Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Why No Head Badge?

I've been asked this question often enough that I feel like I should explain my position on the matter. In fact, I've probably lost a sale or two specifically because I don't offer a fancy metal head badge!

My simple Ellis head tube logo, custom painted by Jason Sanchez, and since it's painted on, infinitely customizable.

Well, here's the thing, a head badge doesn't do anything, nada, nothing, ziltch! Sure they can look cool, and I'll admit that there are some that I like quite a bit from an aesthetic standpoint, but the fact remains that it's a purely ornamental part of the bike.

Now I'm fully aware that I build some pretty fancy bikes, and all those shiny stainless lugs and tubes are not necessary, but their beauty and aesthetics are integral to the frame, and in most cases they have at least some functional aspect to them. Stainless chain stays are a great example, why bother with a cheap stick on plastic protector or a contrived rubber strap to avoid chipped paint when a polished stainless stay is one of the best answers. Why did those vintage steel bikes sport a chromed rear triangle and fork? Well, for one thing, those areas were the most prone to chipped paint from wrenches and moving parts, so chrome was the best solution at that time. Nowadays, with thin walled, high strength stainless tubes available, I can build a frame with those same functional aesthetics and not have the rust worries that are inherent with chrome.

When it comes to lugs, there's much less of a functional argument to be made for stainless, but here's the way I look at it, if your frame is going to be constructed with lugs anyway, using stainless doesn't change or add anything to the bike, the aesthetic is still integral to the bike's design and construction.

OK, so back to the head badge question. Let me inject a bit of my history into my explanation. During my time at Waterford, we had more than a few die hard riders who insisted that we offer a head badge, and frankly, I was in agreement. It just seemed a no-brainer for Waterford, with their Schwinn heritage and all.

During that same time, and as more and more small builders started up, I noticed something, they almost invariably all had cool laser cut or cast head badges, and yet many of them had only built a handful of bikes and it showed in their workmanship. In many cases, the head badges seemed to me like a way of "dressing up" or trying to differentiate their mediocre work from one another. Here's the thing, I don't feel like an Ellis frame needs any "dressing up", whether its' my Modern Classic model with lots of shiny stainless or a "stock" lugged frame with none of the bling, Ellis frames are special because of every detail I build into them. Whether it's the subtle curve of a lug that I reshape , or the stainless washers brazed onto the brake bridge and fork crown to avoid paint chips, the beauty is built into every detail, and the end product is the culmination of my 15+ years of building high end steel frames.

A stainless washer for the brake mount, (and another cool custom head tube logo, this time in dark silver).

I'm really heartened when folks come by my booth at NAHBS two and three times to look at the same bike and then comment that the longer they look, the more details they see. You can be confident that no matter what part of an Ellis you're looking at, I've spent time thinking about that part and chosen to build the frame that way for a reason. Nothing is there by accident, or just because I saw it on some other cool builder's frame.

Here's a couple more details that some folks miss that I think make Ellis frames special.

A stainless fork crown with an integrated custom fender mount.

Since all Ellis dropouts are 17/4 stainless, I finish the "sliver" underneath each dropout to a point and then Jason masks that off so the area where your rear wheel's axle comes in contact with the frame won't have chipped paint.

Simple, elegant looks, with beauty that is integral, that's what makes every Ellis a "Modern Classic".

My two bits!


matt said...

I vote head badge.

Doug said...

Funny you wrote this. I have a friend that has drooled all over my Ellis for several years. But he always comments he can't afford one. So this past year he orders a frame from a guy he knows that just started building frames. My friend gets the first frame this guy has ever built. It's awful! But it has a really cool head badge that some vaguely famous artist designed. I've heard my friend tell the story of his head badge about 20 times now. He's really proud of that head badge.

I'm really proud of my Ellis and I never have to say a word. My Ellis talks volumes all by itself.

AteMrYeats said...

I'll take functional details over headtube jewelry any day! Hell, that dropout masking alone is enough to prove you know what makes an Ellis an Ellis, just keep building them your way (especially a MTB for me when I can finally afford one). It my be good business to charge one hundred dollars for a piece of laser-cut sheet metal, though.

Mick Peel said...

I vote no headbadge. Because, apart from the function argument, I think in many cases they're actually quite ugly and detract from the frame aesthetically. In some cases the aesthetic of the badge is completely at odds with the aesthetic of the frame.

Anonymous said...

I thought everyone knew those snappy head badges give you and extra 1.86 mph in a bunch sprint (they do, right?).

gobucky said...

To me the headbadge would be one more thing that rust could get trapped behind. I like the clean look of the painted on headbadge. As an aside, I just got the bike back from the shop today and the owner said he couldn't believe how good the paint was after that many miles (now 6,000). (It does have two chips, actually, which I plan to correct this spring with touch up.

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