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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Some things in this world are unlikely. Finding Bigfoot is pretty unlikely. So is peace in the Middle East. Other things are just impossible. Finding Bigfoot eating dinner at a diner with Elvis, safe to say, is impossible.
Somewhere in the middle of these two poles lies the possibility that the suit Greg LeMond has filed against Trek Bicycles and their countersuit against him will be settled out of court. LeMond, for better or worse, seems to want his day in court.
In broad strokes, the cases are pretty simple. LeMond is suing Trek for failing to “exert best efforts regarding the LeMond brand.” In realpeople speak that’s, ‘They didn’t sell enough of my bikes.’ Following LeMond’s suit, Trek countersued and terminated its licensing agreement in April of this year. Today, the Lemond Bicycles web site is a single page allowing purchasers to register their bikes for warranty.
The real issue here isn’t sales figures, it’s LeMond’s mouth. It’s roots are in a report that LeMond read in 2001 that revealed Lance Armstrong’s relationship with Michele Ferrari. To LeMond, who was very familiar with Ferrari’s past vis-à-vis doping, that relationship could only mean one thing: Lance was doping. There was a certain sort of logic to it. Say your best friend is John Gotti. And say you tell a newspaper that he has a great mind for business and he has helped you with some of your business dealings, a reasonable person could understandably come to the conclusion that you, my friend, are a mobster.
Does that give anyone the right to accuse you of being a mobster in public? Not unless he is a prosecutor preparing to bring charges under RICO against you. To be fair, LeMond hasn’t actually said, “Armstrong is on dope,” but if you take the body of statements LeMond has made, his belief is clear. Consider: “If Armstrong’s clean, it’s the greatest comeback. And if he’s not, then it’s the greatest fraud,” and “In the light of Lance’s relationship with Ferrari, I just don’t want to comment on this year’s Tour. This is not sour grapes. I’m disappointed in Lance, that’s all it is.”
Would you say that about an athlete you thought was clean?
So LeMond thinks Armstrong is a doper. Newsflash: he’s not alone. There are plenty of cycling fans, competitors and members of the media who think so as well. The difference is, with the exception of a guy named Walsh, they all have the good sense not to accuse someone of something if they lack proof.
This was LeMond’s downfall. Word on the street is that Armstrong placed Trek CEO John Burke in the unenviable position of needing to mediate between the only two American Tour de France winners. Burke asked LeMond to temper his statements and confine them to speaking generally about doping. LeMond was unable to.
The case before Judge Richard Kyle has gone far afield. LeMond is notoriously unpleasant to do business with (an inside source pegs him as the downfall of the Clark Kent brand and the near failure of the paint and restoration company CyclArt), in part because he is unafraid of litigation. One former business associate who asked to remain anonymous used a single word to describe him: “Nightmare.”
Were the case really about the bikes, Lance Armstrong’s ex-wife, Kristin Armstrong would not have been deposed, nor would he have showed up at an Armstrong press conference to question him about his planned anti-doping program. In short, LeMond is attempting to make the case about Armstrong rather than his dissatisfaction with Trek’s efforts to sell his brand.
In an interview with the New York Daily News, LeMond attempted to cast his concern about doping in general and EPO in specific as a concern for athletes. He cited the deaths of more than 100 cyclists who are believed to have been taking EPO. However, LeMond never brought up his concern before the controversy with Armstrong. Put another way, have you ever heard LeMond mention the name of Johannes Draaijer, a Dutch cyclist on EPO, who had a heart attack and died in his sleep?
Trek claims it has done right by LeMond and that the relationship was lucrative for both. Since 1995, Trek reports it has earned more than $100 million, delivering some $5 million to LeMond’s coffers. LeMond points to a meager $10,393 in sales (possibly fewer than five bikes) in France between 2001 and 2007. Given the success of Bernard Hinault’s line of bikes in the United States, one can ask if LeMond could reasonably expect to do more in France.
What’s that you say? Hinault isn’t a household name in America? True, but nearly anyone willing to spend more than $2000 on a bicycle (only one bike in the LeMond line retailed for less than $2000) knows the Hinault name. And while LeMond may have had a large fan base in France, it can’t compare to the legions that adore Hinault in his home country. Fair comparison.
The point? LeMond’s case seems rather weak. I’ve written on this once before, for Slowtwitch. And while I’d rather see LeMond leave Armstrong alone—and addressed an open letter to him on Road Bike Action’s site—that’s really what this case is about.
But, you ask, what does Armstrong’s alleged doping have to do with LeMond’s bike business? LeMond will tell you it has everything to do with it. If LeMond can demonstrate to the court that Armstrong has doped, then he can demonstrate that Armstrong had motivation to have LeMond silenced. But what could silence LeMond? How about the threat of the shelving of his brand?
In short, LeMond will turn this case into an accusation of extortion against John Burke and Lance Armstrong. His legal team has already deposed Armstrong’s ex-wife; don’t think for a second that he won’t at least try to depose Mr. Seven.
The real question isn’t what LeMond and his legal team will reveal about Armstrong and his alleged doping but rather what LeMond’s actual motivation is. While it is conceivable that LeMond and his team could find a person or persons to allege doping on Armstrong’s part, finding definitive proof that Armstrong doped is as likely as finding Buggs Bunny sharing a slice of pie with Elvis and Bigfoot at our aforementioned diner.
Given the difficulty of the challenge facing LeMond, one must wonder what his motivation truly is. It can’t be exposing the danger of EPO, otherwise he would have been speaking out against EPO use more forcefully earlier. LeMond didn’t have a lot to say during the Festina Affair in 1998, yet just three years later, he had a lot to say about the second American to win the Tour de France three times.
That’s the rub: LeMond’s legacy. While this is pure conjecture on my part, no other explanation makes sense of the energy and money LeMond has sunk into this case. While the psychic toll this case has taken on his family can’t be calculated—it was enough, though, that Kathy LeMond sat across from Kristin Armstrong during her deposition (one wonders who was more unnerved by Mrs. LeMond’s presence)—the cost in legal fees can, and is said to be at or above seven figures.
If LeMond can impeach Armstrong and demonstrate a strong likelihood that he doped during his seven Tour de France wins, LeMond could win two things. First, he could show that in silencing LeMond and dropping his line, John Burke wasn’t acting in the best interest of the LeMond line. Second, by tearing down America’s most successful cyclist, LeMond will regain his rank as the best American cyclist.
But what’s the chance he’ll succeed, and even if he does, in whose eyes will he have won?
Image: John Pierce, Photosport International