My First Bike explores the life and work of professional frame builders by going back to the start and looking at the first bike they ever built. Today’s My First Bike features Dan Boxer of Seattle’s Boxer Bicycles.
Give me the short rundown of your first frame: when was it built, where, materials, any special details about it, etc.
I built my first frame at United Bicycle Institute in Ashland, OR in September 2005.
It was designed to be a 650B wheeled randonneur. It was meant to carry a handlebar bag with a dedicated, handbuilt rack; use dynamo lighting for the headlight; braze-ons for the battery taillights; provide clearances for the then-oddball size 650B x 38mm tires and fenders; and the big “challenge,” braze-on brake bosses for MAFAC Dural Forge “Racer” centerpull brakes.
As it happens, I was able to convince the instructor Ron Suthpin that it was okay for me to use the Richard Sachs Newvex lugs, even though they were a bit ornate on the shoreline for a first build to braze very cleanly. I also snuck in some lightweight tubing, .7/.4/.7 Columbus downtube, .8/.5/.8 top tube.
I went a little “fancy” on the dropout connections, trying to emulate the French style where the very end of the scalloped stay or blade end is not filled. It looks cool and requires good heat control to make the filler go where you want it to, especially for a first build. I asked the Ron, and Gary who was assisting Ron at the time, how to do this technique and was advised against it. But I went ahead and did it anyhow.
America’s first six-day was held at Madison Square Garden. Photo from Bike Barings.
At modern six-day races, track cyclists perform impressive physical feats racing a variety of events such as keirins, madisons, and sprints over the course of nearly a week. Any cyclist who’s raced back to back days can attest to the extra challenge of racing with tired legs. But even with six consecutive days of racing, today’s six-day events pale compared to the turn-of-the-20th century races from which they evolved. Those early races were quite literally six days long, running 146 consecutive hours, pushing racers to their absolute breaking point (and often beyond).
Last week, writing for The Classical, Rob Mitchum took an in-depth look at the history of American six-day racing in the wake of 1930s six-day racer Erwin “Erv” Pesek’s death.
In early days, a single cyclist would ride for as many hours as his body and mind would allow, prompting a delirium by the end that drew the scorn of an 1897 New York Times editorial—“An athletic contest in which the participants ‘go queer’ in their heads, and strain their powers until their faces become hideous with the tortures that rack them, is not sport, it is brutality.”
The growing outcry against the dangers of a solo six-day race prompted New York City and Chicago laws in 1899 forbidding cyclists from racing for more than 12 hours a day. To circumvent those rules, promoters paired up riders into two-man teams, at least one of whom was required to be on the track at all times while the other man rested or ate in small, square huts set up on the inside of the bowl. The winners were determined by the number of laps completed by each team at the end of the week, combined with a separate tally of points accumulated in two-mile sprints during peak times to spice up the proceedings.
Erv Pesek reflecting on his sport:
“As far as I’m concerned this is the roughest sport and the toughest sport because you had to train so hard,” Pesek said at his Cicero home in 2008. “When you’re riding against foreigners up there, they’re out to get you and you’re out to get them. You can do anything you want if you don’t get caught.”
Read the whole thing here.
Alex Singer was a French frame builder in the post-war “Golden Age” of constructeur bicycles. Focused mostly on building touring and randonneuring bicycles, the constructeurs considered bikes a holistic unit and built racks, fenders, and lights to complement their framesets as such.
Though Alex Singer himself has long since passed away, his grand nephew Olivier Csuka continues to carry on his legacy at the Alex Singer shop outside of Paris. A Belgian filmmaker put together a short video tour of the shop set to music. Sadly, it doesn’t show any frame building (they don’t build on Saturdays so that they can accommodate all the customers coming to visit the shop), but it is nonetheless a neat look into an important landmark in cycling history.
Alex Singer Cycles from hanckxlife on Vimeo.
Ellee on tour. Photo via author’s website.
Portland, OR’s Ellee Thalheimer is an author, freelance travel writer, and avid bike tourist. Her newest book, Cycling Sojourner, is a guide to multi-day, self-supported touring in Oregon, the only one of its kind for the state. I reviewed the book last month then finally got a chance to talk to Ellee as she wrapped up her book tour and some exploratory bike touring for another potential touring guide. We spoke about her past experiences touring nationally and abroad, her background in writing, her process for Cycling Sojourner, and more.