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Behind the Mask

Tuesday, February 4th, 2014

Nestled snug in their box, the tubes that will become my frame roll, with the jig, from machining to welding, where they wait to be claimed.  Who welds each frame is a matter of chance.  Whichever welder is available at the moment takes the next frame in line.  In my case, that welder is Stef Adams.  Coincidentally, Stef welded my other Seven back in 2005, an Elium SL, and she did such a good job with that one that my thirst for a new bike was stifled for nearly a decade.

While in the machining stage, tubes get coated with grease, dust, shavings, “permanent”marker, finger prints, oil, and who knows what else.  To ensure that her welds will last a lifetime, Stef cleans each tube in a two stage acetone bath which wipes away everything, including the boastful claims of the marker.  By wearing fresh, cotton gloves she keeps her own finger prints off the tubes in the process.

Sevens are TIG welded (the acronym stands for Tungsten Inert Gas).  We pump argon through our frame jigs and into the tube sets as we weld them. The inert argon won’t react with the molten titanium, which is why we use it to “clean” the inside and outside of each area to be welded.

Stef assembles the clean tubes back into the jig, then hooks up a gasket to the head tube in order to create the back purge, plugging all of the external holes in the frame (e.g. where water bottles will be mounted) with stoppers.  Internal breather holes, previously drilled into the tubes, will allow the gas to flow from one tube to the next until all of the tubes are overflowing with argon.  Argon also flows out of the welder’s torch which protects the outside of the tubes.

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A gauge at each welding station lets the welders know when there is enough argon in the frame to begin welding.  Stef checks the gauge and begins tacking one tube to the next.  A tack is a small spot weld that holds the tubes in place. They make freehand welding more manageable.

Out of the jig and onto the welding table the tacked frame goes.  Stef works in a most graceful fashion, twirling the frame around the table, welding a little here, a little there, with the smooth, precise movements that she has perfected over the course of more than seven thousand frames.

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Little by little, the frame gets closer to completion.  Stef says it takes a few hours to weld a frame as “simple” as mine, but that couplers and other options can add to that.  My frame is simple in that it is a straight forward mountain bike, with no additional features or options that need to be welded on. I clarify with her that it is also awesome, and she agrees.

Below are the bridges and zip tie guides. Not too many, means not too complicated.

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Perfectly round, overlapping droplets of molten titanium bond the tubes together.  A stack of dimes, fish scales, whatever you want to call them, they will hold the frame together for the rest of its life.  I think they are beautiful.  One of the many artistic achievements of the welder is to make it appear that the weld was done all at once, one droplet after the next, until the entire tube is welded, but in reality, they work in tiny centimeter long increments, which is why the frame is flipped, spun, and maneuvered into different positions as they go.

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For a novice, welding can be pretty scary. There is electricity, intense heat, and a light so bright it could blind you.  Behind a camera lens, it looks like a brilliant purple and blue light.

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But from behind the welder’s mask, it’s actually quite pleasing.  The welding mask is tinted so dark that, to Stef, it feels like welding by candle light.  She works slowly but steadily.  Aiming the torch with her right hand, she increases the heat until it’s so hot that the spindly titanium bead in her left hand melts when she dabs it on the tube.  Each droplet adds material and strength to the weld.  This style of welding bikes is called the Puddle Bead Method, and was pioneered by another welder at Seven, Tim Delaney.  Stef is a master, and does a great job of explaining what she is doing while she works.  She makes it look so easy, but I know that if I were at the helm, there would be shouting, catastrophe, and probably a fire.

A job well done and a small token of appreciation.

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The next time I check on it, the frame is all together and hanging up in the final machining department, ready for the next steps, so close to completion.

After the Flood

Wednesday, January 8th, 2014

Flood1It’s funny to be writing about a flood after we’ve just written about a major snow storm, but the two are not wholly unrelated. The weekend after the storm, temperatures plummeted here, as they did in most of the country, and the heat in the vacant space above our office stopped working. Pipes froze, burst, and then unfroze, which lead to a prolonged rain shower down here where we work.

Flood2So, we sustained some damage. The better part of this week thus far has been dedicated to figuring out which of our computers are salvageable and attempting to dry out our space.

The damage will be hard to quantify. We will replace equipment, and that will have a dollar value attached to it. The building management’s insurance will cover those things. For once, a flood/fire/alarm didn’t originate with us.

The bigger and less quantifiable harm will be in lost research, smudged notes and lost reference material. Living in modern times, we all marvel at how dependent we have become on technology, but an event like this one points out how dependent we still are on old-fashioned pen and paper. To borrow a phrase, for a custom frame builder, the pen may in fact be mightier than the torch.

Flood3The key, we understand, in these situations is to find the positive, and of course, there are many. First, we learned a lot about the elasticity of our systems. Bike production didn’t stop, just because the front office was incapacitated. Second, we were forced to rid ourselves of a lot of stuff we no longer needed. When you’ve got your head down, building bikes, dreaming up new products, trying to navigate the world as a small company, you seldom take the time to clean out the old. Now the old is out, and we have room for some new.

Finally, the flood did a great job of flushing cool, old stuff out of the corners, reference books that have influenced our thinking, old photos of the team when we were younger, and prototype parts, the constructive failures of past projects. All of it has us thinking differently.

Sometimes you don’t want to start over, but starting over is valuable nonetheless.

Photo Friday

Friday, December 13th, 2013

An ongoing series of shots from the shop floor and beyond…

What-is-paint-480x654The waste container in the mix booth. Fifty shades of awesome.

Photo by Rob V.

Two Hour Loop

Friday, November 22nd, 2013

Normally I’d bail on an afternoon ride at the end of October if I knew I had to be back in time to shower and dress in order to make the three o’clock shuttle.  That’s too much pressure.  In Vermont, however, a few weeks past peak foliage is still a feast for the eyes.  My girlfriend and I were in Burlington for a friend’s wedding, and brought bikes on the off chance we could squeeze in a leaf peeping jaunt prior to the festivities.  Midday Saturday presented us with about two hours of down time, so we decided to take advantage even if we had to hurry.

We suited up and shoved off, traveling south towards Mt. Philo.  A few miles out of town and the hills began to roll.  Red and yellow may have been lacking but orange made up for their departure in grand form, blanketing everything that wasn’t Lake Champlain with the rusty colors of autumn.  With each up we’d get a postcard worthy view, albeit brief, before careening back down.  Over and over again.  The higher we climbed, the better the view.  By the time we reached the base of the mountain, it seemed like we could see the entire valley.  We weren’t craving any more climbing, so when the park ranger explained that the road to the top was closed for a car race, we decided to ride around it instead.  The extended loop meant I might not have time to iron my shirt, but I had a sweater I could wear over it, so we carried on.  A few farms, hundreds of cows, and a covered bridge later, we were on the way back to the hotel.

A powerful tail wind helped our time crunch and had us back in just enough time to swap Lycra for dress clothes.  I’m writing this down to serve as a lesson for me, and any of you who also opt to sit out short rides, because in just two hours we had a ride I’ll remember for a lifetime.

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Tandem Touring – Doing It Right

Thursday, October 3rd, 2013

Sack_Tandem_Erie2We built this Ti Axiom 007 SL tandem for Joe and Diana a few years ago, and we’re happy to see they’re putting it to good use. These stunning black and whites are from their most recent exploits.

The quick report:

We just got back from a tour of the Erie Canal on the tandem you made for us in 2011.  As always it performed great. We take two to three long tours each year as well as ride it 4-5 times a week.

Sack_Tandem_Erie

Good Bye, July

Wednesday, July 31st, 2013

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July of 2013 will go on record as one of the hottest months in Boston (and Watertown) history, a fact that didn’t escape us as we spent the month building bikes at full tilt and trying to fit rides in before and after work.

Hopefully August will see temperatures, inside and out, that are a little more conducive to hard work.IMAG2097 We are, gratefully, very busy and sending out orders in our own record numbers.

 

Until it cools down, we’ll just have to keep the freezer, cooler and fridge stocked with the sorts of things that help busy bike-builders stay cool on the job, and sometimes off it.

Love to Ride – The Photographers – Dave Chiu

Friday, February 22nd, 2013

Dave Chiu is one of those guys who is very hard to pin down. He is a hyper-talented photographer, as evidenced by this shot we used in our Love to Ride brochure, but to speak only about Dave’s photography is to ignore all the other things he does, including graphic design, web development, travel, high level racing and generally kicking ass a collaborator and friend.

In recent years he’s shot the Tour as well as a number of legendary domestic races like the Tour of Battenkill. You can check out some of the best of that work at his website. This picture of mad genius mechanic Matt Roy gives a tiny, intimate peek into the life of a pro wrench, prepping a race bike for his wife, Seven sponsored Mo Bruno Roy.

Video – Green Mountain Double Century 2012

Friday, February 15th, 2013

DSC_5703The Green Mountain Double Century is a singular sort of endurance event. The 2012 version was 215 miles, 80% on dirt roads, with 26,500ft of climbing. There is a time cut off of 40 hours. Theoretically, it is a race, but such is the challenge that many ride just to finish.

The inaugural event, in 2011, saw about a dozen riders start, and only four finish. Three of them were from the Ride Studio Cafe Endurance Team, John Bayley, David Wilcox and Matt Roy. They finished in just short of 19 hours. The 2012 version saw the RSC team, all on Ti Sevens, “win” the overall again, shaving three hours off their previous best time. These guys are all randonneuring legends who keep raising the bar for the endurance cycling community. We were incredibly honored to have them all on our bikes.

Natalia Boltukhova of Pedal Power Photography, who shot most of our Love to Ride brochure as well as the photo above, traveled with the winning team in both 2011 and 2012, putting together this photo set and this video, which captures the brutality  (and humor) of the event beautifully.

 

Love to Ride – The Photographers – Kristof Ramon

Wednesday, January 2nd, 2013

The excitement of a bike race is very rarely captured in the single click of a camera’s shutter. There are so many intimate details in the course of a day, a story that starts before the whistle blows and continues long after the finish.  The story is told by faces of pain, in loss or injury, or even in moments of extreme joy. There are nervous glances and rituals behind the scene, environments of beauty, tranquility and sheer chaos.

Kristof Ramon has an eye for such intimacies.  His photos of large bike races such as the Paris Roubaix  and most recently the Ironman 2012 World Championships evoke emotion while simultaneously giving us context for what is happening in the shot.  His ability to capture the very essence of what it means to be a cyclist and athlete makes him a story-teller as much as a taker of pictures.  His photos tell both action and the in-between; the glamour and the grit.

We were honored to be able to use one of Kristof’s photos for the Love to Ride project, a haunting portrait of Seven-sponsored racer Mo Bruno Roy at the 2011 World Cup Cyclocross in Namur, Belgium.

Love to Ride – The Photographers – Natalia Boltukhova

Wednesday, December 5th, 2012

You will notice right away that Russian-born photographer Natalia Boltukhova can’t sit still. With a camera slung round her neck she is all action, all energy, and that energy lights up her photos, which, coincidentally, tend to be of other folks who can’t sit still.

Upon moving to the United States in 2006, she immersed herself in New England’s gritty/beautiful cyclocross scene. She not only races cross but also keeps her hands full during the season taking beautiful photos at races. And while Cyclocross is one of her busiest times of the year behind the lens, she shoots full time for her own Tiny Russian Studios and showcases her cycling work under the Pedal Power Photography moniker.

Natalia’s photos have been featured in several magazines, newspapers, and on book covers, and she has even released her own coffee table book on New England Cyclocross titled Beer. Cupcakes. Moustache. She is currently working on a documentary project titled Woman Warrior about female fighters (MMA boxing, wrestling, etc).

We really enjoyed working with Natalia on the Love to Ride project. You will be seeing more of her work in the future. Count on it.