What an amazing place – somewhere dedicated to helping people create bicycles of all shapes and sizes. It feels so incredibly immersive, almost glutinous, as I’ve never been able to chat so much about bicycles and riding. And the real clincher is the calibre of the people that you are talking with. When Robin Mather casually walked over and asked how I was getting on I honestly had to tell myself not to hug him immediately. You’ve got Paul Burford from BTR Fabrications ambling through the building with his Springer Spaniel, on his way to their workshop next door. While Tom Sturdy orders the next batch of tubing to maintain the healthy stock levels. And just the general air of quiet, considered knowledge is palpable. But, and this is the trick, it’s all so humble. We all eat lunch together, which the staff take in turns to make, and we eat it while chatting about everyday stuff. But there is always this under-lying collective appreciation and desire for knowledge associated with the humble bicycle.
The next thing to strike me is just the sheer quality of what’s being taught. Not just because of the experience and clarity of those teaching it, but also the thought that has gone into how you get a novice like me to absorb all of this information. I’m in the fortunate position to have done another frame building course at another venue about eight years ago. But the difference in what and how I’m learning is like night and day. The Bicycle Academy seems like a very appropriate name.
If I’m honest, I was incredibly disappointed with that first frame building course I did – it all felt way too rushed, I’m truly embarrassed to show people the frame that I built, and I certainly didn’t leave with the knowledge to build another one. So, I then decided to sign myself on to a night-course in welding at Hammersmith and Fulham College in the hope of gaining a better understanding of brazing. But this was primarily aimed at people from the automotive industry and didn’t really help a great deal. Finally, I bought a Jiggernaught (an MDF frame jig) in the hope that if I could at least get some tubes mitred and held in the correct position then I would be heading in the right direction. But I ended up just sort of running out of steam and eventually gave up on the idea in about 2014. However, the itch has slowly returned, this time with the added impetus of wanting to put my thinking on mountain bike geometry into practice. And so, I now find myself at The Bicycle Academy on their seven-day frame building course.
Day one and we spent the morning going through some theory on bike geometry as well as some structural considerations. Then, after lunch, we finalised the geometry of the frames that we will build, and I began to work out how I might get my chainstays to work. These are probably the most complicated part of my frame, having to accommodate a three-inch tyre, clearance for the front sprocket, a relatively wide belt, tensioning of the aforementioned belt as well as a 180mm disc rotor.
I’m on the course with two others. I know that I’m a bit weird to have spent the best part of the last two-years developing my thoughts about what I wanted to make. But one student’s only criteria was that he wanted a 27.5+ mountain bike while the other, when asked what he might want to make, literally said ‘I don’t really know’. Clearly, I’m even more of an oddball than I had thought!