Many of us who build bicycle frames either as a full time profession or a legit side job were the recipients of fair bit of serendipity, shit luck, and a helping hand along the way (in addition to the requisite hard work and practice). Here’s a brief synopsis of my story. I want to hear some others.
I grew up in rural Maine and was fortunate to ride a tiny Bridgestone mtb when I was a kid, but there was this Cannondale down the road with these oversized tubes that I lusted after. When I was in high school I saved enough from working at Record Town to buy my very own Cannondale (an F1000 with mango paint) and I thought I had the best thing on the planet. The bike eventually was stolen from the basement of my fraternity house during college. I’m not really sure why this worked, but fortunately my parent’s homeowner’s insurance covered my personal belongings while I was in college, so I was able to replace the F1000 with the current model year edition. This was 2003 and it was another hardtail with the “Full Wood” paint job and a Lefty Fork. Again, I thought I had the best thing on the planet. Within two weeks this bike was stolen. We didn’t want to submit another claim so soon, so I was without a bike and broke like any other college student. I sent an email to my college’s cycling club asking if anyone had spare parts I could buy to Frankenstein a bike together with used stuff just to have something to ride. One dude responded and actually had enough stuff (including a frame) to build up a complete mt bike. He said he was interning at a place across town called Hot Tubes and we could go over there late at night to use this guy’s tools/stands for assembly. I met JB at the address he gave me and essentially I had a life changing moment. We put the bike together in the middle of the night and he was telling me what Toby Stanton did there with painting and building. While my father and I had built furniture from scratch, produced stained glass lamps from scratch, assembled picture frames from scratch, etc…I had a similar moment to what Sacha White said in his video I linked the other week…I had a moment where I realized people built bicycles from scratch. I was hooked immediately. The next day I went back to Hot Tubes and asked if I could work for free and learn what he was doing. He said I could, but I don’t think he thought I’d actually return. I did return and worked an hour or two basically everyday my senior year of school in between classes and crew practice. I was the grunt hand sanding stuff and doing all the dirty jobs. Zank was also working in the back and I got to become good friends with him. I learned to paint first. At the time, Toby was still painting all the painted Sevens and I eventually was doing some of that work too. The frames in the 2005 catalog were painted by me. Over time he taught me to TIG weld and after about a year of practice I built my first frame. Now I have my own shop, which is literally across the hall from Toby’s. While we each have all of our own equipment I find myself still popping into his shop nearly everyday to say hello. I meet all of his framebuilding class students and enjoy imparting some of the knowledge I have learned to them. Having had receive so much advice in the beginning (or as you get better…thanks Carl Strong!) I enjoy helping out when I can.