I have been humbled by my own path…
Those of you familiar with The Tao of Pooh and the Te of Piglet by Benjamin Hoff may remember this fable and if you haven’t, I urge you to read these two books. I was given the first in my early twenties by a dear friend who is no longer with us and it dramatically changed my life. I went on to read the second as it was an obvious natural progression.
In solving problems, one first needs to know if they are problems. Is what happens first to be bad truly bad? The following Taoist writing shows the importance of that question…
An old man and his son lived in an abandoned fortress on the side of a hill. There only possession of value was a horse.
One day the horse ran away. The neighbours came by to offer sympathy. “That’s really bad!” they said. “How do you know?” asked the old man.
The next day the horse returned, bringing with it several wild horses. The old man and his son shut them all inside the gate. The neighbours hurried over. “That’s really good!” they said. “How do you know?” asked the old man.
The following day the son tried riding one of the wild horses, fell off, and broke his leg. The neighbours came round as soon as they heard the news. “That’s really bad!” they said. “How do you know?” asked the old man.
The day after that the army came through, forcing the local young men into service to fight a faraway battle against the northern barbarians. Many of them would never return. But the son couldn’t go because he had broken his leg.
We see here that our route to happiness and fulfilment in life are not always as obvious as we think. It is a combination of all of the good and bad things that have happened to us that bring us down the paths to where we are now.
I have been heavily reminded of this over the last few days and very much so today. This is not going to be a short post and I may even have to leave it and finish it over the next couple of days. I want to share it as I have had many trials and tribulations over the last few years and today’s events have been a stark reminder of where I am, how I got here and how lucky I truly am. And besides, I am not a big reader, but try and stop me when I want to write what is in my heart. Go on; I dare ya!!
So, today started like any other day having not completed everything I wanted to complete yesterday. Most prominently, I was awake earlier than I needed to be and just couldn’t go back to sleep. So, I got up and continued where I left off; looking for my camera charger. God knows what black hole it has fallen into because I have seen it since I opened my suitcase three days ago. My only choice was to find somewhere to buy a new one as I needed the camera to take photos at NAHBS.
Turns out, the only place I could get one didn’t open ‘til 10am and I was supposed to be at a seminar about mitring tapered head tubes. It’s not important if you don’t know what that is. In fact, it wasn’t really important that I knew what it was. I would, for all intents and purposes, I would have been learning something just for learning’s sake… something I am not really a fan of. I believe we have enough to learn in our own lives to try and take on learning things we don’t actually need to know. However, it still had me in a bit of a tiz!!
Got the charger, made my way to the show and had to leave the car without a parking permit on it to go and use a toilet, risking getting a parking ticket for the rental company and then returned to the car to sort that out. I got my stuff for the day together and made my way into the convention centre only to be pulled up for not having my pass. I can tell you the morning had, by now, literally given me a head ache. I managed to sort that out with the officials and didn’t have too much time before I had to be at my next seminar.
Rushing around trying to take in all the show had to offer with a headache really wasn’t my idea of a good day and there was a point where I was just thinking of going back to where I was staying for the day and re-addressing it on Sunday. However, I wanted to attend the last remaining seminar for the day and knew I would have no chance of covering the rest of the show properly if I left it all until the last day. So I soldiered on and shortly after the seminar left the show to go and get some food and try to re-group.
After all, I am here to get inspiration for my next frame builds and make important contacts that seem to have to be made face to face… emails and telephone calls across the pond just haven’t been getting the results. There is only so much you can tell about a frame component over the internet.
I had spent the previous day and a half making my way around what we will call the finished product end of the arena and now I had to get down and dirty with the guys who make the bits that allow us to build bicycle frames. You know the sort of thing; lugs, tubes, fork crowns, fixtures and the like. First stop, Nova – the frame builders’ source.
For those of you who don’t know much about how a bicycle frame is constructed, I am going to give you a little metaphor and it will hopefully help you understand the skill that goes into making a custom bicycle. Straight from the manufacturer, the components that form a bicycle frame DO NOT fit together. It is like trying to make a Lego house with marbles. It truly is that surreal!! Anyone who can make a decent bicycle frame is gifted; a person who has worked hard and long to make it happen. Even when you have worked out how to do it, have all the right tools and what you think are the skills to get the job done, another gremlin will jump out and slap you in the face.
Now, I was keen to meet the guys from Nova because they sell some really nice frame components that just aren’t available in the UK. But when I turned up at their booth, three men were sitting around a table talking intensely. So I moved on to the Henry James stand.
I have been trying to get hold of their bottom bracket shells and lugs for a little while. Here in America, Henry James is considered one of the fore fathers of frame building. They make several different frame building fixtures, tools and a host of beautiful lugs and True Temper tubing. The stand was pretty packed and so I had a look at their offerings whilst I waited for someone to be free. I talked about how I had given up getting their bottom bracket shells for one of the frames I have built for Bespoked 2014 as we had to crack on and get it made before my trip to NAHBS. They apologised and explained they had been all hands to the pumps to get the new website live before the show.
I completely understood as the previous website was literally like reading old manuscript… black and white photos took in the 70s with a Kodak camera stylie!! It was well past the time when the site had to match the quality of the product. I am reminded; I need to do some polishing up of the Malcolm Custom Bicycle site.
Henry (I’ll call him Hank as that is how Ron Cooper referred to him) himself was on the stand and once he had finished talking to someone, I was introduced to him. A softly spoken man, I would say well into his eighties, talked with me for maybe half hour. Amongst other things he told me of his time in England doing an engineering degree before returning to America and getting into frame building. He asked me about my bicycle building and how I had learnt to build frames. I explained that I had taught myself in the main with advice from Llewellyn and when I really got stuck would go down to see Ron Cooper for some practical lessons.
Both have helped me in ways that are above and beyond what one could expect and it was nice to talk to Hank about Ron in particular as they spent a lot of time working together in America, literally back in the day. They have some new products coming out which will give frame builders more scope to make unique frames moving forward.
I would have liked to talk to Hank for hours, but time was pressing on and there was a small queue of people to take my place. Making my way around the stands to look at more components and accessories to finish bikes off I passed by Pauls Components, Velo Orange and finally made the double back to Nova where I was pleasantly surprised to find Lon Kennedy (owner of Nova cycle supplies) there on his own.
We introduced ourselves and quickly got to talking about all manner of things from frame components to a detailed discussion of our respective history in and out of the bike game. I guess we spoke for an hour and it was a real walk down each others’ memory lanes.
It was a very pleasant experience to sit down with a man who knows so much about the bicycle industry and what it takes to become a custom frame builder. I didn’t realise it at the time, but the opportunity to go back through the process of becoming a frame builder was extremely emotional. When we had finished talking he asked me to choose something from his range of frame components to take with me gratis; a fork crown maybe. I was overwhelmed and choose a FLAT TOP STYLE NOVA ROAD FORK CROWN.
A year or so ago, I purchased an original Reynolds 531 tube set and it has been in my loft ever since. I have been thinking about when I might make a frame out of it and am not in any kind of rush as I want it to be something really special. Now I have the right fork crown it might be time to bring it to fruition.
NAHBS was closing up for the day. As I made my way out of the convention centre I really did become very emotional. I felt the last couple of hours meeting Hank and Lon were wonderful pivot points in my life and career. There have been many right back to my childhood when I started racing bicycles in a little town in outback Australia. My racing career to become a successful competitor for my country, my days becoming a highly regarded bicycle mechanic by the likes of Condor Cycles to today where true ambassadors for the bicycle frame building fraternity had taken me under their wing.
I was very upset when Ron Cooper passed away! Not because I had lost someone who could help me further my ambitions, but because a truly talented and sweet, humble man who had taken the time to be my friend and share his life experiences with me was no longer with us.
Thank you Lon for your time, advice and generosity at the show, but especially for taking me under your wing and offering me all the help I could need in the future. It has been a wonderful reminder that we, as builders of bicycle frames have been and continue to be a close knit fraternity. We share the same goal of making Lego houses out of marbles and support each other in that goal.
I spent the half hour or so drive back to where I am staying thinking about what I would write; how the day was closing in on me at the get go and how because I had not let everything get on top of me ended making new friends and remembering old ones with great fondness. I have tears in my eyes and warmth in my heart. I feel it is the end of a tough chapter of my life and the beginning of a great one. A time to take the strength, wisdom and humility I have gained and make some beautiful bikes with it; really put my heart and soul into them.
I want to take this opportunity to thank dearly the people who have helped me get to this milestone in my frame building career; my family, my friends and those who didn’t know me when I started on this challenge and have been there to help me see it through. Watch out world… I am about to make some truly awesome bicycles.
Special thanks go to (in no particular order) Han, The Duke, Big Mumma, Phlexa, Mr Simpson, Ron, Llewellyn and Little Miss Long. You have all given me time, strength, inspiration and much much more. And lets’ not forget Benjamin Hoff, for without him I may have a different outlook on life. It’s time to finish reading those books again having started my third read a year or so ago and then putting them down. How time flies when you are making bikes!!
I must have known this would be one of those moments in life when you come back to yourself. Otherwise, why did I bring them on this adventure?
The eye candy is here…