United Bicycle Institute, Portland, Oregon.

As I was staying at the Friendly Bike Guesthouse,  the unofficial but very local accommodation used by most UBI students, it wouldn’t be cricket to miss out on a tour of UBI before I head home to Blighty.  I called UBI and spoke to Steve Glass, who agreed to give me a tour this morning.

UBI is now in it’s 30th year of operation, and their frame building classes started in 1990.

Bike mechanic training classroom.

Mechanic workstation.

Mechanic students get a Park Tool book and a UBI water bottle by the looks of things.

Steve and I then walked across the courtyard to the frame building shop.

Frame building workshop / classroom.

Frames are designed on paper rather than computers to increase the learning experience.

Frame drawing detail.

Tubing stocks. UBI keep stocks of Dedacciai, Columbus and Kasei tubing.

Richard Sachs lugs in the house.

All the lugs a budding frame builder could want..

Trued and perfectly dished wheels for checking alignment when building frame rear triangles.

Chainstays are mitred on this machine, with a fixture (not pictured).

Head tubes, steerers and crown race seats are cut on this lathe.

Over the years, students from 40 different countries have studied at UBI, but students from the UK make up a very small percentage.  Many students come from Japan, Korea and the far east.

Classes generally follow a pattern of lecture and demonstration, then students apply this to their own frame.  Frame building classes are 2 weeks long.

Sometimes, guest instructors such as Tony Pereira and Joseph Ahearne take a class.

Tig welding and brazing classes are offered.

Students are given practice joins to complete:

Practice join.

The welded or brazed joins are then tested by inserting a bar and levered on. A break on the weld, you lose. Above the weld, you progress to working on your frame.

This triangular practice piece is used for Tig welding.

Don't be mean, we all have to start somewhere.

Bottle boss brazing practice.

Arctos frame jig.

Main tube mitring is done on this milling machine.

Milling head is angled to cut the mitres into the tubes.

Tig welding machines

Frame building workstations

More workstations.

Workstation detail.

Oxy-acetylene rig.

So that concludes my US frame building trip.  Thank you America.

I fly home to London tomorrow.


A Cup of Coffee with Rob Tsunehiro.

The other day, when I was returning from the Chris King tour with Andy Newlands and other members of the OBCA, I overheard Rob Tsunehiro, owner of Tsunehiro Cycles talking about a pair of rear disc brake dropouts that he had designed himself and had cnc milled.  This subject was interesting to me because I had also thought about getting some dropouts made to my own designs.  I decided to call Rob a couple of days later and persuade him to meet me to talk about how he went about it.

Rob got the coffees in, and then showed me the goods, which looked very impressive:

Rob's dropout

Designed with the help of CAD software, Rob saw this project through from beginning to end, helped in no small part by the fact that he’s a qualified mechanical engineer, with lots of experience that he’s taken from working for Boeing on their super long-range airliners.

Rob talked to me about how as a youngster he would take his mountain bike suspension forks apart to try to work out how to improve them when their travel would start to stick.

From a sketch..to a CAD file, to a real, tangible object.

Rob explained how it was more fulfilling to produce something where he had total control at every stage, and could feel much more involved with the creation of a tangible product, than when he had to produce a 130-page structural analysis on a single component for an airliner, having to work with several different departments.

Rob gave me some advice:

– When you are designing your piece, wherever possible, try to enable the machinist to use easily accessible machine bit sizes. In the US, the Enco catalog can be useful here.

– Keep material thicknesses to a minimum to keep machining times and therefore costs down.

– Designing a piece that only requires a 3-axis milling machine will make it cheaper and easier to find a machinist who can undertake the work.

– Get blanks laser-cut to just larger than your piece’s ultimate dimensions to minimise machine-time:

These laser-cut blanks have extended lugs to anchor the piece to an aluminium base, and the holes are drilled & tapped. These also work as reference points for the milling operation. I think. If I remember correctly (I never worked for Boeing..).

– Often, it is likely that all is needed is 2D CAD software, and the 3D aspect can be “extruded” from this data.

– A .dxf file might be ok to send to a cnc machining company.

Rob also talked to me about his adventures in the Oregon Manifest Constructor’s Design Challenge, and the perils and excitement of long races over gravel roads carrying a 6-pack of beer on a rack through the Oregon hills..

A Tsunehiro bike took pride of place upon the wall in the cafe at Legare’s Community Resource Center:

..Complete with cnc'd aluminium front rack.

You should go there, they can teach you how to weld or bend motorcycle exhausts.  They serve coffee and bake nice stuff, too.

Thanks Rob, you answered a lot of my questions and filled in a lot of gaps in my knowledge.

Next stop, a tour of UBI frame building school, Portland Oregon.

Vanilla Bicycles

Today I rode over to Vanilla Bicycles on SE Powell Blvd, Portland.

Vanilla's front door, also home to Coat, their in-house painting and powdercoating company, and Speedvagen, their racing bike wing.

Vanilla was established in 1999 by Sacha White, and the painting/powdercoating facility was launched about 5 years ago.  There are 7 employees, some of whom are part-time.

Vanilla make lugged and fillet-brazed frames, whereas the Speedvagen bikes are all tig welded.

I was particularly interested in the painting side of things here, so I asked my guide Mike if he would show me around.

Final frame prepping area before painting. Any masking or final finishing of the metal is done here before the frames are painted/coated.

Powder coat oven.

Some frames in the paint room.

Mike shows me the paint templates for the Vanilla logo. The different sized text width is so that the lettering can be one colour, and then another smaller template can be lined up over the first one and sprayed a different colour to give the appearance of a border. Vanilla use no decals or stickers, only paint.

Fender (mudguard!) painting jig. The wheel can spin freely.

More frames..

Paint & powder spraybooth.

Through-draft ventilation system (this is on the ceiling).

Paint curing booth.

DuPont Chromabase paints. Automotive industry standard, and the official paint of NASCAR.

Mike showed me how each pot is automatically stirred at the touch of a button a couple of times a day, to stop the paints from settling too much.

This gigantic frame was in to be painted. The owner is a basketball player.

Something is being done here, but I can't remember what.

Vanilla’s in-house painting & powder coating facilities serve many of the local frame builders.

Here are some more pictures from my visit to Vanilla:

Bridgeport milling machine. Of course.

Anvil tube mitring fixture mounted on a horizontal mill.

Finished frame with V for Vanilla dropout.

This seatpost system will be attached with a metal shim.

Vanilla fitting area.

The latest Speedvagen, with Shimano Di2 electronic gear shifting.

Close-up of Di2 front derailleur.

Mitch Pryor – Map Bicycles

Yesterday I cycled down to N.Page Street, Portland, to pay a visit to Mitch Pryor of Map Bicycles.  I had a good excuse to gatecrash Mitch’s workshop as I’d bought a lug vice from Herbie Helm while I was going up and down the East Coast, and Herbie sent the vice to his friend Mitch so that I could pick it up when I got to Portland.

The Map Bicycles shop.

Mitch shares this space with Joseph Ahearne of Ahearne Cycles.

Mitch went to study frame building with Doug Fattic in 2004, and uses Doug’s frame jig:

The Doug Fattic frame jig.

Mitch moved to this space 4 years ago, when it was empty, but now there is a bike store at one end of the building, Metropolis Cycles, and 2 other cycle-related people have also moved in recently next door.

Map downtube logo.

Map head badge

Mitch also makes very fine racks; made from 4130 chromoly tubing, which comes from a company called Dillsberg in Pennsylvania in 8ft lengths.

Brazed custom front racks.

The racks must be sanded and polished very carefully, as the chrome-plating will not hide any file marks, etc.  Mitch told me that there are 3 chrome platers in the Portland area.

Map pannier racks

Cantilever brake bosses.

The cantilever bosses are put on with the help of the Anvil canti-boss jig:

Anvil canti boss jig. The bottom part attaches to the dropouts where the axle would be.


A couple of frames on the wall. Several more were at the paint shop.

The stem on this bike was nickel plated.

Ahearne bike. Sorry, not my best photography.

My next stop is Vanilla Bicycles.

Dave Levy – Ti Cycles

After the visit to Chris King, we headed to a very secluded forest road in the hills overlooking Portland to take a look around Dave Levy’s Ti Cycles workshop.

The workshop

My knowledge of working with titanium was patchy to say the least, so I pestered Dave for the following nuggets of information..

– Increased cleanliness is needed. Dave’s Ti tubes are cleaned abrasively inside and outside, then cleaned with an ultra-sonic cleaner before being dried carefully with towels.

– Ti has less thermal conductivity than steel, and so holds heat in one place for longer.

– Ti is more flexible than steel, so requires more flexing than steel to align a tube or frame and overcome any “memory effect” where the metal tries to return to its pre-cold-setting position.  This necessitates a higher BB post on the alignment table:

Higher BB post on alignment table (although the frame seen here is steel).

– Ti is a reactive metal, and so Argon is needed to back-purge inside the tubes as well as to shield the weld area to prevent oxidisation.

– Ti doesn’t like having a hard line pressed into it as this can cause the tube to fail from a stress fracture.  That means, unlike with steel, where you can press a dent into a chainstay to give more tyre or chainring clearance:

Chainstay "denters" for steel (the longer one is for use with track ends).

Dave ovalizes his titanium chainstays.

Ovalized chainstays

This device is used to ovalize larger titanium tubes, like tandem downtubes:

The tube is placed between the angle iron lengths and squeezed in a vice to the desired amount.

– Ti is good for manipulating and ovalizing.

Most of Dave’s frames are left bare metal and just Scotchbrite finished with a Dynafile.

Air-powered Dynafile.

A nice bit of tig welded titanium.

Ti Cycles seat tube decal.

Here are some more pictures from around the workshop:

Bike Machinery frame jig.

Made in Italy

Tig welded steel - Dave also does oxy-acetylene brazing.

On the Ti frames Bottle cage bosses are Rivnuts - they work like a pop rivet, but screw on to the tool.

Rivnut tool.

Files and other hand tools.

Hydraulic bender

These next shots are from upstairs in the office area:

Titanium tandem.

Demountable frame fitted with S&S couplers.

Detail of Titanium S&S coupler

So, that concludes the Ti Cycles shop tour.

My next post will be from my visit to Mitch Pryor at Map Bicycles.

A Trip to the Chris King Factory..

I was lucky enough to be able to tag along on a factory visit to Chris King yesterday.  Andy Newlands drove us to the Portland site, along with Eric Estlund of Winter Bicycles and Rob Tsunehiro of Tsunehiro Cycles.

Dave Levy of Ti Cycles was also in attendance, and were also treated to a tour of his workshop later on..

Here are some pictures from the Chris King tour:

Outside the Chris King factory. The building was previously a coffee-roasting warehouse. It's much bigger than what you can see here, 70,000 sq ft in total. The whole operation was moved here fairly recently from their Reading premises, where they were located for 3 years. Only the anodizing department is still to be set up at this site.

There are 14,000 parts in stock at this site.  I wasn’t allowed to photograph the production floor, but it was a little like this:

All bearings are made by hand.

Chris King try to make their bearings fit all applications, ie. the headsets, hubs and bottom brackets are all essentially the same bearing design, available in 5 different sizes.  The headset bearing is basically their BB bearing turned vertically.

The Chris King cafeteria, complete with dancefloor.

A colourful display of anodized components in the cafeteria.

We learned about how cycling to work is incentivized in credit which can be spent in the canteen,  depending on the amount of miles commuted.  Other perks include raffles and paid days off.  The company sees value in the health of its employees.   Lockers, ventilated changing rooms and showers are provided to make cycling to work easier.

Chris King currently employs about 90 people.  When we looked down onto the R & D area of the shop floor, we were told that one guy, operating a manual lathe, had been with the company for 23 years.  Everything from trade show fixtures to bearing prototypes was made in this area.

We also saw a wheel-building department, but this was presently only used to build wheels ordered with the in-house Cielo brand of bikes.

A promotional T-shirt framed on the wall.

We were shown into the marketing department offices, where we saw lots of memorabilia being prepared for a stand at an exhibition, and we learned how in years gone by Chris King built frames for many other people including some Raleigh USA team bikes.

Assembled components in the sub-assembly department.

Headset bearings in the sub-assembly department. Lots of money's worth..

When we were shown the main production floor, we were told how some lathes and grinders had cast beds that were up to 100 years old, but have been adapted to cnc.

There was one robot working in the factory, used to polish just one type of rear mountain bike hub.  It was bright yellow and worked inside a perspex “cage”, so was nicknamed “the canary”.

Chris King always buy used machines (there were lots of lathes and several 4/5-axis cnc milling machines) as the castings and ways are usually superior, and machines bought on Ebay that often look to be in terrible condition are reconditioned quickly as the company have an extensive store of spares.

Soy-based cutting oils are used, and the oil fumes given off by the machines is recaptured and recycled via a large ventilation system.  A 55 gallon drum of cutting oil is recouped every month.

Oils are squeezed out of swarf with a piston machine, similar to those used for extracting juice from grapes in the wine industry.  The oils are then put through a centrifuge to separate out smaller metal particles.

Bar stock is cut to 4ft lengths to make handling easier and reduce the risk of accidents.

I was given free-rein to photograph the frame building area, where the Cielo brand of frames were being built:

Cielo frame shop area

Columbus tubing is used for the Cielo frames.

In-house cnc machines are used to make dropouts and fork crowns:

Cielo dropout

This fork crown is milled in-house from a chunk of steel, not cast like most are made. Although the crown bears the King logo, when I asked what badge the bike frame would bear, our guide looked at me like I was crazy. It will be a Cielo. Go figure.

Frame jig modelled on Chris King's own design.

Anvil fork blade bender. The pin can be positioned in any hole to stop the bending at a given point.

Tube mitring fixture

A used paintbooth is assembled in the frame building area.

So that was our trip to Chris King.  Hope you learned something.