Jesse and I constructed the very first bicycle frame in the Surreal Foundry & Cycle Shop here in Fremantle, Western Australia. A lugged single speed road bike meant for around town riding. Jesse’s dream workshop is now a reality, and he’s even had an inaugural party to announce the completion of the workshop to the world at large. The ‘world at large’ being, mainly: Friends, family, acquaintances, neighbors, people who somehow helped out with the workshop’s construction, anyone else interested or related. And, perhaps even more importantly, by celebrating the workshop’s completion, this brings a long and somewhat trying process to a point of Closure for both Jesse and his partner Kerry.
The workshop is gorgeous. It’s behind the house, is an asymmetric design, kind of wedge-shaped, which fits well with the huge Norfolk pine and the “flow” of the back garden. The inside of the workshop is I’d guess about 7 or 800 square feet, has it’s own water-efficient toilet, two deep stainless steel sinks, a small area which will eventually be a paint booth, and is stocked with most all of the tools needed to build bikes. Jesse and I have been talking over the past couple of years about
equipment, and he’s gotten himself an Anvil frame fixture and fork fixture (your stuff is bad ass, Don!), a blasting cabinet, a couple of different belt grinders, a variety of hand tools, and this table from Germany that is kind of like the King of All Tables, in terms of what you’d want in a workshop.
The King of All Tables
…is made by a company called Seigmund, as I said, in Germany. It’s perforated and modular and has all these clamps and brackets you can buy that fit the holes so that you can set up and work on anything that needs fixturing in any way. The table weighs right at a ton (850 kilos). It’s called the Professional Extreme 850, if that tells you something, and it’s made from “special” tool steel and is “plasma-nitrided and coated.”
What this means is that the table is extremely tough, heat resistant, scratch resistant, and just generally hard. There’s this awesome video advertisement for the table showing off how tough and bad ass it is by dropping a car on it from like 40 feet up (15 meters) and burying it in gravel and dragging it out with a crane, unscathed. They even blow it up with dynamite (check out the guy in work overalls and hardhat blowing a little bugle to announce the explosion), and the table gets not even a scratch. The video is only 2 minutes long, and is well worth it, even for just the acting and heavy machinery and general absurdity of it all. And everyone in the video keeps a straight face the whole time. Those Germans are something.
Check out the video for the Seigmund Professional Extreme 850 here.
But I’m getting side-tracked. Tools & tables. Building a first bike in a brand new workshop with new tools, you’ve got to expect to run into difficulties, so-called bumps in the road. And we did. We had to make a fork blade bender before we could start the fork. We had to fill the tanks and set up the torch and we then had to replace the faulty regulators. We had to buy silver and flux. I had to learn to braze with these new types of flux, figuring out their properties and heat-windows and all that. We had to figure out the abrasive system for mitering. Oh, and yes, we had to uncrate the frame jig and set it all up. Nice job packing the crate, by the way, Don Ferris. Seems like you’ve spent some time figuring that process out. We had to design a bike around the lugs that Jesse already had in his possession. We had to guess at the lug’s actual angles, because Jesse bought them off a guy who used to build bikes quite a while ago and there was no finding the guy now, not on the internet or otherwise. Japanese track lugs, not like any I’ve seen, exactly. We made an educated guess at the angles. We had to order more bits from Ceeway in England; tubes, steerers, braze-ons, etc., and wait for them to come before we could finish off the bike.
Many hiccups and minor set backs (like right off I cut the first set of fork legs 1 cm too short, which made me feel kind of like an asshole, but not too much so, because that’s just the way it goes sometimes, especially if you let yourself get distracted), but we took the time and did the work and the first set of tubes and lugs became the first bicycle frame built in Jesse’s shop. I was pleased, Jesse was pleased, it’s all going to work out just fine.
Jesse’s got a lot of work ahead of him, learning the millions of little details and skills and the handiwork that goes into building a frame. But he loves bikes and he’s spent a good portion of his adult life making things that uses sapphires and electrons and can read things at distances with a timing that is more accurate than I can even imagine — clocks, he calls them; really high-end clocks. I didn’t study physics enough to comprehend but about 3% of what Jesse made, but whatever it was was quite a bit more complex than making a bicycle frame. A very different skill set.
But I think that one of the things Jesse likes about bikes, which is one of the things that I, too, like, is the very physical interaction with the final product, and the variability of the subjective experience of it. To conceive it, to design it, build it, and then to ride it and get feedback and take that bit of knowledge back into the workshop and refine it and do it again and again, always pushing a little closer to a level of perfection that is yours and yours alone, and sharing it with others and hoping they see what you see — that’s the art, the craft, and really that’s the fun of it, the part that really makes it all worthwhile. In my opinion, anyway.
Jesse’s off to a good start. Now he gets to spend a lot of time working with Seigmund to make his next bike.
My time here is winding down, and spring is in full bloom in Australia. The bike is built and my duties here are pretty much finished. For now. I’m headed out soon; back to the states, to Oregon, home. The past few weeks, even including the time we were working, have been eventful and easy and in many ways a lot like a vacation. I’ve learned a lot of things about Australia that I didn’t know: Natural things, cultural things, things about the economy and government and people’s attitudes toward others and some of the less obvious stuff like how people deal with conflict and what they think of the American Presidential Circus (APC).
I started writing what I thought was going to be a blog post over a week ago, but I’ve got so much material and so many things I want to talk about that it (the writing) became longer and longer and I thought, well shit this isn’t a book it’s a blog, this isn’t going to work at all. I’ve got to cut it down. Maybe put it together in pieces, post it in parts. Subjects I’ve written about include, but are not limited to:
— The timeline and historical significance of the band AC/DC, especially in regards to former front man and lead singer Bon Scott, who died from asphyxiating on his own vomit in the front seat of a car after a night of heavy drinking. This was while the band was on tour in London in 1980. And what happened to the band then. Bon Scott’s grave is here in Fremantle, Western Australia.
— Nature. Meaning plants and birds. Big birds little birds water birds pretty birds dumb birds birds of prey and so on. There are a lot of weird birds in Australia, and plants and trees unlike anything I’ve ever seen. Lizards, frogs. And the birds make these sounds, it’s almost terrifying at certain times, and then at other times the way their voices cry out you’d think they were genuinely making fun of us humans. Mocking our children. And the plants, they may walk around at night when no one is watching. And whales. And sharks (there was an attack listed in the paper within a few days of my arrival, which made the ocean seem a little menacing, despite how clear and blue-green it is). I didn't tell Maggie about the shark attack because I didn't want to talk about it. And I didn’t see any actually hopping around, but kangaroos, too. Dogs everywhere. Little snakes with legs. Writing like I'm Nature Boy.
— And speaking of birds, I found an emu egg at a market and couldn’t help myself. I bought it, cooked it up and ate it. Maggie, bless her, she helped with the process. Emus are the second largest bird on the planet, next to the ostrich. This egg was BIG. The whole process was very weird and disproportionate and disconcerting. But I did it anyway. The yolk was like the size of my fist, but softer. I scrambled it with vegetables. Catsup & hot sauce. Toast.
— Bunker Bay, Dunsborough, Yallingup, the entire Margaret River region, cape to cape, south of Perth; Towns with unbelievable beaches and olive oil and chocolate and wine and products made with fine marino wool, lazy winding roads through a canopy of trees whose palette is more on the yellow and light grey side, rather than the deep greens and browns that I’m used to. Surf towns, beach towns, very relaxed towns. Lots of nature to lose yourself in. Whales migrate past from colder arctic waters further south to wherever else they go to spawn and breed and eat. Hippies and yogis and a lot of very rich people live in these places.
— Reading the Infinite Jest in Australia. I read this book many years ago, in another foreign place, and took some things from it, but I know a lot more about the author now, his life and death and quirks and history and what he seemed to like to think and write about. It’s a big book and requires some readerly work and energy, but hot damn he’s a good writer.
— This is only a few of the bigger subjects I’ve been thinking about. Others include a discussion of the pros and cons of Airbnb; thoughts on addiction and habituation and routine and practice; the night sky (yes, I’ve seen the southern cross); a couple of weird dreams; and bike building in a new workshop, which I’ve already said a few words about…
I’ll have to come back to some of this other stuff. This is probably just enough for now. Actually, my plane is leaving soon. It's hard to believe after a trip like this that I'm actually going home. No more beach or sun or shorts and bare feet for a while to come. But I'm looking forward to getting back into my workshop.