Wood Shims, Wobbly Legs and Elmers Glue

Our local frame builder checking frame alignment on a lugged steel frame.

When a wooden chair has a wobble in it, you go in the basement, find a tiny sliver of wood, jam it in the space between the wobbly leg and the base of the chair.  If it’s a close enough fit, and it makes the wobble go away, you take it out, dip it in some wood glue, jam it back in and sit on the chair the next morning with a satisfied smile.  Now, try that with a plastic chair.  Or a particle board chair.  Report back.

I like things that are fixable, by anyone.  Jason, a good friend/customer of the shop recently found a crack in his 25 year old (give or take) steel road bike.  He’d recently done a fair amount of rehab on it, so this was bad news.  The crack was at the seat cluster, one of the hardest areas of a frame to connect up.  This one was overheated at the factory, which resulted in premature failure.  IE, the frame should have rusted out before this happened.  As a side note, Jason had been riding it for ages like this, basically cruising around with one functional seatstay.  He’s not a tiny, whippet climber like say, Dan the Younger, so he was putting a bunch of strain on this bike, with only one chainstay, and it was still rideable.  We know it had been cracked for a while because the crack was really rusty.  Anyway, moral of the story, he took it to Rudy’s Cold Beer and Welding and had it Tig’d back together for less money than a trip for two to the movies.  And the bike is fine now.

When we went to design our signature frame, ‘The Gary’, there was never any question about what material to make the frame and fork out of.  It had to be steel.  Steel is still the quintessential frame material.  It has more development behind it than any other material.  No other material can ever catch up, because steel has about a 4000 year headstart.  The very first bikes that we would recognize as bikes were steel.  They tried iron, but it was too brittle, despite being appealingly castable.  We knew the bikes had to be steel because steel is repairable.  It can be ridden when damaged.  It’s a beautiful frame material.  Even tig welded steel frames have a certain industrial beauty to them.  The mitering and welding must be pretty precise to not have nasty gaps.  Our favorite though, is lugged steel.

What the heck is a lug?  A lug is a sort of metal socket that frame tubes fit into.  The tubes are cut and mitered to length, stuck in the lugs, and then put in a frame jig.  Then they are brazed together, using a sort of metal glue made out of some liquid brass or silver.  The lug, when finished, acts as an external reinforcement for the tube.  If it’s shaped properly, the lug helps distribute stress around the joint.  It’s a strong way to put a bike together.  It’s also repairable.  If a tube gets severely damaged, you can melt the brazing material, pull the tube out and stick in a new one.  Not a bad program, if you are riding a bike you really love.  Here’s a picture of a top tube and headlug, before brazing and mitering:

Lugs have other interesting facets, not the least of which is their shape and shape-ability.  Here is a sample of some of the different lug styles offered by our friends at Waterford Cycles:

Many custom frames can be ID’d sans paint.  The builder often incorporates custom touches that no other builder uses.  The Gary is lacking fancy lug work.  We intentionally kept it minimal, to keep costs down.  We did chose the lugset (simple, Italian cut) and we did spec certain aspects of the lug shaping so that it will hold up better to off road riding.  We also designed the brake cable routing so the cable stops on the top tube wouldn’t dig into your shoulder if you have to portage your bike somewhere.  There’s thought in the frame, for sure.  It’s just utlity thought, not overt fancy ornamentation thought.

We’re taking ‘The Gary’ prototype in for paint this upcoming week.  I’ve been riding the heck out of it, on road, off road, and in between.  It’s been exceeding expectations so far.  We’ll have more pics and build options soon on the final product.  We’re shooting for a base price of $2550 complete.  It’ll be offered in 3 sizes to start with: 52cm, 54cm, and 56cm.  We’ll do a bigger size run if the demand is there.  Locally crafted and locally painted.  Still sorting out graphics, but there will be two options for each frame: traditional and punk rock graphics.

Here’s a pic of it out in the wilds:



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