Made By Hand

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From Belgium, with love

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.

[dmalbum path=”/velominati.com/content/Photo Galleries/[email protected]/merckx sc/”/]

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170 Replies to “Made By Hand”

  1. Some triathlete in town has a Merckx SC.  It’s really wasted on him.  Thoughts have danced in my head about liberating it, before it’s too late…

  2. Great timing, Brett.

    I just finished building my first frame last week, lugged steel destined for town riding more than the wide open roads.  I just need to build it up and get it moving.

    Next month’s titanium frame will be for whatever speed I can eke out of it.

  3. I’ve always wanted a Merckx, and a De Rosa, and Pinarello, and a Colnago, and a celeste green Bianchi, and a…

  4. The first time I laid eyes on a Chris Dekerf frame, with its barely distinguishable welds and incredible paint job, I fell in love with something that will take me a long, long time to eventually acquire. Even on Craigslist an old Team SST frame can still go for close to a G-note. By the time a get around to getting one for the dirt adventures I may be too old and broken to enjoy it.

    Fuck it. That’s just an excuse. Besides… he welds road and cross bikes too.

  5. @Cyclops

    I’m not sure about all this “hand built” stuff though.

    I’ve been dreaming recently of a Pegoretti……

  6. @Bill

    Great timing, Brett.

    I just finished building my first frame last week, lugged steel destined for town riding more than the wide open roads. I just need to build it up and get it moving.

    Next month’s titanium frame will be for whatever speed I can eke out of it.

    Hey Bill. How’s it going? Congrats on the successful frame build. Titanium sounds like it could interesting. You’re obviously a competent welder.

  7. Excellent topic brett.  There are lots of very good mass produced bikes out there but having a one of a kind bike makes it all the more fun.  My handbuilt metal bikes sing in a way carbon doesn’t.

  8. Holy cannoli, I see a long wave of sexy bicycles being posted…keep it comin’!

    Nice story, nice bike Brett!

    Nate, two impressive steeds!

  9. @a belgian

    Made in China … by hand ! you’re right !

    The Team SSC was still handmade and hand painted in Belgium. In fact, the metal frames were still being built in the factory as of 2012 when we toured it on Keepers Tour 2012.

    Its too bad you’re not a Dutchman – because then you’d have been right!

  10. @Nate

    Excellent topic brett. There are lots of very good mass produced bikes out there but having a one of a kind bike makes it all the more fun. My handbuilt metal bikes sing in a way carbon doesn’t.

    And speaking of handmade – how about those tires? Same thing goes there; handmade is just a world apart from anything else. Especially those FMBs – just Francois and his wife, sitting there drinking wine and sewing tubs.

  11. I’m not going to jump on the carbon-bashing bandwagon; I have metal bikes and carbon bikes and the carbon ones get ridden the most. I love them all but the Veloforma is stiffer, lighter, and rides better.

    But a hand-made, one-of-a-kind is certainly a more fun experience, and you for sure notice the differences between what should supposedly be the same bikes. I’m also excited for Veloforam Mark ot start the next phase of his business, which is to hand-build carbon bikes to order in Portland. They will be pricey, I’m sure, but I cant wait!

    I remember even in 2004(?), Basso was riding a Cervelo R2.5 even though the R3 was out; he loved his bike too much to risk changing until winter. Now, the pros show up every day on a new paint job and it doesn’t make a lick of difference in the frame; that’s a cryin’ shame.

  12. @frank I hope it doesn’t sound like I am bashing carbon (although steel has superior impact resistance qualities).  There are many great bikes out there; many of them are carbon and some even are custom.  Looking forward to seeing Veloforma develop in this direction.

  13. @Cyclops

    I’m not sure about all this “hand built” stuff though.

    For me, it’s all about the relationships.  The rider to the builder, the builder to the bike, the bike to the rider.  Each of them is personal, and on a first name basis.

  14. Great article, thanks Brett. Recently, I’ve been thinking more and more about a steel handbuilt frame. Whether to go old and regenerate or new is a bit of a quandary. My LBS are De Rosa dealers and their Nuevo Classico and Primato frames are starting to obsess me.

  15. Now you are speaking the language of my shop. I strive to give local and handmade options before anything else… Local handmade bikes, and locally made clothing to be unique and set apart from every other mass cycling merchant!

    Long live the passion of cycling, not the over consumption of mass consumerism.

  16. Bravo this!!!

    Both of my bikes are hand made Columbus tubed frames..as well as the custom MAX tubed frame I am having built. As Giovanni Pelizzoli says: “A mass produced bike has no soul, it knows no one.”

    When I hear people discussing their carbon frames it’s always about how light and how stiff it is..They never brag of how it rides. I inevitably see these guys shaking out their hands 25 miles into the group ride.

    There are a lot of very nice and very expensive carbon frames being laid up, cut and assembled by hand however… Sarto for one is working as the old craftsmen did.

    Great article as always…

    That Merckx is beautiful!!!!

  17. I’ve got vintage and Far East mass produced steel, aluminum and carbon fiber bikes, but I’ve promised myself my next n+1 will definitely be a handmade bicycle, preferably handmade in the US (the more local the better).  It may not necessarily be extravagant – I’m considering a Gunnar Crosshairs – but it will definitely be handmade.

  18. Love this topic and accompanying posts….I’m getting ready to build a Tommasini Sintesi and would appreciate any experience, advice or tips anyone cares to provide. The frame will be custom build in Italy and I’ve gotten my local shop Enselle here in Portland to do the build…they will become a Tommasini distributor this year as a result of my build and contact with Tommasini.

  19. nice Merckx, a little thick on the aftermarket stickers for my tastes.

    i ride only hand-made bikes, 1972 Colnago Super, 1973 Bianchi Specialissima Professionale, 1998 Colnago Titanio (Monotitan).

  20. A general ‘Hear, hear’ for this, with one small exception:

    “to procure an example of their work means an outlay of time and money which is more than most are willing to commit”

    There is no reason for that to be the case. Yes there are very expensive boutique bicycle builders, but there are also some very traditional makers who will create a one-off, custom build for probably less than many people would pay for an off-the-shelf bike.

    I have a Roberts, made at a family workshop in south London. A custom steel frame and fork is about US$3000 which is comparable to most mid-level mass-produced offerings, and there are other UK makers like Mercian and Bob Jackson who would be similar.

  21. Big fan of handbuilt wheels to complement the frames. My everyday training frame is an A1 Dave Lloyd Concept 90, and I have a stunningly light 82 Hannington dressed in period kit for ‘just a pootle/pre race ride’

    I sort of begrudge spending on Carbon or Alu frames, but for racing they just have it. That said as I slow down I’m tempted to replace mt crosser with a nice steel Swiss Cross. And my road race bike with a custom Mercian.

  22. Not quite to the level of some of these but my 98 litespeed vortex is pretty special to me. Handmade in the USA and 6/4Ti.

  23. I wonder how many of us have been to the North American Handmade Bike Show? I got the chance when they were in Richmond, VA a few years back. Dario was there!

    That event certainly opened my eyes to a whole new realm of builders and bikes. I walked right up and talked to a few guys I’d now be too scared to approach, or more like too awed by their work to just say hi.

  24. My bike is carbon and probably mass produced in the Far East. It’s a Kuota and even though they sponsor a Pro tour team, I rarely see another one like it. The point I want to make is that I adore it. I don’t find myself shaking my hands 25. 50 or 75 k into the ride because I’ve taken the time to set it up, followed Frank and others advice on position, saddle height and orientation, stem length and height. I chose my wheels carefully, making the most out of my modest budget. I would not swap it for the world, because it is part of me and me it. At the risk of invoking a negative response, I just think its too easy to slag carbon/ mass production. It’s great if money is no object and a bespoke steel or titanium frame is an option, knock yourself out and enjoy it. But for most of us, its not the case. Just don’t tell me my bike has no soul.

  25. @Bianchi Denti – all is good, Richard.  Having a great time spending my days wrenching and learning to build bikes.  The welding is OK, but coming along.  Luckily when I build the titanium frame I’ll have Mike DeSalvo standing over my shoulder.  He’s our local builder and his shop is just a 5-minute walk from the house.

  26. I don’t know if I have a preference for materials.  I love my carbon bikes, my steel bike, and I loved the ride on Ti.  Maybe I am more influenced by environment. Gravel, autumn foliage, 28mm tires, rain…Ti.

  27. Great photos Bretto, I hope you have the sense to bring her to Belgium again this year. She could really use a little less tilt on the bars, and a 5mm spacer above the stem to replace that 1cm one you’ve got there now.

  28. @american psycho

    nice Merckx, a little thick on the aftermarket stickers for my tastes.

    i ride only hand-made bikes, 1972 Colnago Super, 1973 Bianchi Specialissima Professionale, 1998 Colnago Titanio (Monotitan).

    That orange lion V sticker is bitchin’ on that bike. That and the Pavé ones were earned from KT12. It’s sort of like the WWII pilots with little emblems for each plane shot down. It shows that bike is a veteran of Northern France and Belgium in the Spring.

    Brett, your bike looks excellent. It gives black bar tape a good name.

  29. Ive had steels, left them hanging in the shed, for a Mass produced Trek, left that hanging in the shed, now on a mass produced Fuji SST, which I love and the lines and shapes of the frame really excite me.

    However, given time and disposable income, I would dearly love to dabble in one one these !

    http://www.baumcycles.com/bikes/corretto

    Any one got one ?

  30. @roger

    I don’t know if I have a preference for materials. I love my carbon bikes, my steel bike, and I loved the ride on Ti. Maybe I am more influenced by environment. Gravel, autumn foliage, 28mm tires, rain…Ti.

    And all casually deliberate no less! Awesome shot!

  31. @roger

    I don’t know if I have a preference for materials. I love my carbon bikes, my steel bike, and I loved the ride on Ti. Maybe I am more influenced by environment. Gravel, autumn foliage, 28mm tires, rain…Ti.

    this is a great shot!

    And I too love the feel of Ti

  32. The YouTube video above is the epic 2001 where Peter Van Petegem proclaimed “I like this weather”. He is a awesome Belgian guy. What a race that was. Whew, thanks to merckx no Keepers Tours have gone off in those conditions.

  33. The downside of hand built custom frames is that once you break them you don’t just switch them for another just like it, you have to find some way to fix it.
    That being said, anybody know how I can fix my frame?
    A screw broke that held the rear triangle together, at the end of the chainstay.

    Please, anyone?
    I’ll buy you belgian alcoholic recovery  drinks!

  34. @biggles
    1. Remove screw from other side, take it to fastener supply place and see if they can source a replacement.

    or

    2. Get a friendly machine shop to turn up a new one.

    Option 2 might be more costly, but hey, no cost is too great for a Loyal Steed. And would cost less than a new frame.

  35. @biggles If you break a custom, all the more reason to buy another bespoke frame, plus steel is real, and weldable/repairable…

    If you are referring to a screw that broke off the head but left the thread in the frame rather than just needing a new screw (looks like it from the pic), any engineering shop or bike shop worth their weight should have the tooling to partly drill out the screw, then back it out with a screw remover, or drill it out fully and then retap the threads…

  36. @biggles

    The downside of hand built custom frames is that once you break them you don’t just switch them for another just like it, you have to find some way to fix it…

    Now there’s a novel idea – fixing something instead of disposing and replacing it.  It seems many framesets these days can be likened to a Bic pen.  I’m not singling out carbon (of which I have one), but it I wouldn’t consider riding it 20 years from now.  I favor the cycling equivalent of a Montblanc writing instrument.  Certainly, there’s a higher upfront cost, but it will be cherished for years and can be passed down to future generations.  And it’s usually fixable.

    By the way, nice picture of your ride.  @Beers has it right on the fix.

  37. If only more riders thought this way. Of my four bikes all four are hand made in Europe. 1988 Raleigh Race 531 (1992 Campag Chorus Groupset) 1998 LOOK KG176 Team Carbon (Campag various – it’s my training bike) 1998 Colnago Tecnos (2006 Campag Centaur groupset) and 2006 Colnago Mix with 2006 Campag Chorus. I’m Scottish and shop around. I paid less for these bikes than I would have for a made in Taiwan full carbon frame with fishing tackle (my name for Shimano) components on. They’re not light but they’re all smooth and a joy to ride. Most modern riders think I’m nuts. I’m happy.

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