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From Steel: The Making of a Soulcraft
January 24, 2011 2:16 AM   Subscribe

Sean Walling invites us into his machine shop to show us in great detail how each and every Soulcraft frame is hand designed for the individual customer based on their fit needs and riding style. [SLV]
posted by AndrewKemendo (31 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite

 


1) This is a commercial.

2) It's complete ridiculous. The first shot shows him using a dial indicator to somehow measure length. What? And then a micrometer to measure...thickness of the tube wall? Before he cuts a *length* off with a chopsaw? Oh jeepers and then a calipers to measure along the side of it? I can't watch any more of this nonsense.
posted by DU at 4:45 AM on January 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


It is certainly marketing material, but its decent in shot composition and subject matter. They give the right amount of detail to a process which takes several days. At the end, you know a bike made by them involves a decent amount of skill as well as art. These are things which yes, are routinely used for marketing purposes.

DU I think you misrepresent both the dial indicator and the calipers. Yes, it is overkill for the length of the shaft, but for the ringlets he is about to cut into it immediately following the length - those require precision. You see a millimeter depth of cut about 20 seconds following the chopsaw and takes literally 2 seconds to make the groove... because he placed them at the start.

As for the calipers? Well, sure he's assembling horizontally, but a bike's precision is based on the center of the tube, and the only way to get that is via the calipers... are there better ways to do it? maybe - but people go about things the way they learned... you may not do things this way, but eh - he does.

And on a humbling note: When I say I've made steel bikes before I mean in the sense that I've ripped apart two preexisting bikes, chopped them and reassembled the pieces with a few decent welds and a paint job - this is an entire new realm of skill and craftsmanship for me...
posted by Nanukthedog at 5:16 AM on January 24, 2011


It's complete ridiculous. The first shot shows him using a dial indicator to somehow measure length.

The tubes are butted: thicker at each end, and he's marking the end of the thinner center section.
posted by jjj606 at 5:20 AM on January 24, 2011 [2 favorites]


Here's a bikeforums.net thread about building a steel bike frame (finished bike here). The builder makes them for his own use. He has a much smaller workshop, and uses more hand tools. The builder's photos and comments are spread through the 8 page thread.

And he also made his own rack and water bottle cages.
posted by jjj606 at 5:31 AM on January 24, 2011


The tubes are butted: thicker at each end, and he's marking the end of the thinner center section.

He's holding the tube in his hand. It's visibly wobbling up and down. That dial caliper is telling him precisely zilch and zilch precisely.
posted by DU at 5:33 AM on January 24, 2011


2) It's complete ridiculous.

The sad thing is, there's clearly a lot of care and craft going into this work, but it's impossible to see it past the dodgy editing and total lack of commentary. I'm not really interested in seeing a guy use calipers on a pipe, but I'd love to know what he's measuring, and why those measurements are important. Is he throwing out pipes that aren't true, or seeing some defect that we don't? Is something else going on there?

That was all left on the cutting room floor, as it were, to produce this weird negative-space documentary where there's no explanation or understanding and everything is made to look pointless and silly, despite that clearly being the opposite of what's really going on.
posted by mhoye at 5:40 AM on January 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


This is pretty to watch, but I agree with some other people on here - it's pretty devoid of information, otherwise. The "artisan-in-his-shop" video can be kind of hit or miss (I loved Jarvi bench because you could see what was happening. Geekhouse is somewhere in between).
posted by entropone at 6:06 AM on January 24, 2011


It's complete ridiculous. The first shot shows him using a dial indicator to somehow measure length.What? And then a micrometer to measure...thickness of the tube wall?

Yes. The first he isn't measuring length, he's measuring runout -- in particular, that's a double butted tube, and he's find out exactly where the tube wall thickens. This is critical, because if you cut in the wrong place, you make the joint on the thinnest part of the tube, not the thickest -- and the mark he means is "tube gets thin here."

He then checks the thickness of the tube to make sure that it matches spec. Because he's a machinist by trade, and machinists do that all the time. They live by gauges.
posted by eriko at 6:49 AM on January 24, 2011 [2 favorites]


I used to work in a small framebuilding shop and have to say that DU is right on both counts. This is basically a commercial for his brand, and there is some content padding in there to make the process look more complicated than it is.
Stock bike tubesets have a fixed length of butting. You miter cut the factory marked short end taking as little off as possible, so the long end is the one that always gets trimmed down. (There are exceptions though - like when you're building a very small or unusual frame.) The careful analysis and marking of the tube beforehand made me smile. He's got time and reason to do that? Does he not already know what the specs of that tube are?
It's understandable that a proud shop owner is going to want to show off all his toys, but the video does cover a lot of the real process. I'm hesitant to say any more as I know where this guy is coming from.
posted by Pseudonumb at 6:55 AM on January 24, 2011


Because everyone knows that all bespoke bike builders are evil bastards and rich as Nazis.
posted by fixedgear at 6:59 AM on January 24, 2011 [4 favorites]


The first he isn't measuring length, he's measuring runout -- in particular, that's a double butted tube, and he's find out exactly where the tube wall thickens.

No, he isn't. Watch it again. He's using his hand to hold the tube against the indicator. It's shaking all over the place while the indicator dial moves only 10-20 thous. It's possible that the jig his near to is supposed to do it accurately, but he isn't doing that in this video clip.

Why not? Because they are more interested in conveying a message of accuracy than actually portraying how he makes a bike. Which means this is pure propaganda.
posted by DU at 7:42 AM on January 24, 2011


DU, I think you've made your point. I don't think you need to hammer away at it in order to expose this guy as... somebody who had a filmmaker portray his work with less than perfect accuracy and specificity.
posted by entropone at 7:45 AM on January 24, 2011 [2 favorites]


Neat video. As someone who recently picked up this book on budget DIY framebuilding, one of my first thoughts was "gawd, he has a lot of very expensive tooling at his disposal." It's a vastly different process at the pro level. My second thought was, who cares about the build - show me the real magic, the process for custom fitting and matching frame geometry to intended use.
posted by richyoung at 8:41 AM on January 24, 2011


He probably doesn't even understand what he's doing with those calipers. He's in the Zone; the craft just takes control.
posted by Flashman at 8:50 AM on January 24, 2011


Huh, here I was planning on being all agitated about this marketing pap, but then DU was was such a pissant about this video that it equalized the whole thing. And now I am not sure why I am even making a comment.
posted by Stonestock Relentless at 9:19 AM on January 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


My second thought was, who cares about the build - show me the real magic, the process for custom fitting and matching frame geometry to intended use.

You are perfectly qualified to hang out a shingle and become a fitter. It's a tremendous amount of smoke and mirrors, IMHO. Get a plumb bob and a tape measure and you are in business.
posted by fixedgear at 9:19 AM on January 24, 2011


For the price of one of these bikes, you can have a carbon fiber S-Works. Right now, no lead time. Just walk in to a dealer. Oh and they do fittings for you if you need it.

Yes, custom is nice and all. But $4 grand? It's a bike. Unless you are either ridiculously rich or are an Olympic-caliber athlete, you shouldn't be spending $4 grand on a bike.
posted by caution live frogs at 10:03 AM on January 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


It's nice of you to tell people how to spend their money. Maybe they would like to ride a bike that was built by a guy they had a beer with instead of a boy-racer bike made in a Taiwanese factory?
posted by fixedgear at 10:24 AM on January 24, 2011


IMO, being "pure propaganda" doesn't exclude this from being enjoyable, yikes. Sure it's more music video than instructional video, but I thought the lazy curls of smoke generated from the brazing of the bottle cage mounts were pretty, and I liked the spinning frame jig. That was cool, I've never seen one of those before. In conclusion, bespoke bike building is a land of contrasts, thank you.
posted by the painkiller at 10:36 AM on January 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


I've worked in the metal fabrication industry for over thirty years. In my opinion there isn't a single image in the video that was done only for effect.
posted by digsrus at 10:45 AM on January 24, 2011


The point, live frogs, is that this guy makes bikes for people who don't WANT carbon fiber S-works frames. The fitting that a dealer can give you on such a bike is all about seat height, stem length, bar width, etc. but you can't change the head tube angle on a factory bike, nor the standover, nor the stay lengths, etc.
posted by Mister_A at 10:45 AM on January 24, 2011 [2 favorites]


this book on budget DIY framebuilding

I bought that book, and I vastly prefer Talbot's book. His methods are a little out of date (he wrote the book before CAD became cheaply available, I believe), but I think the instructions are a lot clearer. He also spends a good chunk of the book talking about fit.

If you're still on the fence about building your own frame, absolutely give it a shot. It's a fairly minimal investment in tooling and it's a great way to get your hands dirty. You have also reminded me that I haven't updated my build blog in about three months, so... there's that.

The only big problem I've had so far is that my workspace is not conducive to brazing, so I have to do it outdoors. Which means I have to wait until the two feet of snow in the back yard melts a bit before I can finish.
posted by backseatpilot at 11:10 AM on January 24, 2011


That was beautiful. I bought a custom frame, and this shows why they cost what they cost. Who’s going to do that level of quality work for less?

There is nothing you can put on the internet without someone making a comment they think shows they are too smart to fall for it, everything is a scam, it’s all been photoshopped, they could have done it better. I know it looked like a video of a normal hard working guy doing a fine craft that he loves, filmed by a guy with a similar aesthetic, but the smart ones know that was just a smoke screen for the true evil purpose. If it was real it would have had a jerky hand held camera and no music, everyone knows that.

Oh, and your video of your baby playing with a puppy is bull too, I can see right through it.
posted by bongo_x at 11:17 AM on January 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


Soulcraft makes good bikes. I know this because I know a local pro who rides them [self-link] by preference, even despite having been made offers to ride lighter, more "modern" frames by other sponsors.

For some riders, whether they race or no, custom steel works. Soulcraft is by all accounts a very reputable quality builder.

That said, I fit stock sizing well enough if I'm careful. I've also spent at least 2 entire racing seasons (1998 and 2010) on injured reserve after paying a sizeable sum to "professional" fitters. And my only-ever foray into the world of custom building (over a decade ago) resulted in spending nearly 2 grand for what ultimately turned out to be the worst-fitting, worst-riding bike I've ever owned; which I sold at a tremendous loss at the end of 5 months' unsuccessful struggle to make it work. Most custom rigs don't come with any sort of money-back guarantee, after all.

Conclusion: skilled craftsman are skilled, but neither bike building and fitting are regulated industries. As in all things in life, caveat emptor, and your mileage may vary.

I do ride an S-Works cross bike in fact. It's a nice bike. It's not nicer than that Soulcraft in the photo I linked above. Both bikes work equally well for their riders.

also: I liked the video purely on artistic merit, and suspect that DU is either trolling, having a bad day, or just being stupendously snarky, pedantic and somewhat tonedeaf (but hey I've had days like that too).

Thanks for posting AndrewKemendo.
posted by lonefrontranger at 11:38 AM on January 24, 2011


pseudonumb wrote: The careful analysis and marking of the tube beforehand made me smile. He's got time and reason to do that? Does he not already know what the specs of that tube are?

Tubes don't always conform to spec. Columbus is probably the best of the lot in terms of butt length, but even so, you need to check. It's a pretty important issue if you're building with lugs, as you can end up with lug points protruding into the transition zone or into the thinner part of the tube. Given that the thin bit of the tube can be .5mm or less, it's not a trivial issue. It's also why toolmakers offer tubing butt gauges.
posted by tim_in_oz at 11:39 AM on January 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


Only moderately off-topic, I would just like to mention that my 1985 StumpJumper Sport has a lugged steel frame.

I believe it to be among the first production mountain bikes at the time.

I just (saturday) got it back from the shop where I had the bottom bracket and cranks replaced. The BB froze up on me last Tues. after 25 years of riding.

Also, if you're looking for a frame builder in Tucson, I recommend Dave Bohm - he did a nice job replacing the rear drop-outs for me a couple of years ago.

> Because everyone knows that all bespoke bike builders are evil bastards and rich as Nazis.

Heh. I like that.
posted by mmrtnt at 12:18 PM on January 24, 2011


Columbus is probably the best of the lot in terms of butt length

What does that even mean? Consistency? According to who? I worked with Tange and Reynolds for years with very few defects or deviations ever showing up. And I'm familiar with transition zones etc., thanks.
There's a rather large amount of BS and marketing in the bicycle industry, which is a damn shame in my opinion - but most consumers seem to be impressed and motivated by it. Even the retro-fans. I don't want to step on any small businessperson's toes, but I call Pepsi Blue on this one.
posted by Pseudonumb at 12:19 PM on January 24, 2011


Who was it, Chuck Ibis (Scott Nicol)? Moron tubing, it's got more on the ends. Heh.
posted by fixedgear at 12:24 PM on January 24, 2011


Compare and contrast with Dennis Bushnell seen in a video building frames at R+E Cycles in Seattle. No flashy presentation here, but their shop downstairs is jealousy-inducing. The custom tube-mitering setup is my personal favorite.

There are a few other framebuilding videos on the web, but none that I've seen that really matches up to the quality of something like that croissants video from last week. Still:

Geekhouse
Tom Oswald cuts lugs, miters tubes.

It's not a video or the assembly of a frame, but last fall Grant Petersen put out a series of PDFs laying out the steps to designing a bicycle frame.

It reminds me that I need to get my shop cleaned up and put some more time behind the torch. Reading about theory is good, but there's no substitute for practice, practice, practice.
posted by lantius at 12:38 PM on January 24, 2011 [2 favorites]


tubing butt gauges

butt gauges! butt gauges! man, i'm twelve.
posted by mendel at 7:35 PM on January 24, 2011


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