Joe Starck is a name well-known among frame builders & two-wheeled aficionados alike. Having cut his teeth at Trek in their early salad days on everything from applying decals & tapping threads to alignment & ultimately becoming an expert brazer, the seeds were planted for what was to follow.
When Dave Tesch called to enlist Starck's skills at Masi the call was heeded and history was in the making. Starck's flower bloomed at Masi as a complete frame builder. Having built some of the worlds most beautiful & beautifully crafted cycles, Joe Starck has left his mark on literally thousands of frames. This is what he had to say...
1. How old are you?
2. Where were you born?
3. What's your earliest memory of a bicycle or something bicycle related?
Getting a good-sized tricycle when I was 3 or so. My Dad installed a motor on it: A D-cell powered plastic noisemaker. I remember I was content with its performance on the flats but uphill it bogged down. I even recall getting off the trike on an incline, flipping the on/off switch-- that was the extent of my troubleshooting -- trying to figure out why it wasn't working, perplexed as to why it wasn't helping me pedal up the grade.
4. What was your first cycle?
A mutt Stingray, very used.
5. How about first "high-end" cycle?
I got a 26-inch wheeled, yellow, Sears "Free Spirit" as a Lutheran Confirmation present when I was 13. Then, at the age of 20, during my employment at Trek, I made myself a lugged frame built up with a Campagnolo Gran Sport group.
6. Did (does) your family (parents, siblings, etc) ride also?
My older brother rides a bit.
7. Did you like to tinker with bikes back then?
I only "tinkered" during my grade-school Stingray era, not for the fun of tinkering but for the fun of the tinkering result: Sissy bar, fork extensions for the chopper effect, spray-can painting (parts on)...
8. Did you ever work in a Bike Shop... if so, where/how long?
9. Have you ever done any organized racing?
I had a Cat. 4 license for one year in San Diego, around 1987. I attempted one criterium, fell off the back, dropped out. Then, first night on the velodrome, I crashed and burned; I used up lots of silvadene in the days that followed. That's the total of my racing experience.
10. How about cyclo-touring?
No. I could see myself somewhere though. I'd leave my hotel, get a cheap bicycle, pedal where ever and then go back to the hotel. If I had a mechanical problem out and about, I'd just give the bike to someone, and hail a taxi back to the spa.
11. What job(s) did you have before frame building and also-do you have any other job currently besides frame building?
Before framebuilding: paperboy, ring-toss carnival
barker, canning factory worker, janitor/warehouse
stocker, pea combine/tractor driver.
After framebuilding: I mostly run around the block and
then I write poems. Here's two:
red man's southern vacation diary
black pickett fence
grey matter of fat
do you have a reservation?
2008 Olympian diary
bound for beijing
six feet to the furthermost wee puddle of pearl jam
12. When did you start building?
I started building complete frames at Masi in the mid-80s.
13. Who would you say is your greatest influence in designing & frame building?
Every frame I've looked at and everything said by every framebuilder/designer is my greatest influence.
14. Did you apprentice... if so, with who?
I learned to braze at Trek and I learned alot about tooling and fixturing there in the early 80s. I learned to build frames at Masi in the mid 80s. I refined everything in the 90s at Bill Holland's shop.
15. What's your idea of the "perfect cycle" regardless if you built it or not?
I've made a few, but there's one I'll always remember. It was a fillet-brazed road for Bill Holland. The
brass layed down just right, I finished the fillets
ever so sweet, and braze-ons, alignment, everything
just magically came togther perfect. It was a perfect
moment of framebuilding. It's like when people say
they had the perfect vacation or a perfect night out
with friends or a perfect snuggle of two under a
blanket watching the sunset, bodies interlocked in
comfort. Those are perfect moments. They were perfect
moments then and they will always be remembered as
perfect moments. And the frame I made will always be
perfect. Perfectionists strive for perfection. That's
what they do. But just because one has had a perfect
moment in whatever endeavor, that isn't the same as
present complacency or an end to striving. If one
tries and one improves, probabilities of time will
reward with the perfect moment, or a string of perfect moments, be it in one frame or whatever. And this is all in context,
under the trained senses, within parameters of
whatever the subject is.
It works like this:
Dig a hole for a tree.
This bicycle was made by Richard Nye as a wedding gift for his wife.
I think it's perfect:
16. Shooting a guess... how many frames would you say you've built?
Several thousand complete frames and then a total brazing equivalent of about ten thousand.
17. Any cycles out there that you secretly wished, "Darn, I wish I'd built that!"?
I wish I would have made more bicycles for myself and kept them: a Trek, a Masi, a Fuso, a Holland, a Rivendell, a Starck. It would be nice to have them, but not having them doesn't gnaw at me; I've moved on. I've seen some frames' lugs with a more three-dimensional style of customizing than the usual flat cutting. Like, lug pieces overlapping others, like a Bruce Gordon I've seen, I think, or carvings into the surfaces, like the Columbine stuff. So, to combine it all...yowza!
18. Your idea of the perfect client?
Someone who patrons the perfect builder.
19. What defines a nightmare client in your experience?
Someone who patrons an imperfect builder.
20. Any words of advice to up & coming frame builders?
Don't give away frames to up-and-coming racers or sell frames cheap; hold out for real clients, and that means you should have a business plan, sufficient capital, and a plan B, unless you're just tinkering in your garage or basement.
21. What do you find most funny or peculiar (in a kind way-not brutal) about the cycle-buying public... what don't they get or aren't they seeing?
I suppose most people find it hard to comprehend expensive bicycles and enthusiasts who own them until they've been around bike nuts for a few years, and then they become nuts too, or not. That's probably the same in any market: exposure.
22. What do you think of mass-produced bikes (without naming names)?
It's not something I think about; I'm not up on this vast range of bicycles.
23. What cycle don't you have anymore that you wished you did?
My steel and titanium beam bike. Steel frame, mini-filleted. Cantilevered titanium beam, no seat tube. I left it behind in San Diego, full moon, long story.
24. What cycle do you currently ride most, even if it wasn't built by you?
I don't ride; I run. I don't own any bicycles.
25. When did you last ride your bike and for how far?
November 2002 for a few days in a row all day and all night and then I left the bike out of sight. Actually I left it in sight but that's part of the long story I mentioned above.
26. What's your idea of the perfect ride?
When I was in my best shape around '96, 145 lbs (down from usual 165). I like to be physically agressive, jamming up hills, jockeying with cars in traffic, with no fear but with full clarity, hammering for 50 to 60 miles and then feeling like I hadn't even exercised when I got home and had a beer. I hate cycling as recreation when I'm not in shape, and I have no use for going slow, unless it's really slow, upright, around town or around a vacation town.
27. Could you ever see yourself being Car Free... just using mass-transportation and your bike to get around?
28. Why do you think so many folks have romanticized bicycles & bicycling?
Because bicycles have been and are an integral part of living. In many countries, people rely on them their entire lifespan. In the U.S., they have been and are relevant to most kids, and so that's a lot of memories. Designwise, the bicycle is up there with achievements like the architectural arch or the canoe or the teepee. That's three objects akin to bicycles, because like bicycles, they're evocative of so much.
29. Any (other) passions or hobbies in your life?
Cutting 1.76 seconds daily off my 5k time and upping my Scrabble scores (and wins)!
30. If you could say one thing to Lance Armstrong what would it be?
Who's gonna get the weekend athletes fired up to ride when you retire?
31. In a pinch... McDonalds or Burger King?
The McDonalds Sausage Egg McMuffin is the most perfect food unit on the planet. Not a week goes by for me without at least one. I also like the Double Fillet-O-Fish. There's a 24-hour drive-through near where I live. The last time I went through was the first time I noticed the automatic soda dispenser. The computed order comes, an arm grabs a cup, a conveyor rotates the cup under the spigot, the cup gets filled, and then the conveyor rotates around out from under the spigot for the worker to cap it. I wasn't there long enough to see if the filling is two-stage, you know, let the bubbles subside and then top off. I've always been attracted to automation. Last year I saw a box-making machine do its thing. Actually the boxes are made at the cardboard manufacturer, shipped flattened as we've all seen, and then these are loaded into the machine. The machine opens the box, folds the flaps, and seals the bottom with tape. I couldn't notice a motion wasted and was damn impressed by the system. Automation engineers have all my respect and admiration. I'd love to tour all sorts of automated factories every week.
32. What kind of shampoo did you last use?
33. Favorite libation: wine, beer or fire water?
Cabernet with fillet mignon, always. Having seen the film "Sideways" though, I'm curious about this Pinot stuff. I know nothing abut wine. Sometimes I'll get a $12 bottle of cabernet to down my chips and hot garlic salsa whilst TV viewing. Recently I had a Devils Lake Red Ale to go with my artichoke-sauce cheeseburger. The beer was smooth and creamy, no bitterness, named after a very popular camping park here in Wisconsin. I go through a liter of Jack Daniels quarterly, mixed with a sour, like Squirt. I'm not much of a drinker, one or two on any occasion is my max. And weeks or even months can go by where I'll have none. And yet, sometimes I'll chug the whole bottle of Cabernet if the salsa and chips don't run out first.
34. Even though there seems to be a real tradition to it-what do you think of folks who spend more time setting up their cycle with just the right color saddle, bar tape, bags, hoods, etc than actually riding or at least commenting on the ride?
It's fine by me.
35. Did you go to college... if so, what was your major?
I left San Diego State University one spanish class shy of a bachelors, completed a journalism major and an english minor.
36. Your favorite music while working (if any)?
That disco tune, "Ring My Bell," by Anita Ward. And then some other disco stuff, most funk, most soul (old-style r&b), most jazz (I miss Jazz88, San Diego's jazz station), country blues, certain rock, certain gangsta rap like Ice Cube's solo stuff and Westside Connection. Eminem. Rolling Stones. Carole King. Classical piano. There's more music that I'm not aware of that I'd probably like than music I'm aware of that I do like. The radio stations don't name names very well and who can afford to buy everything anyway? I'm thinking about going satellite. I braze to most anything that rocks fast, deep, hard and loud on whatever radio station moves me. When I'm jigging frames or doing operations that require some thought then the music takes the back seat for a while.
37. If you had it to do all over again... would you be building cycles?
38. What's your favorite lunch food during a work day in the shop?
Carne asada burrito with guacamole. Hot carrots on the side.
39. When it's all said & done-what kind of legacy will you hope to have left behind?
The greatest framebuilder without his own brand who likes to do crossword puzzles while sitting on the throne.
40. How can folks get in touch with you to order a custom cycle?
I haven't built frames since '02 and have no plans on
becoming a born-again builder. I could foresee
building as part of a relay: sales and fitting, parts,
builder, painter, gopher, but I'd have to be a
principal owner. I could see designing lugs my way,
and researching and being the principle frame
designer. Framebuilding methodology would be my main
leg in the relay, of course. None of this is possible
without capital, a plan, a plan B, and an accounting
system to keep the blackjack players out of the till.