Filed In: Stories

The Ride

March 09, 2018   |   Chris Blandford

The particle-board floor is littered with castoffs: curls of backing-paper from the bar-wrap; a handful of one-inch-or-so long pieces of cable housing; at least a few stainless washers that managed to slip through my greasy fingertips, land on the floor, and roll out of reach. Behind my desk, against the far wall, a pair of speakers hiss a methodical static. The album to which I was listening has died out, and I’ve been too involved to have noticed. I’ve been working for at least a couple hours in workshop silence.

It’s late—after midnight, at least. The neighborhood outside my window is black and quiet. The street is asleep. My wife and daughter are too, hopefully, up at the house. I’m down in my studio above our garage, putting the finishing touches on a bicycle I’ve spent this evening assembling.

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I thump in the final bar-end plug with my mallet and it’s done. Well, it’s rideable, anyway. I haven’t dealt with the fenders—always the damn fenders—or installed the racks—always the damn racks—just yet, but the rest of it is ready. The saddle is set to its (roughly) appropriate height, the tires (more or less) to their correct pressures, and my mood to the right rhythm.

I have to ride this thing. This can’t wait for daylight.

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Filed In: Essays

Introduction

February 09, 2018   |   Chris Blandford

A couple of years ago, I was looking for a reprieve. Having just crossed the decade mark in my career as a graphic designer, I had begun longing for something... different. I had grown tired of the computer work I was doing. I wanted to try making something with my hands, instead of my mind and my mouse. It felt like a natural urge.

Around that same time, I had just finished reading Robert Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, a novel about the connection between our intellect and our hands, and the meaning of quality in objects, work, and our time.

The combination of these two things—my growing unrest and Pirsig’s articulations—spurred me to sign up for a metalworking class. On a bit of a whim, I enrolled in a bicycle frame making course.

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The bicycle has always held a mysterious, unique place in my mind. It has been a companion and my primary form of transportation for years. But while I am an adequate home mechanic, I still consider myself a bicycle novice. I have very few friends who ride bicycles. I’ve never worked in a bike shop. I don’t consider myself a “cyclist”. I’m just someone who’s always—for reasons that will be examined—been enamored with this two-wheeled object. Most importantly, I’ve always enjoyed the ride.

During that two-week course, I found something that has eluded me my entire life. I discovered that I like working with my hands. I was terrible at it, for sure, but I could see myself getting good at the metalwork over time if only I could find the time to practice. My experience in that class hinted at promise. I knew then that I needed to continue to do this. I wanted to get good at making something.

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It should go without saying that I have no professional aspirations in this endeavor. I want nothing to do with making vehicles and selling them to strangers. That sounds absurd, though I know there are plenty of people who have tried their hand at doing that. There’s a difference between a hobbyist and a professional, and I like to think I’m self-aware enough to know where I stand. I would, however, like this to be more than a quiet, personal hobby. For reasons that I’ll write about later on, I feel the need to share what I’m doing.

My hands-off strength has always been presentation—design, photography, writing. I’m able to communicate things clearly and in unique ways, I think. That’s what strangers pay me to do. And, as I look around at this bicycle world (especially at this little hand-built bicycle niche) it appears to me that those strengths may find a place. I think I can present this activity in a unique and enlightening way. One that you might enjoy.

Hence, a website. A blog, if you wish to call it that.

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Pirsig’s Zen brought to light and articulated a lot of the feelings I’ve had my entire life. That there’s true quality in objects and value in working with one’s hands. That how we spend our time is important. And on and on.

I have thoughts of my own on these subjects. Building bicycles seems, to me, to be the perfect vehicle through which to share these notions. I’m desperately underseasoned, but I think can I bring something interesting and flavorful to the table.

Welcome to The Bland Bicycle, where I make bicycles—by hand—and share that experience through words and photos. I hope you enjoy the ride.

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