Homecoming Part II

sand-casting-mold-1_0In these trying times, when basic honesty and integrity have become elusive concepts rather than expected behavioral norms, I find myself looking for identifiable reference points to which I can anchor some remnants of sanity, hope and inspiration. So once I came to the realization that “I had to get my hands dirty again” it was also clear that my professional path forward would bring me back full circle, to working with metals.

Don’t get me wrong, as a designer/dreamer/fabricator, I’m intrigued with composites and plastics. From experience I know that the right combination of design, appropriate application and best manufacturing practice can yield astoundingly great results. But composites use alone does not guaranty great product. The thing is this, underneath any paint it all looks pretty much the same with only a couple of variations, neither of which is a clear indication of the quality within. The designer/manufacturer has a near infinite array of options in selecting materials and processes and this combination- similar appearance with so many variables, is what makes this ‘space age’ material such perfect fodder for deceptive misrepresentation. And no, politicians don’t have exclusivity in this realm. In addition, practical and effective recycling of composite materials is still years away.

On the other hand, there is something innately reassuring about metals. Granted, within the scope of metals there are plenty of variables too, but these concepts are generally simpler to explain, easier to understand, discuss and debate in thoughtful ways. As far as recycling goes, the processes for aluminum, steel and titanium have long been a normal part of the material’s life cycle. Maybe its in my genes, but to me there’s an undeniable primal seductiveness that accompanies working with raw materials that with the use of simple machines and basic hand tools you can transform a raw form into beautiful functional art. Iron and bronze were the central materials of technological innovation for most of the last 4,000 years and no material animates an artisan’s senses the way steel and molten bronze can. Metal = honesty, simplicity, sanity,


C17 tubes, Milan, IT

I could have ordered everything needed from Nova Cycle Supply right then and there and built a pretty road bike with the same materials that hundreds of other builders use. That’s more or less how I started in 1972. But I left that path long ago, there’s just no excitement or gratification in doing something that’s just the same, so over the last twelve months I’ve worked as before with Columbus of Italy and with my favorite Solidworks wizard, Jay Clark, to update and upgrade new proprietary tubing, develop three new sets of dropouts and even a proper carbon fork for disc brakes.

Finally, after months of work and anticipation I returned to FTW headquarters, bringing with me boxes of freshly minted new-age Colorado Style Columbus tubes, CNC’d dropouts, a collection of new fine tooth tube cutters, my own brazing torch, goggles, flux, rod and the boundless desire to build my new ride. Over the course of time, good R&D shops accumulate a collection of house-made specialty tools and fixtures used in completing jobs, so I spent the first day or two looking through Frank’s treasure trove and evaluating which tools would be utilized in making my new bike.

The bottom bracket is the part of the frame where the cranks attach. In Italian it’s called the movimento centrale, or central movement. That phrase fully describes the unique importance of this simple tubular part in designing, crafting and then riding a bicycle. It is the point where all the power a cyclist will ever unleash is transformed into forward movement and the cornerstone from which the complete bicycle evolves. And so, like thousands of times in years before, I set up to make that first simple, yet utterly important miter cut into the seat tube so that it would cradle the bottom bracket perfectly.

With each new project, the first cut is the sweetest. After checking and re-checking the set up, cutter selection and machine speed I was finally ready. Then, remembering to check the rotational direction, I turned the switch that started up the milling machine and slowly began turning the dial, bringing the cutter towards the tube anticipating the first sound of this first cut of my next steel bike.

For more about my new bike, see the my bike page at benserotta.com

11 thoughts on “Homecoming Part II

  1. Pure poetry, Ben! What a lovely and inspired description of a rebirth of enthusiasm, spirit and the love of imagination and craft. I could read about this new renaissance of you forever. Keep up the writing as well as the building. We’re listening…

  2. Ben, so happy to hear of your rejuvenation ! I am so proud to have known you from so long ago and to still have two originals. Including BS # 26 , which was my first competition bike in 1974. Lou Cuevas, Seattle

  3. Ben – this is nice to read. The world today does, indeed, seem upside down with regard to honesty and integrity; with so many people apparently ignorant to the tragedy of it all.

    I still occasionally have dreams about my time at Serotta – I don’t believe I will ever again be a part of making objects of such stunning visceral beauty and elegant genius, and I miss that.

    I wish you and your family the best going forward.

    Kindest regards,
    Paul Schock

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