Archive | March, 2012


20 Mar

These days it seems like it is hard to really find something of quality that is handmade by a craftsman, I’m not talking about the silly trinkets you can find at any roadside flea market either. I mean truly artesinal workmanship applied to a useful form.

Over the next few months I will visit with several AR based frame builders to see how they practice their craft. The point is not to say that you need to order up a new frame right away. Honestly most of you don’t need to and probably never will. What you do need to know is that these men exist. They love their craft and are providing a window into what it takes to be handmade.

The first in the series is an interview I did last week with Joel McCourt of Symond Bicycles right here in Fayetteville.

I arrived at Joel’s early on a Tuesday. I was greeted by the nanny. I thought that was strange, however,  I would discover later that having the help a couple of times a week makes it possible for him to squeeze in a few more hours of work. I was greeted by Joel and shown to his studio in the garage. Most of the builders I know are working from home and have eked out space in their garage for their workshop.

One corner of the workshop. I think Joel told me the paint booth might go here.

I spoke to Joel for a few hours about how he got into the somewhat selective craft of building bikes. He and I go way back in the cycling industry. Joel is the type of person that always has a few irons in the fire (as evidenced by the moto gear in the shop next to the rows of other bikes). His background is a storied mix of adventure racing, architecture, road riding, cyclocross, motocross, paintball purveyor, graphic designer, family man, and so on, and so forth. So for me to understand more I asked him a few questions.

These are the files that make the finished product smooth. Joel spends hours with these.

When did you decide to do this?
I guess somewhere around 2001. I have always had an appreciation for the handmade and respect anything that demonstrates a pursuit of craft. I was always attracted to quality bikes; somewhere along the way i must have thought “I can do that”.

Did any bikes or builders in particular in your past that really influence you?
Not really. The old Colnagos had really cool paint and that attracted me to them. Only later did I discover that there is more to the bike than the paint. I think all bikes can be beautiful in their own way. As far as builders go I guess in many ways you learn to see through the eyes of those that trained you. Outside of that Sacha White has done a good job of separating his styles. He is a bit more recent though. I really hold respect for the masters of the craft that have been doing it forever. Llewellyn, Peter Weigel, Pegoretti, John Berry.

From my recent research into steel bikes there seems to be a growing divide between the builders who build a bike that is meant to be ridden daily and those who try to embellish every detail to get recognition at the next trade show. Where do you see yourself in this mix?
I dance on that line. I do have the desire to build those beautifully embellished frames that showcase my talents, but most clients will probably want something they could ride everyday. Not to say that you couldn’t ride those fancy ones around everyday. You totally could you just aren’t likely to want to pay 8k for all that finishing detail just to get it messed up by using it

Will you be attending NAHBS. This year?
Yes, but only as a volunteer this year.

Where did the name Symond come from?
It is a combination of my grandfathers names. I really wanted to reference their era somehow. The handmade is very important to me, and I think that their generation really understood what it meant to be resourceful. Why buy something if you can make it yourself ? To work with your hands and actually fabricate something of meaning is something i appreciate. That is where I am coming from on the name.

Getting the flux applied to a frame before brazing.

Is US made very important to you?
Absolutely! We make really nice stuff here. It costs more sure but when it is available I think we should use it. When i build a frame I use as much American made material as possible. Of course if the client is wanting something else I can do that too.

What types of bikes interest you most?
Lugged steel. Outside of that I will build anything. I think all bikes can be beautiful and the better they serve their intended purpose the more beautiful they become.

Tell me about the process of setting up this shop.
It has been a process. I am trying to stay true to my ideal of building what you can and not buying something if you can do it yourself. I did have to buy the alignment table though. That thing weighs at least 2000 pounds. We used a cherry picker to get it here. I am surprised we still have all our fingers after that.

This table is what gets all the bikes that Joel makes perfectly straight.

Joel made these tube clamps himself out of teak wood and they are held together with old specialized tires. They are one of the more beautiful things in his shop.

No smoking please

What are you going to be doing today?
Today I am brazing the water bottle bosses onto a frame.

Measuring the placement of the holes.

Getting the tune ready for the bosses

It fits nicely. Now for the brazing.

Thanks for Reading. Stay tuned for other interviews with AR framebuilders in the future. I would love to say the near future, but we are so busy at the shop that I probably wont have time to do another for quite some time.