My First Bike explores the origins 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 Jeremy Shlachter, the builder behind Gallus Cycles in Fort Worth, Texas.
Give me the short rundown of your first frame: when was it built, where, materials, any special details about it, etc?
My first frame was a track frame built under the guidance and watchful eye of Koichi Yamaguchi at his frame building class in Rifle, CO in December 2006. It was made out of True Temper tubing that Koichi had designed many years before, along with Long Shen lugs, fork crown, bottom bracket shell, and Henry James Dropouts.
As far as lugged track frames went, it was pretty standard with steep head tube and seat tube angles, high bottom bracket, and short chain stays. I went for a wishbone seat stay attachment, but other than that kept it straightforward as I was mainly trying to get my head around basic techniques of brazing and filing.
Why did you choose to build a track bike for your first one?
I decided to build a track frame because I had been working as a bike messenger and had been riding a fixed gear bike exclusively for the 3 years before I built the frame. Being relatively short, it was always hard for me to find a decent frame, especially a lugged one, and that was part of my motivation for building it.
How did you learn to be a framebuilder?
After learning from Yamaguchi I started to piece together my shop space back in Texas and built a few more frames on my own. In 2008, I went to Michigan to take another class from Doug Fattic. I then stayed on for a couple months helping Doug out in his shop and then went to Ukraine and spent a couple of months building frames for a project Doug had set up over there.
Learning from Yamaguchi, Fattic, and my time spent in Ukraine helped me develop and refine both my skills and knowledge of frame building. After 3 years of building frames for myself, family, and friends, I set up Gallus Cycles as a business building frames for other people.
However, I feel that to keep progressing as a frame builder, craftsman, and a cyclist the learning process should never stop. Repetition; constant research into the past, present, and future of cycling/frame building; and trying new and more difficult things are the keys to becoming a better builder.
Did you go into it planning to make frame building a career or did that come later?
Yes, I started with the very naive notion of becoming a frame builder. I was living in Scotland and going to architecture school. I lucked out and had gotten a part time job as a bike messenger. It did not take long for me to realize that I enjoyed bikes more than just about anything. For fun, pride, and to some extent, poverty we did all our own repair work and bike builds. We would always be swapping out parts and frames, trading components. Everyone taught each other what they knew.
My knowledge of handmade bicycles was quite limited. I was not aware of the handmade boom that was starting to take off back in the States. All I knew is what I saw, and that was either the great vintage British bikes my friends kept finding or the not so great Chinese/Taiwanese bikes at the bike shops. I thought to myself “Someone needs to start making nice handmade bikes again.”
Having a strong background in design and being pretty good with my hands, I decided that I was that “someone” who needed to build these handmade bicycles. If I get a good idea in my head I stubbornly go after it instead of sitting around talking about it for ages, so once I had come across Yamaguchi I was back in the States getting flux on my hands and firing up the torch.
That was nearly 6 years ago, and it has been an interesting journey. I had definitely underestimated what it would take to get everything set up, both the time to acquire the skills and knowledge, the funds to get tooling and start a business, along with juggling that with part time work, social life(I used to have one, I think), and still getting some miles in on the bike. You can never expect reality to turn out just how you envisioned it, otherwise it would simply remain a dream.
All that aside, I am more than happy and comfortable with how far I have progressed since that first frame back in 2006. I couldn’t see myself doing anything else and look forward to what the future has in-store for me and my bicycles.