Archive for the 'Frame Building' Category


I’ll Paint It Later

Okay, so it has been a while.

As a peace offering to my usual audience, the spam bots and random folks who land on this page as a result of a really misdirected Google search, I offer pictures of my latest project.

Behold, Bike Number 5.  A lugged steel fixed gear frameset.

number5-12The Details:

Columbus Chromor tube set, oversize (Schwinn used to use this on some of its touring bikes).

Short point “bikini” lugs

Paragon Machine Works rear track drop outs

Steel, straight legged fork, aero cross section

Hidden rear brake cable (in the top tube)

Geometry – 55cm top and seat tubes, 74 degree head and seat tube, 39 degree offset fork.

More Details:


“Ass Harpoon” seat stay caps.


IRD “Defiant Crank Set – 144mm bolt circle, 1/8 inch pitch, 46 tooth ring

Paint: unpainted for now, but I already have the paint sitting in my garage.  Roth Metalflake “Custard Pie”.

So, how does it ride?

I put about 100 miles on it last week, riding back and forth to work.

One word: smooth.

Another word: fast.

This is a good one.




Left Over Paint

Having finally finished up Bike Number 4 (“Miss Behaving”) it was time for me to catch up on some deferred maintenance on the rest of the fleet. I also needed to clean up the clutter in my workshop that always accumulates around a framebuilding project, especially during the thrash at the end when you finally push away the empty paint cans and tape and just want to bolt the damn thing together and ride it.


The killer paint job that I eventually laid down for “Miss Behaving” is its own story.  What I wound up with is a completely different paint job than I had first envisioned.  The blue metallic pearl that ended up on the bike sort of evolved and mutated over time as I muddled my way along.

And what also happened is that, with the color change, I had a lot of left over paint. Paint that ended up as the basis for a really cool accidental customization of another bike.

It went like this:

The original vision for Miss Behaving wasn’t the snappy cobalt blue that is on bike now, but rather a Lime Green metalflake, with black trim.  My thought was Lime Green would go with the wheels that I had for the bike – which were black. Whatever color I painted it had to work with black.  Lime Green works nicely.  So I bought paint – a color called “Gatorade Green” that I thought looked the part.

I painted the fork (see picture); and it wasn’t what I wanted.  A very cool color, sure. But not what I wanted.

After some soul searching, I decided that actually a bold blue ‘flake would be just the ticket.  The blue worked with the black wheels; let’s go with that!  So I bought more paint, this time a cool blue pearl called “Bad Azz Blue.”  I laid down a white base coat, like they suggested, and then started shooting pearl coats.
Lots of pearl coats.

Now I know that with pearl you build up the color gradually with lots of coats, but I quiclkly realized that I would go broke piling on the pearl coats before I got the color I wanted.

So…I stripped the bike and started over. This time I picked the blue metallic base coat instead of the white and then shot the blue pearl coats over that.

It worked.  Perfect.

But now I had a buttload of “Gatorade Green” paint and a slightly smaller buttload of  non-returnable”Bad Azz Blue” pearl left over from the two prior attempts.

Enter my commuter bike, the trusty and rusty 1998 Bianchi Volpe with a billion miles on it. One of the tasks on my to-do list was to blow a coat of paint over the frame in an effort to forestall further entropy over the winter. The bike still had its original jade green paint that was barely hanging on and, worse, the frame had some serious rust issues. It needed paint. Badly.

I decided to experiment a bit. I could always just get a can of Rustoleum and have at it, but where was the fun in that?  Looking at the many cans of leftover Gatorade Green and Bad Azz Blue pearl that I had lying around, I figured that I might be able to make the Gatorade Green turn a less bilious shade by shooting a couple of very light coats of the equally-leftover blue pearl over it.

Here’s the result – it turned a sort of reptillian metal flake green that, for some reason, reminds me of the album cover on Alice Cooper’s “Billion Dollar Babies.”  The crappy iPad pictures don’t do it justice; it is really cool looking.  In fact, I get more unsolicited comments about the bike and the color than with any of the other bikes that I own.  Sure, my spray technique can certainly use some work – getting the blue pearl to mist evenly over the green was hard to pull off on something as weirdly shaped as a bicycle, so there are a few splotches and blotches where the pearl got away from me. But overall it looks wicked. 

 I did some decals and then clear-coated the shootin’ match. We’ll see how it holds up to daily commutes to work this winter.


Heavy Metal

The embarrassing thing is that I’ve gotten so behind on the updates that, well, I sort of don’t know where to really restart the tale.

I could just pretend that this little hiatus didn’t happen and pick up where we left off: fork done, and me around 80% finished with the frame.  And that wouldn’t be a bad strategy.  I’ve got a lot of pictures that I could show and tales that I could tell.

But, really, that all seems a bit anti-climatic when one has actually finished the damn thing (except for the paint – that comes later), hung parts on it, and gone for a ride.

So here it is, in all its glory.


Oh, I do have a story about the latter bit – my going ahead and riding it.  I finished the frame over Mother’s Day weekend, and my plan was to build it up over the following week and show up with it at next Sunday’s ride.  However, I was short a few parts.  Actually I was short just one part: a seat post binder bolt.  Specifically, a Campagnolo binder bolt.

I know, for want of a nail, etc.

The story of how this all-Campagnolo bike ended up with a (*gasp*) hacked-up Sugino seat post bolt rather than the Campagnolo bolt that it should have as its birthright is  both tedious and irritating.   At least to me it is tedious and irritating.  Granted, having the proper binder bolt to secure the seat post in the frame is a small detail, but the mind-roastingly-beautiful Richard Sachs seat tube lug that I consciously selected for my project and lovingly brazed into the bike that is before you is specifically designed for an old school Campagnolo seat post bolt.  And because it is specifically designed for a Campagnolo seat post bolt, onlly a Campagnolo seat post bolt will do.

You see, Campagnolo bolts are a bit different than your run-of-the-mill Sugino bolts.

Sugino binder bolts are as common as pig tracks on Old MacDonald’s Farm.  Cheap, sold everywhere.

And mechanically different from what I needed.

The problem with a Sugino bolt in a Campagnolo universe is that Sugino seat post bolts are held in place by a little key that is cast into the female end of the deal that fits into the seat collar.  That key, in turn, matches up with a notch in the seat tube collar that is designed to fit that key.  The key fits in the notch and holds the bolt in place as you tighten it.

Campagnolo bolts, on the other hand, aren’t keyed.  They are held in place by some serrations that are machined into the female end of the bolt.  Campagnolo engineers also designed the bolt to fail if you over-tighten it, preventing more serious damage and mayhem.

It’s an elegant engineering solution, and the ONLY appropriate fitting for a Campagnolo-equipped bike.

Except that I couldn’t source a new Campagnolo binder bolt to save my life.

I went to all of my usual sources for parts, and came up with nothing.  I then tried  all of my unusual sources for parts, and came up blank as well.  EBay, the Market Place Of Last Resort for traders of vintage Campagnolo wasn’t a real option either.  I wasn’t going to pay extortionate prices on eBay for a used part, especially a used part that is designed to fail if you over-tighten it.

Oh, at one point I actually placed an order for a binder bolt from a rather large and reputable internet bike shop.  Indeed, I was even told that, yes, the part was in stock and that it had shipped.  Oops!  Turns out that wasn’t quite true.  Then I was told by another large and equally reputable internet bike shop that, no, they didn’t have one in stock but that it could be ordered from their supplier.  Confident that we were finally getting close to resolving the Campagnolo Binder Bolt Imbroglio, I was understandably annoyed when, after two weeks of waiting for the bolt to arrive, I received a rather sad email from the store saying that the bolt was no longer available but thanks for shopping with us!.  

See?  I told you it was irritating.  The next bit is the tedious part.

On top of being unable to source the Binder Bolt Of The Gods, my schedule got hectic and, when the smoke cleared, I basically was left with just Saturday to get the bike built and on the road if I wanted to show it off on the upcoming weekend group ride.  So my new plan was to build it Saturday morning, give it a short shake down, and then show up with it on Sunday.

So Saturday morning rolls around, and the first order of business was to throw a cup of coffee down the hatch, grab a file, snatch up the Sugino binder bolt that I just happened to have sitting on my workbench, and spend 15 highly-productive minutes hacking off the offending locating key.  Voila!  Shorn of its key, the bolt now fit a Campagnolo seat lug.  Sort of.

Quick and dirty, but done.

The rest of the morning went smoothly.  That is except for the fact that the second part of my plan – a short test ride to ferret out problems and check my work.  That didn’t happen.  Just I as was finishing the last few jobs, adjusting the gears and brakes, the heavens opened up.  It rained the rest of the day and into the evening.

Well, who needs a shakedown ride anyway.

So without so much as having thrown a leg over the bike, I rolled it out into the sunlight early Sunday morning to go and ride with the guys.  On tap was 35 or 40 admittedly easy miles.  Oh sure, I was confident that I had done a good job and that, no, the frame and fork weren’t going to fold up beneath me like a cheap lawn chair.  But, you know, even test pilots wear parachutes when they take up a new plane for the first time.

So I was a little nervous.

I made it to the meet-up point without anything falling off or exploding, which was a good sign.  Waiting in the parking lot for the rest of the guys to show up, I attempted to appear nonchalant as I surreptitiously checked the bike over for indications that it was about to kill me.  Adding to my nervousness was the fact that the roads were still a bit slick from Saturday’s deluge and, yes, it was threatening to rain again.  Not exactly the friendliest environment for test riding a steel bike with no paint.  No matter; I took it easy, hung out at the back of the group and just enjoyed the ride.  Okay, I will admit that once or twice that I bent over and pretended to cinch up a shoe strap when we were stopped at an intersection just so I could make another check to see if things were still holding together.

The report: Zero issues.

Number 4 is a damn fine bike.  With 35 miles under my tires we are just getting acquainted, but I can already tell that this one is one effin’ spectacular ride.

1.  Artistic Shot With Azeleas

2.  Obligatory Bike Against A Wall Shot

3.  Details, Details….

This shows off one of the little bits on the bike that makes me smile.  Look at the end caps on the seat stays.  They are antique Cinelli pieces that I bought from a framebuilder who is liquidating his stock of parts.  Cinelli 409 to be precise.  Beautiful.  The Ass Harpoon seat stays were cool, but this turned out very nicely, if I say so myself.  And I just did.

Campagnolo Athena 11.  In silver.  It was really the only choice for this bike.  I went with the compact crank and, after exactly one ride, I am a convert.

Here’s the other side, showing the hidden brake cable.

4.  Celebratory Twizzlers

When I got the box of tubes and lugs from Richard Sachs, it was packed with Twizzlers candy.  I’ve been slowly munching on them as I built up the frame and fork.  I decided that I would save a couple so I could have a celebratory liquorice fix when I finished the bike.  The first ride went so well that I picked two out of the box and chowed down as I ran a rag over the bike after the ride.  (I’ve saved a couple for when I paint it).

5.  Buster and Sybil Say That It Is Time To Ride


(Buster Keaton and Sybil Seely)


Production Value

Try as I might, I’ll be damned if I can come up with an angle for making this installment of Building Bike Frames In My Garage either funny or entertaining.  There’s nothing to distract or amuse the reader: I didn’t maim myself, I wasn’t all goofy on prescription medicine, nothing blew up or caught on fire, and everything that I worked on went together pretty easily.  Without the normal comedic elements of physical injury or embarrassing disclosure, the only things left to the reader are detailed descriptions of how I stick steel tubes together in the shape of a bicycle.  Not a good plan for entertaining my adoring public.  I guess that I’ll have to try and jazz this up with what show business types call production value.  Maybe drop in a picture of a pretty girl.  That always works.  Because without production value all that we have here is just a series of fuzzy pictures of some guy brazing crap in his garage and then posting it on the internet with his iPad.

1.  Still Life With BMX Bike And Lawnmower.  What this first rather obscure picture is attempting to show is that I’ve already been somewhat busy and gotten a head start on brazing stuff.  As in brazing the head and seat tubes to the top tube.  What it also shows is that I need to clean out my garage.

2. Defying Gravity Amid Chaos.  After cutting and mitering the down tube, I did several trial runs at fitting it all together and checking the alignment.  What happened next was that I got out my handy digital level/angle finder and made sure that the bottom bracket was square with (1) the horizontal axis that runs along the top tube, and (2) the vertical axis that runs along the seat tube.  After a little fiddling, it was perfect.

3.  Bottoms Up!  Here’s a shot of the miters inside the bottom bracket on one of my trial runs.  The white tape is a reference point – it marks the spot where the sharp part of the lug lines up to give a 55cm center-top measurement.  Those are not bird droppings on the piece of cardbord that is down on the floor.  That’s spent flux from an earlier session with the torch.  You’d think that I could afford a bigger piece of cardboard, wouldn’t you?  But when you have good aim, you don’t need a bigger piece of cardboard…

4.  Getting A Head.  Moving to the other end of the bike, here’s the lower head tube lug, showing off the cool integrated fittings for the cable adjusters.  You can also see that the top lug has a bit of an extension on it.

Heheheh…dude….he said that his head tube had an…heheheheh….extension.  Maybe its just happy to see him.  

And since I am going to use a threadelss headset on this bike, the fact that the lug has an extension means that I will be able to get away with fewer spacers underneath my stem.

Heheheheh….he said that he puts spacers under his…uh…heheheheh…..stem.

Did it suddenly get a little Freudian in here?  Is one of the side effects of sniffing too much brazing flux an uncontrollable need to channel your inner Bevis and Butthead?  Do I need to clear my head get some fresh air? Can I safely add that the head tube measures out at 140mm? 

One hundred and forty millimeters and damn proud of it.

5.  Let Us Join Together.   Once freed of the jejune compulsion to make thinly-veiled penis jokes, I was able to light the torch and get down to business.  In short, it all went together rather easily.

It was a rare nice day, so I hauled things outside to take a picture or two.



6.  And Finally, Production Value.

The pretty girl is just fascinated by all of this….


Playing Hide and Seek With The Brake Cable…

Next up: plumbing an internal brake cable in the top tube.

This….was a whole lot trickier than I thought it would be, at least in terms of my skill with a torch.

One of the things that I wanted to try with Number 4 is to get a little fancy and do an internal or “hidden” brake cable. The concept is pretty simple – instead of those cable stops that you normally see on your top tube, you install a brass tube on the inside of the top tube that will carry the brake cable back to rear brake. There are two ways of pulling this off; you can either use a large diameter brass tube and carry the whole brake cable and housing through the frame, or you can use a small gauge tube and just run the inner cable through the frame. I chose the latter. It is a bit more complicated, but I figured that it would be slightly lighter and there would be less of a chance that the cable housing would rattle around in the internal routing. Noises like that drive me nuts.

The next choice to make was to figure out where I wanted to pierce the top tube for the cable entrance and exit: top, sides, or bottom. A good buddy of mine, Slippery Pete, suggested that going in from the top invited water and sweat to make its way into the frame, resulting in corrosion. Pete is a smart guy, so I opted to pierce the top tube at about a 5 o’clock position. I figure that this is far enough around to discourage water from seeping in and also it puts the cables in a position that will help keep them away from the paint on the seat tube and head tube.

I know: vanity.

Drilling the holes was easy. In order for the cable ends to sit at the necessary angle, you need to elongate the holes. I did this by taking a hand drill with the appropriate sized bit and VERY GENTLY tipping the drill to the angle that the cable will enter the tube, using it like a mill to elongate the hole. You have to be gentle because the metal is very, very thin in this part of the tube (it is butted) and is easily bent or torn. I finished it up with a rat-tail file.

I next fabricated the internal bits – two cable ferrules and some brass tubing. The trick here is to anneal the brass tubing so that it bends easily without crimping. This is easy – just heat the tubing until it turns a silvery-gray color. I silver brazed the ferrules on the end of the tube, and gently bent the fixture into shape. I cheated a bit and used a tubing bender – it is basically a spring that slips over the tubing and helps the tube keep its shape as you do your thing. After some gentle tweaking and pulling, I was in business.

Finally, there are some little stamped steel dress-up doo-dads that go over the ferrules to finish it off. Here’s what everything looks like before you install it.



The really tricky part turned out to be the final assembly. As mentioned earlier, the Pego-Richie stuff is light weight butted tubing, and the part of the tube that I was playing with is surprisingly thin. That meant that it heated VERY quickly when I aimed a torch at it. I had to work fast and keep my wits about me to avoid overheating things. In the end it turned out nice and cleaned up well:




The final test was to see if it actually worked. I ran an old brake cable through the internal routing – it ran nice and smooth, with no binding.

So nice, in fact, that it was enough to make the pretty girl smile….



A New Project, And Breaking Stuff In The Name Of Science (Sort Of)

Seeing as it has been, oh, about three months since I last updated this occasionally-updated blog, I figure that it is probably time to throw something up here lest I alienate the folks who constitute most of my visitors these days: spambots and a growing constituency of folks looking for Christmas-themed gay porn, specifically a genre of gay porn that involves guys with lots of body hair. Apparently having “Full Frontal” and “Nudity” appear in a title of a story or a post – like it does here – tends to generate a lot of hits for a website. That’s predictible. What wasn’t predictable was the respectable number of hits that you get when you combine “hairy” and, weirdly, “Santa Claus” on a website where you have also mentioned nudity. This particular combination generates a deeply disturbing amount of traffic. True fact. Apart from the story that I did a while back about repairing Campagnolo shifters, the one single post on this site that generates the most traffic is a story that features Santa and a character culled from the pages of the Performance Bike catalog known as “Hairy Catalog Guy.”

And based on the search terms that you people out in Inadvertent-Reader-Land are sending to Google in order to end up at my happy little Christmas story, I really don’t want to know what’s going on.

Anyway, the breathlessly-awaited update is this: I have another frame project. Working title for it is ….Number Four.

I know, too clever.

Bike Number Four is gonna be a bit special. The lugs and tubes were sourced from Richard Sachs. We’re talking oversized Pego-Richie tubing from Columbus, tied together with Richie-issimo Lugs and bottom bracket. The fork is from Sachs as well, with a nice Richie-issimo flat crown and curved legs.


The best part? The box that showed up was not only stuffed with cool bike bits, it was also packed with red Twizzlers candy, a shit-load of stickers, and a signed water bottle.


The fork is always the first thing that I build, so I’ve launched right into it. After building straight legged forks for Number 2 and Number 3, constructing a fork with a flat crown and curved legs is….different. For starters, compared to the sloping crown that I used on Number 3, the Richie-issimo crown is very traditional – a work of art.


The crown is also a bit beefier compared to what I have brazed up before, so I really wasn’t sure if my MAPP torch had the heat huevos to tackle a crown as substantial as this. The only way to find out was to actually dive in and give it a try. The first job is to join the steering tube to the crown.



And I fucked it up.

Worse, I only half fucked it up, meaning that I did get it brazed together, but I wasn’t totally happy with how it turned out. Okay, I knew that it probably wasn’t going to come apart but….shit….do I want to ride a fork that is probably okay? Deciding what to do next rested upon what I call the Dirty Harry Approach to Predicting The Likelihood Of Catastrophic Failure Of Potentially Compromised Bike Parts:

Do you feel lucky, punk?

I didn’t.

Eating the cost of a new steering tube and crown was much cheaper than the likely dental bill if the joint failed. So, I decided that instead of trying to sweat the damn thing apart and try again, it was better just to buy new parts and start over from scratch.

But first, I wanted to check my work and see whether and how badly I had fucked up. In other words, a little destructive testing was the order of the day.

First test: rotational shear. Could I get the steering tube to break loose in the crown by twisting it? Stick the presumably bum steering tube crown assembly in the bench vise, get a pipe wrench and a 5 foot long cheater handle to really bring the pain, and see if I could break it.

Long story short, I couldn’t. The steering tube stayed put, even though the steering tube started to deform. So my shitty braze job was starting to look better.

Second test: impact. This one was simple. I took a sledge and tried to drive the steering tube down through the crown. Or break the crown. Either would have been cool.

Nope. After a bunch of wacks with the hammer, nothing.

By this time I just wanted to see what the joint looked like inside. So I got out the hacksaw and split the joint, fixed the now-mangled crown in the bench vice, slipped the five foot long cheater bar on the steering tube, and peeled the steerer out of the joint. Or tried to. It eventually came out after a LOT of persuasion.

The verdict: despite being fairly strong, the braze job really was pretty half assed. You can see from the pictures that I didn’t completely fill the joint with braze – there were good sized voids.



The good news is that the replacement parts came, and this time the braze job on the steering tube was text-book perfect. Or at least I think that it is. Put it this way, I don’t feel the need to chop this one open. It’s good enough to finally make the pretty girl smile…



Put A Fork In It – It’s Done

The length of time that it took me to strip down and paint this frame set is a subtle reminder that I should stick to building bikes as just a hobby; I’d starve if I had to depend on getting frames out of the shop in order to put food on the table.

That said, I think that the results justify the effort. Number 3 – nicknamed “Miss Demeanor” – is a certainly looker. I built it up last Saturday and got in a quick 30 miles or so, which reconfirmed what I knew before I painted it – this is a pretty good bike over the road. A few tweaks (a shorter 110mm stem) and it will be perfect.

No need for a lot of words here. Take a look….






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