Handmade Bikes: The Buyer, The Builder, the Bling (Movie and Story)

THE MOVIE (15 mins):

THE STORY in MOMENTUM MAGAZINE (Jan/Feb 2011, begins page 29):
http://momentumplanet.com/magazine specifically: 

Thanks to Babbling Brook Productions for this very nice comment on YouTube: 
This is a great video that really captures the experience of appreciating handmade bicycles. From describing the artistic details of handmade bikes such as the head tube badge, lug work and paint, to the experience of having a bike built for a specific riding purpose, this tells the story. The time spent with the builders in their shop really lets you in to the work of hand building bike frames. If you're interested in hand built bikes, this video nails it!!!

TO ACCOMPANY a piece called "Handmade Bikes" for Momentum Magazine (Jan 2011, starts page 29) I shot a 15 minute, hopefully informative video featuring two New York Cycle Club riders, two Brooklyn framebuilders, and lots and lotsa fancy lugs.

It all started when cycling promoter and PR pro Paul Skilbeck (Gran Fondo, CA) contacted me and asked if I wanted to do an article about the subject for Momentum Magazine. Paul is is the PR guy for The National Handmade Bike Show (NAHBS) and amazingly, a former classmate from waaaay back in my Kambah High School days (Canberra, Australia). Of course I have Facebook and Lee Henkel to thank for that!

Paul Skilbeck with his two highly regarded books, Single Track Mind and Mountain Biking,
It was an assignment with a modest honorarium, but I can never resist a glittering opportunity to shoot a Gal crayolacam movie - the requirements being interesting topic and interesting people. Actually, it can be as dull as as Walmart knife but I'll do my darndest to make it un-so. How about this for example.

So where to turn? The New York Cycle Club message board seemed the obvious choice. Wealthy Type A folks living in New York - bound to have a few handmade gems hanging in their closets or garages in the Hamptons. Posting a message led to a flood of handmade bike lovers and dreamers, one of them engineer and pediatric radiologist Paul Lui with his Brian Baylis Randonneur:

Paul Lui,  handmade bike aficionado with his Brian Baylis Randonneur

This bike has all the creds: a traditional steel frame and beautiful lugwork and paint - the traditional reason why people spring for a handmade bike. A look at those luscious lugs:

Paul Lui and his beloved Brian Baylis handmade bicycle

Lui and I spent an enjoyable afternoon in his upper west side apartment cruising the dazzling work of several builders on the internet, including the jeweled and ornate work of John Columbine Cycles. "My first choice," said Lui, "but I eventually settled on Brian Baylis - I fell in love with a bike of his that I saw in Bicycle Magazine." Plus, Baylis offered him the right combo of price, input, choices - not all builders offer all things to all people. In 1996 his frame and fork cost $2000, and the complete bike was approximately twice that - $4000.

At a different part of the spectrum was NYCC (New York Cycle Club) member Peter Storey, who bought his  UK-made Chas Roberts frame "purely for fit reasons":

Peter Storey and his "strictly functional with a bit of bling" Chas Roberts (UK)  Custom Audax 

Peter's bike is fillet-brazed rather than Paul's, meaning no fancy lugwork. It still has little details as my video reveals, and most importantly, fits his "6'3", "woman's geometry" body due to his long legs and comparatively shorter torso "that doesn't bend very much". At the time, 2004, the frame and fork cost around $1200, the complete bike $2400, illustrating the large cost difference between lugs and fillet brazed frames (Lui's bike cost $4000 ten years earlier).

Then it was time to interview a framebuilder. I had some long talks and email exchanges with framebuilers Richard Sachs, Peter Weigle, Brian Bayliss and Sam Whittingham, as well as NAHBS founder Don Walker and touring bike specialist Bruce Gordon, but it was the NYCC's Alfredo Garcia and John Feinberg who pointed me to a newer framebuilder, Johnny Coast of Coast Cycles in Brooklyn. So instead of making a considerable expedition to the idyllic hinterlands of Massachusetts to visit Weigle and Sachs against a copy deadline, I was able to hop the subway and catch Johnny in action. I scored an unexpected coup - Johnny shares his space with fellow framebuilder Seth Rosko, who specializes in handmade TIG welded frames, the more standard type of bicycle frame construction you see today.

Framebuilders Seth Rosko (left) and Johnny Coast (right), both graduates
 of the United Bicycle Institute in Oregon share a workshop in Brooklyn

Two builders for the price of one! My little video was shaping up to be a 360-degree survey.

Coast and Rosko are both graduates of the UBI - United Bicycle Institute in Oregon. Coast learned to TIG weld "at the earliest legal age" we joked - 12 years old - taught by his father, renowned hot rod car builder Rick Coast. Coast has the Richard Sachs nod of approval, and showed me his work made from classic components he's collected or that have been re-issued, due to "a big resurgence of restoring old frames." He also trained at the tiny school of legendary "3 Rensho" builder Koichi Yamaguchi in Rifle Colorado.

Johnny Coast, displaying a finished classic a "half lug" and a big, old, brass bell.

Rosko specializes in mountain, road and dirt bikes, and also vintage motorcycle racing and restoration. He built "thousands" of production frames and seems quietly thrilled at the chance to do his own thing. The two lads hum around their modest shop in a cul-de-sac, keeping each other warm in the dead of winter with frequent trips to the little coffee shop on the pointy part of the block.

Seth Rosko, who specializes in TIG welding
There is a third area I did not cover, and that is the many, many framebuilders who build stuff that falls in between and beyond: bamboo bikes by Calfee, Transportation bikes like Mike Flanigan at ANT, Tandems like Bilenky's famous Viewpoint, and so on. Read the Momentum Magazine article for a few more (see link at top of this post).

And, there's of course Jim Langley's point about many people digging up old Fuji, Miyata and Raleigh frames and repurposing them - isn't that a handmade bike too?. Paul Lui has the last word on this:

"What ... a Fuji ... you're killing me!"

HANDMADE BIKES REPRISE: Jim Nachlin and his "Mini Velo": another NYCC rider and grad of the UBI shows off his latest production:

Headbadge love: Peter Story and his Chas Roberts handmade bike
Johnny Coast silver brazing a steel frame
Johnny Coast, the lug man, and Seth Rosko, the TIG man
New York Cycle Club's James Nachlin also popped by to show me his "mini velo"
- he's also a graduate of the UBI.  MOVIE: James and his Mini Velo

Permalink to this blog post: http://www.galfromdownunder.com/handmadebikes


murray9717 said…
This is a WONDERFUL video for anyone remotely interested in the world of custom handmade bicycles.

Lynette – I love this video
mpetry912 said…
Wonderful work Lynette. You captured the mystique, the spirit of old world craftsmanship, and the unique experience of creating, building, owning and riding a handbuilt bike. Well done!
Unknown said…
I am a big believer in buying locally--especially hand-built local (my carbon Calfee and the steel Rock Lobster will both have come from Santa Cruz). Saw Craig Calfee at Biketoberfest in Fairfax in October and he remembered not only me and my bike, but also the shop that did the initial measurements in 2000. My Calfee is the 2nd smallest one he's produced to date--somewhere there's a 41cm (mine is a 42cm). I had Campy Record components on it initially, but went to SRAM Force in 2007 when carpal tunnel/bursitis/arthritis from computer work/lab bench work/martial arts injuries/ familial arthritis made it really painful to shift with my thumbs. This has actually gotten much better since I cut way back on wheat and other gluten grains starting in May of 2009 (and my seasonal allergies have also virtually disappeared).
Matt said…
I love this. You should try to get it to play at the Handmade bicycle show.

TPotter said…
Really enjoyed the Momentum #49 article and then what a pleasant surprise to see the link to the bonus video! Great stuff Lynette.
I'd like to share some pics I took during a visit to Japan's most famous framebuilder, Nagasawa-san, this past summer.

Enjoy and if you want a Nagasawa you'll need to go visit him to get properly fitted; he no longer builds frames for overseas customers unless he can meet them. Best bring an interpreter too.
Paul Skilbeck said…
Great video Lynette! Wait, didn't I already say that on some other forum? Well, whatever, it's well worth watching again!

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