YFBS: Day 1 - Welcome to The Island

For the next few weeks, I will be detailing my adventures at the Yamaguchi Frame Building School.

It's something I've been wanting to do for quite a while, and now that I have the chance I've ventured out to the wilds of Colorado to learn from one of the great masters himself.  It's a bit of a change of pace for this native Californian, coming out to the small town of Rifle, which is a tiny town nested amongst vast mesas and beautiful scenery.  But here I am, and here I plan to learn the art of framebuilding, while hoping the housesitter doesn't kill my plants in the meantime.

I'm in heaven.
The first day began with a tour of Mr. Yamaguchi's house, which is essentially a museum containing more history and stories than I can even begin to describe. I walked in, met my fellow students, and we stood in awe while Mrs. Yamaguchi told us about a few of the bikes.  Soon after, we met the master himself - an immediately likeable man who spoke of his passion for bikes and drew you in with every word.  He continued the house tour, captivating us with stories of each bicycle.

Mr. Yamaguchi talks about some of his custom frames - the whole house is filled with these treasures!
The best part of the house was the office, complete with drafting table and more parts (some quite rare!) than I had ever seen in one place.  Mr. Yamaguchi spoke of the changes in types of bikes over the years, and how the components evolved with them (and sometimes failed in doing so, he explained while motioning to a Dura Ace 10 set). Motioning to the drafting table, he talked about how he blueprints each frame to scale by hand, making sure the measurements are exact and precise, and taking into account more details than I can possibly remember.  

Discussing some of the tried-and-failed components on display in the office, such as Dura Ace 10 Pitch, and an alternate pedal size to allow for a better pivot point on the pedal.
Once the house tour was over, we were led to the shop, where I had a huge grin on my face the entire time.  Machinery, bikes, tubesets, stories - it was all here in droves, and I continued to listen completely enthralled while Mr. Yamaguchi told us more about the history of each bike.  The history lesson soon turned into a technique lesson, as we got to see what made a frame good - and bad.  "This frame was brazed too hot, causing the cracks you see here.  And this was brazed too cool, you can see here."  We learned what can cause failure in a frame, and saw it firsthand - some frames of which are generally known for their craftsmanship.  In between we were told stories of various adventures and bikes, which Mr. Yamaguchi delivered with a twinkle in his eye while we listened in amusement and awe.  Though it seemed like no time at all had passed, it was soon 12:00 PM, and we ventured into the tiny town to experience the local cuisine.

These frames have a high level of cool factor.

If I can find the "God thinks he's Eddy Merckx" as a shirt, I'd be ecstatic.
After lunch we got to go into bike types and measurements.  My heart was set on a road bike, though truth be told I felt a little bad, as Mr. Yamaguchi seems to have a soft spot for track bikes.  My other classmates decided on a road and CX frame.  We then got to take a whole slew of measurements - height, weight, inseam, leg length, shoulder length, arm length, and more.  Mr. Yamaguchi then discussed lugged vs lugless, and why and when you would do one or the other.  He also stressed that he wanted us to have experience in both, so my road frame is going to be a hybrid of sorts.  He explained this isn't possible on certain bikes without custom lugs, so the CX bike would be entirely fillet brazed.   Dropouts, fork crowns, and fork ends were brought out and scrutinized, and we all got our components.  While I was oogling my dropouts, blueprinting started.

Here are my lugs, plus a few sample lugs that have been custom cut.  The design possibilities are endless.
The blueprinting process was one of the most fascinating aspects of building I have ever seen.  Not only were there templates for road, track, etc., there were template for road stage, road race, touring, sport touring, and just about every type of track and tt ever imaginable.  Using my measurements and my desires for a bike, plus a part list (this turned out to be quite important), I watched my bike be drawn out.  "You have 23 mm tires, meaning your wheel diameter will be slightly smaller...and using a Thompson seatpost lets us use a standard seat tube angle for a road stage bike," Mr. Yamaguchi explained, "and your trail will be a little more than a road race, but not like touring."  He measured from the ground to the centerline, then finding the center of the bottom bracket and the chainstays.  Using a protractor, he found the seat tube angle, and the top tube.  Each aspect of the fork was precise - measuring from the brake mount to the center of the fork ends, then add in the length of a standard headset, then get your head tube length based on the center of your lugs, and...voila!

The jig where we will be tacking frames.  Do want.
Before I knew it, our frames were blueprinted, and class was done for the day; tomorrow bringing the promise of a brazing lesson and practice tube cutting.

I know he's not everyone's favorite person right now, but this was fascinating.
And one last one for good measure!


  1. Are the lugs made by Mr, Yamaguchi? They look like looks that were brazed instead of cast.

    1. The brazed ones are definitely hand made. It's quite an art to make them - you have to braze the tubes, file them to the shape you want, and also bore or the inside so they fit on a road tubeset.


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