In Memoriam: Brian Baylis

In Memoriam: Brian Baylis

Brian Baylis, one of the legends of frame building passed away Saturday, February 20. His qualification as a legend wasn’t limited by region. He wasn’t just significant for Southern California, or the West Coast, or even the U.S. His achievement was so great that fans of great frame building knew his name worldwide. He is part of that rare pantheon of builders who took the art they witnessed in the Italian frames of the 1960s and ’70s and managed to improve upon it. Very few will ever be able to claim such a distinction.

Baylis’ distinction as an OG builder was beyond earned. He joined the Masi USA operation in 1973 when Mario Confente—a man still regarded as a builder with a remarkable mix of efficiency and art—was the chief builder. But Baylis was mercurial. Left Masi, returned, left again. For his next act in building, he was cofounder of Wizard Cycles with Mike Howard, which was the first indication of his true genius.

Not only was Baylis a great builder, a true artisan, he was also one of those rare talents who could paint, and his paint was among the most exemplary ever to grace a bicycle. His ability to complement colors, to mask windows and lugs and to even lay gold leaf (yeah, seriously) has few peers.

Baylis was a big part of the track scene in San Diego in the 1970s and was known as an explosive sprinter. He had a life outside of cycling, though. He spent time on a fishing boat in Alaska and made knives on and off over the years; in the last few years he’d spent a fair amount of his working hours devoted to knife making. He was also a drummer and drum collector and he played with a surf band that sounded like Dick Dale’s stablemate. He was also one of the driving forces behind the briefly lived San Diego Custom Bike Show. Little known is how much time he devoted to rescuing (repairing) other builder’s bikes.

To be true to his memory, we should acknowledge that he possessed a coarse finish himself. He was a pussycat inside, but could be gruff even with those he trusted. This trait is true of many of his contemporaries.

Despite his 80 grit demeanor, he was known to be generous of his time and insight with new builders. He mentored a number of builders and shared his knowledge of both painting and building techniques. He knew that the techniques he employed weren’t secrets. The secret was his work ethic.

When I think of the builders’ techniques that are part of the highest expressions of the artform—fillets on the lugs, bilaminate construction, point thinning and lengthening, window cutting and complete lug fabrication—they were all part of Baylis’ repertoire. It wasn’t special to him. It was just what he did. His wheelhouse remains a difficult achievement for most other builders.

His life as a frame builder is one of the very threads on which the craft is now based. He is part of why collectors revere the California Masis, part of how San Diego became so important to cycling in the U.S., an indispensable part of why the U.S. can claim to be home to the finest steel frame builders on the planet.

Baylis once told me that he didn’t build for fame, for the money or for performance. He wasn’t even building for the customer. When my jaw dropped he let another breath pass and then clarified: “I’m building for the next generation, or the one after that. I’m building heirlooms.”

Rest in peace, Brian.

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17 comments

  1. craig f

    R Brian.
    sigh
    we rode together (track tandem with my cheek in your back)
    we partied together
    we tried a business together
    you once told me that you knew the meaning of life
    i hope that is true at this point

    Craig F

  2. Touriste-Routier

    To understand Brian, one has to set aside logic in order to be able to reconcile the precise craftsman, the vivid artist, and the spontaneous musician. He not only collected drums, but he made them as well. He was a man of immense and diverse talent, a true artisan, with an unparalleled depth of knowledge.

  3. Matt Kroona

    I went to high school with Brian, and played in bands with him for several years. I lost track of him in 1970. Good to hear a little about his life.

    1. David Feldman

      The pictures don’t lie–Brian was an absolute master of his craft. Even more impressive than his frame building, he could repair lugged steel frames so you could not tell that anything had ever happened to them. I have heard that he’d put off medical care because of lack of insurance–this has to stop, Americans have to stop being brainwashed by the insane propaganda which says that medical care should be a for-profit commodity. Single payer ASAP!

  4. Alan Cote

    Thank you for remembering him here Patrick, and for letting those who didn’t know Baylis’s work get a glimpse of what he did.

  5. Mark Petry

    He was quite a guy, full of contrasts. Beyond master craftsman with a file in his hands, happy to share many of his little tricks, and FUNNY. I am glad to have known him a bit – Brian stayed with me here on Bainbridge Island for a PacNW bike weekend, and he repaired and painted Wizard 13 for me. Some of his paintwork was too wild for me – I asked him to paint it the wildest shade of purple he could come up with and did he ever deliver. 15 years on that bike is still glossy and SO beautiful. I feel very fortunate to have this artifact of Brian’s work. I will miss him very much.

  6. Mark

    I met Brian at the GWBR in 1993 at the site of the time trial. My friend Richard Moon and I had been chatting with some people who worked at Holland Cycles about their bikes as I was in the market for a bike. Brian was friends with the group, however we had only caught his first name and had not seen his bile. At that time, being a nubie to cycling, I only knew of Brian by seeing a couple of his bikes at Palo Alto city bikes. After finishing our time trial we were heading back to town, and we came up on Brian pedaling back as well. As we were saying “Hi” I noticed he was riding a Baylis. I commented how it was really nice and asked him if he knew Brian Baylis, he chuckled and said “I am Brian Baylis”. Normally that would have been very embarrassing, however, Brian was so cool, all I could do was to gush about the bike and ask what he was doing later so we could chat more. We (Richard, Brian and I) spent the remainder of the day and part of the next day talking about bikes and bike fabrication (Richard had wanted to build his own bikes) and I made the decision that my next bike would be a Baylis. I took delivery of my Baylis in May of 94 and have number 01-94. It doesn’t hang on my wall and been ridden constantly of the 20 plus years that I’ve had it. It has even shepherd me through a rain soaked 2007 PBP. There have been those tough days when the only thing that got me up the hill was to look down at that beautiful bike and to realize how lucky I was to have it and would be inspired to dig a little deeper. Thank you Brian, you will be missed!

  7. RC

    My first day working at Medici Bicycle Co, was Brian’s last day working there. Our paths crossed many times over the years. Many of the techniques I learned at Medici were handed down from Brian Baylis and Mike Howard. One of Brian’s unexplainable talents was that he could paint a frame in his back yard without a speck of dust landing on the wet finish – while others struggled wth floaty bits inside the confines of filtered industrial paint booths.Did he simply will the bits away? On a bad day, his seething temper suggested that the theory at least held water..

  8. Rick Powell

    I didn’t know Brian well. I spent many hours in conversation with him,and in his presence as he worked in his various shops over the years. He did a lot of restoration work for me, and finally built one of the most beautiful bicycles I have ever seen, just for me. He picked me up in San Diego on many visits, and we ate tacos and drank beer. He told me about his house plans, his Bentley, and his band. He showed me his drums and his bicycle collection. I played with his dogs and listened to some great stories of his early days at Masi. He always picked up the phone when I called and was almost unbelievably generous with his time. But still, I didn’t know Brian well. Everyone has dreams. Brian told me one of his was to build a gyro copter and fly it across the country. For many of us, it was to own a bicycle built by Brian. I don’t know if it was a dream of his to be considered one of the worlds premier custom frame builders, or if he even thought of it in those terms. If it was, he certainly realized that dream. I’ll miss you Brian, even though I didn’t know you well.

  9. James Valiensi

    I knew Brian from my adventures as a frame builder. He was always encouraging to me. He was always happy to share his knowledge with me and he treated me like a peer. He painted a couple of my frames and his work was awesome.

  10. Bobw

    I was fortunate enough to have a couple of frames painted by Brian during the mid 90’s. He was cool guy with a good heart. I’ll miss him. RIP

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