I thought I would document my processes. This isn’t necessarily the best process and I certainly haven’t found any magic bullets. There are others who have been doing this a lot longer than I have. I have found this process to work well and provide predictable success. I continually refine it. This is how it stands today.
I’m always looking for better ways to do things that result in consistently accurate and well-crafted frames. The number of bikes I produce per year is pretty small and thankfully my clients are patient, so I don’t have to think too much about speed at this point.
As I go through each step, I think hard about how to make that step better and how it flows from the prior step and how it flows into the next step. As I said, I have some flexibility in terms of the time it takes to build a frameset and I use the time in between to built tools and test new processes. I have notebooks that I jot down my thoughts and designs in. I have a full step-by-step process document in Excel with around 250 discrete steps that I refer to each time I step into the garage. That document frequently gets updated and re-arranged as I see a clearer path to better results. I have tried to organize the steps so that they group together into realistic chunks of shop time.
In broad terms, here’s what you can expect after I receive a deposit:
- Most of my clients aren’t local so I don’t always have the luxury of riding with them. If I can, I like to seeing you ride your current bike. If I can’t, it’s ok. I have a form that is completed with some pretty foolproof measurements that I can use to get very reliable fit measurements. You can expect to spend a lot of time talking about rides you have done, what other bikes have fallen short and other general fitness topics. Finally we talk about your cycling trajectory. I always find this most interesting. This is a bike you’ll ride for a long time and it has to fit where you’re going, not only where you are!
- Design – I use RattleCAD a free open source design tool. I plug the fit dimensions into the software and then tweak the geometry to balance the weight and fine tune the ride and handling of the bike. When I’m done with this, I output the design to PDF and shoot it off for your review. Then we have a discussion about why certain dimensions are what they are. Once we’re ok with the design, I print it out on extra large paper so I can take notes on it and have it on my bench as I work. Then the framebuilding part starts:
- Order materials – I use several suppliers.
- Receive materials – This includes lugs, bottom bracket shells, tubes, forks, etc. I compare everything to the invoice and my original order and then put everything in a long tubing box so everything stays together. The client name is written on the box.
- Get familiar with materials – This is where the building starts. This includes inspection, some rough mark ups, measuring and just making sure everything is what it should be. Because of my obsessive nature and focus, this step usually turns into blueprinting the bottom bracket shell and starting to turn down or carve seattube sleeves or lugs. I’ll insert tubes into any sockets or sleeves just to check how much manipulation will be required. I will often measure and mark tubing butts and put tubing blocks on the tubes at this point.
- Pick all of the other little bits that come from inventory like bottle bosses, cable guides etc. and put them into a little container that goes in the box with the tubes and fittings. I note on the design documents my thoughts as I gather pieces.
- Set up my jig and make sure I have gas, filler, flux, abrasives and whatever other tools I will need for the specifics of the project.
- Fit dropouts to fork and chainstays
- Check to make sure no design changes are required as this is sort of the last step where changes don’t cost money
- Braze together the fork
- Miter tubes in a specific order that I will go into further later
- Fit everything up in the jig
- Tack the front triangle and chainstays
- Remove the tacked frame from the jig with the rear axle remaining fitted and put it on the alignment table with non-drive side down. My jig works off of the non-drive side so I try to consistently work from that datum.
- Measure and align as necessary
- Braze the front triangle and chainstays in the work stand making frequent returns to the alignment table
- Fit seatstays with appropriate treatment (Wishbone, top eyes, fastback)
- Install bridges, eyelets and other bits.
- Ream, face, tap all holes, faces and threads
- Dry assemble complete bike
- Disassemble and finish as necessary
- Ship off to painter/powdercoater
- build and test ride