Johns it’s time to check them out.
Wikipedia: Bicycle frame
I realize this isn’t the definitive resource for information, but I thought that whoever wrote this explained the frame types rather well.