Ahearne Cycles

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Down Under Nearly Over

Travel, Thoughts, NewsJoseph Ahearne2 Comments
Jesse and frame #1

Jesse and frame #1

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. 

Workshop with a Wall of Windows

Workshop with a Wall of Windows

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

Anvil Jig with Frame

Anvil Jig with Frame

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

Professional Extreme with Fork Blade Bender, Clamps

Professional Extreme with Fork Blade Bender, Clamps

…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.

Belt Grinder in Action

Belt Grinder in Action

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. 

Offset Vice

Offset Vice

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.

Street Art in Freo

Street Art in Freo

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.

A Snake! With Legs!

A Snake! With Legs!

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.  


The Beach

The Beach

Big Ass Hairy Spider

Big Ass Hairy Spider

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). 

Bike Path by the Beach

Bike Path by the Beach

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

Bunker Bay

— 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. 

Writing in the Morning

Writing in the Morning

— 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…

Wild Flower Season

Wild Flower Season

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. 

Real Evening Colors

Real Evening Colors

Rosellas, I think. They were everywhere.

Rosellas, I think. They were everywhere.

Wind Swept Tree

Wind Swept Tree

That's all, folks!

That's all, folks!


Working in Australia, New Zealand

News, Thoughts, TravelJoseph Ahearne2 Comments

In just over a week I leave for Australia and New Zealand. This trip is going to have a few different elements to it. I’m traveling for the sake of travel, on the one hand, but I’ve also got some work lined up that is going to occupy some of the time I’m there. The work, though, sounds almost as fun as the exploration of these new places. 

All said, I’ll be out of town for about six weeks, from 17 September through 3 November. That’s a good, long trip, and if you’re interested, I’ll give you an overview of what’s happening, a quick run-down.

— September 19 - 21 I’ll be in Sydney with Travel Portland helping them to give away a couple of bikes; one of my bikes and a Breadwinner. If you’re interested in knowing more about it (and I’d say if you’re anywhere Sydney or Auckland during this time, you ought to check it out), here’s all the information you'll need

— September 22 - October 3 I’ll be in Auckland, New Zealand. The first 4 nights of this I’ll be helping give away another 2 bikes, (1 Ahearne, 1 Breadwinner). Then I have a week to explore in and around Auckland, see the sights, meet some people, hopefully ride my bicycle (yes, I’m bringing a bicycle that I will be leaving in Perth, but that’s a story I’ll get into in a moment). 

— 4 October - 2 November I’ll be in and around Fremantle and Perth on the west coast of Australia. During this time I’ll be the first “Artist in Residence” at the Surreal Foundry & Cycleworks. Jesse Searls is an aspiring bicycle frame builder and the founder of the Foundry. He is in the process of finishing the construction of his workshop as I write this. We’ve spent the past several months discussing bike making equipment, tools and jigs, etc. It sounds like he has bought a lot of the equipment needed, and so, for much of the month of October we’re planning to work together to get his workshop up and running, and to build a bicycle frame or two together. I believe we’ll be going at a fairly relaxed pace, so there should be plenty of extra time for me to explore, cycle, read & write, swim & surf, and generally get out and about and see that part of the world. Maggie will be coming for the second half of October, so she and I will be exploring as well. 

I can’t say enough about how excited I’m becoming for this trip.  Jesse first contacted me in March 2014, asking about a bike I had advertised for sale on my website.  Yes, I told him, it’s still for sale.  He was considering buying it for his son, who plans to ride from coast to coast across Australia following the most southerly roads along the Great Australian Bight.  Jesse and I exchanged several emails, and he told me his story, which I found to be very interesting.  Jesse is a recently retired physicist who had, quite a number of years ago, helped invent technology which enabled new capacity in digital networks and improved the sensitivities of radar systems.  It was a significant enough improvement that he started a company to produce the technology, and his company was eventually bought by an international contractor.  For the next bundle of years Jesse worked for his company as they did international sales, and as he explained it, the burden and stress of this work was incredible.  

Now that he’s stepped away from the company, he realized that some of his most personally satisfying moments were when he was able to take concepts and designs that were theoretical and to actually fabricate them — to make them into something physical. Jesse’s love of bicycles started in 1973 when he bought a Frejus racing bike to use as his primary mode of transport.  Since then he has had a yearning to learn how to build them. Transforming an idea into a “thing” by using the hands to fabricate it, then getting to test it and use it, or watch someone else do so and hopefully see a smile peel open their face — there is a great deal of joy to be found here. And this is where I come in. Having built a lot of bikes and having taught a lot of people how to build their own bikes, Jesse thought I might be a good person to hang out with for a while. Lucky for me. 

In all of this, I do feel very lucky. Jesse wants the bike I had for sale, and I’m going to bring it over with me. We’re going to work together to set up his workshop, and then I’m going to help him use the equipment to learn to construct his own bicycle frames. Based on our interactions through email I think both Jesse and I are pretty mellow individuals, and I think we’re going to get along just fine. I’m really very excited to meet him in person and to see the workshop he’s constructed. What a dream come true in itself — to be able to consider every last detail of a workshop and build it from the ground up. And then to have the dream, part II, where you get to fill the workshop with great tools, and then part III, actually using them to make things. As I said, I feel really fortunate to play some part in this. 

I am also looking forward to the opportunity to see some of the beaches and treks in southwestern Australia.  Apparently, it has some of the best surf beaches in the world, big trees, and a broad range of vineyards and gourmet food producers. There's also the Munda Biddi Trail (which means "path through the forest" in the Noongar Aboriginal language), which is a 1000 kilometer off road cycling path. If I'm lucky I'll get to spend some time exploring this as well. 

While I’m away I’ll have my computer, and plan to post photos and words about what’s happening. Please check back if you’re interested in hearing about the place, the trip, the progress, the work, the experience. 

Headed Out

Touring, TravelJoseph AhearneComment
off road touring

I'll be out of the shop from Friday 29 May through 7 June on a bike tour. We're headed down to Klamath Falls to ride back up through central Oregon on the Outback route. It'll be interesting seeing how it's different this year from last. I'll post images during and after the ride. 

We're headed out a week after the official ride, so hopefully all the people who have already gone left us some water to drink, and didn't clean out the little stores of food. 

Oregon Outback Bike Tour

Touring, Travel, ThoughtsJoseph Ahearne1 Comment

Oregon Outback GPS Map

The final tally for the ride was 450 miles, give or take. Klamath Falls (Oregon-California border) to the Deschutes Recreation Area (Oregon-Washington border), and then down the Historic Columbia River highway to return to Portland.

There were seven of us riding together, which on a bike ride over several days can feel a little like herding cats. But all of us got along really well — no fist fights broke out — and, thankfully, we had no major bike mechanical problems, nobody crashed, all and all we made it through smiling, even if exhausted, sore, dirty and overheated.

Kristina: Tough as Nails

Kristina did partially tear her achilles tendon during the ride, and now, after having gone to the doctor, she’s wearing “the boot.” She’s tougher than I am, I think, because she was clearly in some serious pain while riding, but we were so far out into the middle of nowhere, that, as she said, “What choice did I have but to ride?”

Seven in Shaniko

 

The route was definitely remote. I don’t think we saw a car for the first three days. Lots of cows, hawks, some deer and elk, many different kinds of rodents, several snakes and lizards, a million types of birds, all kinds of carcasses in varying poses and levels of decay. The trails and gravel roads were relatively smooth, but over hours in a day the vibration was tiring. My sore ass and sore hands. I lowered my tire pressure, which helped, but I didn’t go too low because with the but with the weight on my bike I didn't go too low for fear of getting a pinch flat.

Campfire Dinner

I don’t even know what to say about the ride in general except that it was pretty awesome. Pretty and awesome. I saw parts of Oregon that I’ve never seen, and from a perspective in which I could smell it, feel it, taste it, my body had to push over it. The sky was so massive dynamic. The nights were cold, the days mostly hot. The wind was intense. It was an adventure, and every day presented a new challenge; big gravel climbs, stream crossings, unbroken heat, water scarcity, threatening storms, physical & mental exhaustion, new aches & pains, the existentialism that comes with being in big empty places. It’s interesting watching the internal dialogue that goes on while pedaling on a long, hard ride, and how the tone of optimism or negativity of what’s streaming through your head is directly linked to how your physical body feels in any given moment. When you’re tired, hungry, or in any sort of discomfort or pain, the volume of the negativity may turn up. Or, if you’re well rested, well fed, cruising with a tail wind, the voices in your head may sing with joy. You can’t listen to either voice too closely because as sure as the road rolls under you the voice will pass away and some new thread of thought will arise. Letting it go (pedal-pedal-pedal), and letting it go again. This is the meditation of cycling, watching your breathing, your body taking over where your mind leaves off.

Barn & Sky

This ride was challenging, for sure, but I felt like the route was well chosen, the maps were close enough to accurate that we didn’t have much trouble finding our way. We stopped at a few intersections, consulted each other about which route was the “right” route. There was no back-tracking, except for the time when Jrdn took us up the massive hill that he wanted to climb, the one that came to a dead end. But that was all in fun, and we’re still thanking him for that.

Jrdn's favorite climb led past this sign

Climb out of the Columbia River Valley

Donnie of Velodirt really did his homework when putting together this ride. The days where water was scarce were well noted on the cue sheet, and as a group we made sure to come prepared with plenty of water carrying capacity, and filtration systems. Whenever we came across a stream and knew that it might be our only source for some miles to come, we loaded up. And for food, each of us carried enough to feed ourselves for several days, and resupplied when the opportunity presented itself. We didn’t pack light. We had tools and patches and spare tubes, extra fasteners, first aid and gorilla tape, bug repellant and some whiskey. We didn’t have to use a lot of the extra things we brought, but what we did need we were glad we had.  I don’t think this was a very good bike tour for someone with no experience — not a good learning trip because the stakes were too high, and there was not really any good way to bail out of you lacked something crucial. But, if prepared, and prepared to rough it, there’s no better way to tour than away from traffic.

As for the four Ahearne bikes on this trip, there were no complaints. We were all grateful for the fat, knobby 650b tires, for the inherent flex of steel to help take up the road shock, and the carrying capabilities these bikes offer. The handling on fast gravel descents was confident and sure, at least as much as fast gravel descents allow. They climbed well, and took the abuse of being fully loaded over days of bumps, dirt, pumice sand and stream crossings. There were no mechanical issues, and each person said they were really pleased with the overall ride of their bike. Better yet, this bike has been officially named. From here on out it’s going to be called the Outback. The off road touring bike. I’ll talk more about the bike soon. 

The Outback Machines

It's a New Year

News, Thoughts, TravelJulie1 Comment

2014!

The holidays have come and gone. There was a lot of work to do, so I spent a good portion of the Frenetic Season of Shopping at the workshop, away from it all. I'm not even sure how it feels yet, to be in 2014. It's kind of like putting on a new shirt. It may look different, but it feels about the same. 

I’ve got a busy few months ahead of me. This coming Monday the 6th I begin teaching a brazing class at UBI. And I'll be teaching another class in March. Between now and then I have several bikes on the build list. 

One bike in particular that I need to build will be going with me to the Bespoked Bicycle Show in London. I recently bought a plane ticket to England for the show, which is from April 11 - 14.  

The Bespoked Show was in Bristol the past couple of years, but because of the increasing number of builders showing their wares, and because of the increased attendance, they've had to change venues. It sounds like the popularity of hand made bicycles, and the number of builders, is really starting to take off in the UK, and in Europe in general. That’s awesome, especially since that’s where the tradition and roots of the hand made bicycle craft really began. 

This years' show will be in London, at the Lee Valley Velodrome, which is where the 2012 Olympic track racing was held. I guess we’ll be showing on the floor down in the center of the track. Pretty cool. I'm very excited to go and be a part of it.

Another noteworthy subject is the bike that I’m working on right now. It’s so very close to being finished, and I’m excited about it, which maybe isn’t anything new. I get excited about most things that I build. But this one has really got me going. It’s an off road 650b bike, for touring. It’s not a new subject, but it’s a cool bike, nonetheless. Like a lot of bikes I make, I take a bunch of classic elements and put them together with my own spin and interpretation on the design. I’ll get some photos up in the next little while. 

Alright, that’s it for now. I hope you all had a perfect holiday. 

Happy New Year!