View Full Version : I'm teaching how to build frames in Ukraine

Doug Fattic
09-30-2014, 05:01 PM
This will be a fairly long post so if you have a short attention span don’t start reading!

Back in 2000, we started a bike project to provide Ukrainian pastors with bicycles. The economy in Ukraine was/is poor and a bike is a great tool to save time getting around to help parishioners or whatever. They can’t afford cars and even if they could they can’t afford the gas to run them. Originally we bought bicycles from the X3B Company in the city of Kharkov near the Russian border (whose mayor was shot this year while riding a bicycle. He now uses a hand cycle while he leg heals). I talked Shimano Europe into supplying them parts (it helped that my bike won the Shimano showcase that year at Interbike). I was in the middle of that most interesting meeting between them in Kharkov. XB3 asked Shimano how much under the table they needed to give in order to get OEM pricing (the answer was none). When the company president thought he was out of earshot of others, he asked another worker “who is Shimano anyway?” I don’t know what qualified him to be president but it obviously wasn’t bicycle knowledge. Another interesting moment was when I asked a secretary why there still was a picture of Lenin above her desk (she said they just never bothered to move it). Anyway when they finally started using Shimano parts (before they made almost all the parts poorly themselves) their market share increased and they then didn’t want to bother with our special order (you’re welcome X3B). So we started making the bicycles ourselves using supplies from Ukraine as much as possible. Part of our philosophy is to spend as much money as we raise as we can in that country rather than bring in bicycles from China. They don’t need our small economic help like Ukraine does.

Over the years I’ve sent a few of my framebuilding class students over to Kiev to make the frames for these bicycles. At one time I tried to teach Kostya how to do this but brazing just wasn’t a skill he could ever do well. Not everyone can sing on tune no matter how long they practice. I was sorry because he was such a terrific story. He was the caption of a group of soldiers that went into Chernobyl right after the meltdown and is now the only one of those men still alive. This last year I prepared another student to go but his plans changed when his wife got accepted into medical school. So now I’m teaching Yuriy in Ukraine. He is near retirement and has been with the project since the beginning. He was an engineer before he became a pastor and has natural abilities and education on how to build things. A typical Ukrainian is better than a typical American at working with his hands because they are used to repairing old stuff.

I flew into Kiev last week even though my wife didn’t think it was a good idea to go. She fixed me a nice last meal in case I never made it home again. I stay on a college campus outside of Kiev in a nice dorm room with an individual shower and really good food in the cafeteria. The small frameshop is in the back of campus among very tall pine trees. It looks out onto a pond where I took pictures of a group of students doing the ice bucket challenge (without the ice) yesterday. The Internet spreads these trends quickly.

Over the weekend I visited the main square in Kiev where they were honoring the military somehow. Some wives were in wheel chairs representing their wounded husbands who couldn’t make it to the ceremony. They weren’t very skilled at getting around in them. Some popular Ukrainian singers were entertaining the crowd when the politicians weren’t speaking. When one was finished he ran right by me followed by screaming girls. When he stopped to get into his car, he helped them take some selfies and they looked like they had just won the lottery. The damaged building from earlier protests this year was covered up with a very large printed screen of some sort.

But in the east it is a serious situation even though where I am in the center of the country things seem very normal. 3 days ago soldiers without any insignia came into one of our churches near the Russian border and kidnapped the pastor. The members asked (before they fled) what authority they had and they said their guns gave them all the authority they needed. We heard today that he is being held in a city prison. It is not obvious who is immediately in charge behind these soldiers. This capture seems odd because this church’s philosophy is to stay out of politics but they must be wanting leverage on some group somewhere. Or it could be about money, we will have to wait to find out.

When I get a chance, I’ll write a bit about the specifics of teaching Yuriy how to build frames in the framebuilders section in velocipedesalon.

09-30-2014, 05:10 PM
Fascinating, please stay safe.

I have mixed emotions about Ukraine...I have friends who grew up in Ukraine and my Father's Polish village is now part of Ukraine....then there is the Ukrainian anti-Semitism...

Stay safe.

fiamme red
09-30-2014, 05:14 PM
When I get a chance, I’ll write a bit about the specifics of teaching Yuriy how to build frames in the framebuilders section in velocipedesalon.Please feel free to post here as well, since not all of us Paceliners are Velocipedists. :)

09-30-2014, 05:24 PM
Wow what a story, please keep us posted.

09-30-2014, 05:38 PM
Hope the next time is not the story of how to build frames in the URRSS.

David Tollefson
10-01-2014, 08:30 AM
Hey Doug, keep your head down and make it home safe.

10-01-2014, 08:45 AM
Hope you are safe over there....we had some friends retire early and join the Peace Corp last year and were sent to Ukraine. They didnt make it there long before all the ∑∑∑∑∑ hit the fan.

10-01-2014, 10:07 AM
Nice story. I wouldn't want to go there my self but it sounds like a cool thing to do. A friend of mine is from Mariupol and her family is going through some hard times.

Doug Fattic
10-01-2014, 03:41 PM
Yesterday a hobby builder from Kiev rode his fixie to our shop to observe me teaching Yuriy how to build frames. He just happened to post on a framebuilding forum and I invited him to visit. His is working on his PhD in cybernetics if I understood him correctly. He could help translate the tough parts. He discovered there was greater complexity to getting everything right than he realized. I was able to ask him some questions about his views on what is happening in the east. He said he couldn’t possibly give me a neutral explanation but in reality did. It is a complicated subject beyond the scope of this subject thread. He watched as I demonstrated how to fillet braze and saw Yuriy practice silver brazing. I have teaching methods that start simple so one can get the feel of handling a torch and have more practices that get increasingly complex. I explain, then demonstrate and finally have them practice. A couple of my primary responsibilities as a teacher are to figure out in what ways they learn best and manage their frustration levels. Its not just how to do it. It looks so easy when I do it but not when they try. They can have a pretty big reaction to their lack of success. For example most students hand motions are not independent of each other so that when they are thinking about what to do with one hand, the other freezes (and if that is the torch hand things overheat really fast). The challenge is that the difference between brazing success and a total mess is very small indeed.

Yuriy knows a very limited amount of English that demands that I say things as clearly and briefly as possible. It is good teacher training for me! In the afternoons we have a young interpreter to help out with the more complicated explanations. Interestingly she is a theology student. Ukraine is a very male centric society so this is unusual. Last year she was one of only 2 out of 50 but this year there are a couple more. They saw that she did it and so they wanted to too. She gets some of her tuition paid because she did well in some kind of Bible knowledge contest. The 2 most common questions she gets asked is why did she choose her major and what is she going to do with it? She was telling me that close to the college there are some refugee camps for those displaced from the east. Apparently she helped out with some charity organization that distributed food and such to them. She described how very thankful they were because they lost their homes and jobs and can only depend on the goodness of others. She said it brought tears to her eyes and made her so thankful for what she had. It reinforced her belief that she should always try and help others.

Today we brazed dropouts to chain stays and tomorrow we will fillet braze the main triangle after some practice brazes. Some years ago I was explaining to Yuriy the difficulty in finding the right kind of dropouts for internally geared hubs. The suppliers in western Europe had quit making frames and the far east suppliers didn’t return my emails. As our translator at that time was translating she said “my dad can make those!”. I was like “what?!” It turns out he is a partner in a company that makes laser cutting machines. Eventually they were able to make almost all braze-ons including twin plate fork crowns and bridging for kick stands, etc. They also helped design and laser cut my primary fixtures. I’ve worked on the design of that baby (actually many babies) for years.

My thanks to those that have expressed positive thoughts and prayers for me while I am here.

10-01-2014, 07:48 PM
Wow, many Kudos. What is your connection to the Ukraine that brought you there at first?

10-01-2014, 07:53 PM
Thanks so much for writing these updates Doug! Incredibly interesting stuff.. It's truly inspiring to see people save their judgements and just go help the ordinary people with things they can use. Europe is so old, every country has been on both the right and the wrong sides of history at one point or another. Stay safe!

mike p
10-01-2014, 07:58 PM
Our thoughts and prayers are with you. Keep safe. Please write when you can, it's all very interesting.


10-01-2014, 08:10 PM
Good story Doug. Stay safe.

10-01-2014, 08:17 PM
Good luck with your mission.

Not knowing a lot about frame building, I get the feeling that fillet brazing is one of the more challenging methods of joining tubes. Why not just teach them to weld? Seems it would be easier to make bikes once you left?

10-01-2014, 08:18 PM
It's nice to hear some positive stories coming out of Ukraine right now. I'll echo what others have said: stay safe and keep the updates coming! Thanks for posting this.

Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk

10-02-2014, 04:41 AM
Avoid political discussions, teach well, get back safe.............

Doug Fattic
10-02-2014, 04:11 PM
What is your connection to the Ukraine that brought you there at first?
I didnít have any personal connection to Ukraine. Itís Steve Bilenky whose grandparents came from there. The university where I got my teaching degrees put out a request for used bicycles to go to its sister college in Russia. It was too difficult to get them through Russian customs so they got rerouted to Ukraine. I got involved because I knew I had the skills to do something better than repair and ship 27 ľĒ or 26 3/8Ē old ten speeds to a country where you couldnít buy that size of a tire. Most bicycles people are inclined to donate are something they havenít used for a long time and those were common tire sizes in the 70ís and 80ís. They also donated money that I personally took over to check out the situation and see what could be done. I remember looking out the window as the plane was about to land in Kiev the 1st time thinking nervously, ďwhat have I gotten myself into?Ē While I had arraigned for people to meet me I really didnít know anybody or anything and had no idea what to expect.

A day or two later (in June of 2000) at a meeting with church officials I asked the question if bicycles would be useful. Yuriy got out a detailed map that showed the small towns and villages in a pastorís area. While public transportation comes on occasion to those places it probably isnít when it is convenient and walking long distances is slow to visit the sick or elderly. Almost nobody had phones back then so it wasnít possible to check on them by calling. A bicycle is the perfect answer to get around most of the year. At the time a typical pastor made about $65 a month, which would have been about an average salary for any Ukrainian worker. I liked the fact that even though this project was targeted to clergy, anybody with any kind of belief understands how using a bicycle is an advantage over other types of transportation. They set a good example for the community.

Doug Fattic
10-02-2014, 04:15 PM
Good luck with your mission. Not knowing a lot about frame building, I get the feeling that fillet brazing is one of the more challenging methods of joining tubes. Why not just teach them to weld? Seems it would be easier to make bikes once you left?
If I was making these bicycles in the States I would definitely tig weld them. It is faster and more efficient. However tig welding requires more skill than brazing and much more expensive equipment to do well. And I need a supply of argon as a back purging gas. Besides the $2000+ I would need for the tig welder, I couldnít get a rear wheel to perfectly center unless the frame tubes are held in a very accurate fixture (as in expensive). A lugged bottom bracket shell allows me to move the chainstays in or out a fraction to get that right. My framebuilding equipment here in Ukraine is pretty modest by comparison.

This morning our translator was given the responsibility to buy basic food and other essentials for the eastern European refugees staying near the college so I didnít see her until the afternoon. Nobody is able to confirm yet what the separatist soldiers said to the congregation when they kidnapped the pastor. It was rumored that they insisted they fly the Russian flag and when told that the church was not a place for politics they responded by taking away the pastor. There were other rumors as well but as yet nobody has been able to verify exactly what happened by actual eye witness accounts on the scene. Whatever happened it is obvious that these separatist soldiers are not interested in a society where people are free to believe and choose whatever philosophy they want.

Doug Fattic
10-11-2014, 12:59 PM
Today the church service on campus (west of Kiev) was all about the situation in east Ukraine and mobilizing efforts to help. Itís the 2nd week in a row the sermon was on the Good Samaritan. This is a parable Jesus told about a person robbed and left to die and other important people passed him by until the Samaritan (of a different and unliked culture) took total responsibility for his care. Of course the whole service was an appeal to realize it is by luck we are not the ones in trouble and we must help. They were saying we are all Ukrainians (well Iím not of course but then again maybe by extension I am) and have to take care of our brothers and sisters. I get the feeling this crisis is unifying Ukraine. I havenít talked to anyone that has any sympathy for whoever the separatists are.

Just now I came back from seeing a video made this last week about eastern Ukraine. The headquarters for the video company is in a building across a pond from our frame/repair shop. I say hi to them as I cycle by. Many of them bike to work. 4 of them took real risks to get this footage. They were shot at during their trip.

The video reveals the horrors of war. Some young and strong can leave but the old and those without relatives in other parts of the country have no other place to go. It is getting cold now and the building are in ruins and the windows shot out. Some pets are left to fend for themselves. They showed how dogs sense trouble and when they hide, so do people. There were interviews with lots of tears saying there is no electricity, water or food (all the stores are close). Everybody knows someone who has been killed. A mother recounted how the artillery started and they all ran underground but her young daughter had gone to get water and didnít make it back. My translator said she would have cried during the whole thing except she had to translate. She still wiped her eyes a lot. Part of what they were saying was this was unexpected. Ukraine has been at peace for 70 years since WWII and suddenly everything is totaled changed for those in that area. The last part of the video was of course an appeal that everyone must do something. They interviewed a guy from western Ukraine who was a contractor or similar and went east to do window repair. His wife and kids were crying as he left and said of course he was scared but it is necessary to help. It is pretty sobering.

This week on campus I saw refugees getting sacks of supplies. My translator is responsible for some of the buying of these supplies. Iím not sure how an 18 year old theology student was given that job but she is obviously a very responsible person. She was complaining to me that she has to be very careful to spend and document funds (supplied by ADRA) for just essentials and that kids donít understand war and need some candies or treats to ease their adaption to this situation. So of course I gave her money to spend for these kids that doesnít need to be accounted for. Except it didnít get turned into candies. There is a student from the east on campus that had to have an emergency operation and his parents are now out of a job and home so a collection was taken up for him in the dorm. She informed me that is where my money went. Okay. So Iím pretty sure Iím going to have to donate again. And probably again.

There was some big meeting with people everywhere on campus this week about this crisis. There were 3 pastors from the east Yuriy invited to visit the frame shop. They were a grim looking group. Usually when greeting visitors there are smiles and pleasantries but they were just somber. Yuriy assured them they were getting the next bikes out of the shop. The plan is for them to take the train west to pick up the bikes and then ride them back into the disputed territories. We have to leave the decals off so the bikes donít give the wrong impression at checkpoints.

I was able to interview a pastor from the east that we gave a bicycle (that we made) last year. Besides being beyond thankful and giving the standard answers to why traveling by bicycle makes sense and liking the generator lights and chainguard and whatnot, he mentioned that motorized vehicles are prohibited on some roads but only bikes and people walking can get through. I did at least get him to smile for a picture.

Behind the frame shop are the containers of relief supplies. The ADRA director for Ukraine was overseeing the delivery trucks. I knew him from a bike ride we did 10 years ago or so. He stopped into the shop for a brief chat and pleasantries. He said besides water, the greatest need is for warm clothes and especially shoes now that it is fall.

Yuriy has been an outstanding framebuilding student. I can only dream my framebuilding students in the States could be that good. He did 4 years of engineering school before he got his bachelorís and masterís in theology and became an administrator and teacher. Ukrainians have to fix stuff and he understands basic mechanical principles that underline our framebuilding procedures. I donít get the ďwhy do you do it that way?Ē so much. He writes and draws what has to be done. He takes video with comments on all my brazing so he can remember what to do after I leave. Students usually underestimate how much material there is to learn and think they will remember. They donít. I always advise them to take more pictures and write more explanations. Then in the evenings rewrite them more clearly so any gaps can be found and question me later. Sometimes someone actually does that.

When you are on your bike ride this week-end, take a moment to realize how good you have it and consider how you can help others. This trip has reminded me again that it is just by luck we arenít in some place like eastern Ukraine and that carries with it responsibility that we do something for those that by chance arenít as lucky as us.

10-11-2014, 01:23 PM
Great stuff thanks Doug............