20130423

The Yamaguchi Frame Building School: A Postmortem and Review

Now that I've returned to California and have had a bit of time to digest all of the awesome things that I did and learned over the past few weeks, I thought I'd take the time to do a bit of a postmortem regarding my experience at the school.  You can also consider this a review of sorts, if you'd like.  

If you're looking to read the day by day account of the class, Day 1 starts here.

The rather cool people that I took the class with, and our frames.  I'm on the right, in case you haven't gathered that. 
First things first, I cannot stress enough how much I recommend this class to probably anyone that's reading this blogReally, you should take this class if one or more of the following is true:
- You want a custom bike
- You're even remotely interested in building your own frame
- You love bicycling history and want to learn from someone who helped shape it
- You're a mechanic or hobbyist that's looking for something a little extra
- You want an experience that will last you a lifetime.

Now, if you just want a custom bike and have no interest at all in making it, then this class might not be for you.  If you want a custom bike and have even a bit of a thought in the back of your mind of "yeah, that might be fun to learn..." then go for it.  I knew I wanted to learn how to build a frame, but I wasn't sure if I would enjoy it or be gung-ho about it.  Now that class is over I've already set off finding a suitable workspace.   The history lessons that I got in this class just from listening to Mr. Yamaguchi's stories and experiences were enough to leave me wide-eyed and giddy, and I learned so much about how things evolved the way they did in the cycling world. 

Following that, there are a few things that everyone should know about the class before you dive in head first.
- You will be on your feet from 9 to 5 everyday
- The work is physical and you will get a bit dirty/banged up/maybe burned
- The class requires a lot of focus and concentration
- You are doing 99% of the work yourself
- The work is very precise and often time consuming

If you're physically incapable of repetitive tasks such as filing, brazing, and using a hacksaw, this might not be the best option for you.  That said, my carpal tunnel only flared up a little tiny bit, but not enough to hinder me.  If you have a broken wrist or something though, reschedule.  If flames frighten you, this also probably isn't a good place to be.

Class: Mr. Yamaguchi himself is a very fair, patient, and awesome teacher.  He never yelled or became irate, even when I almost ruined one of my tubes by accidentally turning my template sideways (oops).  If you don't understand something, he's there to show you how to do it, and there is a bit of practice before jumping in, such as the tower practice.  Even a few hours of making towers really helped with my brazing in the end. You also get a handbook with the class, which is full of everything that you couldn't remember because you were too busy trying to take it all in.  Each class has a maximum of three students, so everyone becomes pretty close and there's lots of opportunity for one-on-one if needed.  Class is everyday from 9 to 5, with a one hour break for lunch (downtown is about a two minute walk) and another break at 3 for 15 minutes. 

Equipment: The equipment is well kept, and each student has a work station equipped with everything needed for the frame, including safety googles.  There is never a shortage of materials or work to do - I never stood around waiting, and students often work on different things if need be.  For example, I worked on my fork crown while the jigs were being used, or would file and finish my brazing if I was waiting for a part to soak in the tank.  None of the tools were off-limits: I used everything from homemade jigs to Campy tools, and got to learn exactly when (and why) to use what. 

Work: There is a strong emphasis on learning to do things by hand as opposed to diving in and using machines.  Every step is carefully explained and demonstrated in a way that makes it easy to understand and recreate yourself.  Miter cuts are all done by hand, as is most of the sanding (though a dremel was used later for hard to reach areas).  The only machinery that was really used was a drill press.  I'm glad to have learned everything this way, as I don't feel like I have to rush out and buy lots of machinery to continue making frames, but slowly build up my arsenal. 

Frame: You get just about free reign in deciding which type of bike you want, with only a few things not available due to time restrictions.  The choices I had were road criterium, road stage, commuter road, cyclocross, track point, track sprint, fixed gear for the road...and probably most takes on these.  Touring, BMX, Mountain, and SS coupled frames are not done here due to time restriction, but you get the freedom to really design what you want.  Want fender mounts on your fork?  No problem.  Nifty seat stay design?  Sure.  Mr. Yamaguchi will certainly guide you and help you figure out what is correct, but you really get to do just about whatever you want.  And don't think that just because you're making it that it won't be as strong - you will learn how to make it strong, and you will learn how to make it awesome. 

Stem: There is an optional Saturday stem class.  I really can't fathom why anyone would come here and would not want to take the stem class.  Take it.  It's worth it. 

Method: Mr. Yamaguchi stressed that he would like us to get both lug and fillet experience.  Sometimes this is not feasible, such as on a cyclocross frame, but on my frame I was able to do both, and was glad that I did.  Getting practice with both the silver and the bronze and seeing the process of each was a great overall intro to the world of frame building.  

Location: This is actually the only thing I really had an issue with.  Rifle is a bit out there, about an hour from the Grand Junction airport.  There are buses and taxis that can get you there and back, but that was the most stressful part of the trip for me!  Once I was there, it was a breeze.  My hotel was a short walk from class (actually, all of them were), and the town itself is small and easily walkable, though I did find myself missing having a bike, despite the fact I wouldn't have had much time to ride it.  It also felt like a safe town, and everyone was really friendly!  The weather for me was quite strange - 60 one day, snowing the next, and repeating.  It's very cold in the middle of winter though, and hot in the summer.  

Additionally: Very few students finish their frame entirely in class - most people have a bit of sanding and filing left to do when they return home before getting it painted.  This is just dependent on design and skill level, really.  Lugs will leave you with less work compared to fillet brazing, and most likely you'll have to finish your stem as well.  Because of this, painting is also up to you, though you are given plenty of recommendations by the end of the class.  It is also highly, highly recommended that you have your components selected so that the frame can be built accordingly.  Crank type, tire size, seatpost type, etc. - these are all crucial things to know, and Mr. Yamaguchi will take all of these things into consideration (and your frame will be better because of it.) 

Overall: If I could take this class again starting tomorrow, I'd be packed in about ten minutes.  I made some great friends, learned so, so much, and left a changed person.  If this is something that's been at the back of your mind for a while - you need to go do this.  Now.  It will change your life, and you won't regret it. 


EDIT:  My finished dream bike.



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