I’ve always been lured by the attraction of opposites, energized by questioning convention and the adventure of conquering challenges that come with taking a different if not unexpected path forward. So when in late 2014, I was presented with an opportunity to do some Brooklyn-based consulting work in public bike share, I was more than a little intrigued.
For 40 years, I built and nurtured Serotta Cycles as an R&D and manufacturing business that was highly dedicated to engineering and crafting one stunningly perfect racing bicycle at a time specifically for each individual client/athlete. At Serotta, no options were off the table and no expenses spared.
On the other hand, public bike shares are service companies that provide convenient, low cost, utilitarian transportation to the masses with sturdy one-size-fits-all equipment. On top of these pluses, cities that support bicycling-friendly infrastructure will find it possible to dramatically reduce road congestion, maintenance costs and pollution while the population steadily becomes healthier!
The opportunity to participate in this sphere engaged my social sensibilities in a way that I hadn’t felt since the early days of the environmental movement. Within a few days I’d developed a path to wind down my other business interests and dove into the deep end of something completely new.
At my core, I identify as someone who makes things, and I’m happiest when designing or problem solving with my whole being – heart, mind and hands. For a time, the sensory overload of my Brooklyn locale and the demands of a new project provided sufficient cover for the fact that something key was missing from my daily life. That realization finally hit me the day I first met Frank the Welder.
It was January 2016 and I needed to find someone who could make an aluminum prototype of an electric assist model—quickly, accurately and cost effectively. A friend suggested that I contact Frank Wadelton. A kind of a welding jongleur to the bike industry, Frank worked behind the scenes “just making stuff” for a variety of respected brands. Applying his skills, ingenuity and experience, he quietly helped shape the evolution of the modern mountain and bmx bicycle, and earned himself ‘living legend’ status among his peers.
As I first stepped inside the Vermont home of FTW it was immediately obvious that Frank’s special reason for being is to make things. With both space and time limited, Frank has eschewed formal entryways and display shrines for pure purpose. The work areas are packed with well-loved machines and every nook and cranny holds specialty fixtures or tools for making new ones. Combined, the assemblage is Frank’s proprietary toolbox for the making of a limitless range of bikes, motorized (gas and electric) vehicles and pretty much anything else that can take shape with some machining, a welding torch and creative genius, not necessarily in that order.
Over the next couple of hours I was also able to observe Frank’s small team at work—Matt and Garrett, FTW’s two shop assistants, with Oliver, who handles a wide range of non-production support duties and Garfield, the ever-present shop cat, rounding out the crew. And then, of course, there’s Frank, who moves from one interaction to the next with an aura of seriousness calm, directing a productive flow of effort that was both organic and pleasing to watch.
I felt very much at home standing there in the midst of their activity, the way one feels when visiting a much-visited, favorite relative’s home and then it hit me—just how much I missed making bicycles. I’d spent the better part of the last fifteen years running a business the way a conductor leads an orchestra. Wielding the baton can be gratifying in many ways, but not in the same way that producing music with your own hands or breath can fill your soul. I knew at that moment that I absolutely had to get my hands dirty again.
And with that I began to plan my next adventure.
Part II First Cut (coming soon)