Today we travel to the Land Down Under with Australian, Darrell McCulloch of Llewellyn Custom Bicycles.
He knows that first & foremost the cycle must ride perfectly. Past that it's all in the details and McCulloch creates some of the most rideably elaborate & ornate cycles to grace terra firma. Here is what this master artisan had to say...
1. How old are you?
42 in June.
2. Where were you born?
Ashgrove private hospital, Brisbane in the sunshine state Queensland, Australia. About 10 kms from where I currently live.
3. What's your earliest memory of a bicycle or something bicycle related?
Dad came home with a little tricycle one afternoon, it was in a box and he put in the laundry and I was told to wait till the next day. But I kicked up a real hell of a stink and carried on till he relented and got it out. I remember this clearly, I must have been about 3 to 4 years old. I loved locking up the wheel and skidding on the lino, leaving long black skids. "Ouch, ok Mummy I won't do it again." I have been a bike tragic since then. My sister rode this tricycle till she got her new one. We would race around the veranda, our board velodrome. She was on the new trike and me on the old one, I was 16 and she was 4. True story. The forks on the old trike started to bend under my size and brute power (cough cough).
4. What was your first cycle?
A "Malvern Star SL". 5-speed derailleur gears, all steel parts. I tricked it up by removing the mudguards, kick stand and putting a Campagnolo bar-end shifter on it. I also put a cotterless crank set on. New pedals with toe clips. I thought I was so cool. Meanwhile I read all the bike books I could get from the library and dreamed of all those sweet machines.
5. How about first "high-end" cycle?
A "Hoffy" (not Huffy) built by Eric Hendren at Hoffy Cycles (original owner's name was Bill Hoffman). 531 and fully chromed. I thought I was cool.
6. Did (does) your family (parents, siblings, etc) ride also?
My parents never owned a car. We all rode bikes. My dad rode until very recently, he is 77.
7. Did you like to tinker with bikes back then?
I was dialing in my bike, my mates' bikes, the lawn mower, toaster, whatever I could get my hands on. I was frustrated, needed more tools. Dad was not mechanical at all. I needed help and therapy. I blame that as to why I am so scarred now.
8. Did you ever work in a Bike Shop... if so, where/how long?
I started working at Hoffy Cycles about 10 months after I got my frame from Eric. I was 16 and it was late 1979. While I was still at school, about 1978, I read in a "Bicycling" magazine an article about frame builders and also a chap who was the USA national team mechanic. That got the ideas into my head. I rode to Eric's shop and asked for a job. Two weeks later I was working on bikes, filing cotters and servicing Sturmy hubs. Worked in two shops after that. I also worked as head Australian National road team mechanic for two years and then another four years as the 6 month year team mechanic in Europe with the Australian women's and men's national teams. I worked as team mechanic at Atlanta and Sydney Olympics and many world road championships.
9. Have you ever done any organized racing?
15 years in Australia and two seasons in France. No world beater, just local A grade and could do battle with them. Could get up the hills OK (I weighed sub 60 kg). My sprint was not detectable by modern scientific instruments so I always come second and third. The same results in France. Not one win in France but lots of seconds and thirds. My team was getting a bit toey, they were starting to think I was selling the wins.
10. How about cyclo-touring?
No, but Tania (my partner and the love of my life) are planning a year in Europe sometime about 2010 on bikes. I like bush walking. I like nature and the simple things of life.
11. What job(s) did you have before frame building and also-do you have any other job currently besides frame building?
As mentioned... mechanic in shops, team mechanic. I did work as a Store man and packer in a little warehouse when I left school for 10 months till I got started at Hoffy Cycles. I went full time frame building at the end of 2000. From 1989 till 2000 it was part time. I also service my clients' bikes and make a few other bike related products, such as workstands, training ergos.
12. When did you start building?
I did frame building tasks and my own personal frames while I was at Hoffy Cycles, 1979 to 1986. I started working just on frames for Brett at Berretto Cycles in 1986 for a year but he had problems with his business partners so I had to leave. I worked in another bike shop for a couple of years and was hard at the racing. I stopped racing for a year in 1989 to set up Llewellyn Custom Bicycles. LCB was a part time affair till the start of 2001.
13. Who would you say is your greatest influence in designing & frame building?
I got to think about this. I cannot pin it on one person. I have taken lots from many. I like to think that I am an observant pupil of the world. I could say the biggest influence on my metal working attitudes comes from an English magazine called "Model Engineer". It has been published for over 100 years. The skill and knowledge of new and old craftsmen that this magazine brings together is remarkable.
14. Did you apprentice... if so, with who?
There was and still is no apprenticeship in Australia for frame building. I learnt the start of it from Eric Hendren at Hoffy Cycles. A bit more from Brett Richardson at Berretto Cycles where I had more of a free hand for a while. The rest of it is self taught. I have a very strong interest in live model steam locomotives and that is where I started to learn metal machining skills and other things. I gain a lot of knowledge from the chaps in my Model Engineering club.
15. What's your idea of the "perfect cycle" regardless if you built it or not?
A bike that you can look at after at least a decade and say, "It has given many good miles of value and never let me down" Then you cherish it. With each passing year it gains more value for you.
16. Shooting a guess... how many frames would you say you've built?
300 Llewellyns. Not that many due to my part time work, my racing in France and travel/work with the Aussie team in Europe. Plus all the stainless lugged frames I do now slow down the numbers going out the door. They double and triple the time to construct. At Berretto I have no idea, but I built them from start to finish and I would work till midnight doing cheaper frames as well, to earn extra to buy my lathe and more tools (which I still use). Some weeks I would make three frames during the day and a cheaper one at night. How I did that I have no idea but I kept it up for a year. Another 200 perhaps. I had a hand on many more while working for Eric.
17. Any cycles out there that you secretly wished, "Darn, I wish I'd built that!"?
Columbine!!!! WOW. I like the collectable ones.
18. Your idea of the perfect client?
All my clients are perfect. If they are willing to throw their hard earned gold coin at me for a frame then they are perfect. Many order a second and third bike and quite a few have four bikes from me. That is rewarding and flattering. I try my best for them.
19. What defines a nightmare client in your experience?
I have had only one bad chap, I told him halfway through building his bike, he can have it and his deposit back. He was mania. He did not seem to trust anything I was doing so I asked him why I was building his bike. He apologised and I made the frame. Later I learnt from friends that he was well known in bike shops in his home city of Canberra and they fear him. The one who has to serve him is the one who did not see him coming through the door.
20. Any words of advice to up & coming frame builders?
Commitment, perseverance, learn and enjoy all aspects of metal work. I think a good builder can make a few of his own tools and be creative. "Don't rest till your best is better" (my grandfather says this). Oh and it is hard gaff. You have got to be a bit 'Tragic" to keep at it.
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?
Irrational paranoia about weight. Also when they don't have the latest hi tech crap then they think their cycling pleasure is compromised, which of course is total nonsense. I get a bit disappointed when they think a piece of "carbon whatever" will actually put more watts on the pedals. Is that too brutal?
22. What do you think of mass-produced bikes (without naming names)?
They have their place in the world of cycling. Shame there was not less of them.
23. What cycle don't you have anymore that you wished you did?
My first trike.
24. What cycle do you currently ride most, even if it wasn't built by you?
I have a fixed wheel bike, currently loaned to a friend of Tania's. My hack is in use. Also I have a new stainless lugged frame I made for myself but that is waiting for me to put a groupset on it for about four years now. Only Llewellyns downstairs. Tania has six. A hack bike with lights to ride to work. A training bike, a good road race bike. A track bike, a time trial bike, and a fixie. Fixies are cool. Everyone should have a fixed wheel bike. She uses them all and is a good local A grade rider.
25. When did you last ride your bike and for how far?
Last Sunday, early morning, I did 20 kms by myself.
26. What's your idea of the perfect ride?
Being lean and with some form, 250 kms in the French Alpes in good weather. How can you beat that?
27. Could you ever see yourself being Car Free... just using mass-transportation and your bike to get around?
Oh yeah. I only drive to the organic markets on Saturday morning. Bring on the bike movement.
28. Why do you think so many folks have romanticized bicycles & bicycling?
Because it is fun. It is clean, no noise and no engines. Like sailing, like flying in a sail plane. You grow up with bikes as a kid, the smart ones keep bikes in their life till they are pushing up the daisies. You've got to feel sorry for those who don't have bikes in their life.
29. Any (other) passions or hobbies in your life?
Tania is #1. Number 2, Steam is a big passion in my life, anything that is propelled by steam. Reading. Give me time and books. Long conversations with friends while sharing red wine and good wholesome food.
30. If you could say one thing to Lance Armstrong what would it be?
"Tell the truth! and get a decent writer next time for your books"
31. In a pinch... McDonalds or Burger King?
Never, never, never! Better to starve. However they are handy when riding for a comfort stop and dash into the Gents.
32. What kind of shampoo did you last use?
(giggle) No idea, whatever is hanging in the shower.
33. Favourite libation: wine, beer or fire water?
Red wine, the rest is for flux removal!
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 colour saddle, bar tape, bags, hoods, etc than actually riding or at least commenting on the ride?
It is the ride, not the machine. The machine is fun but the riding is the real substance. If they spend more time doing this than riding then I feel sorry for them, they have missed the whole joy of what riding is about. Setting up your new bike is fun. The last time I really did it for myself was about eight years ago.
35. Did you go to college... if so, what was your major?
Left school when I was 15 so I could afford to go racing bikes. I was a runner before racing bikes. Some of my teachers at high school could not understand this. I got some grief about this.
36. Your favourite music while working (if any)?
Classical music, Opera. Some older blues. David Bowie, Nick Cave, Madness, Iggy Pop, Paul Kelly, Pink Floyd, Canto Gregoriano and Jean Michel Jarre. Rap is a NO here. Eclectic tastes, maybe. I love Radio National and the cricket on the radio when the tests are being played. You got to like it when the Aussies hammer the Poms in the Ashes Series.
37. If you had it to do again all over again... would you be building cycles?
Yes and no, because it has given me such great travels and experiences, so yes. I have washed bikes in 23 countries. If I could have another go again at 15 years of age, I would like to have gotten into aviation and ended up working with restoration of old flying aircraft. Pre WW2 and warbirds and older jets and so on. That is really the only other thing I could imagine doing if the tape of life was rewound and I had to choose another path. I am happy with my lot. I live a charmed life.
38. What's your favorite lunch food during a work day in the shop?
Any good wholesome tucker shared with a friend that drops in. Having lunch with Tania during a working week is also a highlight.
39. When it's all said & done-what kind of legacy will you hope to have left behind?
That I honestly gave the customer value for their hard earned dollars. Oh, and a Masterpiece built 7 1/4 " gauge working live steam locomotive of a Queensland Railways C18 as built in 1915 (is he a freak?).
40. How can folks get in touch with you to order a custom cycle?