when i was at school, i was utterly crap at metalwork (and woodwork, technical drawing and geography): when making a coathook, i was required to heat and bend a thick rod of metal for the hook then due to be rivetted to a polished steel backplate. logically enough the two holes on the hook should have matched up with two holes drilled on the backplate, only mine didn't. due to a minor controversy over the difference between quarter and half an inch. an easy mistake to make, but hardly the convincing start to a career in framebuilding - which is pretty much why i never started just such a career. an attack of mechanical conscience midway through my (continuing) cycling obsessiveness led me to investigate zen and the art of wheelbuilding, so that i could at least claim some semblance of mechanical competence. but every year, when the north american handbuilt show comes around, i have this hankering after joining metal tubes to cast lugs and entering the age of usefulness. happily for those considering the purchase of a new, handbuilt steel frame, it has never moved past this sense of longing, and it's not really very likely to either.
however, should the career path of framebuilder present itself in the near future, i wouldn't begin to consider doing anything without this studiously comprehensive manual by tim paterek. were i to undertake to assemble a washingmachinepost machine shop with a view to diversifying from just writing about bicycles, you would be forming an orderly queue at the door even as we speak. tim paterek is/was a north american framebuilder of some repute, having retired, as far as i can gather, in 2004. the bulk of his business was assumed by michael terraferma in miami, florida and the remainder by joseph ahearne in portland, oregon. he is very much of the old skool of framebuilding, where steel tubes slot into cast steel lugs then brazed into place. paterek has even gone so far as to predict that the art/craft/science of steel framebuilding will never die. having watched the bikeradar movie on the construction of colnago's top-of-the-range eps, it seems that many of the skills espoused by mr paterek have transferred through to the modern era.
of course, if you intend to offer custom frames, oft times the solo framebuilder's unique selling point, you need to know just which parts of the customer's anatomy to measure, and subsequently how to convert those measurements into something resembling a bicycle frame. chapter two supplies every minute detail required. and even if the idea is not to offer custom build, but to create your own off-the-shelf steel delights, measurements will still be required, so it's very handy to know just what those measurements should be. it is perhaps an obvious statement that those tubes and lugs won't assemble themselves, and in order for that to happen, a veritable plethora of common and specialist tools are required, many i've not only not come across before, but wouldn't have known what to do with them if mr paterek had not been astute enough to point out how, by way of some strategically taken photographs.
it's not much of a secret that assembling all these tools, machines and necessary expertise do not come cheaply, so it is unlikely that any of the foregoing will be come by easily. it's doubtful that the prospective framebuilder will have the finance and knowledge to dive in at the deep-end: an apprenticeship of sorts would be ideal, or perhaps one of the framebuilding courses that are available both sides of the atlantic. but once a degree of experience has been gained, it would be ideal to have a safety net when pedalling into the big, bad world alone. this manual is it.
a normal sequence of events these days, upon acquiring a shiny new gadget, is to ignore the manual altogether in an excited need to get to grips with such contemporary gadgetness. the same goes for framebuilding: knowing about tools and measurements and jigs is all very well, and very necesary, but what we really want to know is how to slide tubes into lugs, smother them with white flux and put phasers on braze. chapter five begins the true framebuilders' initiation into building the sub-assemblies, before moving swiftly on to the front triangle, the forks, the rear triangle and finally those little detail touches that oft times distinguish one builder from the next by way of bridges, braze-ons and the final flourishes.
if i am allowed one criticism of a manual that i feel sadly unqualified to critique from a technical point of view (not that i found any holes that needed poking) it is the placing of the chapter on getting started as the first of the appendices. to my mind this would have been better situated at the very beginning of the manual. however, in it's current position, it does lead on to a comprehensive glossary of framebuilding terms, a further reading list, a thoughtful set of copyable pages detailing just how the novice might charge for his/her new found labours, and a large selection of detailed schematics for constructing those fittings required to enable bits of frames to hang together in perfect harmony and stillness, while you get that phaser out again.
not unnaturally, having built a frame, you may just find it desirable or necessary to colour it in some decorative way with paint - all covered in a fine chapter just before constructing custom stems, building custom racks, tandem construction and the all too necessary chapter on frame repair. a veritable treasure trove.
all in all, and i'm saying this very quietly in case tim is reading, $75 for this depth of knowledge is the equivalent of giving it away free; barnetts bicycle manual weighs in at almost twice as many dollars (and it's on a cd now), while sutherland's handbook costs at least another $20. if you are considering/have considered the possibility of building bicycle frames at weekends, in the evenings, or are just intrigued by the processes that create a whole greater than the sum of its parts, i cannot reccommend this manual highly enough. it may resemble the london telephone directory in heft and size, but it imparts a great deal more information.an education in itself.
posted on tuesday 31 march 2009..........................................................................................................................................................................................................