Thursday, March 13, 2008
An Interview With Darrell McCulloch, Part II
In Part II of our interview with Dazza, we discuss his love of polishing, his wait and how he plans to live a long time.
BKW: Do you work with stainless steel very often?
Every frame I make has some stainless: the dropouts, cable guides and stoppers, chain hanger, front derailleur mount, and the heart detail between the stays. I use stainless here because it has merit. I like frame parts that function well, keeping paint tidy, no corrosion from road salts, or from people who perspire battery acid. Aesthetic is important but durability and function should never be sacrificed, intentionally or through ignorance. I see/hear people chatter on about so and so's dropouts or some other design feature they see on a frame, but 30 years of experience tells one that there will be grief and tears with some designs currently in fashion. There is reason why the long time professional builders have not done the design of a part or a frame that way.
Having said that, then there is my reputation for the bling bikes; but you know, I only do three to four of those elaborate stainless lugged frames each year. They get a lot of attention. Some of those have 250 hours of metal work in them. They hurt in many ways to make. This year I will make only three of those and two slots are already taken and the other one is being finalized. So if a client wants one, they need to sign up/deposit for a 2009 slot now.
BKW: Where are most of your customers located?
DLM: Mostly in Australia.
Most of my export frames go to the USA and these typically feature hand-cut, polished stainless lugs.
BKW: How many bikes do you deliver in the average year?
DLM: I have given up counting. Truly, I have not counted production for five years, but I can say, not as many as I would like to get out the door. Running the show takes more time than it used to when compared to the good old days.
Also, those elaborate stainless lugged frames take up a lot of energy, time. Each one is big black hole for 5 to 6 weeks.
BKW: How long is your waiting list?
DLM: It fluctuates from 6 to 12 months.
BKW: Tell us a bit about the red bike that was at the Handmade Bicycle Show. You said you had 250 hours in it.
DLM: Yes, 250 hours, that is not counting customer discussion time and sending pictures of the build process each night.
I cut a set of Pacenti lugs, crown and BB, in a variation of a theme I have done before, and I was very pleased with the results. I machine the seatstay plugs and hand miter them to the seat lug to fit and look the way I desire. Cut stainless details for aesthetics and many other extras. But I would like to stress, that bike frame is made to be ridden and be used, it is not fragile or for the mantle piece. No compromise is made on the ride and longevity of the bike because it has shiny bits.
Typical frame, fork and stem like that one is $9,500 AUD ($8,500 USD) or more depending on what the customer desires.
Compared to my normal build style road frame, fork, stem which still has stainless fittings, polished dropouts and other details for $3,800 AUD ($3,350 USD)
BKW: Do you paint your frames?
DLM: No, never, never want to, I am too young to die!
My old training partner from the early 80's, Joe Cosgrove, paints my work, he does a splendid job. He was very chuffed recently to receive high praise from Joe Bell and other paint legends while at NAHBS 2008.
I also think painting is so specialized, it is a full time Ph.D. that will never be finished. I think that builders compromise their painting if they apply themselves to the metal work and design of their bikes properly, or painters compromise their painting Ph.D. if they put time into metal work. Some do reasonable work in both skills, but they are limited or perhaps have to keep to a narrower pathway, and some are not always progressive or attuned to the changes and progress of today's market for hand made frames.
BKW: You seem pretty proud of your lug designs and other casting projects, are there delights on the drawing board?
DLM: If the handmade bespoke/custom bicycle scene is to stay healthy and vibrant, we builders cannot go on producing frames that are just repros of circa 1985 with the additions of some extra windows in the lugs with leather handle bar tape and pastel coloured paint jobs. These have their place and is super cool, but the demographics of these clients is dwindling each year.
The new generation of clients/enthusiasts are the new buyers. All they have seen is carbon this and carbon that but they can be shown the merits of both the traditional build methods and styles, fused with contemporary designs and styles. A better bicycle is the result. The best of the past with the best of today. We build better bicycles today than 30 years ago.
This desire prompted me to invest a lot of time and resources in designing and producing lugs and dropouts to strengthen what I do. I have to admit, it is a lot of toil, thrown on top of workshop production, added with the hiccups along the way. I have as much pride in these casting projects as the attention my stainless lugged frames receive.
As for new projects on the drawing board, the answer is yes and no for the time being. No, but yes, when time allows.