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.
Much of what informs my personal sense of cycling aesthetics comes from what I see the PROs do. I’m not perfect in my adherence—I won’t ride a 53cm frame with a 14cm stem no matter how much weight it will allow me to put on the front wheel—but watching what the big boys do has changed me as a cyclist, there’s no doubt.
However, there remains an element of my idealized image of a cyclist that comes not from the PROs, but of the amateurs who guided me when I wasn’t even good enough to be a Cat. IV. The touches were small but uniform in consistency. All the guys who schooled me four days a week had a tubular strapped under their saddle with a Christophe toe strap. They all had the original Avocet cycle computer with the wire wrapped perfectly around the front brake cable before zip tying the wire down the back of the fork blade with three (not four, not two) zip ties.
Those touches were all S.O.P. But the one that really got me, the one you couldn’t just decide to emulate one Saturday afternoon (because it required planning ahead by months and months), was the frame pump. Now anyone can go out and purchase a frame pump (and certainly the Zéfal HP was the most mechanically sound frame pump ever made), but to do the frame pump correctly, you had to do two things. First, you had to order a frame that actually had a pump peg brazed to the back of the head tube. Second, you had to order a Silca frame pump and it had to be painted with your frame when you purchased it. There were some builders, such as Medici, that would do matching frame pumps for their frames and even offered frame pumps painted to match fades. My friend Jimmy, who worked at a vegetarian market/restaurant called the Squash Blossom had a green and yellow fade Medici that was to me the absolute epitome of journeyman self-sufficiency.
With its matching yellow to green fade Silca frame pump and Campy head (the Silca heads were shit; I know), Jimmy’s bike was so straightforward in execution it couldn’t be defeated by circumstances. Unless he got run over by some redneck’s pickup (and that was always a chance on the country roads outside of Memphis), he could flat and he needed only two items to get home. With his 36-hole Ambrosio rims laced to Campy Nuovo Record hubs via 14-gauge DT spokes, he was never going to suffer a broken spoke or a rim knocked so far out of true from hitting a dead ex-mammal that a wheel wouldn’t be rideable.
The irony of this journeyman cool, the style of the lifer amateur, was that in training races—which constituted anything you either rode to or didn’t include a trophy presentation on an actual podium—the guys I looked up to wouldn’t bother to pull off the frame pump or tubular. They’d add another toe strap to make sure the frame pump wouldn’t come off, but as some of these races didn’t include much in the way of neutral support, they would roll out as if it was just another group ride.
That nonchalance came from a place I learned to revere. They were casual not because they were cool, but because humility permitted nothing like pride. The student of cycling knows that speed isn’t made in a single day, but after months of repetition.