When I think back about my journey with bicycles, my memory starts with teaching myself how to ride one day after school and how far away from home I went that first day. Soon after, I was mesmerized by that first visit to the old Bearclaw BMX track with my dad (probably in 1976 or so). I think about how my pal and I started racing BMX and the modifications we dreamed about making to our bikes. We poured over the magazines and lusted over the best frames and parts thinking we could go faster if only we had them, and we soon did. The early BMX racing pioneers like Stu Thompson, Greg Hill and Harry Leary were our heroes. Then we got into jumping, and our distances and heights got further and higher. My pal John Paul asked for a ramp one year for Christmas, and got it. He kept us pushing and pushing with his jumps. The dude had no fear. “Let’s make the jump higher,” JP would say, right after we’d made it so high it was unstable.
Road racing bikes soon followed and my rides would stretch multiple counties and hours. The thread that ties all of this together is that I’ve always pushed it. It was never about leisure or comfort. It wasn’t about art or beauty. It was about going farther, faster and higher. I always thought I could do better and do more of what I was doing.
That experience is what I offer in a bicycle. I use the tubes I do because I think they offer the best combination of specs for performance. I use the components I do because I feel they will build the lightest, stiffest and strongest bicycle that I can make. I pay attention to the details, like how cables are routed for the cyclocross bikes, what dropouts are used for easy wheel changes and how tiny changes in geometry can make a bike ride right, or wrong. Perfect alignment is strived for but never achieved. As long as smaller units of measurement exist, I’ll keep getting closer and closer to perfect. These are all small details by themselves but make up the differences between me and whatever big brand that comes to mind.
So, yes, a history of racing or performance matters. Not so much that the end user needs to race or even be competitively minded, oh no. Ride for you. I think racing matters to me because I know that I’m still pushing to make the best frame and forks I can and that’s something you will notice on a short ride to the grocery store, the local Saturday “hammerfest” or a sanctioned criterium or cyclocross race.
I’ve been posting pictures, opining about sensitive subjects that most people don’t really care about, and not getting much else done. If I can can take pictures and opine I must be ok, right? No, I’ve been ill. I’ve been ill since mid December of last year. I didn’t really think it was anyone’s business. I shared it with a few friends and family. I’ve been in the hospital, I’ve been in pain. I may be going back in and I’m still in pain. The good news is that I think I can be fixed up with small incisions, let’s hope. I’ve got commitments I’m not meeting. I can’t work my day career more than 4 hours per day, I’m just pretending to be a frame builder by night. I have a frame in the stand that only needs a brake bridge and I don’t know when I’ll be able to get to it. So that’s where I am. I have 3-4 frames ready to start, two to finish and no idea when it will happen. My head is working but my body isn’t. It’s time to be honest with myself about what I can get done and what I can’t. I’m ready to move on but it will take time. If you are in my que please have patience and I’ll be back to work as soon as I can, for me as much as you, I promise.
Now that’s off my chest I’ll opine. My bro was considering a move to FL. Things didn’t work out and he got a great job offer in SC. I couldn’t be happier for him and to have him 2-3 hours closer still will be nice. It’s a bummer though. In the back of my mind I had us launching Greene Bros Bicycles or Greene Bros Racing Cycles in a few years. The other JG is a pretty strong rider and a steady riding partner. It would have been nice to have him in the shop too. If I had a big big brother I’d be leary of working with him, but I’d have been on my best behavior and I sure he’s not afraid of the ass wuppin’ that used to be a daily staple of his existence. That would have been exciting. New art, new decals and a new business model. I think it would have been awesome. No worries, we will get another shot or two at making it work.
The National hand-built bike Show is in a week or so. I’m sorry to miss it. I’d like to meet the many framebuilders from the West and North West who have not come East the last few years. If you go, please be sure to stop by and see Mitch Pryor. I learned to build frames with Mitch 5 years ago and I have been a fan since and I’ll admit to a little Flickr stalking. Tell him I said hello.
I’ve been looking and thinking about disk brakes a lot lately. I’m a pretty forward thinking person. Mostly for practical reasons. So I can’t help but prepare for their arrival on road racing and cyclocross bicycles. Lately there have been some discussions between framebuilders and enthusiasts about how best to mount these calipers to a fork. The pictures aren’t pretty when forks fail and my worry is that the forks we use aren’t suitable for the extra loads disks place on the structural members they are attached to. Yes, I’ve read the collective wisdom of other builders but I’m not buying it. The fork that most of us build today, with it’s pleasant rake, tapered shape, and detailed fork crowns largely evolved because of the placement of the rim brake and the forces applied. Lightweight fork blades, hollow crowns, and modern dropouts are what they are because of the rim brake. Modifying a lightweight fork blade and fork crown for disks may be a bad idea. I think its going to take a redesign of my fork to deliver a disk ready fork that is SAFE, light, elegant and delivers the ride I want to be associated with my bicycles. Until that time I’m looking at the available commercial options and think I have the solution. Stay tuned.
There was a nice piece on NPR a few days ago to commemorate the 75th anniversary of Dr. Seuss’s first book, And To Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street. In the NPR story, Seuss’s struggle to get the book published hinges on one point in time, where Seuss, aka Theodor Geisel, credits a chance meeting on the sidewalk between himself and a friend who had recently acquired a job in the Children’s division of a Manhattan publisher. The story goes that if Geisel had been walking down the other side of the street he wouldn’t have become a children’s author, because he was very close to quitting the search for someone to publish his book. What the story barely glosses over is that Geisel submitted Mulberry Street Twenty-seven times before that chance encounter. 27 times he faced rejection. I believe in luck and I believe we can make luck too. We have the gift of Dr. Seuss because Geisel was relentless and luck doesn’t always happen by chance.
In the sense of the effort involved, entering the market with a bespoke product is similar to the struggle faced by Suess. Bicycles today are better than they’ve ever been, if you consider them a mass-produced product; a sporting good. The benefits of small production are not always apparent. In my previous opine I suggested that the benefit of buying a bike from me is that the client is the only person that is considered in the design. There are other benefits too. The closer a product gets to being just a sporting good, the more likely the product was built within a widening range of quality control and objectives. The frames go from “this is the best I can do” to “this fits within our standards of acceptability” to “they are so cheap to make, we can handle the warranty claims”. Please, don’t consider this a rant about Asia or American jobs. I’ve seen this with frames produced in the USA, England, and France during the bike boom of the 70’s. It’s just a reality of piecemeal work, deadlines, and manufacturing. This quote from Gary Smith, the owner of Independent Fabrications, made in a posting for a job opportunity with his firm, says it all: “So, what’s really important is that you have major GAS factor (give-a-shit)”.
In my shop I obsess over process. My goals this year for JG Cycles mostly involve how to improve each part of the assembly process. Not to improve for manufacturing efficiency(that’s on my mind too), but to provide the straightest, repeatable, and dynamically stable frames I can. My name is on the downtube, so it’s important to me. If it’s not the best I can do it won’t leave the shop dot period. It’s a hard way to build a brand and I’m happy that cats like Dr. Seuss have been around to provide inspirational stories, because it takes some of that to keep it going.
In the last 17 years, I’ve sat through hundreds of sales presentations or classes. I remember most of them, too. I’m a very hard sell, myself, because I’ve seen the best and worst of the process and view marketing/sales as an adversary. I trust few people in sales. There is, however, a sales practice I do embrace. It may be the most retro of all sales practices: selling features and benefits. It still feels honest. Most sales folks who use the technique emphasize features, forgetting benefits. What does this have to do with Jonathan Greene Cycles?
Feature: Built by me
Benefit: Built for you
There is a large rock in Central Park past the playground and sheep meadow as you walk up the path from Columbus Circle that was the scene of an exchange between pal CSB and myself. As kid #2 was blissfully working his way up the highest rock face, CSB asked about my bikes, my building, and what was going on. I mentioned I was sometimes struggling with how I wanted things to move aesthetically. I’m not one who thinks that building bicycle frames is art, in the sense of fine art. Some of what inspires me, though, is not unlike how an artist may be inspired. I shared my thought with CSB that I feel like using a certain lugset from abc builder and dropouts from xyz, that I was just building another version of what somebody else has staked out a corner doing. Paint by numbers? Working these thoughts out with my pal, who is more connected to the art world than anyone I know, informed me that inspiration in the art sense doesn’t just come from what’s brought from the outside into the inside but also the movement you participate in that surrounds you. Ok, I can feel that. In that sense I feel less of a copycat but as these next 12 months come and go I’ll be releasing more of what I think will be uniquely me. There is definitely going to be a relentless approach to pleasing me first with everything that leaves the shop.
The first shot across the bow is that green as a color is off my color palette. Yes, everyone seems to think it should be my “official” color, a brand of sorts. The reality is that I don’t ride green bikes, I don’t care all that much for the color, it was forced when I painted it and only one person has ever requested their bike be green.
Now to what’s happening in the shop. I’ve got two bikes in production right now and another for me that is coming together 15 minutes at a time it seems. I’ve also got 3 repaints waiting in the wings and some fixturing to be built. There are lots of new projects, paint ideas and a possible decal redesign, not to mention the website that’s been neglected. I’ll be sharing more frequently.
I’ll be part of the cast of the second annual Ballers Weekend and Ride in the Virginia mountains. We are still looking for a few good men and women who want to join. Email me for details.
Now on to more of the story….
Invaribly, the first thing a person really sees when they look at my frames is the HT decal art. I have pal Rob O. to thank for pulling that off. Rob is a graphic designer for one of the big NY publishing firms we’ve all known our whole lives. He’s also a perfectionist, which I’m thankful for. Rob and I met in Doug Fattic’s framebuiding class, and also on a working vacation like I was. Crossing paths with R. was a blessing. I count my blessings daily and I’d like to tell the story of how the design of the decal art went down.
I knew if i was going to build a few frames I wanted them to look pro, be something I was proud to show. Having a frame with only paint didn’t sit right to me. I built my first couple frames and used vinyl stickers, but that’s not a great solution for a bike. Here is where R. comes in. He simply offered to help me. I had these ideas that a graphics package should say something about the builder. It should tell something. Some frame builders use a state flag or a favorite state roadsign; I wanted something similar but to go deeper. At the time I had a fully blooming Orange grove with probably 50 trees. I wanted that to be the theme. The idea that one guy was crafting frames one at a time, shut off from the world with a shop surrounded by oranges was the image I wanted(the freezes and my lack of farming skill ended the gentleman farmer, I’m down to 6 trees.). I also like the old art and type face you might see on a 1930’s era orange crate or the Art Deco typface on a 1930’s Art Deco Welcome to FLA post card.
When R, started designed the HT badge we tried to use art in the public domain, but the programs used to create the decals would not support that and for reason beyond my expertise a hand drawing was started. When I saw the final copy I was stunned. The orange had shading and a shadow. Did this guy really think my frames were worthy of a Cezanne like Orange on the HT? I guess so and we went with it. It’s become the discusssion piece whenever anyone wants to talk. Thanks R!