Monday, November 19, 2012

The Hardest Part of Framebuilding?

"So what's the hardest part of framebuilding?" I am asked. I can see by the facial expression what the anticipated answer is. "Ah, you must attain mastery of the torch." Or "you must learn impeccable precision." Or "you must develop an eye for detail." These would all make beautiful answers. But my actual answer is devastatingly boring.

The hardest part is the work. As in, the manual labor.

"If you TIG weld, you will get to sit. I have to stand all day." This was my reply when someone asked which method I recommend learning. She thought I was teasing, but it was an honest reply. Seriously: If you TIG weld, you will get to sit!

The other night I dreamt about dropouts. For my first bicycle frame (actually, it is really frame Zero, since it is done under heavy supervision) I unwittingly chose to use slotted dropouts. If you are a framebuilder, you are probably laughing right now. It is taking me as long to work on these dropouts as it did to work on the rest of the frameset. In my dream, I had chosen socketed dropouts and I was carefree - unburdened by having to fit, then thin and shape for hours the treacherous slotted ones. Once you experience the trauma of slotted dropouts, you cannot unexperience it. And while they are not recommended for beginners, I have to disagree. By all means, choose them for your first bicycle build. That will teach you to romaticise framebuilding.

What they might not tell you about a brazing torch, is that it is heavy. My first impression of brazing was dominated by this. It is heavy, and yet I had to learn to hold it up and wield it as if it was the lightest thing in the world, for what seemed like an eternity at a time. I was so happy when I finally got used to its heft. But then a week went by when I did not use the torch, and today it was heavy again. It felt like my upper arm, and not the lug, was being lapped at by the flame. (If you TIG weld, you will get to use a tiny little torch, light as a feather. In my dream the welding torch resembled a colibri bird...)

Building this frame is endless work. My hands are a mess. At the end of the day I am drained, unable to do or think about anything else. I just want to go to sleep, and do it again tomorrow. Why? Because hard work feels good if you submit to it. And because building a bicycle frame is fun. And because I'm almost done. For now!

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