Saturday, October 07, 2006

A Rose By Any Other Name . . .

I didn't go to Interbike this year, but I've seen some of the photos. Damn, there are some beautiful road frames out there! I don't know if the art of the handbuilt bicycle frame has ever been finer. Even production road bikes are becoming more practical and better designed. Of course, that makes things interesting for me. The bar has been set pretty high.

So, what can I offer in a new Heron frame that will be unique, useful, and a good value? One of the things I am pondering right now is how to build the frame. Herons have always been lugged, and I like lugs. However, they do add to the cost. With well-designed steel frames coming out of Asia at very low prices, cost is something I need to consider. Is a TIG-welded Heron still a Heron?

A complicating factor is the desire to raise the head tube without an ugly extension or lots of headset spacers. If I raise the top tube along with the head tube, standover clearance is compromised. The apparent solution would be to use a top tube with a bit more slope to it (current Herons use a 2 degree slope). However, we would need new lugs to do this. Lug design and tooling are expensive. Using off-the-shelf lugs from Pacenti, Sachs, Long Shen, or Henry James is an option, but buying lugs from someone else costs more than using your own (other than design and tooling costs). Maybe a mix of lugs and welds?

A crowned fork is still a must. No unicrowns or plastic forks will do. The crowns we are using now look good and provide nice tire and fender clearance. That's an easy choice.

How about paint? Right now, we are using a simpler version of Waterford's paint system. Most of their colors are two-stage colors (a base color with a translucent color top coat). Herons colors are all single-stage colors. This keeps cost down while still offering a nice, durable finish. Powdercoating is another option. This can lower cost while providing a very durable finish. However, most of the cost savings come from doing volume (coat 50 frames at a time instead of one), and it can be hard to find a powdercoater with experience working with small diameter tubing.

Lots to think about, eh?


John Speare said...

I would love to buy an American made bike. TIG it. Powdercoat it. Make it low trail with standard tubing and fit fat 700's w/ fenders. Hopefully you could turn out a low-cost (~$500 frame/fork?), high-value, interesting commuter/allRoad'r made in America. NO ONE in the world makes this as a production bike at the moment. If they do, I've not found it.

alex wetmore said...

I don't think it could get down to $500 frame/fork for a bike made in the US, but Gunnar-level prices for a smarter bike would be great. I agree with John, TIG is fine. I'm not a big fan of hybrid TIG/lugged models like the Kogswell G or older Bianchi frames.

Kevin McNamara said...

I would not mind an American-built, TIG-welded frame, as long as it was an addition to the current lugged Herons, not a replacement for them. I don't have a Heron, but hope to in the next year or so and want a lugged one. I admire Todd for sticking with American production and hope he can continue to do so.

Anonymous said...

I would like to see a lugged or brazed version with standard tubing available. Kogswell is already doing TIG frames.

If the fame is brazed then powdercoating will be a good option and you can solve the problem of new lugs while maintining (in my opinion) a aesthetic superior to TIG

As a small rider, I would also like to see small frames that accomodate 590/584 sized wheels.