Torchbearers: Brian Baylis, Part I

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Padraig: Where are you based?
Brian Baylis: I guess technically La Mesa, not San Diego. We’ll call La Mesa headquarters.

 

Padraig: Is that where you grew up?
Brian Baylis: I grew up in initially in Burbank and from 10 or so lived in Huntington Beach. When I discovered cycling I was just graduating high school in Huntington Beach. I would call my hometown Huntington Beach.

 

Padraig: When did you move to San Diego?
Brian Baylis: The first time was in 1973. I moved to Carlsbad to work for Masi. My first out-of-town experience was when I moved to Carlsbad to work for Masi in 1973. I was working for a Rolls Royce dealership in Orange County when the job with Masi came up. I met Faliero Masi, the manager and Mario [Confente, head builder] and everybody at a race in Escondido in ’73. I was racing an Italian Masi. Faliero autographed my number. They were all watching the race. I got there right at the beginning. They had only made a few frames.

I asked, ‘You need anybody to work there?’ I had a delivery for Rolls Royce down there and I stopped in and filled out an application. Very shortly after that I got two of my friends jobs there. One was Mike Howard, the other was David Vander Linde, someone no one knows. I think he’s a geologist in Boston now. He got me into cycling. He was the bassist in a band I was in. He said get a bike and we’ll go for a bike tour. We ended up renting a house together—me, Howard and Vander Linde.

CRW_4693 copyBaylis, center with collector Matt Gorski (left) and Cycles de Oro owner Dale Brown (right)

Padraig: What’s the riding like there (where you live now)?
Brian Baylis: It’s actually outstanding. If you go east, you go out in the mountains, up into Alpine and all those big climbs. And then you’ve got your coastal ride, down to Coronado and all that. The riding is fantastic, into the boonies or along with coast with all the tri guys. And it’s not really badly trafficked either. A lot of riding out east. We have a velodrome here as well. We have it all, whatever you want.

 

Padraig: How long have you been building?
Brian Baylis: Since ’73. Yeah, the very first time I held a torch was Mario teaching me how to braze front dropouts in fork blades. I learned silver brazing on my own. I built my very first frame silver-brazed in 1974. It’s still alive and well, in a guy’s collection, totally rideable.

Brazing is the easiest part of frame building.

Brazing with brass—because you’re much nearer the end of the heat range for the tubing—is really tough. You’ve got to be really good. Silver is really easy. There’s no reason to learn to braze with brass unless you plan to do production stuff.

Second time I moved to San Diego was working for Masi in 1976. I built four custom frames. Start to finish including paint.

 

Padraig: What different roles did you hold while at Masi?
Brian Baylis: My first job was building wheels. Faliero showed me how to build wheels his way. Then glued tires on each one, his way, no glue on anything. Then, assembling parts, handlebars in stems with brake levers, also toe clips and straps to pedals. Filled up bin after bin full of these subassemblies. After that, then they started me with brazing and filing and stuff. With filing to clean up dropouts, seatstays and caps, fork crowns, shaping of lugs. There are all kinds of filing. That was the first time I worked there. And then at some point I became the painter’s assistant. I was the third American hired. Mike was being groomed for brazer. David and Chuck Hofer filed all the lugs for Masis for a few years.

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Padraig: When did you start painting bikes?
Brian Baylis: The first painting I did was Wizards.

Every Wizard we made, we did a full-scale drawing. Got how to do that out of the Italian CONI manual. That’s where we started.

 

Padraig: What year did Wizard start?
Brian Baylis: Wizard Cycles started around the middle of ’74. What it came down to was Jim Adne. He worked at Yellow Jersey in Madison, Wisconsin. Master’s degree in physics. He wasn’t stupid. Mario had some faults; he was a little insecure. One day Jim says, I don’t have to take this.

Mario pissed Jim off enough that he said I’ve had enough of this and left. Mike ended up taking off, too. Mario treated him badly. One day Mike tossed his apron on the bench one day and walked out the door.

Mario didn’t like me, but Faliero liked me just fine. The only people who worked for Mario who went on to be professional builders, Mario didn’t like.

Frame building is an easy thing to do, at least in its basic form.

Frame building is mostly a design exercise.

I’m building for the next generation. Time will tell the real story. I’m building for when most of these craftspeople are gone. I’m building for quality, not quantity. My job is build bikes that stand the test of time. There are all kinds of different people and different frame builders. I’m a bit of a fanatic.

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Padraig: How long did in Wizard run?
Brian Baylis: We went back to Masi when Mario and those guys got fired. Middle of ’76. We quit to begin Wizard, and I moved from Huntington Beach to Leucadia. Mike was the brazing foreman and head brazer. I was painting foreman and taught all the guys how to shape and file the lugs. By then we were using investment cast lugs.

Those lugs, Masi was the very first company to use investment cast lugs. Made by Microfusione in Italy. Same company made all the stuff for Cinelli. It was their work that was copied by the Chinese and Taiwanese.

The very first set didn’t allow for shrinkage. They shrink about 14% and so they were all miniatures.

 

Padraig: How long did you stay?
Brian Baylis: We all thought Bill Recht was going to buy Masi USA. Bill couldn’t complete the purchase and moved to LA and started Medici. That was in ’77 or ’78. Medici was in downtown LA. Medici’s were painted in Mario’s shop.

I stayed in Encinitas. Went to Alaska for a while. I was in a monastery. It was a half a year of really intense self-realization. Then Ted Kirkbride called me. That was 1980. He had started a coop in San Marcos. Ted Kirkbride purchased the right to make Masis. Jim Allen was the painter. He had this building, put in a spray booth and all these cubicles. Dave Moulton, Dave Tesch and Joe Stark were all making Masis. For a period of time the building was shipping Masi, Moulton, Baylis and Tesch.

We parted company when Masi moved into their new building in ’83. That’s when CyclArt rented that building. Moulton and Tesch moved into their own spaces as well.

I did a super-special gold-plated Masi in ’83. The last time I really worked for someone else was then.

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Padraig: Who makes the tubing and lugs you like to use?
Brian Baylis: I stick with the vintage tubing. It has always worked and is always going to work. I use Reynolds 531 and Columbus SL, SP and PL and PS. I love Nervex Professionals. Most folks don’t want to put the kind of work into them to make them beautiful. They have tremendous potential. There are characteristics that allow me to do things with them.

I use Prugnat, too, but don’t like Bocama much.

The question is what do you do with them. I’ve been doing it 40 years and I’m not even close to running out of things to do with them.

 

Padraig: Tell us about the jig you use.
Brian Baylis: The fixture I have is one made by Jim Allen. This was when I was working down in San Marcos. It’s the same design as he made for Ted Kirkbride for making Masis. I have another that makes the rear ends and the forks.

I really don’t use it for all that long. It’s in there a half hour or an hour. You get it in there and tack it and the take it out.

I have two granite tables. All a fixture does is save time.

Pinning was developed because you couldn’t take a frame and tack it. They did that back in the Stone Age. If you’re a modern frame builder and you tack a frame properly, and tack it in three places on each tube. I don’t see any point in doing it except for fork crowns because when you begin brazing the crown will slide down the steering column.

I begin with a seat tube already brazed into the bottom bracket shell.

I call it cheap insurance.

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Padraig: What sort of cutting and shaping of lugs do you like to perform? Does it vary from bike to bike or are there stylistic elements people can find running through all your bikes?
Brian Baylis: The way I go about designing a lug, the first thing I try to do is not to do the thing I did before. It’s not impossible but not easy. There are certain general elements that are successful. Points, some are long, some are short. I know where to stop and what elements to put in and how to join them. You gotta know how to combine elements. The trick is learning how to make the shoreline, to make something original but not too original. I was once asked to cut a lug that looked like the nose of a pig. I passed on that. If it works for me, most folks will like it. A friend of mine who is an artist and went to art school said, ‘Your lugs always have proper proportions.’

The thing about Baylis frames is, if you’ve seen one, you’ve seen one. In 40 years I’ve not made two bikes the same. Each shape of a lug cutout is an individual creation. I cut what I feel like, what I feel is appropriate, but I’ve done Fleur di Lis, hearts, spades, diamonds and clubs.

I like to cut lugs out because windows are an aid to brazing. They help penetration.

 

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10 comments

  1. The Tashkent Error

    what’s going on here? the editing job was sub-par on this one, some sentences are virtually unparsable. overall, it reads like unfinished article.

    also, I understand that you can only work with what you’ve got and not everybody is as eloquent as Richard Sachs, but the answers were almost too painful to read. I had to force myself to not stop reading mid-way…

    I’m hoping the second part will reach the quality to which you conditioned us here at RKP.

  2. Dustin

    @Tashkent – IMO these thigns shouldn’t be edited at all, it’s an interview. Let the builder speak they way they speak.

    Looking forward to more of this series! Please do a few MTB builders too. Definitly chat with Steve Garro, that guy’s done it all.


    1. Author
      Padraig

      Richard S: That was beyond the pale. Calling a builder a tool—hell, calling anyone a tool in this forum isn’t acceptable. This is your warning. Find a constructive way to engage. Baylis’s work is gorgeous, but if it’s not for you, you needn’t insult him.


    1. Author
      Padraig

      That’s not how it’s written. The grammar is such that he’s saying the builder is a tool. I tried to find another way to read it, but it’s not there. And we just aren’t going to condone trolling here.

  3. Larry T.

    As “Padraig” will attest, we rarely see eye-to-eye on anything these days, but his TORCHBEARER is rightfully about the PEOPLE holding those torches. The world is already full of tech and spec about the damn bicycles! Just as a bicycle pretty much goes nowhere and does nothing until you put a rider on it, the beautiful pictures of the bikes are fairly meaningless to me – unless there’s also some information about the people who built them. Back-in-the-daze when I was in bicycle retail on SoCal, we used articles like these from the original(Koch and Costantino)Bicycle Guide to help our clients chose a custom bicycle. The goal was finding a builder with a philosophy and viewpoint on cycling that matched the potential customer’s. It was a great experience for us and for the client.
    I own a few bicycles made by men I’ve met and become friends with. Their names are on them. These are treasured not only because they’re wonderful machines, but because of the passion of the men who made them – something I’ve been lucky to share through that friendship.
    Keep ‘em coming Padraig, grazie!

  4. Pingback: RKP Interviews Brian Baylis And Tom Kellogg Spectrum Cycles | CYCLOPHILIAC - American Made Cycling

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