The University of Iowa offers a frame building course, although it’s not your standard frame building course. It’s offered through the School of Art and Art History and places an emphasis on the bicycle as rideable art, although it’s just as demanding technically as any similar course is concerned, as Willy Tan’s tourer demonstrates.
Willy is actually an accounting major at the UOI, but was granted attendance in the course due to his great interest in frame building. Most other students are 3D Design Art majors and engineering majors. The full gamut of frame building is taught, from fitting to design on AutoCAD, through to mitering tubes, TIG welding and finishing.
In 2014, Willy’s sophomore year, he enrolled in the course and was lucky enough to be taught by the legendary Tom Teesdale, a huge influence on the early MTB scene, making frames for Ritchey, Marin, Kona, and Gary Fisher. Sadly, Tom died the following summer, so the bike he built with the class was probably one of the last he ever made.
Willy says, “Although he had built many bicycles and was a mountain bike-building legend, he was down to earth and eager to teach the young students of the course. Watching him braze a bike up close was a great experience, as was being able to observe the little things he did.”
The course is taught by Professor Steve McGuire, who organised a “Tom Teesdale Handbuilt Bike Show” for the 2015 Iowa Bike Expo as a tribute and that tradition has continued. “The Handbuilt show turned out to be a great thing as it connected a lot of old builders who knew Tom in their younger days and was a platform to show their continuing work,” Willy says.
“That is where I met my mentor Jeffrey Bock who has helped me along on my way to becoming a framebuilder. I think the culture of handbuilt bicycles will endure with builders like Teesdale and Bock willing to pass on their knowledge to the younger generations.”
Willy built this bike for his older sister who “is shorter than average, hence the choice of 26″ wheels and a small frame.” She wanted a bike that she could take “intense touring”, so Willy settled on 26″ MTB rims laced with 32 spokes to Campagnolo 8-speed hubs.
True Temper and Reynolds 531 tubing was used for the frame, joined with Prugnat long points and a Henry James bottom bracket. Willy describes the build: “The dropouts were old forged pieces, re-shaped with a style like the points on the front dropouts.”
Willy’s sister works at a private jet company, so he shaped the rear brake bridge to resemble a jet fairing, for a personal touch.
“I brazed brass tubes under the bottom bracket to prevent the frame from rusting if the cables wore through the paint. The component choice was a Campagnolo 8-speed as requested by my sister. I chose the Sugino crank as it was the only manufacturer that makes cranks as short as 152mm for her shorter legs.”
The Tan family is a creative one. Willy’s younger sister designed the decals: ‘Yuxun’ is his Chinese name so the combination of his Chinese and English names formed the logotype. Willy’s handsome tourer debuted at Sacramento’s NAHBS this year.
Willy’s mentor, Jeff Bock, helped a lot: “We drew up this frame in his workshop and went through many design considerations together. He also painted this bicycle with original Dupont Imron paints. Jeff is another Iowa framebuilding legend, yet he is willing to pass along his knowledge and expertise to a young aspiring frame builder.”
So again, thankfully, the skills of the masters are passed down to those who are willing learn, thus preserving this marvellous craft. Here’s looking forward to seeing what Willy comes up with next. See more on his Flickr stream.