In our last installment of our interview with Dazza, we discuss inspiration, his riding and the nature of the custom bike experience.
BKW: From where do your draw inspiration?
DLM: From everywhere, from everyone, from everything around one that passes by, and perhaps something from inside me. I like to think I am a student of the world.
“Model Engineer” magazine is brilliant.
BKW: What about your own work continues to excite you?
DLM: Trying today to better what I did last week. Not just the metal work, but also all the other things that an independent framebuilder likes to do and must do.
I call my work or way I express myself in my work/lifestyle my Ph.D. that will never be completed.
BKW: Where do you think you are going with your frame building and also where do you think frame building will go?
DLM: Better, more refined and a greater recognition as an alternative to the ones that are sick of 900 gram awful riding and looking breaking carbon mass-produced stuff.
BKW: Do you ride and how often?
DLM: Five to six times a week. I don’t pull the knicks on unless it is at least two hours pedaling and it must be first thing in the morning or it just does not happen.
No coffee shop stuff. I reckon coffee shop riding is a lame excuse to get on your bike.
I ride, look around and think and sometimes huff and puff when I am motivated to lean on the pedals. I like the hills.
For while I stopped riding for a few years (insert extra workshop toil here) lost the need to ride, that passed and now I have to ride! Sundays is with mates over some climbs for four hours.
BKW: Do you race, tour, MTB or … other?
DLM: I did a lot of road and track racing for many years, also a few seasons in France; I loved racing on France, lots of seconds and thirds as my gallop was barely detectable by modern scientific instruments. I could scamper up a decent climb as I weighed about 60kgs. Touring, not yet, but I want to cycle tour properly, but I have to build myself a touring bicycle first. Project for next summer. No MTB here, life has been too short.
I love bush walking and camping, walk in and walk out stuff.
BKW: In a few words, can you sum up bespoke hand made frame construction?
DLM: Toil, more toil, lots of toil. More complicated than it was 10 or 20 years ago. Maybe that is why some lifetime builders struggle with the niche market that it is today.
However, it is fun, and rewarding to my soul. I would not have done it any other way.
Bicycles and racing have allowed me to visit and work in 23 countries, work two Olympics as national team mechanic, travel, enjoy good times with many friends around the world. All way more than I could have expected to see and do when I kicked off in Sandgate 1979.
So the toil has a nice payoff. What do I have to complain about? I am happy.
BKW: What do you want your clients to take away when you make them a bicycle?
DLM: A bicycle that gives them many years of enjoyable riding. So with each passing year, their Llewellyn bicycle gives them greater value. Thus they Cherish their Llewellyn. That pleases me.
In Part II of our interview with Dazza, we discuss his love of polishing, his wait and how he plans to live a long time.
BKW: Do you work with stainless steel very often?
Every frame I make has some stainless: the dropouts, cable guides and stoppers, chain hanger, front derailleur mount, and the heart detail between the stays. I use stainless here because it has merit. I like frame parts that function well, keeping paint tidy, no corrosion from road salts, or from people who perspire battery acid. Aesthetic is important but durability and function should never be sacrificed, intentionally or through ignorance. I see/hear people chatter on about so and so’s dropouts or some other design feature they see on a frame, but 30 years of experience tells one that there will be grief and tears with some designs currently in fashion. There is reason why the long time professional builders have not done the design of a part or a frame that way.
Having said that, then there is my reputation for the bling bikes; but you know, I only do three to four of those elaborate stainless lugged frames each year. They get a lot of attention. Some of those have 250 hours of metal work in them. They hurt in many ways to make. This year I will make only three of those and two slots are already taken and the other one is being finalized. So if a client wants one, they need to sign up/deposit for a 2009 slot now.
BKW: Where are most of your customers located?
DLM: Mostly in Australia.
Most of my export frames go to the USA and these typically feature hand-cut, polished stainless lugs.
BKW: How many bikes do you deliver in the average year?
DLM: I have given up counting. Truly, I have not counted production for five years, but I can say, not as many as I would like to get out the door. Running the show takes more time than it used to when compared to the good old days.
Also, those elaborate stainless lugged frames take up a lot of energy, time. Each one is big black hole for 5 to 6 weeks.
BKW: How long is your waiting list?
DLM: It fluctuates from 6 to 12 months.
BKW: Tell us a bit about the red bike that was at the Handmade Bicycle Show. You said you had 250 hours in it.
DLM: Yes, 250 hours, that is not counting customer discussion time and sending pictures of the build process each night.
I cut a set of Pacenti lugs, crown and BB, in a variation of a theme I have done before, and I was very pleased with the results. I machine the seatstay plugs and hand miter them to the seat lug to fit and look the way I desire. Cut stainless details for aesthetics and many other extras. But I would like to stress, that bike frame is made to be ridden and be used, it is not fragile or for the mantle piece. No compromise is made on the ride and longevity of the bike because it has shiny bits.
Typical frame, fork and stem like that one is $9,500 AUD ($8,500 USD) or more depending on what the customer desires.
Compared to my normal build style road frame, fork, stem which still has stainless fittings, polished dropouts and other details for $3,800 AUD ($3,350 USD)
BKW: Do you paint your frames?
DLM: No, never, never want to, I am too young to die!
My old training partner from the early 80′s, Joe Cosgrove, paints my work, he does a splendid job. He was very chuffed recently to receive high praise from Joe Bell and other paint legends while at NAHBS 2008.
I also think painting is so specialized, it is a full time Ph.D. that will never be finished. I think that builders compromise their painting if they apply themselves to the metal work and design of their bikes properly, or painters compromise their painting Ph.D. if they put time into metal work. Some do reasonable work in both skills, but they are limited or perhaps have to keep to a narrower pathway, and some are not always progressive or attuned to the changes and progress of today’s market for hand made frames.
BKW: You seem pretty proud of your lug designs and other casting projects, are there delights on the drawing board?
DLM: If the handmade bespoke/custom bicycle scene is to stay healthy and vibrant, we builders cannot go on producing frames that are just repros of circa 1985 with the additions of some extra windows in the lugs with leather handle bar tape and pastel coloured paint jobs. These have their place and is super cool, but the demographics of these clients is dwindling each year.
The new generation of clients/enthusiasts are the new buyers. All they have seen is carbon this and carbon that but they can be shown the merits of both the traditional build methods and styles, fused with contemporary designs and styles. A better bicycle is the result. The best of the past with the best of today. We build better bicycles today than 30 years ago.
This desire prompted me to invest a lot of time and resources in designing and producing lugs and dropouts to strengthen what I do. I have to admit, it is a lot of toil, thrown on top of workshop production, added with the hiccups along the way. I have as much pride in these casting projects as the attention my stainless lugged frames receive.
As for new projects on the drawing board, the answer is yes and no for the time being. No, but yes, when time allows.
BKW‘s recent trip Portland, Oregon, for the North American Handmade Bicycle Show was our first opportunity to see the work of a builder we had heard of for some time. We’d been hearing about Llewellyn Custom Biycles for years from folks who know great work and when confronted with his work, well, we were blown away. BKW’s editors do not suffer this much lust easily.
Darrell Llewellyn McCulloch, “Dazza” to his friends, is one of a rare breed of framebuilder whose work inspires such an instant sense of awe that your first thought is, “Gosh, I’d love to have this frame.” We talked with him at the show and made plans for an e-mail interview to follow.
BKW: Where are you located? Are you a native?
DLM: I was born in the city of Brisbane Australia, 1963. I live and work in my home located on the outskirts of Brisbane, where I can still ride away from the traffic and can still go for walks in the state forests across the road.
BKW: How long have you been building?
DLM: I have been associated with handmade frames and bike racing since 1979. I started building the “Llewellyn” marque in 1989 (Llewellyn is my middle name).
BKW: How did you learn your craft—were you self-taught or did you apprentice under someone?
DLM: I was a bit lost at school, looking for something to do with my hands. Was it going to be art, wood work, aviation, or…? Then, after reading a magazine article on frame building in a 1978 copy of Bicycling magazine, I fell in love with the notion of making bicycle frames. That article is responsible for sending me down the path of this tragic lifestyle. (Giggle.)
BKW: If you apprenticed under someone, can you tell us a bit about the builder?
DLM: I started work at Hoffy Cycles in Sandgate in 1979. The owner was Eric Hendren; he worked his whole life in that shop from age 13 till he retired 53 years later. I learned to fix coaster hubs, Sturmey-Archer 3-speeds, wheel building, frame repairs and some new frame work. Eric built frames with a vice, power drill, three files, and a surface plate. He was a good boss to me, but after 6 years I got restless and bored and wanted to move on.
An opportunity came to work for Brett Richardson (Berretto frames). This allowed me to get my hands into full time frame building (circa 1986), but the shop went through some partnership troubles so I ended up leaving and working in a bigger retail bike shop. A couple of years there and I was prompted to start Llewellyn Custom Bicycles as a part-time affair. The time was right.
Llewellyn was a part time affair while I raced in France and worked the summers in the shop. Then I worked full time with the Australian Institute of Sport—head road mechanic for two years—then I went part time with the teams and only did the Euro season from May to October. Based in Germany and then Italy, I did not see a Brisbane winter for 8 years.
The rest of my education is self discovery from inside my cave, absorbing as much as I can cope with.
BKW: Do you work in materials other than steel?
DLM: Oh yes, but only with splendidly fine materials; like a couple of glasses of good red wine with my fiancée.
BKW: In addition to working with lugs, do you fillet braze or TIG weld?
DLM: I used to do lugless fillet brazing with oversize shaped tubes, but it drove me nuts. The in built stresses from shaped (squashed) tubes annoyed me. So I created my own compact angled lugs for round oversize tubes and banished shaped main tubes from my life for ever. (Until recently, these were known as the Slant 6, and Mini 6 lug sets, now known as OS Compact and XL Compact.) The lugs are much better for the purity of the build processes, so this pleases me. I don’t do funk or what this year’s brochure has to have.
I want a good fit, accuracy of the build and no stresses in the frame. And it has to look pleasing while lasting a couple of decades.
No TIG here.
BKW: If you do work other than lugs, are lugs your preferred form of expression?
DLM: My chant is, “It’s steel, it’s lugs, let the others get on with the madness”
BKW: What is your preferred tubing these days?
DLM: I use lot of Columbus “Spirit for Lugs” tube sets. Good to work with, well made with sensible butt lengths. If I need special tubes for some frame designs or for bikes that have different tube requirements I will use a mix of suitable tubes from Dedacciai or True Temper.
BKW: What lugs do you like to work with?
DLM: My Llewellyn designed and produced lugs, like the standard oversize compact lugs (was Mini 6, now OS Compact ), and the extra large compact angled lug set (was Slant 6, now XL Compact), my socket stainless dropouts and lugged handlebar stems.
I created the stem and compact (sloping top tube lugs) lug sets to meet my needs, as there was nothing out there in the market and they blend traditional lugged frame construction with the merits of contemporary designs. I cannot understand builders who make a attractive lugged bike and plonk a CNC machined alloy handle bar stem on it. Makes me puke. I provide the lugs for other builders to use, and it was pleasing to meet these builders at Don (Walker)’s show (NAHBS) and see their good work with them.
For horizontal top tube frames I use Kirk Pacenti’s artisan lugs for elaborate designs and I use Richard Sachs’s lugs. Both are good mates and are life time tragics with bikes.
One of the all-time great head-tube badges, by Keith Anderson.
There is a distinct possibility that if you peeked out the back door of the Portland Convention Center, what you would see would be the pearly gates of heaven. Put another way, the last retail stop between Earth and Nirvana is the Handmade Bicycle Show; of that I’m certain.
It’s not uncommon to attend Interbike only to hear someone say something inane like, “I hate Interbike.” Being a cyclist and hating Interbike is as improbable as being an iPod owner and hating iTunes. Interbike is as close to visiting Santa’s workshop as most of us will ever get. How could any cyclist truly dislike a roomful of brand new bikes watched over by knowledgeable bike industry veterans? This sort of ingenuous too-cool-for-school attitude is as grating as trying to complain that Richard Sachs is too commercial. One large McBreak please.
Sacha White with a bike he built for his daughter.
The show, unfortunately, now faces a problem. It is the only annual gathering in the U.S. more about the bike than the riding that is that is cooler than Interbike. That’s no small feat. The powers-that-be will be paying attention to the Handmade Bicycle Show and they will be giving some thought to how they can pull some of the business their way.
The good news is that the only exhibitors who care to show to dealers—Shimano, SRAM, Cane Creek and Fizik—already appear at Interbike. The bread and butter of the show—the small builder—sell direct and therefore need only consumers. If anything, the Handmade Bicycle Show serves as another argument for why Interbike needs consumer days. The simple fact is Interbike needs the builders more than the builders need Interbike. For that reason, the show has little to fear from Interbike.
That the show has grown from its tiny first year to standing-room-only (the fire marshall slowed the entry of attendees on Saturday due to the facility reaching capacity). And while the climate for handmade bicycles has never been better, this achievement is as improbable as a pig with landing gear. There are three men deserving of credit.
Don Walker with his daughters.
First is Don Walker. The show concept started as a conversation between a handful of builders on the framebuilders’ forum. Don, for reasons having more to do with seflessness than capitalism, took point as well as the first shots. It seems likely that the show made money this year and given the hours and money he has put in, he deserves to realize some reward.
Richard with his wife Deb and a hopeful future customer.
Second is Richard Sachs. Without Richard’s mentoring of new builders and relentless promotion of the craft of framebuilding, there wouldn’t be this many builders to exhibit. He can be credited as the gravity that helps to hold the solar system of builders together. Richard’s announcement that he was attending the second show changed its status from curiosity to the must-see event of 2006.
Peter with customers Brent and Bess.
Third is Peter Weigle. Peter is the builder who least needed to attend. His business runs along and he works quietly, doing work universally recognized as exemplary. He doesn’t need the show. His success and career are assured with or without the event; he can’t sell more bicycles than he does in a year and isn’t interested in a waiting list that measures by the score. But he chose to stand up for the community of which he is an important part and that lent the show a hard-won degree of credibility. If Richard’s decision to exhibit was the motion before the board, then Peter’s decision to exhibit was the second.
The attitude of the show was palpably collegial. From the exhibitors to the attendees, the event was remarkable because its lack of competition was so total as to constitute a vacuum. There was no pushing, no backbiting or badmouthing and definitely no desperate hawking. P.T. Barnum would have hated the event.
Keith Anderson (right) with his assistant Cory.
A bunch of NorCal builders took out a joint space. Exhibitors included Sycip, Steve Rex and Soulcraft. It was a bit like a party there. Neighbors Dave Kirk and Carl Strong shared a space as did Keith Anderson and Wolfhound.
Sacha’s booth was also a fun nod to the ‘cross life.
Sacha “Vanilla” White’s booth was as interesting as the bikes in it. In addition to the Speedvagens on display he showed a bike he built for his daughter.
Mark Nobilette (left) with Dave Bohm of Bohemian.
There were a number of truly stunning bikes at the show. No surprise there. What might surprise you are my pick for three of the top bikes there. The first was a reproduction Rene Herse built by Mark Nobilette that featured handmade lugs. The revival of the brand is a project by Michael Kone (the original proprietor of Bicycle Classics) with all the fabrication work done by Nobilette. Next was a bike with hand cut lugs bearing Nobilette’s own label.
My favorite bike of the show was a Llewellyn. As much as I loved the bikes from Richard, Peter and Brian Baylis, the Llewellyn was my favorite because it surprised me. It made seeing a custom frame fresh and looking it over was a process of discovery. It was the visual equivalent of how riding a new bike can make cycling fresh again.
Nick Crumpton (right) with his most loyal customer.
We also noted some BKW sympathizers in attendance. Steve Hampsten was hoofing it from one old friend to another and got a big smile from the Rapha commemorative Hampsten jersey. Builder Ira Ryan showed some nice stuff. We learned that Mike Zanconato is going full time with his building (Zanc has four dozen orders currently) and Cascade Bicycle Studio’s Zac Daab was hanging with friends Bernard and Maxwell at 333fab.
Most events I attend I end up thinking, “Man, if they just added ‘X’ it would be really cool.” I really can’t find a way to criticize the event. I wouldn’t mind doing some rides with the folks I saw, but I chose to travel without my bike. Scanning the photographs I took, what I’m most impressed by are the number of bikes and builders of whom I only got a fraction of the story.