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 Joshua Bryant of Cycles J Bryant.
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 bike in the basement of my apartment in the winter of 2007. I had recently gotten back from a honeymoon bike touring around central Europe. Towards the end of the trip, my Kogswell P/R was stolen. I set out to build a bike that was similar, but lighter in weight than that bike. I had a rather dimly lit basement and spent any free time I had mitering tubes, prepping material, brazing, etc. It was made from somewhat light gauge Nova tubing, 8-5-8, and was spec’d to house 650x36b. It sported a front rack and a wired headlight. I rode that bike on many of my first brevets, a couple flèches, some gravel exploration and a few overnight camping trips. It was modeled after the great French Constructeurs, but teaching myself, I didn’t execute a few of the finer details I was going for as well as I had hoped. I had a lot of miles on the bike thinking of how to properly execute my vision and my next bike turned out much closer to what I was looking for. I rode this first bike for about 3 years until I set out on a 300k training ride, preparing for the Cascade 1200 several years ago. I ended up wrecking the bike pretty bad. Luckily, the only real damage to the bike was the front wheel exploded. The bike is still rideable and fairly true even, but it’s hanging in my basement for now.
I had been interested in randonneuring for several years and after moving to Portland decided to give it a go. Being car-free at the time, it helped that the first brevet was accessible via light rail and unlike San Francisco, where I had moved from, the 200k was much later in the year, giving me more time to prepare.
From those first populaires and 200k’s, I’ve been hooked. About six years after first learning about the great French builders and trying a brevet or two, I decided that they had gotten it right and that’s the type of bike I was going to build myself. It served its purposes quite well.
What attracted you to frame building and how did you learn the craft?
The idea of a sort of DIY thing appealed to me greatly at the time I picked up a torch. I had been obsessing about bike designs for about 10 years, thinking that I could do better somehow, but wasn’t exactly sure what that meant. I’ve always been attracted to bikes and creating things and the marriage of the two seemed to be a perfect fit.
I had about enough money to either sign up for a class, or buy some tools. I chose to buy the tools and to teach myself, using the Paterek DVD’s as a solid reference. I knew I wanted to make more than one bike, so I felt the gamble was worth it. A lot of practice brazing and rack making later, I felt confident enough to tackle my first frame.
In hindsight, I sort of knew all along that I wanted to build a career. In the initial phases of building, learning the craft, making mistakes, I wasn’t so confident in that choice. Now I can’t imagine doing anything else.
What career would you want to have if you weren’t working as a frame builder?
Hmmm. Advertising appeals to me a lot lately. Some sort of product developer for a bicycle component company or clothing company. I fancy myself sort of an ideas man and work well with a talented and intelligent team of creative people, so something that plays into that I guess.