Ahearne Cycles

Teaching Frame Building at UBI

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This coming Monday, the 31st of January, I will begin teaching another frame building class at UBI. For those of you not familiar with it, the United Bicycle Institute holds all sorts of bicycle related classes: Mechanics certification classes; wheel building classes; and a couple of different types of frame building classes, including TIG welding and brazing. 

I’ll be the guest lecturer for this next brazing class. The class is two weeks long, and usually has about eight students. Each student will leave the class with a bicycle frame that they have built with their own hands. I’ll be there to demonstrate and to guide people along. 

This said, I will be checking e-mails and returning phone calls as I can. But if it takes a few days for me to get back to you, please understand that I’m not ignoring you, I’m just occupied. 

I’ll post news about the class along the way. Photos, words, maybe some video (I’ve been really into the time-lapse recently). I’m looking forward to the change of pace, and of helping show some people the process of building a bike frame. It’s pretty fun watching people figure things out and build their own. It’s hard work, but can be very fulfilling. 

[This is the end of the ‘short’ version of this journal entry. All the necessary information has been conveyed. For those interested in more depth of my perspective on teaching, please read on. If it bores you, you can’t say you haven’t been warned.]

I’ve had several people ask me why I’m teaching classes now. They want to know if I don’t have enough frame orders to keep me busy. My response is that getting myself out of the shop sometimes is very healthy. I’ve got no shortage of bike orders, but mixing things up is more to my liking. When I’m busy building bikes for weeks & months at a time my world can become very small and isolated. Getting out and talking to other humans can be a welcome change. And, when I break the process of building a bike down to its fundamental parts in order to share it with others, I always learn something about my own process of building. I think that when explaining things I'm forced to look at what I'm doing from a new perspective, and it teaches me a level of refinement and economy in my own actions. 

Another, more philosophical reason for teaching is that I truly believe that when someone takes the initiative to learn how to build their own bicycle, it can be a very empowering experience. It is satisfying to be there to help facilitate this. 

Also, and more generally, the American school system has been systematically dismantling shop classes nation wide as much of our manufacturing has gone overseas. Most kids no longer have the opportunity to get their hands dirty learning how to use tools in a shop environment. This is going to come back to bite us one day. It’s already starting to, as overseas prices are on the rise. I won’t go into detail about this, as I’m sure you’ve heard and read about it already. There are some really good books being written on the subject. One that I really appreciate is, Shop Class as Soul Craft: An Inquiry into the Value of Work, by Matthew Crawford. 

There are a lot of different types of people out there, many of whom are tactile individuals, and working with their hands is in some way fundamentally fulfilling. Skilled jobs in the American marketplace are becoming more service- and technology-oriented, and there is a substantial number of people out there who aren’t getting their ‘tactile fix,’ so to speak. Going to bike school to learn how to build one’s own bicycle frame is an excellent way for a person to get their hands dirty and to build something that they can use and enjoy for a long time to come. It’s educational and it’s practical, and it can be very fulfilling.

The students probably already suspect something of the genius behind the bicycle, but in building one they’ll get a more in-depth grasp of this. The bicycle frame is a fairly simple machine, but it does some cool things with energy and leverage. You don't need to learn physics to be able to appreciate it. When you build a bike, it's a way of learning something about the physics of what makes a bike work on an intuitive level. This may be similar to the way riding a bike teaches you an intuitive notion of the mechanics. 

What’s truly satisfying about teaching is that I get to show people how to build a bike frame using their own hands. All in all it’s not that difficult. There are tricks to it, and there is a general order to how you do things, but it really is a step by step process, not one of which is beyond the scope or means of just about anyone. Yes, you have to learn how to wield a file and a hacksaw. And yes, you have to learn how to handle a torch, and know what you’re looking for when you begin melting silver or brass and fusing tubes together. But with a modicum of skill, if you follow the steps through from beginning to end you’re going to end up with a fully functional bicycle frame. That’s a big feeling. “Big” in the sense that you’ve learned a whole new level of self-sufficiency. And, you get a bike frame out of the deal. 

I'll post more about the class soon.

Fist in the air, from his soap box he yelled, "Rise up!"