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 :)

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Mentoring 2017

Each year I try to give back a week of my time to a professional who wants to take their skill to the next level; learn paint, tig, new materials, etc...

This year I had the pleasure of hosting Daan from 11 Ants Titanium Bicycles.  The owners have focused their bicycle design on Pinion and Rohloff builds in titanium, a market segment that has room for growth in Europe.  Their builds for the last three years have been commissioned in China, but due to the stresses of working long distance and inability to control quality, spec, and manage expectations, they want to move the production home to Holland.  Daan came to me with 20 years fabrication and machine shop experience, but no bicycle work.  It was our goal to expose him to the fabrication process and begin to understand the unique difficulties in working with Titanium.

Over the next 5 days, we worked through language and machine familiarization barriers to reach a level of competency that will build a strong foundation for this companies future success.

Bill and I were also able to get an Accuset fixture into their hands, only the third fixture we've sent out, nice to see it go to a good home that can truly use it's accurate set up, repeat-ability, and massive access for joining.

Best wishes to Roy, Jeroen, and Daan as they move to the next step in their journey...Made in Holland!

Saturday, February 11, 2017

January/February bars going out...

Ok, so originally I was only going to update this blog with new fabrication tutorial info, but it seems like I continue to do the same stuff over and over that has already been covered.  So, here's a quick post just to see if anyone is still out there...

Spent the better part of the last two weeks knocking out January/February bar orders and crafting up some tasty titanium cranks...

Much like welding a frame, the bars have a systematic welding process to keep them aligned and flat, starting with the linear ends of each miter

The bars are the only titanium item I single pass weld, as the additional heat of a two pass process becomes a bit more problematic with alignment.  To ensure complete penetration, a higher energy setting is used with a brief pulse to drive the arc deep into the substrate and feather out a bit wider than normal...

These titanium cranks are ran through the blast cabinet so that it will provide a mechanical surface for the ceramic to adhere to...

Colored and ready for action 3 hours later...

Thanks for tuning in,


Friday, August 5, 2016

Frame's part of long term business

Whether you have been active in the niche of custom bicycles for a few years or decades, eventually stuff breaks and your creations will find their way back to you for repair.

Creating a sustainable business plan to deal with these, supporting the customer, will build confidence in your customer base and garner long term support.

Check out this short video that looks at the replacement of fatigued tubing/dropout and the business discussion that follows.

This blog has always served as an tool for sharing and teaching the art of custom bicycle fabrication...if there are topics you would like to see visited, please let me know...