Thursday, March 5, 2009

Turning on the torch

Will and Thom are the owners of both Tall Tree Cycles and Steelwool Bicycles and will be contributing to the blog from time to time.

After years of design, and working with other high quality builders, Thom and I figured it was time to get our own hands dirty and build some frames. This is something we have wanted to do for a long time but with the store and Steelwool we rarely have any free time, let alone enough time to travel and spend a week away from the shop.

(Thom welding in his boomerangs)

I don’t really know what spurred us to do it, but in on a cold January day it was decided that we would take some time in February and get down to it.

(The Hot Tubes workshop)

We were lucky to be able to squeeze into spots at the Hot Tubes frame building class in Shirley MA. This particular course offers one-on-one instruction, and it is conveniently located on the east coast. This saved us the hassle and cost of flying out west.

Toby Stanton owner of Hot Tubes would be our instructor for the courses, and both Thom and I got on very well with him. Not only has he been building frames for years but he is a well respected painter, and he runs the Hot Tubes Development team. Both Thom and I would recommend the course, although it should be noted that we both have a pretty intimate knowledge of the bicycle and bicycle design - which gave us an advantage from the start.

(A frame has to start somewhere)

Thom was the first to head down to the class – to get started on his 29er project bike. Building a 29er is something we have been toying with for some time. Any of you who know us would know that we both have a lot of mountain biking in our background and that we have jumped on the big wheeled train. So our long-talked-about “Rook” project is now a prototype.

(Post tack welding)

(Brazing in the chainstays)

Since Thom spends a lot of his riding time off road on 29ers, he was able to tailor this bike to his specific tastes and to the type of technical riding we do around here. Of course, the bike was going to have to perform extremely well, and to look trick too if it was going to live up to the Steelwool design aesthetic. Well you can judge for yourself from the pictures, but I think he nailed it.

(Check out those stays.....)

Some details of the Rook build:
Tig welded except for a lugged bb shell.
Nova Cycles custom 29er tube-set
Naked cycles boomerang dropouts
Custom curved seat stays
5 piece rigid fork (suspension corrected)


Does this mean that we will have a Rook in our line-up sometime soon? That is still to be determined, but I’m guessing it will be hard not to if the bike lives up to Thom’s expectations this season.

(Mitering the tubes)

I headed down the week after Thom had finished to start on my project, a lugged city bike loosely modelled after a French porteur bike, pretty much the polar opposite of the 29er.

(Making sure it all fits)

For those of you not familiar with this type of bike, porteur bicycles were used by couriers who distributed newspapers in Paris up to the 60’s. You can read more about them here. These bicycles are designed to carry large loads on a front rack without negatively affecting the handling. This means that this type of bicycle has quite a short trail, a measure that significantly affects the handling of bicycles.

(Brazing the head-lugs)

For this design, I knew that I wouldn’t have a load on the front of the bicycle all the time and that I would be a bit more upright than a true porteur, so I added a little bit to the length to the trail of this design. This way the bike wouldn’t be overly skittish when unloaded.

(Nice Point)

I also chose to design the frame around 650b x 42mm tires, another classic French tire size. The larger width will provide a comfortable ride in the city, while the smaller diameter wheel will be stronger than a 700c. To get a brake to fit around these larger tires and a fender I was limited to the option of cantilever brakes or Paul’s racer brakes. I chose to try out the post mount center pull Racers which have been getting great reviews.

(Raking the fork blades)

Features of my Porteur bike (dubbed the “Port”)
-Columbus Zona Tubing
-Pacenti Artisan lugs
-custom fender mounts
-custom brake hanger
-mounts for chain cover
-mounts for a front rack
-semi-horizontal dropouts
-lugged fork
-Honjo fenders painted to match frame
-New Steelwool logos
-Mafac style brake post mounts

(Nice Lugs)

(The Final Product)

We will post some more pictures once the bicycles are built up.


Chad said...

Very cool! I have been itching to get out on my new Kona. soon!

Rob Young said...

Cool stuff! It would be great if steel wool came out with a 29er.

glacialridn said...

cool, oppps - I mean hot!
In more ways than one.
Love it!

I'm kind of wondering, not being an expert on biking building or anything of that nature...

But, buildings use I beams.
I'm kind of wondering why bikes use tubes as opposed to I-beam construction.
Is it due to the forces on the frame? (dispersement)

I'm kind of curious.

Some really neat frame designs are coming out of the wood work (perhaps old?). Curious about such frames as Titus's exogrid.
Or the use of honey comb structures inside of a frame to reinforce critical areas.

Here's another wierd thing - they say spider webs are tougher than steal.
They have goats that spin spider web material

should see some cool stuff going on with bike frames...

cool to see you guys/gals experimenting.

glacialridn said...

oppps - I didn't mean to put the jesus thing in there...
now we are getting into a real battle ground (as per URL to the goat thing). I just googled, and that's what came up.

god or not to god - who cares... long as I have a bike.

glacialridn said...

Here's a better link:

(I gotta check the source next time... stir up some political crap )

Matt Surch said...

A spider-goat would make a cool comic book character. It would really open up mountaineering possibilities for said super goat.

On the tubing topic, I've seen I-beam bikes, but I think the main thing going against them is that they look like crap. Most people tend to go for bikes that look cool, and I think the I-beam aesthetic has limited appeal.