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. @Barracuda yep – i have a steel Baum Espresso fitted out with Chorus and (gasp!) a carbon rear end – made in about 2002 when the company was still pretty much in its infancy – at that stage they were operating out of a little factory in North Melbourne.

  2. @Joe

    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

    What the? I’ve never seen the likes of that before. Does it make the chain stays flex more in the vertical? That’s LeMan’s original frame builder. Wow, a serious ride.

  3. I seem to have gone the same way, unable to buy a Trek or Spesh, not that there is anything wrong with it.

    My old Bella, steel frame made in one man shop in Somerville, Ma.

    My old second hand Merlin Extralight, Ti frame made in Cambridge, Ma.

    My newer second hand Meivici Serotta, carbon lugged frame, made in upstate NY.

    I’ve got the trifecta. The carbon is the lightest, maybe the most fun to ride now but any of them, once rolling are great machines. Too many miles on steel and ti to count.

  4. @Marcus

    its a bit dirty here and the photo is terrible, but here it is

    Tell me about the Wound Up please.

  5. @DerHoggz

    @RedRanger

    In that video, why did he use a reverse bit?

    I’ll venture a guess.  Since the screw extractor is also reverse threaded, the reverse bit effectively creates rifling in the same direction, making it easier for the extractor to bite into the bored metal.

  6. @Barracuda rides like a dream – It was my Number 1 for about 7 years. Still love it.

    @DerHoggz
    The Wound Up is what Baum were using at the time – they are still Darren Baum’s all-time favorite fork in terms of ride qualist, etc. I certainly bow to his knowledge. I also like em because they look so different. I am sure plenty of people hate them too.

  7. @DerHoggz

    That’s a good question with no good answer. I can’t see the point of a left handed drill at all. But this, from Wiki.

    Left-hand bits are almost always twist bits and are predominantly used in the repetition engineering industry on screw machines or drilling heads. Left-handed drill bits allow a machining operation to continue where either the spindle cannot be reversed or the design of the machine makes it more efficient to run left-handed. With the increased use of the more versatile CNC machines, their use is less common than when specialized machines were required for machining tasks.

    @Optimiste

    That’s a good guess but those extractors don’t care. Any hole is a good hole…insert joke here.

  8. I have a Ridley and a Kona, which probably fall into the category of “mass produced” CX bikes. H’ever, my heart sings when I ride my Naked Loonie SS MTB and my Naked Team X CX bike. Just something about custom and steel which makes my ride just a bit better and the post ride smile just a bit brighter…

  9. @DerHoggz

    @Marcus

    its a bit dirty here and the photo is terrible, but here it is

    Tell me about the Wound Up please.

    Didn’t know wound up made a fork for 24 inch wheels. Proof’s right there I suppose.

  10. @biggles I have had to extract multiple bolts like this before. Take your time and dont rush it. When using the extractor bit make sure to keep it centered. If you feel like you are over your head just take it to a local car mechanic. Extracting bolts is a regular part of their job.

  11. After looking through this thread I am convinced I need to win the lottery. My N+1 just turned into N+30.

  12. @Gianni Roland was inspired by the slotted chainstays of the Masi’s from the 1970s. He said in a vacuum the stays (which are sleeved, filted, and then filed down) are stiffer than non-Ossobucco stays. But, in his words, “Once you weld them into a triangle, and clamp in wheel in there, you won’t notice a difference. They just look friggin cool.”

    It’s that last bit that sold me. And he was 100% right.

  13. @biggles

    @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:

    Oh, OK, I’m looking at it in IE now and can see the images.

    OK, the top image shows the problem in that the screw hole does not go all the way through clevis.  Now I see why there is the need to get to it from the inside. We’re still back to if you can’t get anyone to fix it for you the frame is worthless boat so see what you think of this.  After exhausting all the aforementioned advice/attempts of trying “easy-outs” to get the screw out this is what I would do in precise steps.

    1. Take a center punch and punch the outside of the clevis where the yellow “X” is (the center of the broken screw on the other side)…

     


    2. Drill at the center punched divot with a 1/16″ bit (2mm? over yonder) until you hit the screw – since the Columbus Airplane tubing is aluminum you should be able to tell when the bit hits the hardened screw.  This will give you a nice guide hole.

    3.  With a larger bit (the diameter of the screw not counting the threads) drill from the outside again and drill out the screw (or try easy-outs again using the appropriately sized bit).

    4. Re-tap the hole.

    5. Install a new screw that just slightly protrudes past the face of the clevis (btw, for the sake of clarity what I am calling the clevis is the little nipple shaped piece welded on to the end of the chain stay that has the threads in it) using Loc-Tite (I don’t know what you Brits use but over here the purple Loc-Tite gives the best hold) to give the screw some permanence.

    6. Carefully file/sand the part of the screw that protrudes through the clevis until it matches the contours of the clevis.

    7. A little shot of black spray paint and you’d be hard-pressed to ever be able to see the fix unless you were really looking for it.

  14. 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.

  15. @Optimiste

    Your opinion is as informed as mine, maybe that does not say much. I don’t think the guy in the video had a good reason and the fact he was buying his drills from Harbor Freight meant he does not mind having the drill snap off in the hole, giving himself something else to extract too.

  16. Diverging briefly to mtb, I believe my ’92 Rocky Mountain Hammer with Ritchey logic tubing had some Canadian hands involved. Re-built a few times, it’s still a sweet ride on the trails.

  17. @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.

    Hmm, tough to say, though in that situation I too would have assumed they were covering the new stem. Things happen, but I wonder how/why he scratched the stem in the first place. And, after scratching someone’s pride and joy bike, you can’t just tell them, “Ehhhh, that’ll buff right out!” I guess it depends on the type of shop too. I am lucky enough to have a few close to where I live. I take my commuter bikes to some and my sparkling road bikes to others, the shops definitely service different niches of the local cycling community and I’m fine with that, but I’m cognizant of it as well.

    I had one of my LBSs chip a small amount of paint on my BB shell when removing a seized BB30 bb. Not a huge deal as it was small and this was my cx bike, which sees a decent amount of abuse. He offered to take $20 off the install work price.

  18. @Marcus

    @Barracuda rides like a dream – It was my Number 1 for about 7 years. Still love it.

    @DerHoggz
    The Wound Up is what Baum were using at the time – they are still Darren Baum’s all-time favorite fork in terms of ride qualist, etc. I certainly bow to his knowledge. I also like em because they look so different. I am sure plenty of people hate them too.

    I’m another one of those people who like them – especially if the fork legs are painted to match the frame and the aluminum crown/canti mounts are left bare.  They can tend to look a bit too thin on oversized tubed frames, but for anything traditional, I think they’re the shit.

  19. @Optimiste

    @Gianni

    @Optimiste
    That’s a good guess but those extractors don’t care. Any hole is a good hole…insert joke here.

    You can always count on me for an uniformed opinion.

    Depends upon what kind of uniform you’re wearing . . . If it’s good enough and impressive enough, you can talk all kinds of shite.

  20. @wiscot

    @Optimiste

    @Gianni

    @Optimiste
    That’s a good guess but those extractors don’t care. Any hole is a good hole…insert joke here.

    You can always count on me for an uniformed opinion.

    Depends upon what kind of uniform you’re wearing . . . If it’s good enough and impressive enough, you can talk all kinds of shite.

    Good point.  I’ll keep an eye out for something suitable.

  21. @DeKerryou’d should see the saddle on my TT bike – ISM Adamo. Disgusting – but lets you stay low for a longer time

  22. @Ron I took my bike to that shop because they are a higher end shop. It got scratched while he was drilling out the busted bolt.  And if I had received and apology and I might not be quite so pissed.  But all I got was excuses.  The bolt was weak,  I had to do it to remove the bolt, if you can remove the bolt without removing the stem then tell me how to do it.  It’s not the size of the scratch that pisses me off, it’s the attitude.

  23. Speaking of beautiful handmade bikes, Easton are running a cool little comp, the Dream Bike Charity Raffle, with five custom builders from the Santa Cruz area giving away a bike a month… they’re up to number three now, a sweet as fuck Rock Lobster. All the proceeds go to charity too, tickets here… Check it out!

  24. Here’s my second attempt to post pics of a couple of handbuilt beauties that i’m lucky enough to own…..

     

     photo null_zps806f473b.jpg

     and #1…..

     photo 985388025076d545717ecc40586a87d2_zpse20e73d1.jpg

  25. @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.

    No.  I had taht crP with motorbike repairs in the past with stuff getting scratched or put back together poorly, with the. Excuse of “it’s hard to work on”. I don’t give a fuck. You are amechanic at a dealer.

    I pointed out that my wife fixed the headlight seal they could not get right.  That shut them up.  It’s shite like this tha sends us to teh webz.

  26. Question for the more knowledgeable:

    Do any of the carbon hand made “in Europe” bikes not use Asian carbon?  My understanding was it was pretty much all Mitsubishi or Toray these days.  And, if they do, is other carbon as good a product?

  27. I have previously posted the frame pics before but after a long wait the required length spokes arrived from Sapim and I have just built my first wheelset – 1125gms excluding rubber.

    [dmalbum: path=”/velominati.com/wp-content/uploads/readers/Mark1/2013.10.19.22.22.15/1/”/]

  28. @Cyclops Very helpful advice – nice one.

    @freddy  Freddy, how was the tour? I contacted Hugh regarding a repair – one similar to that that @biggies is experiencing but not as difficult to repair. He was very helpful and generous in suggesting how to repair the problem. As @Cyclops has been.

  29. @Mark1

    That Sarto is great; can’t wait to see the full build.

    My new frame is being cut (did they mean circumcised?) and now noticing all the other beautiful fish in the sea is particularly acute.

  30. 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!

  31. @Bespoke

    @freddy Freddy, how was the tour? I contacted Hugh regarding a repair – one similar to that that @biggies is experiencing but not as difficult to repair. He was very helpful and generous in suggesting how to repair the problem. As @Cyclops has been.

    The tour was great (see a couple pics at Post 121 above). Hugh took us through the process of building a frame from scratch: fitting, geometry, Ti tube selection, cutting, welding, component selection, etc and even demo’d the paint booth and powder-coated a fork. He baked it in the oven while we hammered him with questions. Super nice guy. He’s got “made by hand” down to an art. He was saying that about half of his customers order Ti frames and then end up ordering another at some point. One of his customers has 9 of his bikes–talk about yer n+1!! [and, yes, the thought of a custom Ti graveur mosheen entered my mind as the evening progressed…]

  32. 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.

  33. @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.

  34. @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!

  35. @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 [email protected]’rilla!

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

  36. @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.

  37. 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.

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