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Psyched about bikes

by Andrew Kirk, OF THE RECORD STAFF

When Doug Driessen shut the doors of his Edwin Cycles shop last May to work as an independent contactor in Iraq, the shop was completely empty.

Paying for the repair of an electrical problem cleaned him out. He had to sell all the equipment to cover the bill.

While in Iraq, he saved his money and began purchasing new equipment on-line. When he returned July 28, he was able to open shop again and start anew building bicycle frames that are earning him a reputation in the local cycling community.

Driessen claims he runs one of only two shops in the country that do contract frame building, and the only one that does steel frames. Huge companies in Asia make over 80 percent of the bicycle frames the world rides on, he said.

After selling Cyclesmith Bike Shop in Salt Lake City four years ago, Driessen began making frames full time, first in the store, then in a garage, and now in a shop on Airport Road in Heber City.

Even though his contract work in Iraq has taken him away from the business for half the year for the past five years, he’s been making a name for himself with the avid cyclists in the area from day one.

Cyclist Andrew Fisher purchased an Edwin bike four months ago and has been riding it all summer. He said Driessen is a perfectionist and likes his work so much he’s buying another one from him soon.

"I love the bike," he said. The ride quality and position that it gives is very responsive and absorbs shock well."

Andrew Johnson is currently having a frame made by Driessen.

"I’m really excited," he said. "The vast majority of bikes are made in Asia by huge corporations. I like the idea of a locally produced quality frame."

After the electrical problem in May, Driessen funded himself back into business to the tune of $75,000. He’s now looking for outside parties interested in helping the operation grow.

"We have enough business now that it behooves us to make that next step. Whether you’re selling hotdogs or widgets, all businesses reach a point where they need to strengthen their financial fortitude," he said.

Driessen believes rising fuel prices will work in his favor. Shipping bikes and parts from Asia has become so expensive that home-grown companies can now be more competitive.

Besides the appeal of getting a bike from a local manufacturer, Driessen believes the appeal of his product is its durability.

"I like starting from a pile of material and making something that’s going to outlast me, something that could last for generations," he said. "I’m getting people on something unique that I build from scrap."

The process of building a bike from raw materials takes about eight hours from start to finish.

Design

When Driessen gets an order for a frame, he prints out a design produced by a CAD program. If the customer wants a custom frame, he directs them to an on-line form requiring them to measure their own dimensions (arm length, inseam, etc.) and fill out a riding profile describing the type of riding they do and what they like or dislike about their current bike.

For stock frames, which fit 80 to 90 percent of riders, he uses dimensions set by the trade. The smartest minds in cycling have been perfecting frame dimensions for decades and are well suited for most riding, he explained.

Material selection

With a design in hand, he walks over to a corner of his office where a couple dozen plywood cubbies hold the numerous components that make up a frame. The supplies look more fitting to plumbing than sports gear.

Every type of frame requires different sizes of tubing, and these are no plumbing pipes. The tubing is OX Platinum Chromoly, a chromium alloy which Driessen calls "the strongest steel on the planet, period."

Steel makes the best frames because it’s flexible. Some riders believe the lighter the bike, the better, and go with aluminum frames or even titanium. But aluminum wears out over time and can break. Professional racing teams rarely use an aluminum frame for more than one season, he said.

To make it as light and strong as possible, the tubing, made in Louisiana by True Temper Sports, is butted, giving it varying wall thickness.

The steel is a little heavier than aluminum, but comparable in price and more durable. In specialty cycling, one wants a light weight, durability and a reasonable cost, but the mantra is that you can only have two of the three, he said.

Cutting

After labeling the tubes to keep them straight, he begins tightening them into one of three machines he uses to cut the correct angles. A lathe, a horizontal mill and a vertical knee mill are all needed to make the various cuts adjusting the length and curves of the end.

Special fixtures hold the tubing just right so he can be accurate within one-thousandth of an inch.

"The hardest part of the process is making stuff work together. It’s the same principles as in high tech machining," he explained.

A tight fit isn’t the only reason for exactness. The tubing is so expensive he can’t afford a mistake. Driessen only fills a bucket worth of drop waste every other month.

Welding on the Framing Jig

The cut pieces are assembled into a fixture, or jig that holds the pieces in place while he examines the future frame. If he’s done his job right, he doesn’t even need to hold the pieces in place, they hold themselves.

Then he preps the surfaces for welding, puts them back in the jig, and flips on his tungsten inert gas welding torch. The flame is so bright it will give him a sun burn if he’s not careful.

The torch simply melts the steel together with a surface area about the tip of a pencil. Argon gas prevents oxidation and preserves the strength and integrity of the metal.

Alignment

Welding distorts the frame, so Driessen next takes it over to an alignment table where he makes sure everything is straight. Wheel alignment is as important in frame production as it is in auto repair.

If something is bent, he leverages it back into place with two-foot long steel rods.

Finishing

The completed frame undergoes "face and chase" procedures where he cuts or smoothes parts for the post ball bearings and the threads for later assembly. The frame is then cleaned again, plugged and sent off for painting.

The only steps he doesn’t do himself are the painting, which he out-sources to Salt Lake City, and the production of the sterling silver head plates, where his logo is stamped. He plans to bring both steps in-shop soon.

Some cyclists assemble the rest of the bike from there, or he can add all the gears, wheels and parts in his shop.

He’s been known to turn out about six frames in a day, but asks customers to wait three weeks for a completely finished product.

Infobox:

Edwin Cycles

483 Airport Rd.

Heber City

801-815-9918

http://www.edwincycles.com


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