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. @frank

    @Barracuda

    They are dangerously sexy. And they have the properly length top cap.

    OMFG! Just took a look.  Steelbone and Tibone! Not sure I can cope – those are just glorious.

    On the quirkier side of life, these folks, WyndyMilla, are just a few miles away from home for me and are building quite a name for themselves locally, with Big Maggie Backstedt one of their friends/riders/customers/frame destroyers…

    http://www.wyndymilla.com/

  2. @Gilly There are some lovely bikes here for sure and I’d certainly add a hand made steel bike to the collection if cash was unlimited but I whole heartedly agree with what you say.

    Apart from the bit about following @franks bike fit advice. Unless you’re an elongated freak of nature you must have ended up riding upside down.

  3. Feather Cycles makes some amazing bikes in the UK at the moment. I follow him on instagram (@thefeatherworkshop) and he posts a picture of every stage of each build so you get to see exactly whats involved.

     

    This CX bike is one of his latest and has the pivot for the rear canti’s hidden in the seat tube.  I think It’s a really hot bike:

     some other bikes of his here: http://www.feathercycles.com/?post_type=portfolio

  4. Some gorgeous bikes here only highlighting my personal difficulty. Having returned to proper cycling after an absence of a few years (is there a cogfessional in which I may repent?) I wonder where to put my money in a new machine to ride better than my custom 531C Mercian now 30 years old and bearing a proper big ring. I ordered what would now be a sportive geometry and it still rides beautifully.

    For durability, liveliness, some cushioning for ageing posterior but still alive, and better than my old faithful, where do I go? Will not be racing.

    How to be sure that n+1 > n in more than quantity??

  5. Still have my 35 year old steel DeRosa and verified made by Ugo himself.  Sure feels good thinking about the hand labor that went into making it.  I do also love my modern day carbon superbike.

  6. @norm

    This CX bike is one of his latest and has the pivot for the rear canti’s hidden in the seat tube. I think It’s a really hot bike:

    That is a beautiful bike with some innovative thought put into it. I do wonder though, wouldn’t that be hard to clean after a race?  That spot tends to get muddy quick, and I don’t know how you would get it out without removing the cable and threading a giant pipe cleaner thru it.

  7. @norm

    Feather Cycles makes some amazing bikes in the UK at the moment. I follow him on instagram (@thefeatherworkshop) and he posts a picture of every stage of each build so you get to see exactly whats involved.

    This CX bike is one of his latest and has the pivot for the rear canti’s hidden in the seat tube. I think It’s a really hot bike:

    some other bikes of his here: http://www.feathercycles.com/?post_type=portfolio

    The other nice touch (though I don’t care for the branding on it) is the Vanilla workshop integrated stem with internal routing for the front canti brake cable

  8. Stunning bike @brett and beautifully decalled too!  I am on the hunt and have been for some months.  I considered bikes from Ricky Feather and also Demon bikes (near me in Southampton) but the small matter of a trip to Anjou Velo Vintage http://www.anjou-velo-vintage.com/?lang=en next summer has me getting all a quiver for an old steel bike.

    Currently trawling the interwebs for just right mix of ancient and class…preferably with chromed forks and chain stays to enable me straddle a pure steel steed next summer!  Something with Italian gruppo and maybe columbus or reynolds steelwork should do the trick…..

  9. Damm your eyes Bretto, just spent my first hour at work watching PR and now I will have to skip lunch! Hand made is only as good as the maker but in general if they have been around they are making superior,  well thought out and smarter machines. Also because of pride of work they just frigging look better/cooler!

    I was just given a 90’s cut out lugged Gitane track bike (long story, good friend!), white beautiful, rides like a purebred, solid but light, responsive and so much fun. Does its beauty and superb finish make it a better bike? Maybe – YES, but do I feel better riding it? Does it ask of me to ride a little harder, more elegantly? Yes and Yes!

    Thanks for the good read and the kicked up heart rate, now I have to file some metal…

  10. There’s something about custom. And steel. Here’s my #2 (which was made for me, and was #1 for much of the late ’90s). Pardon the mudguards, my teammates beat me into submission.

  11. Hand made in Leeds by Bob Jackson, now just got to add a few components…………probably not English !

  12. Thanks for the article, Brett. My bikes cover both ends of the spectrum: a Giant with a mass-produced “Advanced” carbon frame and a Marinoni single speed” Fango” cyclecross bike with a handmade Columbus Zona frame. I love the ride qualities of both bikes. To be honest, I appreciate Giant’s approach of making no bones about the fact that their design and fabrication is all Taiwanese based. It’s a good product, but doesn’t turn any heads on a group ride like my brother’s Merckx does.

    Tonight the guys from one of the groups I ride with is visiting the True North shop in Belwood, Ontario. I’m expecting a Ti overdose!!

  13. The lead photo reminded me of something I’ve been meaning to ask. I put some v-brakes on one of my bikes, swapping out cantilevers. I no longer need the cable hanger, but it is also my headset top cap/dust cover.

    What is the proper term for the cover that goes over the headset bearings? I’d like to swap out the hanger/cover for just a flat cover, but I can’t seem to figure out the proper name.

  14. @Optimiste

    @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.

    “Pay attention, son.”

    I “hand” built the frame below.

  15.  

    @Ron

    The lead photo reminded me of something I’ve been meaning to ask. I put some V-brakes on one of my bikes, swapping out cantilevers. I no longer need the cable hanger, but it is also my headset top cap/dust cover.

    What is the proper term for the cover that goes over the headset bearings? I’d like to swap out the hanger/cover for just a flat cover, but I can’t seem to figure out the proper name.

    A headset dust cap? or Upper dust cap. From your discription thats all that comes to mind. thats the top cap that seals in the headset bearings.

  16. @forza

    Still have my 35 year old steel DeRosa and verified made by Ugo himself. Sure feels good thinking about the hand labor that went into making it. I do also love my modern day carbon superbike.

    Pictures of that De Rosa please !

  17. @Cyclops

    @Optimiste

    @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.

    “Pay attention, son.”

    I “hand” built the frame below.

    Ah.  Got it.  Thanks for cluing me in.  I’ll stop weaving about and soft pedal to the back of the group now.

  18. @Optimiste

    @Cyclops

    @Optimiste

    @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.

    “Pay attention, son.”

    I “hand” built the frame below.

    Ah. Got it. Thanks for cluing me in. I’ll stop weaving about and soft pedal to the back of the group now.

    It’s all good.  I guess if you can put up with my narcissism I can put up with you not closing the gap.

  19. @Cyclops

    It’s all good. I guess if you can put up with my narcissism I can put up with you not closing the gap.

    I was occupied by my reflection in my polished hubs.

  20. @DCR

    @Ron

    The lead photo reminded me of something I’ve been meaning to ask. I put some V-brakes on one of my bikes, swapping out cantilevers. I no longer need the cable hanger, but it is also my headset top cap/dust cover.

    What is the proper term for the cover that goes over the headset bearings? I’d like to swap out the hanger/cover for just a flat cover, but I can’t seem to figure out the proper name.

    A headset dust cap? or Upper dust cap. From your discription thats all that comes to mind. thats the top cap that seals in the headset bearings.

    This is the cap/cover that sits right on top of the bearings at the headtube, below any spacers, below the stem. (not the cover/cap that sits above the stem on the top/end of the fork steerer).

  21. @Ron

    @DCR

    @Ron

    The lead photo reminded me of something I’ve been meaning to ask. I put some V-brakes on one of my bikes, swapping out cantilevers. I no longer need the cable hanger, but it is also my headset top cap/dust cover.

    What is the proper term for the cover that goes over the headset bearings? I’d like to swap out the hanger/cover for just a flat cover, but I can’t seem to figure out the proper name.

    A headset dust cap? or Upper dust cap. From your discription thats all that comes to mind. thats the top cap that seals in the headset bearings.

    This is the cap/cover that sits right on top of the bearings at the headtube, below any spacers, below the stem. (not the cover/cap that sits above the stem on the top/end of the fork steerer).

    This piece correct?

    I have heard it called different names. But I would call that the headset bearing cap or cover. Chris king sells them separate.

  22. @norm

    Feather Cycles makes some amazing bikes in the UK at the moment. I follow him on instagram (@thefeatherworkshop) and he posts a picture of every stage of each build so you get to see exactly whats involved.

    This CX bike is one of his latest and has the pivot for the rear canti’s hidden in the seat tube. I think It’s a really hot bike:

     

     

    some other bikes of his here: http://www.feathercycles.com/?post_type=portfolio

    Just lovely. He makes some beuatiful bikes!

  23. @grahamr

     

    Hand made in Leeds by Bob Jackson, now just got to add a few components…………probably not English !

    Loving the Lug work! Very nice indeed.

  24. Sorry, but no piece about hand built bikes would be complete without paying tribute to one on England’s finest, Brian Rourke. Measure ups still by the man himself and each frame hand crafted by his son, Jason.

    Here’s my #1 at the top of a hill in France….

     

     photo 985388025076d545717ecc40586a87d2_zpse20e73d1.jpg

     

    whilst here’s my latest edition, the perfect winter bike.

     

     photo null_zps603789b3.jpg

     

    As you can probably guess, i’m a big fan of Glorious Steel.

  25. @Beers Thanks beers. Maybe I’m living in the wrong part of europe, because in Sweden no bike shop will touch it. Bonetti is shit with their customer service. All i got is an email letting me know it’s out of warranty and a request for pictures of the problem, after that they said nothing.

    I’ll have to start looking for shops abroad, but I have a feeling that I’m not going to have any luck in my other country either, Romania.

    The head of the screw broke off, yeah. That part of the frame is made of Al and there’s an issue that the screw doesn’t go all the way out on the other side, the hole stops somewhere inside the frame. All that’s left is finding a good machine shop now, I guess, because I love my frame. Not counting a bit of a wobbly steerer on really fast descents while putting on a rain jacket it’s the most fun i’ve ever ridden, not counting this one lady that one time.

  26. Speaking of steel bikes…

    The latest issue of Cycle Sport has an article on the Coors Classic.  There is an awesome Hinault quote in regards to him attacking when the team manager wanted LeMan to win on home turf.  “We don’t see the race the same way but since I push on the pedals I decide how hard I push on them.”  I wish I had the luxury to decide to push on the pedals harder if I wanted to.

  27. @biggles

    @Beers Thanks beers. Maybe I’m living in the wrong part of europe, because in Sweden no bike shop will touch it. Bonetti is shit with their customer service. All i got is an email letting me know it’s out of warranty and a request for pictures of the problem, after that they said nothing.

    I’ll have to start looking for shops abroad, but I have a feeling that I’m not going to have any luck in my other country either, Romania.

    The head of the screw broke off, yeah. That part of the frame is made of Al and there’s an issue that the screw doesn’t go all the way out on the other side, the hole stops somewhere inside the frame. All that’s left is finding a good machine shop now, I guess, because I love my frame. Not counting a bit of a wobbly steerer on really fast descents while putting on a rain jacket it’s the most fun i’ve ever ridden, not counting this one lady that one time.

    In Sweden if you are near the coast and can’t find an engineering shop I’d suggest you try an old style yacht yard, they will likely have all the skill and tools to extract corroded and broken screws.  The alternative is DIY with a good drill stand to drill the centre of the remaining bolt and a screw extractor.  Its not difficult but you do need a drill stand and not try it with a hand held drill.

  28. @biggles You might find some luck with a good auto mechanic, anyone that deals with repairing hardware, even maybe a garden equipment maintenance shop, they all experience broken off heads from time to time (and I’m sure would like to break off some customer heads from time to time also) or at least should be able to point you in the right direction.

    It will take some time and care for them not to go all the way through, so if you love your baby and want them to as well, take enough $$ and some beers to show them you care how they work ..

    Crazy, I just sold something on fleabay to someone in Sweden…

  29. 768 days until retirement and decent pension payout. No stereotypical new car, I’m treating myself to a hand built steel n1 when that day comes. Thanks to all of you who have given me much food for thought. So many top quality builders to choose from.

  30. @Beers

    @Teocalli

    I’ve gone to most in the area, and they aren’t touching it, because it’s really hard to get a drill in there, as the screw is on the inside of the rear dropouts and the left side bits are in the way.
    Most of them are also really frightened by the look of carbon and are really afraid they’ll just damage it further.
    :(

  31. @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.
    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!

    That should be a relatively easy fix biggles.  That is actually the same basic set up on the bike that I built for @Frank.

    Here’s what I see and you tell me if I’m on the right track – since I can see the derailleur hanger we are looking at the inside of the right drop out.  Since we can’t see daylight through the hole it looks like what’s left of the screw is still in the other half of the clevis.  you should be able to carefully dril the broken screw out with a bit that is just a little smaller that the screw and then you just have to go to the hardware store and get a countersunk flat allen screw like this…

    You just have to make sure that you match the size and thread pitch of the threaded hole in the clevis.  And even if you damage the threads getting the broken screw out you can re-tap it with a cheap tap and die set or you can get a longer screw and have enough of it stick out so you can get a nylock nut…

    …on the other side of it.  It wouldn’t look as nice but it would be serviceable.

  32. @biggles

    @Beers

    @Teocalli

    I’ve gone to most in the area, and they aren’t touching it, because it’s really hard to get a drill in there, as the screw is on the inside of the rear dropouts and the left side bits are in the way.
    Most of them are also really frightened by the look of carbon and are really afraid they’ll just damage it further.
    :(

    They/you should be able to drill the broken part out from the outside (if I’m interpreting the image correctly.  Also, the frame is useless as it so if they/you ruin it it’s no harm no foul basically.

  33. If all else fails send me some better clearer pictures to [email protected]  I’m pretty sure I’m seeing it correctly though so if you want to send the frame over the pond (you’re in the U.K., right?) I will fix it for you for free.  You just gotta pay for the shipping both ways.

  34. I wholeheartedly agree, though I am agnostic on material choice. My Time VXR is every bit as excellent as some of my custom steel bikes. That being said, something about custom steel from experienced hands, especially when he talks you into boring some holes in the chainstays.

    Della Santa

  35. @Cyclops
    The frame is Airplane Columbus tubes. I’ll put  some photos of it at the end of this post.
    This is actually a good idea because I was pondering on how to ask you for a CX frame at some point with the measurements of this frame exactly, on account of it being so comfortable for me. Though of course I could just leave you to do your own ”thang” and see what comes out, the ones I’ve seen around here are really great that way!

    The aesthetic of the race machine for me is really important, so it would kind of kill it to have a nut on the outside over there. Arguably i should just get a new frame, but for that I need to fall in love with it first, and this is not the right time in my life for that.
    I figure these are detailed enough:

  36. Maybe its cause of my age or when I entered the world of cycling but I really do love Carbon. All those bikes are beautiful, but If I had the ability all my bikes would be carbon. and BTW, Carbon is easier to repair than aluminum and steel cant just be repaired by any old welder, if anything an entire tube would need to be replaced.

  37. @Cyclops

    @biggles

    @Beers

    @Teocalli

    I’ve gone to most in the area, and they aren’t touching it, because it’s really hard to get a drill in there, as the screw is on the inside of the rear dropouts and the left side bits are in the way.
    Most of them are also really frightened by the look of carbon and are really afraid they’ll just damage it further.
    :(

    They/you should be able to drill the broken part out from the outside (if I’m interpreting the image correctly. Also, the frame is useless as it so if they/you ruin it it’s no harm no foul basically.

    Before drilling, you might be able to still rotate the screw thread out by using something pointy like a nail and tap it with a small hammer in the direction of unscrewing. May need to try from both sides of the screw to see which works best.

    And if drilling, please centre punch the screw in the centre first. Drill wander makes a mess of holes.

  38. @sthilzy

    @Cyclops

    @biggles

    @Beers

    @Teocalli

    I’ve gone to most in the area, and they aren’t touching it, because it’s really hard to get a drill in there, as the screw is on the inside of the rear dropouts and the left side bits are in the way.
    Most of them are also really frightened by the look of carbon and are really afraid they’ll just damage it further.
    :(

    They/you should be able to drill the broken part out from the outside (if I’m interpreting the image correctly. Also, the frame is useless as it so if they/you ruin it it’s no harm no foul basically.

    Before drilling, you might be able to still rotate the screw thread out by using something pointy like a nail and tap it with a small hammer in the direction of unscrewing. May need to try from both sides of the screw to see which works best.

    And if drilling, please centre punch the screw in the centre first. Drill wander makes a mess of holes.

    Not knowing how big the bolt is my suggestion would be to use a small drill bit and drill a small hole in the middle of whats left. then pick up a tap and die set, or just the tap you need(same size as the bit or one size up) insert the tap into the hole with a hammer if needed(gently) and use the tap to unthread it out.

    I did this once on an old truck I had.  I sheared a coolant sensor(which was brass) I didnt have any other way to get it out.

  39. I basically posted 2 methods, the first method is pretty cheep and you would need to use on tap size is compared to the drill bit.

  40. @grahamr

    Hand made in Leeds by Bob Jackson, now just got to add a few components…………probably not English !

    Nice.  I always lusted after those back in my college days.  Haven’t seen one around here in ages.

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