Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Work bench and Alignment Plate

The shop is coming together, this past weekend I rounded up some unsuspecting friends and we wrestled my alignment plate into the basement. It's 4'X3' and 1" thick so roughly one cubic foot of solid steel, not the easiest thing to get down the stairs. I spent the morning today cleaning it and gently knocking down any nicks and high spots with a stone. Now I just need my bottom bracket post and I can get started designing my other alignment fixtures.

The workbench is all set and if you look close you can see my bending ramp and the frame blocks I finished on Friday. With any luck my torch and tanks should arrive this week and I can start melting some metal.

I dug through some of my old lug pictures and here's a sample of what I hope to be doing in the near future. I cut these for my personal bike which was shown at the 2006 NAHBS. They are based on an Ephgrave, an English maker from the 50's and 60's. I was really captivated by the flowing style of these lugs and wanted to do this set in stainless to really highlight the design.

What I really loved about this frame though was the dropouts. I based these on an old casting by G.P. Wilson, and hand cut them from a piece of stainless plate. The dropout faces are stainless washers brazed on and slotted. I wasn't sure how durable they would be, but they held up fine for the last two seasons under my 200 lbs. Once I'm up and running I hope to revisit this design for future Ellis Cycles.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Alignment table!

I have found my alignment plate. This was one of the tougher things to locate, but I talked to a local salvage guy who had just the thing. It's an old steel surface plate that has holes drilled for some sort of machine to be mounted to it. I'm sure I can work around the holes, now the trick is going to be getting this 4'x3' chunk of steel down the stairs to the basement. It probably weighs at least 400lbs.

I found this old drawing with my high school art projects. I wasn't enamored with Ellis, my middle name back then, so I chose Ebony instead. Since then I've grown to like the name I inherited from my great-Grandmother and have chosen it for my company name. I probably drew this around '87 for art class. Yes, I'm a bike geek from way back, you'll also notice it's a lug bike. In those days I dreamed of designing my own bikes and specing them with all the top end parts, but drawing them was the closest thing I could get. My parents probably threw out all the parts lists for these bikes, but I had them spec'd down to the spoke nipples. I still love the Campy Delta brakes to this day, I remember the first time I saw them on the back page of Bicycling magazine. I was starting to get into cycling seriously and they kind of cemented the love not only for riding but also for just how beautiful a bike can be.

Well, enough reminiscing, tomorrow I have to work on my fork bending ramp, make some wood blocks for various tubes and locate some of the remaining tools for the shop. I post some photos of the progress soon.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Week one accomplishments

Well, probably the most stressful week of my life to date. At the same time, I'm probably feeling more optimistic about the future than I have in the last 4 or so years.

I found this cool photo online from one of the articles written about Waterford over the past few years, thought I'd share it. Imagine me in my basement doing that and you'll have an idea of the new business.

Progress, I actually got the gasfluxer yesterday. Can't do anything with it yet, but it was still cool to bust open the box and pull it out. The frame and fork fixtures are ordered so at least I'm in the quene for them. Don at Anvil was great, my thoughts go out to him as he cares for his father, I'm sure every one at NAHBS will miss him.

Talked to some folks about finding an alignment plate this past week and have some leads to follow up on but nothing definite yet. I'm excited about my first conversation with Jason the painter in Milwaukee. It sounds like he has a similar devotion to quality and is in the process of setting up his own shop full time also.

I have been heartened by all the help I've gotten from friends, past customers, and even a complete stranger on cold call while trying to source equipment. I'm embarrassed to say I interrupted someones vacation in Florida, but he didn't even tell me until we had been talking for about 5 minutes. I'll have to make that up to him.

Friday, January 18, 2008

The beginning

Hope to keep folks up to date on my progress starting Ellis Cycles.

For those who aren't familiar with my work or history, here goes.
I've worked in bike shops since my Junior year of high school in '90 when I got my feet wet assembling 16" wheeled bikes at a "bike warehouse" in Schenectady, NY. It was an inauspicious start working in that tiny room with a chain smoker who assembled bikes with an impact wrench. I slowly moved my way up in that shop and then in 2 subsequent shops, each one a bit more challenging. In '93 I took a job at Serotta as a lowly bike prep/shipping guy. I had known Dave Kirk by reputation, and had raced against him in some local mountain bike races, but I got to know him at Serotta and he was the first one to show me how to light a torch and melt metal. My first work was a crude set of bar-ends, I got some snide comments from some of the guys, but Dave and Kelly Bedford both encouraged me to stick with it.

In '98 my afterwork practice payed off when Ben offered me a chance to move into the brazing dept. I leapt at this and with a lot more guidance from Dave and Kelly I began to build my first frames. Thank you guys.

After 2 years in the brazing dept. at Serotta I began looking a change in my life, at 27 I had lived in upstate NY for my entire life and needed to move on. I contacted Waterford, told them who I was and what I did and asked if they were interested. At this point they were one of the only companies still building production brazed bikes. I visited the factory and was convinced, one of the things that hooked me was their stainless lug bikes. I loved that look and wanted to build one myself. Well, I got that chance and more, in the last 8 years I've built stainless lug bikes of every size and shape, some pretty cool non-stainless bikes too. I'm grateful for the artistic freedom I had at Waterford and the chance to make my mistakes on someone else's dime! Hopefully not too many.

Which brings me to the present,

It's been a busy first week, I have to thank everyone who has sent their well wishes and support. This venture will never be a success without your continued help.

The iris drawing is the beginnings of my future logo and headbadge. My wife Lisa and I tend to a large iris garden compliments of my Mother in New York. Some of the plants have traveled from her uncle in Bellingham, WA to NY to our garden in WI. It's a lot of work, but every spring we are rewarded with spectacular blooms. I think it relates well to my framebuilding, the processes I have learned and honed over the last 10+ years are exacting, but the payoff is worth every file stroke and pass with emery.

The drawing is just the beginning, more mundane things include trying to set up a meeting with an attorney to file papers, I get the feeling he may have bigger fish to fry. Getting decals designed and off to the shop seems to be the most important job right now as they are quoting a 2-6 month lead time. I'm keeping my fingers crossed for the 2 months! Other jobs include sourcing an alignment plate, not my forte, but so far have had some useful leads to follow up next week.

Have to give props to all the guys at Ben's Cycle in Milwaukee, Vince, Drew and everyone has been super helpful, I wouldn't be as far along as I am without them. For those who might be interested they are posting 2 of my Waterfords and 1 Serotta on E-bay so check them out and help me get this show on the road.http://www.benscycle.net/