Saturday, January 17, 2009 it's cold outside!

Well, it's been a frustrating week in the shop.

The morning temps this week were not very conducive to efficiency...4 degrees, -1 degrees, -9 degrees, -19 degrees! We've been basking in daily highs of somewhere between 0 and 8 degrees, translating into VERY cool temps in the shop.

I know it's too cold when my nipples are sticking out through my tyvec paint suit...not a pretty sight, even to visualize ;)

So, despite a bunch of paint work I needed to get done, I found myself fiddling around until I would get too cold and then head home to do some computer and end of the year book work. Not stuff that fires up the blog.

Despite that, I do have two things to share; the first is a bit of a rant and educational opportunity, the second is the stuff that makes the internet so dangerous and fun...rumors and here say (closely tied to the rant, eh?)

I don't have a lot of time to cruise the forums, but do try to give a looksy to keep up with what's happening in the industry, trends, and consumer queries. One item that I stumble upon with quite some frequency are threads about product failures. I find these to be of interest as there is much to be learned...mostly construction methods, material analysis, and engineering shortcomings is the perspective I read from. When read from this perspective, there is much good info to share and gain, for both the consumer and other builders. Unfortunately, most of these threads turn negative, either due to a poor customer care, lack of information, or just someone who chimes in with an axe to grind. What is really a shame is that often these postings are made before the builder is contacted and given an opportunity to deal with the issue.

From a builder's perspective, I want each of my products to perform at the highest level and that requires much from me;

-a strong foundation of experience with fabrication
- a fundamental knowledge of material properties with regard to application, durability, and joining methods
- proper information sharing with the customer to ascertain the rider's physical needs, intended use, and external forces likely to be placed upon it
- selection of the appropriate materials (type, wall thickness, production quality)
- critical control of the fabrication process and environment

Each of these areas are required and each offer multiple opportunities for deficiencies if not focused on and adhered to.

So given that, here's the awful truth of building in the bicycle industry...

- Things will break.
- Customers can be injured due to failure.
- Your success as a professional hinges not on how much product you send out or money you make, but on how you value and prioritize your customers' health and happiness.

So, in that vein, as I've got enthusiasts, customers, and fellow builders who peruse these pages, I want to share my first product failure with y'all.

I've always been an ardent believer in fabricating products that make folks smile, building with a certain priority hierarchy; function, durability/safety, performance, and final physical weight last.

In this case, the item is a one piece bar/stem combo that was made for Roy's Yo Eddy esque bike from last year. Roy was very focused on what he wanted in regard to specs and design and in speaking with him, I felt comfortable that his desires were well founded in years of experience and personal expertise. Where my failure lies is that I did not formulate a good understanding of his physical size, so when I built the bar, I used a material that was too light, not providing the durability/longevity that was needed.

Ultimately, there is only one end result, the material began to yield and crack.

In Roy's own words...

"Just got back from my little trip through the local forest (trying to do that at least twice a week) and discovered some cracks on the barstem combo they're near the connection of the bar to the stem on both sides (see pics).... must admit it got me scared a bit, but as there are no squeky or cracking sounds I'm hoping it's the paint only...... just wanted to confirm this and wanted to know your thoughts about this....."

In the pic above, you can see the fracture beginning in the HAZ (heat affected zone) and extending up the bar, perpendicular to it's length. The HAZ is often the weakest portion of the joined material, as the molecular structure is disrupted, the reason it is so important with thin bicycle tubing to be as proficient as possible in minimizing heat application time.

A handlebar is a high liability piece, as it becomes a violent lever, testing the materials fatigue ability every second it is being utilized. I commonly build a combo of this type with .035" wall for the main bar, .049" wall for the extension "stem", and custom turn the id of the steerer piece down from a thicker walled piece dependant on the steerer tube requirements.

For this build, I wanted to push the envelope a bit for a high zoot piece. Not surprisingly, this is the only bar I've ever built with .028 tubing in the main bar section that has not been heat treated (a process that stabilizes the molecular structure post fabrication) and it is the only bar I've had a failure of.


Check your bike and components over at least once a week...cracks in the paint are almost always an indicator of trouble below.

Talk with a trustworthy professional for his opinion if you suspect an issue may be present. Believe me, your builder will WANT to be the first to know...your safety is paramount.

Don't be afraid to ask questions or ask for explanations. This is your opportunity to learn from the experience and it should be positive, enriching your relationship with your builder.

For me...I know what works and what the material's limitations are. I allowed my desire to push the envelope a bit coupled with insufficient customer info to expedite this potential to reality.


Roy's been a peach and will soon have a replacement combo on it's way to him free of charge. Every item I make has a lifetime've entrusted me with your safety and fun, it's my responsibility to ensure it happens.

Hopefully, everyone picked up a little something from the experience.

Now, onto part two...the RUMOR MILL. (purposely vague to protect the innocent)

Lots of you know that I love the old steel bikes that brought me to where I am today. I tend to have a soft spot for these, and the shelves are filled with restorations just waiting for time to sneak them into the schedule. In doing some of this work, I have the opportunity to talk with some of the old school folks who worked in the era, some still chugging it out today.

This week I was working on some research for a few restos I have coming up and was dropped a bit of a potential bomb. Seems a certain East Coast company favored in the 80's and 90's that is responsible for spawning many current builders today may be jumping back into the fray. Details are sketchy (thus the rumor part), but the first lady placed a large order for decals to adorn the newly manufactured frames. Who is making the frames and to what degree business will be renewed is a bit cloudy, but it looks like folks will have the opportunity to yell "YO, that's Wicked!" again very soon. Best wishes on the re-launch W.




laffeaux said...

I believe that you may need to look of the definition of the word "vague" in the dictionary. ;)

I hope that the rumor is true. That would be an interesting twist of events. But since you said that a female contacted you, I have to assume that the original owner is not a part of it. His return would make it even better. :)


Rody said...

Not subtle enough?

FWIW...I have not spoke with anyone associated with the company, thus the info will remain conjecture until anything "official" is announced.

Is a bit of a twist though, eh? Lots of old school companies riding the wave again...can we blame Jeff at FF?


IF52 said...

Wow, I don't know if the Chance of that company coming back is good or bad. It would be a shame if there is no Chance that the founder wasn't a part of it. Check you e-mail for a tiny tidbit I found recently. Nothing really exciting, just odd

mhandsco said...

I'd rather have one of your bikes any day...