Day 1 at Big Forest Frameworks

Part one of a four part blog series about the bike that I started building last January. I’ve also planned a podcast to talk about why I built my own steel bike frame to race on in 2018.

I’ve wanted to take a frame building course for a few years. When my brother built his first frame in 2007 there wasn’t a lot of choice. He spent 5 days with Dave Yates in Norfolk.

I always thought I’d do a course at The Bicycle Academy in Frome. They specialise in bike education and boast established professional frame builders amongst their alumni. Such as Rob Quirk.

But when we moved to Germany the logistics of finding time to travel to the UK got trickier. I really needed a local solution.

I couldn’t find anybody who does this sort of thing in Munich. So I signed up with Robert Piontek, who owns Big Forest Frameworks. On Sunday 7th January I took the train from Munich to Berlin and the S-Bahn from Berlin Hauptbahnhof to Babelsberg.

I like German trains. They’re spacious, you know in advance what platform they’re leaving from and you can sit in the bar and get a beer in a real glass. During the journey I finished reading Lugged Bicycle Frame Construction by Marc-Andre R. Chimonas.

The course I was taking was a 3-day lugged steel frame building course. I later found out that it was Robert’s first accelerated course. To get my frame built in time it had to be lugged not fillet brazed, without forks and with geometry decided in advance.

On Monday at 09:00, Robert met us outside his workshop. He rents a small space under an organic wine shop in Karl-Liebknecht-Straße. Without knowing it I’d booked an Airbnb right opposite the workshop.

We started the day by chit-chatting about our biking and building experience. I also got to know Jurgen, the other student I’d be sharing the workshop with. He was enrolled on a 5-day fillet brazing course. A 50th birthday present from his wife.

Below are all the steps that I took on the first day. I jotted them down for when I go to build something on my own.

  1. Practice filing a tube using a paper template from BikeCad.

  2. Mitre cutting technique and setting the drill angle.

  3. Select tubes and put in wooden storage box.

  4. Check drawing to understand the tube cutting measurements.

  5. Measure tubes. Mark cuts.

  6. Cut in order to avoid changing the cutter too often.

  7. File off burrs inside and outside of the cut tubes.

  8. Cut a bottom bracket notch in the downtube or seat tube.

  9. Cut the headtube to size leaving 20mm on the bottom.

  10. Dremel out and sandblast dropouts.

  11. Measure and mark chainstays for cutting.

  12. Press chainstays for tyre and chainring clearance.

  13. Drill water escape holes in the head tube and seat tube.

  14. Drill holes for bottle cage bosses in the downtube.

  15. Make a fake lug using two different diameter tubes.

  16. Clean the tubes inside and out with sandpaper.

  17. Apply flux to all aeras the flame will touch.

  18. practice brazing with oxy-propane torch and silver rods.

We finished at 17:00 and I was pretty exhausted. As we were underground I forgot it was going to be dark outside. But I still went for a run as planned.

Then it was back to Gleiss 6, a cool pub with excellent food and beer, that I’d found the night before.

Tomorrow I’ll post details from Day 2.