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Made By Hand

Made By Hand

by / / 170 posts

It wasn’t so long ago that the majority of bicycles were made by hand, from raw materials, in places that aren’t China or Taiwan. While some of these artisans are still around, their wares are increasingly harder to come by, and to procure an example of their work means an outlay of time and money which is more than most are willing to commit. This is a problem with not just bikes; mass consumption is big business, not only in everyday necessities but for ‘luxury’ items as well. A bicycle can be considered a luxury item for some, so to bring them to the masses, they must be produced in ways that lower the cost of materials and labour to a point where the average consumer can feel like they are getting a quality product at a reasonable price. And they usually are.

They just aren’t getting anything unique.

Now that three of the four bikes in my possession are made by hand, I have made a commitment to only own machines produced not by robots, not from composites and not from ‘factory farming’ methods. While there are many excellent bicycles produced en masse, the little bit of personality that is instilled in each of my rides sets them apart and I know I’ll see not many, if any, similar steeds on my roads or trails. How many dudes you know roll like this?

Riding the cobbles of KT12 on my Merckx Team SC and KT13 on the Pavé steel Cyfacs re-opened my eyes to the subtleties of a well-made frame and the characteristics which can be incorporated into the bike by the maker; each one can be tweaked to offer a ride quality specific to each frame, each rider, even the environment in which they are created and which they are intended to be ridden. The Merckx was fairly hard to come by, and I stumbled upon it by chance rather than through any concerted effort to find it. I sometimes think it found me. It’s a bike I love to ride, but also to just appreciate its lines, its pedigree, its Made In Belgium heritage, no doubt welded by a grizzled Flandrian who cut his teeth in the very factory he still works at 40 years later. I’d like to think so, and there’s some small likelihood of it, at least. Maybe I will return it to Belgium once more, in Spring, from where its journey started and where it made its mark in history more than a decade ago.

// Belgian Affirmations // Keepers Tour // Reverence // The Bikes

  1. @seemunkee

    Did I overreact?

    A couple of weeks ago I flew with my bike out to Vegas and did some riding while I was there for a conference. On the way back TSA opened my case, this always happens. A couple of days later when I went to put my bike together I found that the rear deraileur hanger was bent. I took it to a shop that I have trusted in the past and had a new one put on. While I was picking the bike up one of the sales dudes noticed that my stem was lose. When he tightened it the bolt snapped. I waited while he removed the broken bolt and replaced it. When he handed me the bike there were scratches on the stem, minor but it is a fairly new stem. When I pointed it out he made excuses about having to drill out the bolt, etc. I was pissed and shaking my head when the mechanic that I deal with came out and looked at it. Said he would check for a new stem and call me, which he did

    I took it back today and the mechanic is out. Dude who fucked it up came over with a new stem and makes the comment that he could touch up the scratches and it would be cheaper than a new stem. I was shocked that he was going to charge me, that was never mentioned. He started to argue and I told him that I wasn’t going to argue, that they had lost a customer and to fuck off.

    The bent hanger is just the consequence of taking your bike and riding in a cool new place, although it points to a possible case of poorly packing the bike (i.e. not removing the rear derailleur).

    As for the stem, they damaged it and need to replace it, unless you fucked up the screw that broke and the mech kept you informed of what was going on. This is why you go to an LBS and don’t shop online; they are experts and should be able to handle your equipment without damaging it, or inform you when damage is a risk. You were not out of line, but I’d talk to the usual mech before burning the bridge, but only ever work with the ones you trust.

  2. @VeloVita

    So I thought my next n+1 would be a cross bike, but instead a handmade steel Engin road frameset sort of fell into my lap. I’m going to have to cannibalize Bike #1 for parts, but I think the new frame warrants that sacrifice. My Ridley Orion will have to hang on a hook in the garage for a while.

    Fuck, you got hit in the ass with a rainbow while you we’re riding your unicorn.

    We demand photos!

  3. @G’rilla

    If you ride a hand built frame made by a local builder, you might be in the middle of a race and find yourself being cheered on by your maker.

    Happened to me today.

    And for the first time this season (since moving up a category), I finished a whole CX race without being lapped!

    Well done@G’rilla!

    There’s no better feeling than feeling stronger, seeing progress.

  4. @G’rilla

    @mouse

    I’ve wanted a handmade frame for a while, but honestly was waiting for my 40th birthday (in two years) to treat myself.  This just kind of happened.  Basically the frameset (complete with custom matched stem and titanium seatpost in standard Engin fashion) is something Drew built a couple years ago for someone, but they ended up not keeping the bike.  I guess its been ridden maybe 650kms. Drew has been sitting on it but wants it to get ridden so he offered it to me at a price I simply couldn’t pass up.  The geometry is a bit odd (normal square seat and top tubes 59.5cm, but a looong headtube in comparison), but as it turns out, it should work perfectly for me and allow me to run the matching +10 degree stem flipped to its negative rise with no spacers and deep traditional drop bars (something like Deda Newtons).  I had several phone conversations with Drew about the frame dimensions and he was great about taking a look at my current setup, hack measurements and fucked calculations, listening to my ramblings and and providing drawings of how the new frame would fit in comparison with various stem/seatpost configurations.  In the end he decided that it would be a good idea to take 15mm off the head tube and offered to do that for me –  so I probably won’t have the frame until next week, but I’ll post photos when I get it built up.  I can’t wait to get some riding in on it before it gets too nasty around here and I resort to the rain bike.

  5. I start building my first frame on Friday. Oversized columbus zona for a sprinter track frame for the first one. Working my way up to a Titanium racer. It will be all tig welded.

    I’m debating on dull nickel plating, or Gulf livery.

  6. @mouse

    @VeloVita

    So I thought my next n+1 would be a cross bike, but instead a handmade steel Engin road frameset sort of fell into my lap. I’m going to have to cannibalize Bike #1 for parts, but I think the new frame warrants that sacrifice. My Ridley Orion will have to hang on a hook in the garage for a while.

    Fuck, you got hit in the ass with a rainbow while you we’re riding your unicorn.

    We demand photos!

    Nearly choked on my coffee, humerous stuff, is there copyright on the rainbow/unicorn thing ?

  7. @G’rilla

    @VeloVita Even as a proponent of CX I can say that buying handmade steel from a reputable builder is never the wrong choice.

    What I should have said was that I had thought that my next n+1 would be ANOTHER cross bike as I do already have one in the stable (though its not nearly as nice as yours)


  8. Build complete , apologies for the mudguards, but very wet in the UK at present…………….

  9. @grahamr

    Build complete , apologies for the mudguards, but very wet in the UK at present…………….

    Nice looking bike.  Is that a threaded to threadless adapter for the stem that you’re using or is that a threadless fork?  I’ve never seen a black adapter.

  10. @brett

    Lovely bike and nice photos.

    I agree with Frank about the bars angle/tilt but it’s probably cause you are more comfortable like that.

    Also black carbon top cap i/o silver would be awesome, ideally with EM written on it.

  11. @VeloVita Hi, yes it’s a quill insert for the threaded fork, I really wanted plain unfinished aluminium but all I could get hold of was black.

  12. @Mark1   Wow…sweet set.  Props for having the guts to use carbon rims and high end hubs to build your first set.

  13. Day 1 was productive.

  14. @mouse

    @VeloVita

    So I thought my next n+1 would be a cross bike, but instead a handmade steel Engin road frameset sort of fell into my lap. I’m going to have to cannibalize Bike #1 for parts, but I think the new frame warrants that sacrifice. My Ridley Orion will have to hang on a hook in the garage for a while.

    Fuck, you got hit in the ass with a rainbow while you we’re riding your unicorn.

    We demand photos!

    I posted this over in The Bikes with more of a description, but seeing as @mouse made his demands here I’ll repost the photo

    IMG_1744-2

  15. @VeloVita Now that’s a top tube! interesting geometry. Is this particular to Engin?

  16. @DCR

    @VeloVita Now that’s a top tube! interesting geometry. Is this particular to Engin?

    No, the geometry is just particular to the bike and in direct contrast to the V-Locus article Frank just posted.  The seat tube and ETT measurements are actually pretty normal – 59.5cm square, but the head tube is really long which raises the standover height of the bike even with the sloping top tube.  The wheelbase is longer than your typical 59mm race bike as well and the head tube angle slacker and with more trail.  Considering the atypical frame dimensions, I think Drew did a fantastic job with the design to keep the bike looking proportional as opposed to having smaller frame with a shit ton of spacer and an upturned stem.  The design shows through in the ride quality and handling as well.  My XL Ridley Orion and Ridley Compact position me essentially the same as this bike, but the Engin feels worlds better to ride – more planted to the ground and able to dive into corners without feeling tippy and effortless to ride no handed for dressing/undressing.

  17. Hello Brett is it your 56cm Merckx team SC? I have the same frame I love it but it seems small to me could you tell me how tall are u and your inseam? thanks

    Best regards

  18. @brett Hello!Iis it your 56cm Merckx team SC? I have the same frame I love it but it seems small to me could you tell me how tall are u and your inseam? thanks

  19. @kantonin

    Yep, that’s mine… I am 183cm/6ft tall, no idea on my inseam. My frame is actually marked 55 on the BB and is probably a tad on the short side, but the geometry (slack headtube and seat tube angles) coupled with a 130mm stem makes it work ok. I probably would be better on a 56 or 57, but I’m comfortable on this configuration.

    Hope that helps.

  20. @brett Why is there one cufflink and one fi'zi:k plug?

  21. @brett Thanks, i’m the same size as you but it fell a little bit short to me… But it’s difficult to find 57 or 58 of this dream frame!

  22. I was trying to figure out how to fit this into “The Bikes”, but knew it wasn’t right, since it’s a 29er.

    But it’s handbuilt.  I cut and welded the frame, I built the wheels, I spec’d (with the VMH’s [also the CFO’s] approval) the components and put it all together.

    As @Marko commented after my first ride down some slightly technical singletrack, where it cause me to lose a significant portion of skin on my right side – “Crashed on maiden voyage. That’s tits. Gonna be a good bike”.

    Build details and pics here.

  23. @Marko

    @brett Why is there one cufflink and one fi’zi:k plug?

    Reprazentin the V and the :K…

  24. @sthilzy Speechless…I’m without speech.

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