I've seen a couple of his creations, I have even been to his shop a few times (for some work on my own bikes), I've even been mauled by his eager dogs- and I like what I see. More than that though, I like his aesthetic... French Constructeur: a fully integrated approach to crafting The Steed itself.
I present to you, Joshua Bryant in his own words...
1.How old are you?
2.Where were you born?
3.What's your earliest memory of a bicycle or something bicycle related?
remember my dad teaching me to ride without training wheels. It was on
our driveway, riding a spider-man themed, banana-seated bike. I fell
over on the rough asphalt and got pretty scraped up. I wrote it off and
thought I'd never get near the damn thing again. About 9 months later,
I was being lazy and didn't feel like walking down the block to my
friends house so I hopped on and pedaled off, un-scathed. I've been
"lazy" ever since.
4.What was your first cycle?
The aforementioned bike. I believe. I did have a big wheel before that.
5.How about first "high-end" cycle?
Mongoose MTB... Back when Mongoose had a bit of brand integrity.
6.Did (does) your family (parents, siblings, etc) ride also?
dad got into MTBing about the time he bought mine at around age 11. He
and my mom had 3-speed cruisers that didn't get much use. He's since
been pretty active with the sport, riding pretty regularly and doing
triathlons now that he's retired.
7.Did you like to tinker with bikes back then?
heck yeah. I remember the first time I needed to do something
"advanced" for a repair on the mongoose. The front hub needed repacking,
and my dad and I opened up the hub, and greased the bearings and put it
back together. Later that year, I had to replace the pawls on the
cassette as it had begun freewheeling in both directions. Alone, I took
apart 2 different hubs and got this one to work with what I could
cobble together. I think I was about 12 then. I've always liked to
build things and tinker.
8.Did you ever work in a Bike Shop... if so, where/how long?
I did from about age 16 to about age 20. This was in Macon at one of the 2 shops that existed then.
9.Have you ever done any organized racing?
I've never really been über-competitive. I just want to go out and
challenge myself and have fun with friends doing the same. I didn't see
why any of us needed to be winners or losers as long as we were riding
fast and having fun.
10.How about cyclo-touring?
as much as I'd like. My honeymoon was the first time I had done
anything other than overnight. We biked and trained through Austria,
Slovenia, Croatia, and Hungary. My bike got stolen in Eastern Hungary on
this trip and that's part of the reason I started building, though I
had a passionate interest for about 6 years prior.
11.What job(s) did you have before frame building and also-do you have any other job currently besides frame building?
been in the food and wine industry for the last 10+ years. Before that
I was a bike messenger for a few years. Currently I work in specialty
retail as a manager. We sell beer, wine, cheese, charcuterie and
housewares. Food is my other passion in life and this job allows me an
avenue to express my passion and to learn about business and managing a
team of individuals with different interests, passions, and experiences.
But as I'm getting busier and busier building, this job is taking more
and more of a backseat to building.
12.When did you start building?
built my first frame back in 2007, to replace the frame that was stolen
in Hungary. I've been practicing and building frames as I could ever
13.Who would you say is your greatest influence in designing & frame building?
a few actually. Past builders that I have great respect for are Alex
Singer, René Herse, Jo Routens and others. Modern builders that I
admire are JP Weigle, Mitch Pryor (MAP Cycles), Toei in Japan, and a few
others. I admire these most because they all build in the style I
concentrate in, but there are so many other talented builders that are
either diverse builders or builders that focus on a different style of
bike. Folks like Richard Sachs and Tony Periera to name a couple. The
list could go on...
14.Did you apprentice... if so, with who?
I taught myself by watching the Paterek videos and making a lot of
mistakes and trying to learn from them. From the beginning, I've pushed
myself way beyond my comfort zone and I think I've grown tremendously
as a builder because of it.
15.What's your idea of the "perfect cycle" regardless if you built it or not?
A bike that disappears underneath allowing you to focus on the journey.
16.Shooting a guess... how many frames would you say you've built?
currently working on frames 9 and 10. I've also built a lot of racks
and did a lot of random practice brazing both lugged and filet.
17.Any cycles out there that you secretly wished, "Darn, I wish I'd built that!"?
Not bikes, but certainly details from certain makers. Especially the Herse stem design.
18.Your idea of the perfect client?
the one that enjoys the process and the experience, that knows what he
or she wants, while simultaneously being open to suggestion from my
experience both as an avid rider and a builder.
19.What defines a nightmare client in your experience?
that really can't afford the right bike up front. If they are going
for a custom and spec'ing cheap products that will have to be replaced
soon instead of investing in ones that are more long-lived. It's really
the short sightedness of the situation. I've deliberately not closed a
couple potential sales with potential customers like that, hoping that
they either find another bike that will suit their purposes better at
this point or at some future point understand the ammortized-cost of
better quality goods a bit more.
20.Any words of advice to up & coming frame builders?
as an up and comer myself: Don't. At least not professionally. Unless
you have extreme business savvy as well as a penchant for customer service
and the ability to build top notch bikes. Oh and you'll also need a
shit-ton of money in the first several years.
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?
really sure about this. Maybe an ego'd lack of understanding about
bike design. I remember overhearing a conversation at a recent Oregon
Handbuilt Show: An attendee was remarking to his friends about a
handlebar bag and how it puts so much weight forward of the axle. At
first glance he's absolutely right, but then add the weight of the rider
and the amount fore of this somewhat arbitrary point is but a small
percentage of total weight of the rider and bike. It's a bit short
sighted and not fully thought through. Nothing wrong with that, it just
shows a lack of personal experience with the specific design. It's the
hubris that went along with it. I'd hate to think that folks like that
are influencing their less-experienced friends in a negative way. It's
mostly a male phenomenon though, but I hear a lot of things like that
from time to time.
22.What do you think of mass-produced bikes (without naming names)?
on the mass-production. There is pretty quality stuff out there that
is "mass"-produced and there's much cheaper stuff out there. As an
overall thing, I appreciate its existence in the market. Very few folks
would say "I think I want to start riding a bike, it's a good thing I
have several thousand dollars lying around to spend on a custom
23.What cycle don't you have anymore that you wished you did?
a tough one. I've owned some neat bikes, but now that I build bikes, I
could theoretically build any of them... Maybe that Spider Man banana
seated bike for nostalgia?
24.What cycle do you currently ride most, even if it wasn't built by you?
My made-by-me 650b Randonneuse. I commute, run errands, ride brevets, camp and generally explore my world on this thing.
25.When did you last ride your bike and for how far?
Yesterday and about 25-30 miles. I don't really try and keep track.
26.What's your idea of the perfect ride?
I've got two:
First: Taking a tandem tour with my lovely wife. Picking our way
through Mediterranean Italy, Sicily, Corsica, Mediterranean France,
Catalan, the Pyrénées, the Basque, Northern Spain, and Portugal. Eating
and drinking and lounging in picturesque settings, picnicking and
dining out. Generally trying to satiate our overwhelming sense of
wanderlust and joie de vivre.
The second: Getting together a
team of my good riding buddies and going out on some mountain challenge
that lasts a long day or through the night. One that has us on a range
of emotions and in the end we come out rewarded and much stronger both
physically and as friends because of the experience.
27.Could you ever see yourself being Car Free... just using mass-transportation and your bike to get around?
was until last year. It was pretty easy to just never have owned a car
and dealing with the limitations. It's nice to have the car to pick up
heavy things or to get out of town with our dogs and just go camping or
swimming or visiting friends. I wish that the US would invest more in
mass transit. We're a big country and having alternatives that were
long sighted would be amazing.
28.Why do you think so many folks have romanticized bicycles & bicycling?
makes you feel like a kid and it's important to have a sense of youth
in life. I feel strongly that folks live longer if they feel younger.
29.Any (other) passions or hobbies in your life?
Travel and food, wine, cocktails or other sensory pleasures. I fancy myself a bit of a hedonist.
30.If you could say one thing to Lance Armstrong what would it be?
what's going on in friends' personal lives this week: (and not in a
judgmental way) Why did you leave the woman that helped you through
me a week ago and it would probably be: You've raised a lot of
recognition in America for the sport of cycling... What are you doing
now and next to help people grow personally in the sport, if anything?
31.In a pinch... McDonalds or Burger King?
The only time I eat either is on a brevet, so whatever's open at 3am.
32.What kind of shampoo did you last use?
Aveda something or other flavor.
33.Favorite libation: wine, beer or fire water?
All. If I could only choose one, definitely wine.
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?
their passion is. For me personally, I want to enjoy the experience.
I don't begrudge folks that geek out more than ride, it takes all kinds
to make life interesting. They're also the ones that push the envelope
of style in bikes because they're the ones that have the time to be
loudest, posting and commenting on pictures of beautiful bikes and
calling attention to things that industry folks might gloss over. I
wish I had more time to geek out on stuff like that, so in a way, I envy
35.Did you go to college... if so, what was your major?
But I wanted to get into graphic design, advertising, linguistics,
engineering and some form of psychotherapy. In a way, owning a business
allows me to pursue many of these and I don't have any college debts.
36.Your favorite music while working (if any)?
don't like to put things into genres. I feel too old for that and I
don't have any time to geek out on it these days like I did in my
younger years. I like music that has soul and edge and passion, no
matter the genre. I generally gravitate towards good ole rock-n-roll.
37.If you had it to do all over again... would you be building cycles?
asked another way: If I won the lottery, what would I be doing? I
would absolutely be doing this. Plus product development for
touring/randonneuring parts, as I feel like racing components that
innovate for the sake of innovation have too much of the market share
38. What's your favorite lunch food during a work day in the shop?
Jeez, you mean I get to take a lunch?
39.When it's all said & done-what kind of legacy will you hope to have left behind?
like to be known as a force that changed the face of cycling somehow.
If not that, a heckuva nice guy that built some great riding bikes.
40.How can folks get in touch with you to order a custom cycle?
Strange thing happened on the way to the forum, I went through old bike-related bookmarks and realized a few different realizations...
1. Many people who once blogged are no longer.
2. Some people -however- are still blogging (are still blogging) about the same stuff (as in, Same Tired Shit, kinda stuff).
3. A few of those same people who are still blogging aren't blogging about the STS (refer to above) because they have moved away from bikes and on into something else.
4. Nearly every blogger -who is still blogging about the STS (refer to above above)- has removed this here blog from their blog links.
5. I don't know why #4 occurred but I do know that I ebb & flow with regard to 'Talking' about bicycles. I love to think and ride them, talk--not so much. One exception being--I'll talk for years to the uninitiated about Bicycles (because that seems sorta important to my brain).
These days you can get bad news --or good news for that matter [but it usually isn't]-- in the blink of an eye. Could be the phone [but not often], could be via email but mostly it's through the pipeline of either Facebook or Twitter. It's all speed-of-sound that feeds the glutinous appetite of a world that, Knew about it Yesterday .
In the thick Army-issue wool blanket of endless updates ranging from the mundane to the, well, mundane hardly anything can snap you out of the stupor of short-attention-span theatre brought to you by the So-The-Fuck-What? attitude that is social networking. But just every so often something does. And it did for me the other day.
Hurl is closing shop. And Hurl is the proprietor of Cars R Coffins. And Cars R Coffins, besides living a half life as a t-shirt, sticker or patch on the ass, toptube or messenger bag of some Fixie ne'er-do-well, was a coffee shop.
But to marginalize or reduce something that shone so bright to me as mere coffee shop is akin to a headstone of a loved one reading, They was Loved. It's not enough. It's not enough because CRC was a Hang [yep, uppercase that H] and a Scene luxe.
Coffee shops serve coffee and the patrons have to make it into something more, something significant, something that is by proxy jive, boring and elitist not to mention uninviting as a convention by Secret Handshake Only. And while CRC's regulars did not do that, and in fact made it a hub for friendship bordering on pure family, I would strongly opine that it still wouldn't have amounted to much more than --a little different-- if it had not been for its founder.
CRC was, is and always will be a big deal to me and my family.
Outside of Bob Brown, the only person we knew at the time of our relocation from the NYC area to the Twin Cities, the first person I actually pressed palms with was Hurl, and it took place within the confines of Cars R Coffins itself.
A move that was exhausting in all ways. Half our shit stuffed into a spur-of-the-moment, holy-shit-we-almost-flipped-the-truck [because the idiot guys we hired to load it overloaded it] rental garage in the middle of Nowhere Pennsylvania [our car included too] that left us reeling when we first arrived in the Land of 10 Bijillion Lakes.
Bob takes me into CRC to, Meet this guy... and so I can get two coffees, one for me and one for my still sleeping wife back in Bob's house in Saint Paul, and a juice for -also sleeping- Chloe.
A guy stands behind the counter and says hi to Bob and then Bob looks at him, me, and back to him.
Hey Hurl. This is the Large Fella, Scott Cutshall.
Hand out, my hand out too. Hi nice to meet you, I've read your blog I think. He's looking nearly as splonked as me.
And that was that.
A few days later...
Our first bike ride, the day after we moved into our first place in St. Paul [before we found a better located place in Minneapolis], was to CRC for coffee for Amy and me, and another fruit juice for Chloe. And we never stopped going. Nearly everyday in fact.
Chloe got her first, Big Girl, bike there [a Schwinn Corvette]. And even though she basically couldn't straddle it, It came from Hurl I can handle it, she would say time and time again after falling over nearly each time she had to stop at an intersection.
These days she rides a Surly Long Haul Trucker [which Hurl helped procure for her] and after having topped out at 4,912 for mileage in 2010 still says she owes it all to, Hurl.
Riding through the long and deep winter that year I worked out a doable loop from our house in the Seward neighborhood. The halfway point was always CRC. Bike in rack, inside for a coffee and some words, swap chemical warmers, and go.
My interview for the Star Tribune newspaper [which first outed my story to the press and people, and for occasionally better but mostly worse] took place at Hurl's coffee and sticker haven.
Eventually Amy and me wanted to have some folks by. Once we felt like we had the house set up enough to not put forth the notion we were slobbing vagabonds who posed as decent humans we planned a Pizza Night where I would scratch make a dozen or so pizzas and entertain some of our new & closest friends. Looking back, it's interesting to note that besides Bob Brown every person there was from having first met them at CRC... including both Hurl and his sig other, Kelly.
Hurl and me have much in common it seems. He'd rightfully disagree but I would argue that what we share is a fairly astute brain in a world of people who we have to, said nicely, suffer with a smirk on our faces. So much in fact I wanted him to be a subject for a long-planned but short-lived series of interviews I intended to conduct called, People I Find Interesting [or PIFI for short]... he participated, Hurl & The CRC PIFI Interview.
Nearing the end of our stay in Minneapolis, after having set into motion the plan to leave for a rainy, damp, gray life in Portland, Oregon, the last place, on our final night in Minneapolis, all three of us stopped before we left town was, yep, CRC. In a darkened parking lot behind the building that had become our home away from home we hugged, laughed, and tried our best to not let Hurl & Co. see what was welling up in our eyes and down our faces.
I visited this past summer. A trip to see Bob and everyone and to attend the FreeRide... and I went to CRC twice during that short trip. And it was good...
...and felt like home,
but here's the crux and juice of it all for me:
I'll miss knowing that if and when we ever return to Minneapolis CRC will not be there as destination/hang/haven or clique for me -and us- on our rides. And that's a gray thing. It's gray because only ever so seldom does your world collide so perfectly with someone or something elses and you can't take that kind of thing for granted. I know I don't, didn't and never have.
No, Minneapolis will never be three numbers for us...
As a dad, as a husband, as a friend, as a person, as a human: I try to impart the best of me toward understanding of many differing things. I think it's one of those things that we, as folks, can do that for the most part differs us from other cell-based lifeforms.
For years I have been telling my daughter, Chloe [and from time to time, my wife, Amy] about the metaphors I have come to learn through a lot of bicycling.
Things like, "Action/Reaction... how that glorious tailwind will turn tail on you and make you pay on the way back home" or "Dividends... how that one big nasty hill that you so despise, really becomes a 'friend' when you encounter an even bigger, nastier, hill in another location on another day" or "Facing Down... how when on those many times you think you cannot do it, or would rather being doing anything but this, you come to realize that amazing sense of self-reliance & just plain old Self that comes from persevering through whatever it is that feels un-doable"... and the actual list is much, much, longer truthfully.
"A thing, or tool, or Bike, or body that isn't needing much in the way of maintenance is -after years of thinking on such things- something not really in that great of shape after all, but instead something that hasn't enjoyed Purpose & Usefulness" [I tell Chloe that one often]... or just the plain & simple: "If you use it, love it, grind on it, it will need care & attention... and if you aren't attentive to its needs, it won't be there for you when you desire it" [as basic as bike care, as complex as Love].
Just a few months back I had the chance to see a great old friend/mentor. This guy is a legend in Jazz. He has played, toured, recorded with names known the world over... these days he is still out there, on the road-in the studios getting it done. Back when I was a musician, I played/recorded/gigged with him... but that was many moons past for me. 100 moons past.
Getting to see him here in Portland was a sort of amazing and odd homecoming for me. You see, when I had last seen him it was also the time I last played with him, and it was the last & final time I played music at all, period. 2 weeks after that gig [in NYC at the Knitting Factory] Chloe was born and I quit music [and to a degree, life]. So seeing him this part October was a big deal to me... a huge deal.
Beyond the weird opening where he didn't know who I was [but once I said his name, he recognized my voice thus recognizing me] it was fantastic in all ways.
After catching up for a bit, and then he getting reacquainted with Amy and getting to meet Chloe for the first time since he had last seen her [as a large bump in Amy's belly at that final gig in September of 1999 in NYC, and then Chloe was born 8 days later], he asked me an amazingly honest & blunt question, "Bro, gotta ask... how do you do it? You know, the music? The creation of it? The creativity... don't you miss The Creativity?"
Caught completely off-guard by the question, I responded without thought or ponderance, "Lieb, yeah... well, when I ride there's much to think about, reconstruct differently, perfectly, in one's mind. Plus, there are the little things on a base technical level."
He continued with, "How so?"
I ended with the only thought I could, "Well, it's not the same of course. How could it be? But, truthfully, there are parallels... things like the way you can work on cadence, or pedal stroke, you know the woodshed stuff. And toward that beautiful, sweeping, wave you get when all cylinders click as one on the bandstand or in the studio with your brothers, well that's very much like not thinking at all during a ride where you & the bike meld into a single entity and you just flow."
He didn't buy it for a second, but he listened and considered it.
Looking back at him and his expression, I am not sure I did either.
Of course it is very different: riding a bike and creating music on the fly... but there are similarities, if you look deep enough.
If you have to look because it's what you've been given without choice or option.
After packing away BBC#1 this past summer [reason, photos, etc... all Here] and building up a Rivendell Bleriot [documented Here] and realizing that it might be a little big'gish [or that its geometry isn't a perfect fit... without getting too technical: I might be favoring higher BB's these days -but that's a boring thing to talk about so... ] for me, I just kept riding what came into my life back in Jan. of this year:
...a Surly Pugsley.
I bought the bike from a fella here in Portland, right after I had finally Man-Up'd and had one of the final remnants of my Big-Days erased: my umbilical hernia repaired, in early January. He had bought and built it up during the Fall of 2009 with the hopes for grand adventures & such only to realize that thinking a thought is different from doing a thought.
I began riding it to Amy's abject horror while I still had a nice line of sutures in my abdomen. She feared the bike's size would be my -and the surgeons- undoing. I survived, sort of...
...I rode a bit too hard [and landed in the ER for not so much ripping the sutures open as stretching them back-n-forth and bleeding out from my abdomen].
The Pug, to my mind, is pretty near a perfect vehicle. Sure, it's a self-limiting kind of deal that says to its rider: "So, your legs feel pretty great today huh?" as you approach hills with nimble legs & thoughts of speed while climbing... but the Pug's answer is always the same when you climb, "Fuck You: not today, not ever" and that's fine. It's fine because a bike, any bike, that makes its built-in bookends so clearly defined, well you have to laugh to yourself while respecting those bookends vastly. I like that in bikes, I like that in people: What you see is precisely what you get, period.
So why do I ride it? ...and where?
2nd part 1st, 1st part 2nd...
It does anything any other bike does, and mostly it does it way better than any other bike. Maybe, it does one thing worse than any other bike [but I don't really think so]... climbs. Hey, I've had full groceries + Chloe on the Big Dummy, and that pup is S L O W, and while that's reasonable, it -also- feels really S L O W...
The Pug, on the other hand, with full groceries [and minus the child, of course... no real way to get her on-board with me + these days Chloe doesn't really want towed anywhere any longer] is S L O W but feels monstrous in what it's capable of... sort of like driving an Abrams tank through a K-Mart parking lot: It isn't doing its intended thing, but damn, I could inflict a world of hurt on all these cookie-cutter mini vans if I desired, and it still gets me around to boot.
I've ridden it into Malls [funny, people loved it, security didn't]; I've ridden it in snow [duh]; I've ridden it into one entrance of a supermarket -straight through the supermarket- and out the other side [felt wonderful, plush, comfy... sure it scared the living shit out of a few folks but I would guess it gave them something to talk about later that evening once home]; I've ridden up & down stairs; I've ridden it up & down steep hills [again, it tells you how to ride it with no further discussion options available]; and I've ridden along, and then into, the Willamette River [didn't float, wasn't overly great on the drive train, but the Pug -and- me, we both survived].
Oh, and I've ridden it from central Oregon to the California border on mostly the beach [and a little highway-when the beach simply wasn't there anymore]...
...with Chloe & Amy meeting me, 240 miles & two days, later:
The Pug is my new favorite bike indeed.
Plus, you have to love a bike that simultaneously stimulates the curiosity and ire of Racing Snob wannabes; is a favorite among the insane & homeless: all curious about the Pug as I roll by while they go about their business residing under bridges/masturbating while sitting on park benches/etc; invites Crystal Meth heads to smile when they encounter me & the Pug out tooling along the Springwater Trail; and forces city bus drivers to launch into "Keep motorcycles out of the GAWDDAMN bus lane buddy!" on nearly every ride...
not to mention -apparently- drives every individual to ask the same two questions:
It's funny, life. It's also quite odd, life... it's, also, unbelievably perfect & beautiful too.
All the folks who told me or suggested that I -stop- blogging, now blog themselves; all the haters have come & gone... and only a few have ever come forward & introduced themselves -and of those: I forgave them/they forgave me;
the Bicycling Magazine piece has come and passed too; those closest to me have seen me come within a whisker of some sort of -bigger- fame, and then watched me -in that quintessential way I am capable of- burn those bridges down too; the Today Show came around twice... and I sent them away twice;
Jenny-O turkey came around too, they wanted to talk turkey to me, they wanted me to be their national spokesperson with a series of TV ads... and while I don't eat meat, their meat, any one's meat, it was a funny & odd thing... and then that disappeared too;
Amy and me are older, so is Chloe -now 11 years old- and we still love one another and cover each other's 6; I don't weigh myself too often these days -mostly for curiosity or a small taste of the old familiar- and then that's that; I hover around 165 pounds; we have a newer cat + the older one, and they actually sort of like each other; we raised, were loved by and fell deeply in love with, 2 Indian Runner Ducks we named Lucy & Petunia... and then, just 5.2 months into their short lives, they were taken from us, them from themselves, by raccoons, and that was heartbreaking;
and while we still don't like Portland too much, we are used to it, to it's strange, smiling, quick to chat but never to follow up in any-meaningful-way people... but we forgive them more easily these days because we understand that being ultra-conservative while trying to appear hyper-progressive must be one big cross to bear;
it still rains too often here; people still don't know how to drive their cars well here [or anywhere else for that matter]; we bought a new car [but don't drive it much]; I got a new bike which I ride a lot; Chloe got a new bike too, and will hit 7.5K this year in mileage and me -as her dad- couldn't be more proud;
Amy is still the absolute love of my life; I got brave and finally had my umbilical hernia -the final gift from my Days of Huge- repaired earlier this year, and that's been great, and I didn't die on the O.R. Table; and the Doc who repaired me has become a great friend, and we ride together;
I fly a lot these days: on planes [and get strip-searched by the TSA because I not only carry my own food but because I have deflated skin on me and that seems to worry them, the TSA, a lot... and they ruined my chance to go to InterBike in Las Vegas last month, but maybe someone will invite me next year, we'll see] and mostly on-bikes; I am writing my memoir and am signed with a literary agency in New York City... and who woulda thought that possible back when I was sunk with weight & life and things were looking more than just a little bleak?; we are planning another move soon... either Northern California [pricey], Southern California [uncertain] or Austin, Texas [possibly];
I am also thinking I need some really big challenges soon so I am considering either Paris Brest Paris or the Tour Divide or some other things;