BY ALAN COTE
To a framebuilder the essence of a bicycle could he any number of things: a kinetic sculpture, a continuation of an artisan tradition or a marvel of engineering. Carl Strong concentrates his work on another bicycle quality. “What I’ve tried to focus my bike on is performance exclusively, even at the expense of aesthetics” Strong said,
Such a mantra is natural for Strong, whose beginnings in the sport go back to racing BMX as a child. He later graduated to the ranks of road racing, allowing him to think about skinny tire machines from the vantage point of a seasoned competitor. “I’d say the majority of custom builders are artistically oriented and I’m not-I’m performance oriented” Strong said. “I think you make a lot of sacrifices in terms of weight, strength and also time when you use fillets or lug, they cost more money because of the extra time involved.”
The framebuilding bug hit Strong after years of assorted fabrication experiences, which included making the frames for the motorcycles he raced on the road” I’ve always tried to make anything I could instead of buying it,” the 32-year-old said, “I’m a tool fanatic-by the time I’m 50, [I plan] to have every tool necessary to make anything I could possibly imagine.”
Armed with his general tool-guy skills, Strong built his first frame four years ago. Seeking more in-depth knowledge about the details of bicycle construction, he enrolled in the United Bicycle Institute’s TIG-welding seminar. “I learned a lot about bicycle-specific setups, and I got to pick Gary Helfrich’s brain, I learned a ton there. I came home and bought a different welder because the control on the welders they had was so much greater than mine,” he recalled. Another local Bozeman, Montana, framebuilder also helped steer the budding torchbearer. “Stan Johnson has lots of experience and is an excellent craftsman-the bikes he makes are beautiful and well done. He’s been extremely generous with any information I’ve asked for,” Strong acknowledged.
Strong realized how much there is to a seemingly simple bicycle. “I became aware of all the subtleties of the design and different ways you can apply materials – you can get radically different results from the same materials,” he said, “I don’t know if any one builder inspires me, but the builders I look up to and compete against are Brew and Nevil and Cherry.”
The frame featured here incorporates a Softride suspension beam, which Strong feels has both benefits and drawbacks. “I have a Softride frame that I use for training. You add a little weight about a pound and a half – but you get a stiffer rear triangle. And if you have the right beam for your body weight, [Softride beams] are incredibly comfortable, “he said. “Here in Montana there aren’t that many roads, so I like to go on dirt loop rides. My bike is setup with tougher tires for the dirt and the Softride is great there.” Softride frames only constitute about 5 percent of Strong’s output, with this particular mount made to measure for Tim Halloran, a sales representative at Reynolds USA.
Not surprisingly, this frame uses the much-heralded Reynolds 853 tubing. “I like 853 a lot. It’s moderately cuttable, it welds well, the tube specs cover a broad range of needs and it does actually air harden. I was really skeptical about the air hardening at first but I learned the hard way. They warned me to do all the cutting before I welded, but I ignored them-I paid the price and wore out a few hand files and hack- saw blades, Strong said. He now works primarily with 853, but also fires up Columbus pipes. “Sometimes customers will ask for Columbus [because] it’s famous, it has a great reputation and it has a broad range of tube specs to choose from.”
TIG-welded joints in the front triangle and brazed joints for the rear end were Strong’s pick for the frame. Where possible, Strong prefers to TIG weld. “It’s because of the value of welding-it takes less time and work to do. It also applies heat to a smaller section of the tube,” he said. The Softride frame configuration makes for extremely short seatstays, which Strong chose to lower a bit, leaving the rear brake flush with the sloped top tube. For the short, horizontal tube that the beam mounts to, he elected a piece of head tube stock-straight gauge, thick and strong-for handling the loads that the beam imparts on the frame. The stunning paint job comes courtesy of Cycle Fantasy in Orange, California, which handles all of Strong’s finishing work. Painstakingly painted on the frame are dozens of panels, each one secured by six “rivets.”
Like many craftsmen, Strong is fueled through his days by the satisfaction of a thrilled customer- “I always get a lot of phone calls wanting to know how the frame is coming along. They’re always so excited, and they have to wait a fair amount of time for it,” he said. “One of nay frames is still a giant investment for most of my customers, so I try to offer a custom bike at a value, at the expense of the artistic frills.” Strong frames start at $900.
626 E. Lamme, Bozeman, MT 59715, (800) 586-1105, (406) 586-6264, Strong@avicom.net