A lot of us think we’re real aficionados if we select all the components to build up our favorite frame. And we are. We’re special. But, how much more remarkable would it be to build our own frame into a dream bike?
Meet Jay Ellis. He did it and it’s an impressive first time frame. I won’t even call it an attempt, because it’s a real bike, Jiminy, nice to look at and nice to ride. I took it for a spin and even let go of the handlebars on a downhill and found that it tracked like it was on a Curlew’s bill (go ahead, Google it).
So, where do you go to craft your own bike? In Jay’s case it was Niles, Michigan in the southwest corner of the state to a frame building class run by Doug Fattic. Fattic directs a two week course that takes you from a short history of frame building and frame builders right into choosing tubes, sizing your frame, and putting it all together. There are other builders throughout the country who teach this as well. I’ve included links to some of these at the end of the article. Check out Dave Bohm’s helpful FAQ page. Very informative.
Velocipede Salon is also a meeting ground forum for frame builders, from first timers to some of the well-known pros in the field. If you want to get into the groove of the way metal benders think, hang out there for a while.
Due to his schedule, Jay had to go back and forth from Niles to his home in Ann Arbor during the class session. He did some of the work at home. This was awkward, but he made it work. He started it in the fall of 2006 and finished it in the spring of 2007. He had it powdercoated by Spectrum Powderworks in Colorado Springs, Colorado. It has a clearcoat over the top.
Jay says that the paint covers some of his sloppiness in brazing. If so, it doesn’t show, at least to my eye. Paint may cover some awkward metalwork, but poor connections would still jump out and even a very close inspection of his joints is impressive. He found that brazing was a comfortable skill. He liked doing it and it came somewhat naturally. I took a welding class in college and I know how challenging metalwork is. Smooth work takes the steady hand of a surgeon. My finished products looked like the surface of the moon after a bad night out. I once set my pants on fire, much to the amusement of my instructor.
Jay used Columbus Zona tubes (he chose from a catalog) with 858 wall thickness. He purchased the lugs from Kirk Pacenti (interestingly, his website, Bikelugs.com, doesn’t appear to have lugs available any longer). Due to time constraints, Jay spent less time filing and sanding the lugs to the level preferred by his teacher, but he’s still satisfied with the result. The tubes came cut to fit, according to the decisions Jay made with Doug.
The fork is shaped from Columbus Max tubing. Jay did the raking himself.
Jay set about building the frame, joint by joint, and soon learned that one of the most challenging parts of the process was repetition: constantly checking and rechecking the alignment at every step of the process.
There are a number of blogs out there that follow the process step-by-step and even day-by-day if you’re interested in going further. Google Doug Fattic and you’ll find a whole series of these. I’ve listed one link below, Austin on Two Wheels, that’s quite detailed.
The rear frame spacing is 135mm. (Just to confuse you, the photo above is the front hub.) He did it this wide because he wanted to have all options available. He’s not sure he’d go this wide on his next frame. Probably 132.5 or 130.
Next frame? Well, if he finds the time in the future, he’d like to build another. Jay definitely appears to have the aptitude and the passion for it. He can build a Curlew bill tracker, and that’s impressive.
Frame Building Classes
United Bicycle Institute
Yamaguchi Bicycle Framebuilding School
Doug Fattic doesn’t appear to have a website, but his phone is 269-684-6761.
There are many more Classes available throughout the country. Dave Bohm has a great FAQ page with a list of schools.
Weight: 23.3 lbs.
Frame: Columbus Zona tubes with 858 wall thickness
Fork: Columbus Max
Component Group: Campagnolo Veloce
Crankset: Campagnolo Record
Rear Cogs: 10-speed, 11 – 25 teeth
Headset: Chris King
Rims: Velocity Deep V, 32-hole
Hubs: Paul front; Chris King rear
Saddle: Yes, it’s more comfy than a post alone.
Tires: Ritchey Speedmax