18 January 2014

American Style

A few posts ago, I talked about the 1970's  "Bike Boom."  One phenomenon related to it is the rise, for a time, of a sort of cottage industry.  For the first time since the Six-Day Races of the 1930's, a number of American artisans were building frames in the US.  At the same time, a few notable framebuilders emigrated to the US and set up shop here.

Until that time, about the only high-quality custom bike built in the US was the Schwinn Paramount.  Nearly all of the bikes ridden by US Olympians until 1984 were Paramounts; one urban legend of the time said that company founder Ignaz Schwinn and his sons and grandsons built those bikes--on which they never made any money--out of patriotism and their desire to ensure that Schwinn was the Great American Bike Builder.

But by the 1970's, a small but growing number of cyclists wanted high-quality lightweight bicycles.  Most people don't realize how labor-intensive building bicycles, especially those with hand-built frames is. That accounts for their high prices and why Schwinn could not keep up with the demand, as small as it was.  So, a few builders thought it was a good time to enter the frame.

Colin Laing came here from England, Falliero Masi from Italy and Francisco Cuevas from Argentina (He began his career in Spain) and set up shop.  Around the same time, Albert Eisentraut, Tom Kellogg, McLean Fonvielle and other US-born framebuilders began practicing their craft.  

One such builder was Brian Baylis, who built this bike:

I am sorry that this isn't a higher-resolution photo.  The details of this frame are just amazing.  And, of course, the color scheme is something I might have ordered.  But it's not a "fade"; even though this frame was built in the '80's, Baylis--or whoever ordered this frame--didn't get sucked into that unfortunate trend.

He just recently retired from framebuilding.  Others from his generation stopped building or were hired by larger bike manufacturers to build "custom" bikes for them.  The reasons why they did so were mainly economic:  In spite of their high cost to the consumer, most custom-built frames make very little money for those who build them.  It's also hard on the body:  that is one reason why Baylis has retired and Peter White, renowned for his wheelbuilding and his eponymous shop in New Hampshire, stopped building frames.  


  1. Thanks for the interesting information. I do like fades, however - especially red to white.

  2. Liz: I'm glad to share my knowledge. As for fades: chacun a son gout!