Wednesday, March 12, 2008

An Interview With Darrell McCulloch, Part I

BKW's recent trip Portland, Oregon, for the North American Handmade Bicycle Show was our first opportunity to see the work of a builder we had heard of for some time. We'd been hearing about Llewellyn Custom Biycles for years from folks who know great work and when confronted with his work, well, we were blown away. BKW's editors do not suffer this much lust easily.

Darrell Llewellyn McCulloch, "Dazza" to his friends, is one of a rare breed of framebuilder whose work inspires such an instant sense of awe that your first thought is, "Gosh, I'd love to have this frame." We talked with him at the show and made plans for an e-mail interview to follow.

BKW: Where are you located? Are you a native?

DLM: I was born in the city of Brisbane Australia, 1963. I live and work in my home located on the outskirts of Brisbane, where I can still ride away from the traffic and can still go for walks in the state forests across the road.

BKW: How long have you been building?

DLM: I have been associated with handmade frames and bike racing since 1979. I started building the "Llewellyn" marque in 1989 (Llewellyn is my middle name).

BKW: How did you learn your craft—were you self-taught or did you apprentice under someone?

DLM: I was a bit lost at school, looking for something to do with my hands. Was it going to be art, wood work, aviation, or...? Then, after reading a magazine article on frame building in a 1978 copy of Bicycling magazine, I fell in love with the notion of making bicycle frames. That article is responsible for sending me down the path of this tragic lifestyle. (Giggle.)

BKW: If you apprenticed under someone, can you tell us a bit about the builder?

DLM: I started work at Hoffy Cycles in Sandgate in 1979. The owner was Eric Hendren; he worked his whole life in that shop from age 13 till he retired 53 years later. I learned to fix coaster hubs, Sturmey-Archer 3-speeds, wheel building, frame repairs and some new frame work. Eric built frames with a vice, power drill, three files, and a surface plate. He was a good boss to me, but after 6 years I got restless and bored and wanted to move on.

An opportunity came to work for Brett Richardson (Berretto frames). This allowed me to get my hands into full time frame building (circa 1986), but the shop went through some partnership troubles so I ended up leaving and working in a bigger retail bike shop. A couple of years there and I was prompted to start Llewellyn Custom Bicycles as a part-time affair. The time was right.

Llewellyn was a part time affair while I raced in France and worked the summers in the shop. Then I worked full time with the Australian Institute of Sport—head road mechanic for two years—then I went part time with the teams and only did the Euro season from May to October. Based in Germany and then Italy, I did not see a Brisbane winter for 8 years.

The rest of my education is self discovery from inside my cave, absorbing as much as I can cope with.

BKW: Do you work in materials other than steel?

DLM: Oh yes, but only with splendidly fine materials; like a couple of glasses of good red wine with my fiancée.

BKW: In addition to working with lugs, do you fillet braze or TIG weld?

DLM: I used to do lugless fillet brazing with oversize shaped tubes, but it drove me nuts. The in built stresses from shaped (squashed) tubes annoyed me. So I created my own compact angled lugs for round oversize tubes and banished shaped main tubes from my life for ever. (Until recently, these were known as the Slant 6, and Mini 6 lug sets, now known as OS Compact and XL Compact.) The lugs are much better for the purity of the build processes, so this pleases me. I don't do funk or what this year's brochure has to have.

I want a good fit, accuracy of the build and no stresses in the frame. And it has to look pleasing while lasting a couple of decades.
No TIG here.

BKW: If you do work other than lugs, are lugs your preferred form of expression?

DLM: My chant is, "It's steel, it's lugs, let the others get on with the madness"

BKW: What is your preferred tubing these days?

DLM: I use lot of Columbus "Spirit for Lugs" tube sets. Good to work with, well made with sensible butt lengths. If I need special tubes for some frame designs or for bikes that have different tube requirements I will use a mix of suitable tubes from Dedacciai or True Temper.

BKW: What lugs do you like to work with?

DLM: My Llewellyn designed and produced lugs, like the standard oversize compact lugs (was Mini 6, now OS Compact ), and the extra large compact angled lug set (was Slant 6, now XL Compact), my socket stainless dropouts and lugged handlebar stems.
I created the stem and compact (sloping top tube lugs) lug sets to meet my needs, as there was nothing out there in the market and they blend traditional lugged frame construction with the merits of contemporary designs. I cannot understand builders who make a attractive lugged bike and plonk a CNC machined alloy handle bar stem on it. Makes me puke. I provide the lugs for other builders to use, and it was pleasing to meet these builders at Don (Walker)'s show (NAHBS) and see their good work with them.

For horizontal top tube frames I use Kirk Pacenti's artisan lugs for elaborate designs and I use Richard Sachs's lugs. Both are good mates and are life time tragics with bikes.


Unknown said...

Outstanding! It's great to see homage to a "pro" like Dazza. Incredible work and super fast bikes. I hope you can highlight some of the other artists out there.

Anonymous said...

In a standout show, I agree, this work managed to stand out. Gorgeous bikes I had previously only seen on the net.
What I would love to see, especially as I'm sending out first feelers for my own custom bike, is comments on the ride of some of these dream machines. Eye candy is nice, but It ultimately come down to the feel under motion.
When I do pull the trigger, I probably won't order an Aussie bike, though, especially the way the dollar is headed and with so many fine frames to choose from here in Portland. The interview is a nice treat, though.

Lawrence said...

A track and coaching colleague recently acquired a Llewellyn. It's a truly beautiful sight.

He has to polish it regularly to remove besotted admirers' drool.

Anonymous said...

Folks, I have a Llewellyn Slant 6 with Campy Record, and wheels made up by Dazza on Record hubs. From initial discussions with Dazza it was an absolute delight going through the process of being measured up for the frame, to waiting in 'delicious anticipation' for the frame to be made, and photos via email each day as work progressed, to the arrival (in the post in a bloody great box) of a bike that far surpassed my expectations. In short - incredible workmanship and a stunning ride. Every day I cannot believe how good it is to ride. For those of you in the USA - I know the US$ is sliding against the A$, but handmade is handmade, and craftsmanship is worth every cent - you will never regret owning handcrafted steel!