Many contemplate what Andy Doyle’s undertaken but few actually take the plunge and invest the time and financial outlay. After completing his framebuilding course with Bicycles by Design, Andy took the time to reflect on the experience before considering his next steps…
How do you define yourself as a cyclist?
I started with two other guys riding fixed gear. Going out around Manchester in the rain, in the middle of winter, in a pair of shorts. Sitting in a pub beer garden soaking wet and having a couple of pints before riding home. And I think where you ride influences your attitude towards cycling. The Peak District is my stomping ground so I guess I see myself as an all-weather cyclist. Not in the sense of sunshine and rain but gritty when it comes to how I ride.
And is there a why?
It’s my medicine. My headspace. I once toured with a punk band and one of the reasons I became more involved in cycling was that it was a healthier way to spend time around people. And it’s a good way of expressing yourself. Releasing all that pent up energy from the working week; the stresses of everyday life. Sometimes alone – head down and out in the Cheshire lanes for 4 or 5 hours – but also with Rapha and the friends I’ve made over the years.
You’ve recently had a bike built by Rourke Cycles?
I’ve wanted a custom bike for a very long time. I suppose in a way like many cyclists do. An opportunity arose that meant I could actually commission a build and I went with Rourke’s because I felt their attitude to frame building kind of fitted with mine. They have a very old school, straight forward approach to the way they fit and build bikes that just appeals to me.
And then you decided to build your own?
My Rourke’s built with Reynolds 853 and rides superbly. Stiff in all the right places and exactly to my measurements. It listens to me and you can’t ask for much more in a bike. But it’s one thing to ride and appreciate something a master craftsman has built. To attempt the build process yourself takes this to another level.
You enrolled on a course with Bicycles by Design.
I was taught by Pete Bird who has a perfectionist approach to fabrication that I really appreciate. And there’s all the insights into the trade that you get to learn although some were rather unexpected [laughs]. Pete mistakenly touched a part of the frame that was really hot and then immediately put his fingers to his earlobe to sooth the burn. Apparently it’s an old goldsmithing trick.
What emotions were you feeling as the day approached?
I’ve been planning this for close to 5 years so I was naturally very excited but also incredibly anxious. Questions in my head about whether I’d be any good. Would I actually be able to build my own frame. And then there’s the hopes and dreams that this might eventually turn into a career. It’s not going to happen overnight but one day it would be nice if I can earn a living from building bikes for people. Creating something with my own hands that I’m proud to call my own.
What decisions did you have to make before the course started?
I wanted to do lugged construction as opposed to fillet brazing. My thinking being that this is how they first built frames as we know them. So I needed to consider the design of the frame I was going to build before choosing all the necessary components from a site called framebuilding.com. Rather old-fashioned but it’s got everything you need.
Then the day finally arrived.
We had a cup of coffee and a brief chat before cracking on with the fitting. From there it was just a matter of transferring all the measurements onto BikeCAD and leaving it to work its magic in terms of crunching the numbers. After a quick break for some lunch I was straight in the workshop trying my hand with the brazing torch. Quite an eye opener in terms of a learning curve [smiles].
And from there?
Surprisingly – at least for me – on the second day I was encouraged to do all the mitring by hand. Cutting down the tubes to size before using files and a bench grinder to create the shapes I needed. There are shortcuts – Pete explained that you can print out templates – but I was there to learn and my attitude is that you shouldn’t necessarily take the ‘easier’ option. I’ll be honest; it was frustrating. But it gave me a real understanding of the spatial relationships between the different tubes and how they work together.
So you had all your mitres.
The third and fourth days I can best describe as the business end of the course; using a jig to set up the correct geometry before brazing the tubes. And it was particularly during this part of the process that I noticed some of the really idiosyncratic aspects of engineering; quickly moving from the precise measurements on the jig to banging out adjustments on your tacked frame with a lump of wood. I love that there’s a ‘get a hammer and whack it’ approach.
And the finishing touches?
The fifth day was all about the final small details. Brazing on the cable stops and the disc-brake mounts before all the filing and cleaning. Probably the hardest day as I was a little frustrated with the fabrication of my seatstay bridge and I was exhausted by that point. Physically and mentally. You’re so close to actually being finished but still have a way to go.
Did you learn anything about yourself?
It was quite a challenge to take on this build with the knowledge that I had absolutely no idea what I was doing. And I think, as you get older, that you tend to stick in your comfort zones. For me to continually have to ask if I was doing something in the right way wasn’t particularly easy. There was always that unspoken thought prior to the start of the course that I wouldn’t have the necessary skills or abilities to make my own frame. And I was surprised at the raft of emotions you feel when you’re doing something like this; the extreme highs and lows in terms of confidence that I experienced over my week-long course.
And now that you’ve finished the course?
I came away with a quality frame so there’s an immense amount of pride. And I had a whole week of one-to-one tuition which is priceless when you consider the things I’ve learnt. It’s given me a base level of knowledge and the confidence to do more.
So what’s next?
I’m under no illusions that if I want to continue with this, it’s going to be a long, hard road. There’s no shortcuts. You can’t be good at something like this overnight. Or even after a week-long intensive course [smiles]. You need to put in your 10,000 hours before you can truly call yourself a frame builder. This may only be a very small step into the world of frame building but it’s a step forward nonetheless.
For more information about Bicycles by Design.
Build images: @hellbentforlycra
Frame images with kind permission of Lucy Valentine.