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A shortish history of modern American frame builders

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A shortish history of modern American frame builders

Old 11-30-21, 11:24 AM
  #26  
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Guess I'll have to bring up these guys.

PDX, early 70's, Merz, Newlands and DiNucci.

All self taught as far as I know, making PDX an epicenter ever since.

And Bruce Gordon came to Eugene for 10 years to build and hang out with them.

Currently home to Sasha White, Dave Levy, Ira Ryan, Chris Igleheart, Tony Pereira, Joseph Ahearne, Bob Kamzelski and others.

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Old 11-30-21, 11:52 AM
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Originally Posted by mpetry912 View Post
this is a valuable discussion and there might be a book in it.

After the intial cadre of builders returned from Europe in the mid 70s, the craft spread out to a larger group of builders, mostly clustered at the coasts

Also the influence of Masi CA, and Mario Confente's "giant leap" in terms of elevating the level of craftsmanship and attention to detail is worth noting

As is the work of Tom Ritchey who had some innovative design ideas, including fillet brazing

Builders of this period really raised the bar and established the US as a center of expertise in framebuilding.

/markp
We were fairly young kids comparatively new at building competing for market share from established well known and respected European builders. it wasn't possible at first to raise our price more than our famous competitors. The price of European frames in Europe in the early 70's was between $100 and $150. They could sell frames at that price because they were made quickly by low wage employees. I think I sold a frame in 1976 for a base price of $275. It gets a little murky because the final cost depended on the number of colors and braze-ons.

What I recall as a major influence on frame quality in the 70's was pictures of Eisentraut's thin lugs in Bicycling magazine. Our frame prices got higher (although never high enough ever) as we got better known because we were selling to a more affluent American market who could afford to pay more. That increase allowed us to spend more time making each frame - which raised the quality. Most of us that went to Europe or started building in the 70's also had a college education. That and starting fresh allowed us to explore new and better building methods. Many of those I visited in Europe during that period learned from their fathers doing the same thing.

There were a decent number of builders in the Midwest in the 70's, we just didn't get as much press as those on the coasts. And some builders were/are better at branding. I'm sure people reading this subject thread have no or only a vague idea who I am yet I've been building and painting frames from almost the beginning of the bike boom (although a lot of that time has been spent teaching framebuilding rather than making frames)..
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Old 11-30-21, 12:15 PM
  #28  
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I first saw a Fattic frame being ridden by Jerry Lorig when I was home from college on summer vacation, 1978

I remember it was very light, with Ishiwata tubes and very thin lug work.

/markp
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Old 11-30-21, 02:49 PM
  #29  
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Doug, This was a fascinating read. Thanks so much for encouraging someone out there to write a new book about the American frame builders of your generation and those that have followed. Would you mind if I shared this post on Facebook, particularly the "American Built Frames Only !" group and the mostly Michigander based "Vintage Velo Rendezvous" group?
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Old 11-30-21, 03:34 PM
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Originally Posted by Doug Fattic View Post

...It is my dream that someone will document the stories of these early adventures....
Sounds like a great idea for a book. Have you considered contacting someone skilled in the art..of writing and publishing? A search identified David V. Herlihy. He wrote an extensive history of the bicycle. He's been a cyclist his entire life. He's a freelance author, with publishing contacts. He's in his early 60's..besides being an historian, he's of an age where he can appreciate the value/timing of your proposal.

https://www.encyclopedia.com/arts/ed...erlihy-david-v

Might be worth tracking him down and asking him a few questions. Your project/interest seems to dovetail with topics he's already written about, but not fleshed out. No doubt he could offer some interesting insights.
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Old 11-30-21, 04:42 PM
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Can't imagine how much it would cost to ship such heavy things across the pond. Impressive and so great that you preserved & continue to expand the heritage in those tools today.

Doug, would you be willing to host a tour of your shop this winter for my crew? There are 8 of us here at MSU Bikes (www.bikes.msu.edu) and I like to expose them to other aspects of the bike business if I can every winter.
Thanks for letting me know. pottert (at) msu.edu
Tim Potter
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Old 11-30-21, 05:24 PM
  #32  
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Herlihy interviewed Cino Cinelli back in the 90s.

that interview can be found here. https://cinellionly.blogspot.com/201...o-cinelli.html

I think it's an interesting project. Not sure if there's enough interest to warrant a book that would be revenue positive

/markp
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Old 12-01-21, 08:36 AM
  #33  
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Originally Posted by msubikes View Post
Can't imagine how much it would cost to ship such heavy things across the pond. Impressive and so great that you preserved & continue to expand the heritage in those tools today.

Doug, would you be willing to host a tour of your shop this winter for my crew? There are 8 of us here at MSU Bikes (www.bikes.msu.edu) and I like to expose them to other aspects of the bike business if I can every winter.

Thanks for letting me know. pottert (at) msu.edu
Tim Potter
It wasn't as expensive to ship as I might have thought. It was 46 years ago so my memory is a bit vague but I think it cost me around $600 to get it to Michigan. That included the price I paid the shipping company for the big wood box and packaging it up ready ship. The company was just down the road from Johnny's shop in Manchester. I remember several guys came driving a fork lift carrying the box. I took it through customs myself in Detroit. The agents peered inside and saw a bunch of old stuff and charged me just a few dollars for customs duties. I was beyond fortunate that I not only got a chance to learn from an outstanding place but also timed so I could get all the basic equipment from England to the US to start properly.

Sure, I'd be happy to host a visiting party. I've got a few vintage frames that might be of interest too. Have everyone wear a mask. I'm teaching a class January 10 to 27 so that wouldn't be a good time to come but most other times your group would be welcome except on Saturdays. My email addresses got killed by my internet provider. I'm picking my nephew up at O'hare today and he will help me set up a new one this week. So I won't email you until that precess is finished.

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Old 12-01-21, 08:47 AM
  #34  
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Wow, that was truly a God-send in all respects. Hard to imagine such an easy and inexpensive way to procure top notch, heavy frame building eqpt. anymore.

Looking forward to visiting your shop later this winter. Save travels.
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Old 12-01-21, 03:34 PM
  #35  
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Originally Posted by merziac View Post
Guess I'll have to bring up these guys.

PDX, early 70's, Merz, Newlands and DiNucci.

All self taught as far as I know, making PDX an epicenter ever since.

And Bruce Gordon came to Eugene for 10 years to build and hang out with them.

Currently home to Sasha White, Dave Levy, Ira Ryan, Chris Igleheart, Tony Pereira, Joseph Ahearne, Bob Kamzelski and others.
I just had a nice phone call with Jim Merz. He was the 1st American to pass the Reynold 753 test. This was given in order to make sure builders could be successful making a frame with this new light heat treated tubing. Many classic era European builders had pretty crude methods that wouldn't work well with this new stuff. Reynolds didn't want the reputation of their new flagship tubing to get damaged by inadequate builders. When I visited Terry Bill at Reynolds in Birmingham in 1977, he told me every American up to that point had failed the test. So Passing the full test that including making an entire frame was kind of a big deal. Later they dumbed it down to just a few stub tubes that needed to be brazed into a bottom bracket shell. No complete frame was checked for alignment accuracy to pass this new test.

Terry Bill's revelation on American builders all failing the test showed that at least in 1977, not everyone was ready for prime time yet. I don't know how many took it or who it was that did take the test. My 75£ check to pay for their test tubes still sits in my desk drawer. At the same time I had gotten a couple of Raleigh 753 frames with cracked chain stays in my shop for repair so I thought I would wait until they solved that issue. About that time Tange came out with its Prestige line (Merz had a hand in that when he worked at Specialized). It was also light heat treated tubing. Eventually I got my 753 certification later by passing the simpler test. I really liked using Prestige so wasn't motivated to send in a test.

Jim got inspired to build frames because of a world bicycle tour he took in 1972. He came from a fabrication and machinist background that instinctively told him how to make frames. He hung our with neighbors that were making their own helicopters. After he made his, requests came from his friends to make one for them too. This was around 1973. Mark DiNucci worked for Strawberry and eventually came to help Merz make frames. And later went on to work at Specialized with Jim. Jim thought Marc started building about the same time he did. Some of those statistics may need to be revealed. Who was it that brought framebuilding knowledge to Strawberry? I don't think it was the owner Andy Newlands.

Another guy that worked at Strawberry was Mike Bornstein. He brought a lot of his machinery from Iowa to Strawberry in Portland. After about a year he went back to Iowa. Eventually he went into machining because it payed much better. Now that he is retired, he is making some frames again. Mike is the one that taught Jeff Bock in Ames, Iowa. Jeff started making frames in 1976. He is the builder I would have make me a frame if I wasn't a builder myself. Like me he is a painter too and teaches a framebuiling class in the winter on the week-ends.

Sacha White I believe took the last class Tim Paterek taught before Tim went into teaching public school full time. I'm going by memory here so those details may need to be revised.
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Old 12-01-21, 09:03 PM
  #36  
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Originally Posted by Doug Fattic View Post
I just had a nice phone call with Jim Merz. He was the 1st American to pass the Reynold 753 test. This was given in order to make sure builders could be successful making a frame with this new light heat treated tubing. Many classic era European builders had pretty crude methods that wouldn't work well with this new stuff. Reynolds didn't want the reputation of their new flagship tubing to get damaged by inadequate builders. When I visited Terry Bill at Reynolds in Birmingham in 1977, he told me every American up to that point had failed the test. So Passing the full test that including making an entire frame was kind of a big deal. Later they dumbed it down to just a few stub tubes that needed to be brazed into a bottom bracket shell. No complete frame was checked for alignment accuracy to pass this new test.

Terry Bill's revelation on American builders all failing the test showed that at least in 1977, not everyone was ready for prime time yet. I don't know how many took it or who it was that did take the test. My 75£ check to pay for their test tubes still sits in my desk drawer. At the same time I had gotten a couple of Raleigh 753 frames with cracked chain stays in my shop for repair so I thought I would wait until they solved that issue. About that time Tange came out with its Prestige line (Merz had a hand in that when he worked at Specialized). It was also light heat treated tubing. Eventually I got my 753 certification later by passing the simpler test. I really liked using Prestige so wasn't motivated to send in a test.

Jim got inspired to build frames because of a world bicycle tour he took in 1972. He came from a fabrication and machinist background that instinctively told him how to make frames. He hung our with neighbors that were making their own helicopters. After he made his, requests came from his friends to make one for them too. This was around 1973. Mark DiNucci worked for Strawberry and eventually came to help Merz make frames. And later went on to work at Specialized with Jim. Jim thought Marc started building about the same time he did. Some of those statistics may need to be revealed. Who was it that brought framebuilding knowledge to Strawberry? I don't think it was the owner Andy Newlands.

Another guy that worked at Strawberry was Mike Bornstein. He brought a lot of his machinery from Iowa to Strawberry in Portland. After about a year he went back to Iowa. Eventually he went into machining because it payed much better. Now that he is retired, he is making some frames again. Mike is the one that taught Jeff Bock in Ames, Iowa. Jeff started making frames in 1976. He is the builder I would have make me a frame if I wasn't a builder myself. Like me he is a painter too and teaches a framebuiling class in the winter on the week-ends.

Sacha White I believe took the last class Tim Paterek taught before Tim went into teaching public school full time. I'm going by memory here so those details may need to be revised.
Thanks Doug, most of this I knew from piecing it together while living in PDX most of my life, met Jim early on while I was in high school and he was building in the basement of a shop named Cycle Craft, we also visited him a couple of times after he moved to the big shop on 23rd and Everett.

We also bugged Andy a few times at his original location in Old Town when he started out. We weren't paying enough attention back then so I don't know who all were building his frames at that time. I have a Bornstein from when he was at Strawberry, both Andy and Jeff were excited about it when they saw it at the last VeloCult/Oregon framebuilders show.

I have asked Andy about building as I thought he had gone to England like you did but he said he did not learn there, only toured, came back home, got hit by a car and either repaired it himself or built his own frame out of that episode I think. Really does seem like Mark was the prolific builder at Strawberry but I don't really know either, many of the early iconic ones bear his hallmarks so it sounds like you need to have a conversation with him.

You talk about Jim having a hand in Tange, he had a hand in many, many things, touring tires for Sinyard was a big one, a huge leap that he tested on tour in real time from drop shipments till they got it right and they were literally off to the races. He also built MTB's before he went to Big S, I have one of those too, he says he only built a dozen or so.

So did you call Jim just for this or?

I just did a new search for Mark and a great interview comes up that pegs him and Andy starting Strawberry when Andy showed up at the bike shop where Mark worked with Columbus tubesets and dazzled him away with that.

Here's the podcast, part 1 of 2

https://cyclingindependent.com/the-pull-mark-dinucci/
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Old 01-16-22, 04:28 PM
  #37  
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Shop visit in February

Hello Mr. Fattic,

Hope your new year is off to a good start and that your class is going well. I'd like to look at some dates in February to visit your shop for a tour. Please let me know one or two Fridays that would work. We'd close the shop for the day. I'm happy to pay you for your time.

Thank you,
Tim Potter
bikes (at) msu.edu

PS: Sorry for this personal message, BF won't let me PM you as I've not been active enough.


Originally Posted by Doug Fattic View Post
It wasn't as expensive to ship as I might have thought. It was 46 years ago so my memory is a bit vague but I think it cost me around $600 to get it to Michigan. That included the price I paid the shipping company for the big wood box and packaging it up ready ship. The company was just down the road from Johnny's shop in Manchester. I remember several guys came driving a fork lift carrying the box. I took it through customs myself in Detroit. The agents peered inside and saw a bunch of old stuff and charged me just a few dollars for customs duties. I was beyond fortunate that I not only got a chance to learn from an outstanding place but also timed so I could get all the basic equipment from England to the US to start properly.

Sure, I'd be happy to host a visiting party. I've got a few vintage frames that might be of interest too. Have everyone wear a mask. I'm teaching a class January 10 to 27 so that wouldn't be a good time to come but most other times your group would be welcome except on Saturdays. My email addresses got killed by my internet provider. I'm picking my nephew up at O'hare today and he will help me set up a new one this week. So I won't email you until that precess is finished.

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Old 01-19-22, 03:35 AM
  #38  
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Thank you for this thread Doug, fascinating, could read these stories forever (also remind me of two frame builders I was reading about recently just across the border, in Quebec: Giuseppe Marinoni and Jean-Pierre Ryffranck) and strongly encourage you and others writing a book on this.
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Old 01-19-22, 01:11 PM
  #39  
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Interesting on the 753 test.... this was still in force in the 90's as Dave Kirk passed his (first at serotta) in 1990 not directly OT but interesting read on steel bikes and that the tubes and rides keep changing 753 vs. 953 | Kirk Frameworks
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Old 01-19-22, 06:31 PM
  #40  
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Originally Posted by msubikes View Post
Hello Mr. Fattic,

Hope your new year is off to a good start and that your class is going well. I'd like to look at some dates in February to visit your shop for a tour. Please let me know one or two Fridays that would work. We'd close the shop for the day. I'm happy to pay you for your time.

Thank you,
Tim Potter
bikes (at) msu.edu

PS: Sorry for this personal message, BF won't let me PM you as I've not been active enough.
You can reach me at my new email address. Before the .com and the AT sigh is my name dougfattic. I'm open for a February visit. I've contacted (and been contacted) a couple of people to begin the process of organizing a system to document American frame building history. Part of it begins with a prioritized list of builders and having some sensible questions to ask. I'd be interested in what questions readers of this forum would think worthy. I have several thoughts on this but would like to hear what others think before badly influencing them.
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Old 01-20-22, 12:18 PM
  #41  
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Some others to include to might be Georgena Terry, Ron Boi,
Jack Trumbull, and Chris Kvale.

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Old 01-20-22, 01:03 PM
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Ed Litton would be a good person to talk with. He learned from Bernie Mikkelson and later collaborated with both Albert Eisentraut and Bruce Gordon. (Ed and Bruce were good friends; I believe Bruce was the best man at Ed's wedding.) In addition to building his own top-drawer frames, he has repainted and/or repaired a ton of frames from a ton of shops/builders, so he would no doubt have some valuable insights. Plus he's a nice guy. I suspect he would be a font of useful information.

Of course, Albert Eisentraut would be a fine addition to any such project, although there is a fair amount of stuff out there from and about him already. Ed Litton is still in touch with him, BTW. Sadly, neither Ed nor anyone else is still in touch with Bruce Gordon or Roland Della Santa . . .
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Old 01-20-22, 01:39 PM
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Originally Posted by Darth Lefty View Post
I am wondering where in the timeline come dedicated aluminum MTB shops… Not just Cannondale. I sort of know Sherwood Gibson’s story for instance just due to proximity but there were others.
Charlie Cunningham was a very early aluminum frame builder. His influence on the industry was significant since he was a founder of WTB, but I don't know how exactly those threads extend out to other manufacturers. Now THAT Was a Bike: Charlie Cunningham's Prophetic CC Proto - Pinkbike

And you obviously can't forget Klein.
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Old 01-20-22, 01:52 PM
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Originally Posted by bikingshearer View Post
Ed Litton would be a good person to talk with. He learned from Bernie Mikkelson and later collaborated with both Albert Eisentraut and Bruce Gordon. (Ed and Bruce were good friends; I believe Bruce was the best man at Ed's wedding.) In addition to building his own top-drawer frames, he has repainted and/or repaired a ton of frames from a ton of shops/builders, so he would no doubt have some valuable insights. Plus he's a nice guy. I suspect he would be a font of useful information.

Of course, Albert Eisentraut would be a fine addition to any such project, although there is a fair amount of stuff out there from and about him already. Ed Litton is still in touch with him, BTW. Sadly, neither Ed nor anyone else is still in touch with Bruce Gordon or Roland Della Santa . . .
Ed Litton. I lived in Alameda 3 miles from Eisentraut in the early '80s. Crashed my Mooney and bent the fork blades. Showed up with fork in hand. (Forget if I called in first.) Ed was the only one there. He proceeded to straighten the blades and clearly knew what he was doing, I continued to ride the fork but contacted Peter Mooney and ordered a new one, to be sent bare. Roughly a year later, it arrived. (Fun seeing the raw steel of a very nice product!) By this time, Ed had left Eisentraut and set up shop in Richmond. Brought him fork and frame for paint. He quoted me a ridiculously low price. Two weeks. Two weeks later I had an impeccable and gorgeous Imron paint job. One pinprick inside the right chainstay at the tire. After the dirt of the first ride, I could never find it again.

Ed never built anything for me. But the work he did do was excellent, professional and he was straight forward and fun to work with. (And fun to see later at shows.) Much later, early 2000s, I used to go regularly to the Alpenrose Challenge at the local velodrome. A rider from San Jose used to come and compete on his Litton. He wasn't a hotshot but I always rooted for him.
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Old 01-20-22, 01:58 PM
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Originally Posted by tricky View Post
Charlie Cunningham was a very early aluminum frame builder. His influence on the industry was significant since he was a founder of WTB, but I don't know how exactly those threads extend out to other manufacturers. Norw THAT Was a Bike: Charlie Cunningham's Prophetic CC Proto - Pinkbike

And you obviously can't forget Klein.
Gary Klein. 1976 He showed up at one of the NEBC thursday night races with an unmarked fat tubed aluminum bike and encouraged all to take a spin. Wow! That was an eye opener. 1/4 mile and I knew that bike was going to change everything.
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Old 01-20-22, 02:21 PM
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Originally Posted by Doug Fattic View Post
You can reach me at my new email address. Before the .com and the AT sigh is my name dougfattic. I'm open for a February visit. I've contacted (and been contacted) a couple of people to begin the process of organizing a system to document American frame building history. Part of it begins with a prioritized list of builders and having some sensible questions to ask. I'd be interested in what questions readers of this forum would think worthy. I have several thoughts on this but would like to hear what others think before badly influencing them.

With this topic (with many sub-topics) a few of my top level questions were:


What is the builder lineage by apprenticeship? Infographic maybe?
What are the major trends of bike design, construction, and materials?
What is the spiritual lineage of bikes? This is more of a subjective question, but could be answered via interviews with some of the more prolific builders.
This forum thread focuses on the post-war time period. I am also curious about the pre-war era and if that had an effect on the English market. Was that then imported back into the US?

A person writing a book about this would need to identify the story they are wanting to tell. Maybe it's a pure chronology of US builders up till now, but it could also expand out to the types of bikes they were building and with what materials and techniques. Another option is a more human tale of the individual personalities and influences with bikes shown as a result. @Repack Rider did a good job on telling the human side in his book. You got a feel for the hippy days in Marin. The human element certainly adds some engaging color.

Last edited by tricky; 01-24-22 at 12:38 PM.
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Old 01-20-22, 02:40 PM
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I would think the book could follow a simple 5W/1H format:

Who are you?
What materials/types of frame do/did you build?
Where did you learn the trade/where did/do you practice it?
When did you get the calling?
Why did you get into/stay with it?
How do you do things (this is the part all the details about personal philosophy, probably based upon experience, would be revealed)

Not necessarily in that order, but you get the gist.

DD
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Old 01-20-22, 02:53 PM
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Doug,
Can you address the legal battle fought over the patent(s) that Gary Klein had to fight, and Sheldon Brown’s wife’s part in them. I remember reading that she testified, or was supposed to testify in the trial. IIRC, she was in Gary’s same class that examined the physics of bicycle geometry and handling, frames were built for the class and she supposedly had Gary’s original concept aluminum frame.

Thanks for the input and education you contribute here.

Bill
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Old 01-20-22, 07:08 PM
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Originally Posted by steelbikeguy View Post
Diane Jenks (formerly Diane Lees) has been doing her "Outspoken Cyclist" podcast for 10 years, and has interviewed a number of USA frame builders. While the interviews aren't structured as a history of frame builders, they do provide some info about how they got started. It's certainly worth listening to the interviews for anyone interested in the frame builders and their careers.

I don't see a search function on the website, so finding a particular interview might take a little work. A few that I found with minimal effort:
She has done a ton of interviews, so if there is someone in particular that is of interest, it shouldn't be too hard to find.

Steve in Peoria
Thanks for that. Here's another:
Chris Kvale The Outspoken Cyclist ? 10/22/2011 ? WJCU
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Old 01-24-22, 12:37 PM
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Originally Posted by steelbikeguy View Post
Diane Jenks (formerly Diane Lees) has been doing her "Outspoken Cyclist" podcast for 10 years, and has interviewed a number of USA frame builders. While the interviews aren't structured as a history of frame builders, they do provide some info about how they got started. It's certainly worth listening to the interviews for anyone interested in the frame builders and their careers.

The podcasts can be found here: The Outspoken Cyclist ? WJCU

I don't see a search function on the website, so finding a particular interview might take a little work. A few that I found with minimal effort:
Jeff Bock Outspoken Cyclist ? 10/30/2021 ? WJCU
Rolland Della Santa https://outspokencyclist.com/2016/12...ember-10-2016/
Chris Kelly Outspoken Cyclist ? 7/31/2021 ? WJCU

edit: with a bit of specific searching, I found interviews for Richard Sachs and Peter Weigle...
Richard Sachs -- https://outspokencyclist.com/2020/01...nuary-11-2020/
-- https://outspokencyclist.com/2018/05...1-may-19-2018/
Peter Weigle -- https://outspokencyclist.com/2017/11...vember-4-2017/

She has done a ton of interviews, so if there is someone in particular that is of interest, it shouldn't be too hard to find.

Steve in Peoria
Thanks for this! I downloaded some for my flight. And it turns out the the most recent edition had Craig Calfee in it. Show #590 - January 22, 2022 - Outspoken Cyclist Podcast

One more data point for this thread. It's not much, it's just a listicle from Pros Closest, but interesting to see another viewpoint. There are a couple MTB frame builders called out (Chris Chance and Joe Breeze) that are new to this thread. The greatest American-made bikes and framebuilders | The Pro's Closet (theproscloset.com)
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