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.
Why did you choose to build a randonneur bike for your first one?
I built the randonneur bike because I was doing a lot of randonneuring and wanted to test out a few of the ideas being proposed by fellow Seattle Randonneur, Jan Heine, in Bicycle Quarterly (Vintage Bicycle Quarterly back then). Having ridden with Jan (very briefly as he’s way too fast for me), I was impressed with his choice in bikes and even more so with his performance.
I went on an extended bike tour of the US and Europe, riding from Seattle to New York, then Paris to Budapest with a lengthy side journey down to Marrakesh, Morocco. This was 2004-2005 with my then girlfriend, soon to be fiance/wife, Katie. We took this long hiatus from everyday work life to entertain ideas of dream jobs and alternate, more sustainable lifestyles. Before we left, I had been a bike mechanic for a few years and had hopes to take these skills further. While traveling, I became fascinated with the “art” of custom frame building, especially the work of the French Constructeurs from the Golden Age, 1930s – ’60s: Rene Herse, Jo Routens, A.I.Reiss of Reyhand, and Alex Singer.
While in Paris, I visited the Alex Singer shop, met Msr. Ernst Csuka and the dream was born. Watching Msr. Csuka filing the fillet on a custom stem, I decided then and there that I had to learn how to do that with my own hands.
How did you learn to be a frame builder?
I enrolled in the UBI course before we even returned to the States. And yes, I did have the notion to make this my work and career. Only after the course, a hearty handful of additional frames built, and a few more years of wrenching in various shops did I make the leap and open Boxer Bicycles as a full time venture.
For what it’s worth, that bike is still with me and is the only “Boxer” branded bicycle I own. Of course there are some things I’d do differently now and have done a few minor modifications since it was built. But it’s still going strong after many thousands of miles of randonneuring and everyday commuting rides.
I haven’t ridden any brevets for a while, having added full-time father to my list of responsibilities in 2010, but when the time is right, I’ll get back out there for more adventures on my first bike.