FBQ #20 Brian Baylis

Posted December 23, 2005 @ 5:17pm | by S. Cutshall

A beautiful, well thought out bicycle is a marriage of transportation, timeless beauty and that special X-factor that makes you stop and say, "Hmmm, now this is something else".  Yes, the uninspired and corporations build bicycles too and probably always shall, but hopefully for as long as we crave the simple joys of sitting astride a couple of triangle-shaped tubes with 2 wheels, 2 pedals and saddle, and discovering [or rediscovering] what is around that "next bend"... we will never fall out of love with Rideable Art and The Masters that envision it, work it into reality with their very hands and then set us free on it.

Long Live the Cottage Builder and their wares. 

**This is the final segment of the FBQ.  Thank You to All the wonderful builders who gave of their limited time and good graces to indulge me in this endeavor-SC**

Technique is a tool allowing the Artist a pathway into their creativity.  The world of Art has shown us time and again that mere technique for the sake of technique offers little that stands the test of time.  As a result few have gone forth into carving out their own signature style... a combination of technique, vision, creativity and style.  Brian Baylis is one of the very few in this select group.  A group that creates something so specific to that builders sense of style but so unique each time that it allows for that rare combination of instant recognition and yet [somehow] singular surprise time after time.


Hailing from the Left Coast and definitely exhibiting some SoCal sand in his sandals, Baylis is on the map just enough that aficionados know what's up with him and how to sound him out and yet he's far enough off the radar that he can work at his own pace which allows him to pursue his craft, his love of The Ride as well as some Surf Drumming.  Not bad for a cat who once drove a Rolls Royce to get his first gig building bikes huh?  Brian Baylis in his own words...

1.  How old are you?

I am 52 years young this past March. 

2.  Where were you born?

I was born, in a run down shack, on a place called Tobacco Road... Oh you mean what city?  Glendale, Crazyfornia. (Basically L.A.) 

3.  What's your earliest memory of a bicycle or something bicycle related?

I think the earliest memory of something bike related was when my Dad ran my (Huffy, stingray-ish type) bike over in our driveway.  My Pops used to tell us, "Don't leave your bike in the driveway", and he meant it! 

4.  What was your first cycle?

The aforementioned Huffy "Stingraylike" bike.  Bought used for $20 as I recall. 

5.  How about first "high-end" cycle?

I suppose that would depend on how one defines "high-end" bicycle; but technically that would be the Peugeot PX-10 I bought right after graduation from High School in 1971.  One of my friends wanted me to go on a "bike tour" with him.  I set out that day to purchase a Dawes Realmrider for $125.  When I walked into the bike shop and saw the Peugeot with the black painted Nervex Pro lugs and the racey paint (and tubular tyres!!) and graphics I couldn't resist.  I dropped the $200 in a heartbeat and I was hooked.  The first high-end bike that really blew my dress up AND opened my eyes at the same time (and that ain't easy) was my 1971 Colnago Super, purchased new but a year old in 1972.  I realized then that there was high-end and HIGH-END. 

6.  Did (does) your family (parents, siblings, etc) ride also?

Not really.  I do not come from a particularly bike oriented family, although my younger brother still has his Wizard I built for him and my Mom just recently returned her Mixte I built for her (my one and only so far) also back in the Wizard days.  She used to ride it to the beach a lot (seated upon a Brooks sprung saddle and a huge fuzzy sheepskin cover), but is now too old for that kind of riding, so she gave it back to me.  Since I have a growing collection of really snazzy ladies bikes, it was a real thrill to add it to my collection. 

7.  Did you like to tinker with bikes back then?

I don't recall being a bike tinkerer as a tadpole.  Good way to lose a few digits.  I do recall using bikes for things other than riding, upon occasion.  I didn't start to tinker with bikes until I got my Peugeot.  From there I started in almost right away improving or upgrading it until I finally did a full repaint after having a friend who owned a chrome shop polish and chrome the lugs, crown, and 1/2 the forks and stays.  I painted it green.  It was pretty cool to have a Peugeot with chrome Nervex lugs.


8.  Did you ever work in a Bike Shop... if so, where/how long?

No, never worked in a bike shop.  Used to hang around at Carnevale's in Huntington Beach, CA a bit.  Never turned a wrench in a shop but have taken care of my own herd (about 65 to 70 bikes now) and all my own stuff since the beginning.  I don't mind working on my stuff, but I wouldn't want to wrench for a living. 

9.  Have you ever done any organized racing?

Racing is organized??  I did not know that!  Oh well, if you say so.  Yeah, I've done my share of racing.  I'm not particularly competitive, but being in shape is fun.  What I like about racing is the mental part.  It's a thinking man's sport, even if you're not the fittest.  Of course, at some point that breaks down and you have to have fitness, but tactics are fascinating.  That's why I would race the track.  I began racing in 1973 as my first season, here in So Cal.  Back then there were only about 5,000 licensed riders in the "ABLofA" (gag me, much prefer USCF).  Life was simple then.  Racing was fun.  We all knew each other from Santa Barbara to San Diego.  Rode crits and road races like everyone else did.  My specialty was the 25 mi. time trial.  We rode our regular bikes back then.  If you were serious you had a pair of light wheels with high dollar tubulars on them, pumped up real hard.  Those were the good old days.  Thinking about taking up track racing again.  Since I have at least a dozen track bikes, I maybe should take them out for a spin once in a while.  I really don't have time for racing, but what the heck. 

10.  How about cyclo-touring?

Cycle-Touring.  Well way long time ago when I first got my bike I did some.  Never very sophisticated though.  To be honest, I'm not a big fan of doodling on the bike.  I CAN do it, but it generally isn't my cup of tea, or at least it hasn't been.  Now that I a bit older I am heading towards a different type of riding.  Still at a brisk pace and still sprints for signs and whatnot here and there, but a more leisurely pace and a more comfortable ride in general.  My focus and direction as a framebuilder/designer will be in the general direction of the Constructeur bikes.  For touring or whatever.


11.  What job(s) did you have before frame building and also-do you have any other job currently besides frame building?

The only actual job I had before working for Masi was as a delivery driver for a Rolls-Royce dealership in Orange County.  We would crisscross and car hop all over So Cal all day long in Rolls-Royce and Bentley motorcars and BMW and Aston Martins.  Other exotics came our way also.  It was fun.  One day I was driving a bright yellow Aston Martin DBS on the freeway and I looked over and saw my Dad driving home from work in L.A. in his 1970 Nova.  He just about crapped his pants.  My passenger was the service manager, who though the look on my pop's face was hysterical.  The day I put in my application at Masi in Carlsbad I was driving a Rolls down to San Diego.  I stopped in on the way down, left my name on a piece of paper, and I was working there about a week later! 

12.  When did you start building?

Technically I started my painting career in my garage on my Peugeot in about 1972.  My painting experience and the fact that I had built some of my own wheels was what landed me the job at Masi.  Apparently didn't take much in those days.  My framebuilding experiences began late in 1973 working for Masi in Carlsbad.  I picked up my advanced painting skills while at Masi in addition to a lot about framebuilding.


13.  Who would you say is your greatest influence in designing & frame building?

It would be rather difficult for me to sort out "the greatest" influence I've had in frame design and construction.  But to name a key few, the influences which in combination shaped me, I can do.  The first person would in fact be Faliero Masi, more as a personality than a teacher.  I learned the most from Ron Smith, the painter at Masi who also taught me the secrets of lug filing and craftsmanship and introduced me to the concept of making a bike with a theme.  The bicycles of Albert Eisentraut and Ernesto Colnago influenced my design and construction techniques in certain ways.  Even though in some ways Mario Confente could be a pain in the behind, one could easily gain inspiration from his passion for the bicycle. 

14.  Did you apprentice... if so, with who?

Did I apprentice?  Did I apprentice!  I honestly can't imagine a better schooling and a more magical situation than what transpired during the time that I worked at Masi, the first time.  (Later on, after building Wizard frames with Mike Howard for a while, we returned as foremen over the "2nd generation crew" in Carlsbad).  First of all, I was hired very early, so I got more differing jobs than anyone else probably did.  I built hundreds of wheels the first two weeks under the personal direction of Faliero, who of course did not speak English.  I learned exactly his way and did it mainly through sign language.  Next I put together hundreds of sub-assemblies for building up complete bikes.  I put bars to stems and then brake levers, pedals to toe clips to straps, saddles to seat posts.  Then on to gluing on silk tires to the hundreds of wheels I'd build, every one without a speck of tire glue on them anywhere.  Faliero showed me how.  You dare not screw up, the old buzzard would pitch a fit.  After there were bins full of this stuff I was moved out to where I learned how to file front dropouts, rear dropouts, cut the miter for the stay caps, file stay caps after brazing, file forks, shape lugs, and so forth.  Finally I was put on as the painter's apprentice.  I learned the basic painting pattern and sprayed primer.  I put on lots of varnish, affix decals and trimmed lots of frames.  The greatest thing about working in a situation like that is that when you are given a job to do, there are usually hundreds of them to do.  By the time you've done a few you have it wired and the rest are just about making you expert.  I got to be expert at lots of little things that were all done "the hard way" back then.  It's a rare opportunity.  Lots of guys who apprenticed places didn't really get to do the real work, much less do enough of it to become expert.  And to have the world class teachers and information available at the time was extraordinary.  I certainly cannot say enough about how valuable that experience was to me, on many levels.


15.  What's your idea of the "perfect cycle" regardless if you built it or not?

The perfect cycle?  Technically, as long as it works properly, all cycles are perfect.  Not necessarily for the purpose that one might intend for it at the time; but that doesn't make the cycle imperfect, it means the rider is using poor judgment.  I'd say there are no imperfect cycles, only imperfect riders.  Needless to say, as a framebuilder, my goal is to make the perfect bicycle for the use intended and the customer in question.  I don't have any control over the rest. 

16.  Shooting a guess... how many frames would you say you've built?

A guess is the best I can do.  I think in the 500 range, most likely less, but I really don't know.  I work very carefully and very slowly.  I'm not exactly a ball of fire. 

17.  Any cycles out there that you secretly wished, "Darn, I wish I'd built that!"?

Nope.  I've built a lot (over 40) bikes for myself over the years.  I know what I like and I know how I like it done.  Nothing scratches my itch like my own stuff, otherwise I'd do it like someone else or have someone else do it for me.  Right?


18.  Your idea of the perfect client?

For me the perfect client is one that knows why they are seeking me out.  Each framebuilder is unique.  Each has specific things they offer.  Normally, if someone comes to me it's because they want one of what I build.  Not because it's better or worse than anything else, but because it is what it is.  That works for me.  Oh yeah, a heap of patience and the ability to understand what it's like to have more work to do than 3 or 4 people could handle.  That helps. 

19.  What defines a nightmare client in your experience?

I'm pretty good at scaring the ones I don't think "will work out" away.  Haven't had any nightmare clients.  Partially because I don't deal with a lot of people and we end up with plenty of time to get to know each other. ;-)  Most become friends. 

20.  Any words of advice to up & coming frame builders?

Words of advice for up and coming framebuilders?  Keep your eyes open, you'll figure it out.  Otherwise, ask.  Simple. Oh yeah, don't play with matches, don't talk to strangers, and don't play on the freeway.


21.  What do you find most funny or peculiar (in a kind way-not brutal) about the cycle-buying public... what don't they get or aren't they seeing?

To be honest, I almost never have to deal with "the bicycle buying public".  It's not an issue with me.  I really don't care what they do or don't get.  It's none of my business.  My business is for those who come to me knowing what I have is what they want. 

22.  What do you think of mass-produced bikes (without naming names)?

Someone has to do it.  Why, does someone think there is something wrong with mass-produced bikes?  Every bike has its place.


23.  What cycle don't you have anymore that you wished you did?

There are two that I wish would just fall out of the sky and into my lap.  The Pogliaghi track bike I had (48cm) which I bought new in 1972 and the Eisentraut "A" bike I bought from The Missing Link in Berkeley in 1972. 

24.  What cycle do you currently ride most, even if it wasn't built by you?

I ride lots of bikes and I don't know which one I ride most.  I have nearly 70 bikes.  How do you deal with that?  Easy.  Don't play favorites. 

25.  When did you last ride your bike and for how far?

Tried to ride my 1970 Colnago up Mt. Baldy with some friends last Sunday, but we got turned away by some buttboarders shooting a movie on the road.  We rode maybe 40 mi. on the flats instead.  I did a few laps around the parking lot yesterday on an old 1952 randonneur bike to check it out and give the suicide shifter a try.


26.  What's your idea of the perfect ride?

The perfect ride is anyone that involves any one, or any number, of my friends. 

27.  Could you ever see yourself being Car Free... just using mass-transportation and your bike to get around?

What for?  Are cars evil?  Just curious.  Hey I live in So Cal.  The oil companies and auto makers made sure we would not have mass public transportation here.  They did a good job.  Besides, how do you haul a large drumkit to a gig on your bike?  Are you serious? 

28.  Why do you think so many folks have romanticized bicycles & bicycling?

Haven't a clue.  Is bicycling romantic?  Am I missing something?  It's just good clean fun. 

29.  Any (other) passions or hobbies in your life?

I collect CO2 gas pellet guns and plan to build a few big bore (.45 cal) guns for my own pleasure.  I enjoy knifemaking and am planning to make a few in the coming years after not making any for a long time.  I play drums and enjoy playing classic rock, oldies, and surf music (have made a few recordings, some of which are actually going to be for sale soon, but I sold my rights to my cut).  I collect vintage drums and restore and build kits myself upon occasion.


30.  If you could say one thing to Lance Armstrong what would it be?

You've probably heard me say this already but, "What's it like to eat crow, buddy?".  I don't get what some of the other guys said. 

31.  In a pinch... McDonald's or Burger King?

That all depends on who has the best toys.  The best tasting toys so far were the SpongeBob watches.  Tasty!! 

32.  What kind of shampoo did you last use?

Bob Martins Dog Shampoo.  Works great.  Tried it when I was out and found it conditions and cleans all at once.  (Come on you guys)


33.  Favorite libation: wine, beer or fire water?

Becks is fine with me.  My brother also brews good beer, winner at county fairs on a few occasions.  He met fellow framebuilder Jim Hawley (Griffon Cycles) at a beer judging class recently.  Imagine that. 

34.  Even though there seems to be a real tradition to it-what do you think of folks who spend more time setting up their cycle with just the right color saddle, bar tape, bags, hoods, etc than actually riding or at least commenting on the ride?

I don't have an opinion on that.  I do my best not to pass judgment on other people and what they choose to do with their stuff.  I consider that to be none of my business. 

35.  Did you go to college... if so, what was your major?

Yeah, I went to college.  Lots of pretty girls there.  When I was finished looking around, I went home.


36.  Your favorite music while working (if any)?

I like to listen to the surf CD's we made, all kinds of classic rock, and of course FRANK ZAPPA! 

37.  If you had it to do all over again... would you be building cycles?

Tough question.  Can I get paid next time?? 

38.  What's your favorite lunch food during a work day in the shop?

A whole watermelon.  Cold and sweet! 

39.  When it's all said & done-what kind of legacy will you hope to have left behind?

I'd like to be known for the Bikeillac Ranch, you know, the place with all the cool, old classic bikes buried in the dirt with the back end in the air?  Legacy?  Hummm.  You tell me.


40.  How can folks get in touch with you to order a custom cycle?

Another tough question.  Not sure how or when I'll be taking orders again.  Wait for my tap on the shoulder.  No one has tried to bribe me yet.  That might work.  ;-)  If someone wants to find me, I'm sure it won't be that hard.


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