Monday, July 2, 2018

Gary's Ripscale ceramic finish...

So, I posted the finished product of a collaborative effort between Drew of Engine Cycles and myself for the Godfather of Titanium, Gary Helfrich, on Instagram and got a few inquiries on what the process involved.  I had decided to stop blogging until I had something fresh to share, rather than continue to re-hash the daily work and processes that take place in the shop.  If you are still around and thirsting for information, here is a bit of an oasis for ya...

This project kicked off just after the 2017 Philly show.  Drew, Gary and I packed up from the Expo then headed over to Engin headquarters to get started on the build. Gary had shipped some vintage USA made Ancotec tubing over and now it was time to create a "bicycle shaped object" out of it.  I could only hang out for one of the three days, but enjoyed my time with these two, watching Gary's dream ride come together. 

The raw product arrived at Groovy headquarters just before Nahbs, unfortunately, it took a back seat to other promised work.  Gary was quite patient, having sat in our positions in the past, empathetic if not a bit surly :)

The original request was for a single color ceramic finish in OD Green.  Y'all know me, I just could not let it out of the shop with something so un-inspiring, so after a bit of cajoling, Gary agreed to let me have a go with something that was more creative.  His steering focus was that the finished product should look like a war torn weapon that had just returned from service in Kuwait.  Yeah, I think I can do that...

I started off with about 4 hours of graphic work in Adobe Illustrator to get all my masking drawn up and then it was off to the blast cabinet.  Here's a shot of the Ti frame with the masked artwork applied, post blasting and chemical wash.

Next up was the first of seven different colors of ceramic...the beige is to be the base that the rest of the work is built off of.  After mixing the catalyst with the base, it is all run through a micro screen to ensure that it is particulate free once it hits the HVLP gun...

The base layer applied. Here at the down tube graphics, you can see just how thin ceramic applies with even coverage when done with a practiced hand.

I then grabbed some grey cerakote, reduced it down, and began to spray through some mesh to create a scale effect.  The intent is to cover the entire frame with a two color pattern...

I then followed up with OD Green using a different mesh pattern to give some diversity and visual texture...

Here's a shot with the entire frame patterned...

After a short 10 minute bake cycle and cool down, it is now safe to apply the next round of masking.  In this case, I drew about 30 different "tear" patterns and then cut them in three sizes so that the entire frame could be used.  It is important to apply the patterns all in the same positional orientation so that there is consistency. 

After the masks are applied the top colors go on, in this case, a dark flat earth for the overall tone with two additional custom mixed gradients for low lights.  I then thinned an Armor black ceramic and shadowed in the outside perimeter of each mask...took a contortionists flexibility to get to them all without over spraying onto unwanted areas. 

Another partial bake cycle and then it's time to remove our masking to get an idea of the final visual effect...

The final step was to take three different materials and gently rub over the frame to provide some edge break for the raw titanium sections and a bit of a "worn" look to the ceramic areas.  A final pass through the bake box and here's our final product...

Gary had no idea what the finish would be, desiring to be surprised upon unpacking.  This is always an nervous couple of days for me as I hope the customer loves the outcome.  I didn't hear from him for almost 24 hours after receiving it...torture.  Did he hate it?  What the hell is going on?

Finally, at 0200 our time I received a brief text.

"Holy Fuck, yeah!"

Good enough for me :)

Sunday, October 29, 2017

How to build a titanium handlebar...

Hey folks,  want to take a look inside the process of building a titanium bar? 

Follow along in the video as I put together one of my titanium Dig It bars; a 2" rise bar with a 31.8 center clamp section, 17 degree sweep.

A few tiny things to note...

- Ti has to be meticulously clean to weld, so many of the preparation steps are outlined within

- Ti must be welding in an oxygen free environment with controlled heat input

- You must have fun!



Sunday, October 22, 2017

Sponsorship's the 411

I've received a lot of sponsorship requests through the years, many from young aspiring racers who want support, but lack understanding that it needs to be a mutually beneficial relationship.  Let me give you an example of one that came in this week...

Hey there I am (name redacted) from North Carolina currently I am a xc and gravel racer and I saw your company and I was wandering if you could sponser me with some demo or prototypes and I can test them and promote and tell many riders and fans at my races. Thanks and have a wanderful day!

Though well intentioned, I hope you can begin to see the plethora of issues with the request. 

Let me share with you my reply to this inquiry as it begins to offer a look from my side of the potential relationship. 

Thanks for reaching out, I appreciate that you want to help represent my work.

I've sponsored a race team and individual racers for over 20 years, and have participated in race promotions  for 10.  This fall marks my final season participating in both endeavors, as I am scaling back to spend more focused time in the shop.

I receive multiple requests each month for sponsorship.  Please let me share a bit of my experience with you so that you may have a greater probability of finding success.

Use appropriate grammar, punctuation, and spelling.  When asking a company for sponsorship, you are effectively representing their products and company as a whole with the public.  Affirming that you are well spoken, intelligent, and provide a positive image is important.  This all begins with your sponsorship request.  If you don't take the time to ensure accuracy in written word, you are not someone a company would feel confident about in the field.

Show that you know a company's products and why you are excited to represent them.  No one likes quickly penned form letters; giving some indication that you know the companies product range, expected market, and how you fit into that marketing plan will give you greater odds of gaining support.  Express what products the company makes that you feel would be of benefit for you to share experience and information with others.  Why are you excited about those products?  What tangible impact can you make on company exposure and sales?  

Why you?  Thousands of racers hit the starting line each week, what makes you exceptional?  Provide race results and give some demographics showing the area you frequent in your travels.  While exposure to the podium is important, it is not the defining criteria for support.  Companies want racers who represent their vision and are willing to be an advocate.  Is this something you are capable of?  If so, tell them why.

Finally, begin a relationship with your prospective sponsors.  Show that you are not just shotgunning out requests hoping for getting lucky.  Purchase one of their products, write a review, send pictures of the product in use...companies will more likely support a young racer who support them and have a measure of positive influence on others.

Good luck in your search for sponsorship, I know that if you heed some of this advice, you will find success.

It's rare to get something for nothing.  It becomes more probable when you can demonstrate a willingness and ability to positively work for the support.  Mentor, educate, share...perhaps we'll all get more out of future requests.



Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Here's the thing...

Time is not friendly to any of us, living or inanimate.  Given enough time, wind, cycles, wear, exposure, stress, eventually a change takes place.  I mean, that's how we have the Grand Canyon, survival evolution, and broken bicycle parts.

Wait, what?  Bike parts don't last forever?

That's right, I know it's hard to accept, but any material, when placed in a stressful environment, with repeated impact cycles, will eventually fail.

Yes, I agree, that sucks.

You see, the hurdle with designing bicycle parts is cutting that delicate balance point between performance, light weight, and durability for a wide range of physical users parameters.  Often, the same part that is used by a buck twenty female on a full suspension rig, cruising a flow trail, is also under a 220# guy riding fully rigid on rocky/rooty single track.  Where is the line drawn that divides durability with performance expectations, and takes into account your business needs for streamlining inventory and production?  It's hard to pin down, but we can come close.  Products are tested using FEA models, destructive testing of sample products takes place, and fabrication sequences are formulated to optimize and perfect the process.  All in an effort to stack the deck in our favor.  In the end, all this data is evaluated, but for each builder, the unique end point is different.

This is prominent in my attention span today because I've just had my fifth handlebar failure in 12 years (3 titanium, 2 steel). Bar failures are the worst.  Just like a chair, if you remove one of the four points of contact without notice, you'll be tumbling over quickly.  Now imagine cruising down a rooty single track hill when suddenly one of your hands is now floating free.  Not good.  Not good at all.

One of my greatest fears when opening my email each day is to find a communication from a customer who has suffered a failure with a resultant injury.  To think that a product I produced, intended to enrich the lives of the customer, one day results in a physical injury, truly unsettles me. There's a level of trust that is unspoken; that I will make my best effort to provide a product that delivers fun and enjoyment, doing so in a safe, predictable manner.

The problem, though, is in that last line.  In the niche of mountain biking, there is nothing that is sure fire predictable.  The variables are broad.  The risk is real.  Try as I may, I cannot control all the variables that my products are exposed to.

The customer bears a burden of responsibility as well.  Proper installation, maintenance, inspection during cleaning...all of these are part of the due diligence the customer accepts as an end user.  In a Utopian world, one hopes that product deficiencies are recognized early and the part taken out of service.  That is, unfortunately, rarely the case.  Even in Utopia, however, the tough fact to accept, is that despite both of our efforts, every part has a fatigue life and will eventually fail. Period. The End.

From a builders standpoint, this is why you MUST HAVE INSURANCE.  It is not for protecting you from potential liability, you've already shouldered that burden when you chose to hang out your shingle and accept money for your work.  It is for the protection of your customer when things do not go as intended.

Each time I am made aware of a failure, I second guess my desire to continue in this field.  Though the percentage of failures to living product is minuscule, the shear burden of potential is a heavy load to carry moving forward.  Despite how diligent I am in design and execution, how attentive the customer is to maintenance and inspection, the product will eventually reach an end of life point. When that happens, I pray no one is injured severely.

The final decision, for builder and customer alike is this;  what level of risk is acceptable to you?

Life is fragile and horrible accidents take place around us each day.  I guess, for me, I am driven to create and share because of the positive impact it has on others.  As a rider, I would not want to envision a life where cycling was not an integral part.  So, is the risk worth it?  I'm choosing to soldier on, with vigor, because these aspects define much of who I am.

What is your decision?

Monday, July 3, 2017

Titanium Hot rods...

Such a fun piece to build, but soooo much involved in the process...

Here's a short video taking a look inside the fabrication process, from the weld table...

And the finished product, complete with direct drive ring and spider...


Sunday, July 2, 2017

Nixie tube clock project...

My son recently graduated from college and I wanted to give him something special.

I've always enjoyed watching evolving technology and have wanted to incorporate some old tech into new projects, so I built Kalten a Nixie tube clock.

Nixie tubes were developed in the 1950's, a precursor to digital displays.  It is a cold cathode electrode inside a glass tube filled with neon gas and just a touch of mercury.  The numerical cathodes are stacked using ceramic insulators and when electricity is passed to the electrode, it reacts with the neon gas and glows, displaying the number.

There is still a small supply of these tubes in the Eastern Block countries, as they manufactured them into the early 80's.

I sourced the tubes from Russia, the board from a gentleman in the Ukraine, and then got to soldering.

The clock allows for 12/24 hour time display, date, and alarms.  I placed RGB Leds under each tube and the color changes during use.

The case is built out of sheet metal and was finished in an antique/distressed paint theme.

Came out pretty cool, makes me want one for myself :)