not that i necessarily feel that i have to justify my portland trip as being business rather than pleasure - that's always a tough question when they hand you that little green card on the plane - for while the whole trip was pleasure from start to finish, there were a lot of hours put into garnering information for myself and hopefully interesting articles on the post. on this latter count, only you can be the judge. however, if pushed to underline my dedication to duty, on the way to the airport on saturday morning, chris distefano and i dropped by the abode of aaron hayes, progenitor of courage bicycles. i cannot, however, take all the credit for this: cd had made a comprehensive list of people i really needed to meet, and i think that by the time i boarded the aircraft for amsterdam, there was probably only one box that hadn't been ticked.
however, the evening before, we had both been watching the giro d'italia on universal sports, and not unnaturally, discussing the apparent demerits of the seriously overbuilt carbon frames ridden by the pros. while we both are adamant that steel will make a comeback (maybe sooner rather than later, if the uci have anything to do with it), chris said that the steel frames made by aaron hayes were the ones that he figured would fit in the pro peloton without looking out of place. in reality, this may have been somewhat of an overstatement: considering the colossal downtubes and massive bottom brackets seen on the likes of focus, cervelo, cannondale and the like, it is unlikely that any steel tubed bicycle would pass incognito. all such conjecture notwithstanding, we still made a slight detour on the way to pdx on a saturday morning to visit courage bicycles at ne 48th avenue.
having mentioned earlier about the wide variety of spaces occupied by portland's large number of bicycle frame builders, aaron creates his rather fine looking machines in a garage at the rear of one of those wooden slatted portland houses that are oh so quirky and attractive, but that wouldn't last five minutes in an islay breeze. courage bicycles arrived on the portland scene faster than chris hoy's kilo at manchester velodrome. aaron is an industrial designer who became rather disillusioned with his career, and was looking about for an alternative. since he was already a bike rider of note and had the enthusiasm for the machines that we all have (don't we?), it wasn't too much of a stretch to arrive at the notion of building some frames, if not as a full-time occupation, certainly as a challenge that many of us would perhaps have passed on. to give you an idea of just how quickly all this came together, aaron committed to his presence at the 2008 north american handbuilt show in portland when it was only six months away. since it is expected that each exhibitor will have at least four bicycles on show, and that he still had to wait a few months for the appropriate jig to make such possible, impressive is a word that could not possibly be overused in this situation.
eventually there were only three courage bicycles on show at nahbs, because as aaron said 'i made a mess of one of them', but that was really of no such nevermind, as he won the coveted best new builder award. stick that on your top tube and polish it.
aaron has his very small workspace very neatly arranged for maximum build efficiency, and the homeliness of it all was brought home by his neighbours sitting at the back of their very nearby back door eating breakfast while we chatted. the one completed bike sitting against the workbench displayed some beautiful, clean workmanship with some exotic detailing: the stem clamp, the brake bridge, fork crown and rear dropouts all point to a level of skill and accuracy that make it even more incredible that standing start to award arrived in only six months. lying on the workbench were some filed lugs that you and i would never have the patience to bring to such an exquisite level of decor. if it stopped there, you would be impressed enough, but the frame on which he was about to embark would include s and s torque couplings to allow taking apart for transit. these couplings are usually of a standard design, but aaron was filing his to have them match the already complex lug design. art really does lie in the details.
having returned home to the magical isle, it dawned on me that i hadn't enquired why aaron's company was called courage bicycles, so i e-mailed to ask. here's the reply i received:
the courage name came from an old college friend who build a handful of 'junkyard' choppers a few years ago for fun. and the first thing he said when i told him i was going to build bikes was: use courage! but it took about three months of thinking about it till i came around to liking it. i like that other people assign their own ideas to the name - it really means something different to everyone!
i left portland and the united states less than two hours later, but it was darned decent of the guy to take time out of his saturday morning to chat to a scruffy scotsman, still learning and assimilating far too much information about frame building to be making informed judgements.
not that that has ever stopped me.
posted on sunday 24 may 2009..........................................................................................................................................................................................................