Philadelphia Excursion

I took the Chinatown bus to Philadelphia on Thursday, then cycled up Germantown Avenue to the lovely Chestnut Hill area where I found the Wissahickon Cyclery, with the Engin Cycles workshop behind it.

Wissahickon bike store front.

Engin workshop sign

 Engin Cycle Works is a very well-equipped frame building workshop behind Wissahickon Cyclery, owned and run by Drew Guldalian.  Drew has been running the bike shop for 16 years, and started to build frames 7 years ago. Drew has tried many commercially available jigs and fixtures, but has not been totally satisfied with the accuracy of them, so has begun to make his own. Drew owns several milling machines, lathes and fixtures, and explained how they all have a valid purpose.

The Engin workshop.

The man behind the machines - Drew Guldalian.

Drew has concentrated his time on getting his frame building process right, and then having the best machines and fixtures for the job. One horizontal milling machine is used only for tube mitring, and so has the table bolted in place so that the mitring fixture is always dead-centre around its pivot point. The fixture has interchangeable butt-stops of different sizes, which represent the different tubing sizes. This way, the tube length can be measured very accurately.

Tube mitring fixture.

Drew explained that horizontal milling machines are very useful for mitring tubes, and are very accurate. He showed me a German-made horizontal machine made by Deckel that he said was extremely accurate, and also came with a detachable vertical milling head.

Deckel name plate.

Deckel milling machine.

Vertical milling head for Deckel mill.

Drew showed me his own design fork fixture, which he made himself. It can measure from the brake hole in the crown, or the crown race seat. Everything moved very well and smoothly, with no sloppy fit anywhere.

The Engin fork fixture.

Close up view.


Fork jig detail showing brake hole mounting point and v-block steerer clamp.

Next, I was shown a tool that Drew uses when milling his fixtures, an “edge-finder”.

Drew explains the importance of using an edge finder when precision machining. This one is disassembled. If I remember correctly, the conical pointed part is to find the centre point of a hole.

 He explained how this is essential when making precision equipment. The edge-finder is held in the headstock of the milling machine and spun.

The edge finder in action. A parallel is held in the machine vice next to the workpiece to give an extended edge to take a measurement from.

It can be seen to wobble around its centre on its own built-in spring. When it comes close to the edge of the piece and touches it, it can be seen to wobble less. When the edge-finder moves closer to the edge, the wobbling stops, and when it is right at the edge, the sprung edge-finder kicks out slightly.

To find the exact point of the edge, the width of the edge-finder is then halved to find the centre point of the milling spindle (a parallel bar is used in the machine vice next to the workpiece to give a convenient extended edge).

The exact centre line of the workpiece can now be calculated by halving the measured width of the piece, then moving the table by this distance exactly with the graduated handwheel.

In this case, the piece was a stem/steerer binder made from 4130 chro-moly, which had to be mitred to fit on the stem, and slotted along the centreline to allow it to open and close. A hole saw was put into the milling machine to cut the mitre into the now-centred binder. The mitre was then cut,

Centrally milled binder.

..and cleaned up with an end-mill:

Cleaning up the cut with an endmill.

The central binder slot was cut with a slotting saw on a horizontal milling machine; the distance from the edge to the centre noted and transposed from the previous exercise.

Preparing to slot the binder centrally on a horizontal mill.

Taking the cut.

Binder held in position on stem.


The stem is held in a stem jig, ready to be welded.

Drew also showed me his unicrown fork fixture, designed to hold the blades very precisely and in phase with each other. Drew only uses straight fork blades with his road and cyclo-cross bikes.

Unicrown fork jig. The fork blades are held at the bottom on cones, before the dropouts are added.

The tops of the blades are clamped down to keep the blades in phase.

Fixture detail.

 There was also a large selection of Diacro tubing benders in the workshop, each one set up for a specific tubing size and task, and marked and graduated for each desired bend radius. This is all part of Drew’s striving toward his mantra of accuracy, consistency, repeatability and speed.

Diacro tubing benders.

Bender closeup

Bender graduations.

Next, Drew showed me a newly Tig-welded mountain bike fork, with two cross-pieces between the steerer and the straight blades. There are many angles to be considered when mitring and constructing this type of fork, and Drew showed me a very clever fixture he had just developed for mitring the component tubes.

Mountain bike fork detail. Several different angles must be considered with this type of fork.

Here are some more pictures from the Engin Cycles workshop:

Frame in a Sputnik Tool frame jig. I liked the way the angle graduations are moved further outward than with other jigs of this type, thus making them further apart and easier to read and fine-tune.

Carefully bent stays.

Rear view of frame.Frame number stamping press

Frame number stamping press


The press in action on a bottom bracket shell. Bearing cups or machined equivalents are inserted to prevent distortion of the shell.

Drew takes his alignment datum from the head-tube, not the bottom bracket shell face, and also incorporates seat tube clamps into the surface table, machined specifically for each tube size to retain the centreline with relation to the head tube.

Surface table.

All dummy axles are marked with a centreline to check the centring of the rear triangle with a surface gauge.

Centre line on dummy axle.

A measuring gauge made by Drew.

Drew defended his stance on owning multiple machine tools by explaining that they were of good quality, and would last longer than the rest of his life.

Here are some pictures of a finished Engin Frame that I took during my visit:

Painted touring frame.

Complete with matching fenders.

I also met Simon Firth, a British ex-pat that actually used to work for the same courier company as me in London.  Small world.  Simon has built frames for Bilenky for years, but is now working with Drew at Wissahickon for 3 days a week, and working on his own frames and equipment the rest of the time.  I also had the pleasure of seeing his first frame build under his own new marque, Hanford.

The birth of a legend - The first Hanford frame is built up at Via Bicycle, an amazing bike shop in Philadelphia.

A proper bike shop.

Lots of bikes..

Hanford Headbadge

Simon shows me a classic old frame from the depths of Via Bicycle's many treasures.

Ephgrave badge - they were made in Clapton, London E5, where I currently live.

Ephgrave headbadge, showing that it was made in Clapton, E5.

Upstairs at Via Bicycle. Too much to write about here.

 I tagged along with Simon and Joel, who works at Via Bicycle (The Hanford frame was built for him) to a swap meet in Brooklyn, where the bike was going to be shown to the local bike aficionados.

At the bike "swap meet" in Brooklyn, or cycle jumble as we call it in the UK.

The bike attracted a lot of interest. Not surprisingly.

Hanford number 1 from another angle.

I went for a ride to a local eatery/pub with Simon, Joel and some other bike enthusiasts, including the Brooks Saddles rep. Brooks are doing a storming trade in the US, and I saw them everywhere.

Simon showed me the beginnings of a frame jig he was making at Engin. This was the BB post.

The next day, I rode up to North 2nd St to visit Bilenky Cycles, where I spoke to Stephen Bilenky about his company and took some more pictures:

Bilenky Bikes door.

Stephen Bilenky

 Stephen Bilenky started building bike frames in 1984. He is largely self-taught, but had lots of vocational training at an agricultural college where he was taught shop skills, repairs and fabrication. He also took more vocational post-college courses in welding and brazing.

Stephen did study under Jim Gittins for a time, who at one time built under contract for Condor amongst others.

Stephen said that 85% of the information needed to start out can now be found on the internet.

There were 5 employees at work at the time of my visit.

Bilenky make fillet-brazed, lugged and Tig welded steel frames, and also some titanium frames.

A CAD program is used to design the frames, and the tubing is cut and mitred by machine. The frames are built using fixtures made by Anvil Bikeworks.  Bilenky also undertakes all kinds of frame repairs.

Frame fit is worked out using body measurements, a size cycle or the customer’s current bike.

Bilenky produces between 100 and 150 bikes per year, depending on the type and level of customisation, as the build-time can vary greatly.

 Several years ago, Bilenky decided to focus on tandem frames, and as the market was small, they became well-known in this specialised field. This helped the business to grow.

Pre-internet, Bilenky relied on articles in magazines and word of mouth for marketing. Bilenky’s bicycles were reviewed by Bicycling magazine twice in the 1980’s, and also in the 90’s.

Nowadays, Bilenky relies mainly on internet promotion, but shows are also important.

The local Philadelphia market is not particularly strong, so the main market is national and international. At the time of my visit, two frames were being built for customers in Denmark, and another was being built for someone in Japan.

Stephen explained that the company did not get online until 1998, and before that he would receive letters from people interested in his bikes, and reminisced that the only other form of communication was the telephone. I asked Stephen whether he thought an increase in the number of apprenticeships would benefit the industry, or whether he thought it could potentially increase competition too much. He replied that individual frame builders tend to make their own market, so increasing numbers would most likely benefit the industry as a whole, rather than increase competition.

Here are some pictures from around the workshop:

Bilenky Bikes workshop

Lots of frames.

Masked and primed frames.


Enormous Milwaukee Mill

Painted frames

Stephen discusses paint with an employee.

Tandem frames.


Tandem frame in an Anvil frame jig.

Next stop will be Boston to pick up the rental car.  First stop on the road trip will be Sputnik Tool in Maine.

5 Comments on “Philadelphia Excursion”

  1. simon says:

    Im actually working in the retail store 3 days a week & Drew is very kindly letting me use his workshop & brain to build some tooling the rest of the week so I can get myself up & running on my own, his frame shop is 100% a one man show.
    it was great to have you visit philly & I hope you enjoy the rest of your trip, Ill look you up when im next in the UK

    • Hi Simon,
      Cheers, I had a great time out your way. Thanks for putting me up. I’m going to try and upload more pics of the Philadelphia stuff, like your bike and the stuff Drew showed me with the milling machines – I took careful notes and plenty of pics with Drew, it’s just that I didn’t have a computer handy. Was good to see you on the S&S couplers website too by chance! I put a post on the Moving Target forum about spotting you, and Buffalo Bill said he was glad that I bumped into you.
      Take it easy,

  2. simon says:

    “birth of a legend” very nice…

  3. Great insights on line. We have similar beliefs here at Stephenson Equipment when it comes to anything crane or construction equipment related – whether it’s Maintenance, sales or service we stand behind our word, just as you have here. Great post my friend.

    I look forward to reading more in the future and if there is anything I can ever do for you please don’t hesitate to call or email my friend.

    Truly yours,

    Stephenson Equipment

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