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Old 12-08-2012, 09:37 AM
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William William is offline
Join Date: Jun 2004
Location: Herding nomads won't
Posts: 29,705
Strong Frames

Argonuat Cycles has been at the front of the Paceline for a while now but its time for him to pull off and let Montana based builder Carl Strong take a pull. So, this week at the front of the Paceline: Strong Frames

Bikes have been the center of my life since I can remember. Iím not sure at what age but some of my best and earliest memories are of me and my brother going to BMX races. I loved my bikes and if I wasnít riding, racing or going to school I was working on them

In Jr high I built a mini-bike from scratch in metal shop. Mr. Earl was the teacher and he was the pivotal individual that set me on the path Iím on today. For most of my life Iíve raced bikes and commuted on my bike. In Ď85′ I bought a MTB for commuting and that set the MTB hook. When I was in my late teens and early 20ís I got serious about road racing as well as MTB racing and also tried my hand at a little motorcycle road racing.

I always performed my own mechanical repairs and fabricated parts that werenít available or I couldnít afford to buy. Through this I developed a very broad skill-set. When you race anything, you learn to pay attention to details, to be precise and to always be on the technological leading edge. In my early 20ís I moved to Montana and immediately became heavily involved in regional road bike and MTB racing and also tried a little auto and kart racing. During all of this I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my life. I knew I didnít want to work for anyone else, but couldnít figure out what I wanted to do. Sense the only thing I was interested in was riding and working on bikes it made sense to explore frame building.

When I began my pursuit of frame building, the Internet wasnít around, so learning resources were limited. Fortunately through my racing I understood fabrication, welding, brazing and frame design. With this background I decided to build my next road race frame instead of buying it. I bought a Columbus tubeset and got started. I hand mitered the tubes, fixtured, aligned and tacked the frameset on a plywood workbench and TIG welded it. I raced that frame for several years and soon built a MTB frame and from there I was hooked. I built for anyone and everyone who would pay for material. Pretty soon people were coming out of the woodwork and I had enough orders and experience that I could start charging an honest fee. Well as they say the rest is history. I built and built and built. I built for people, companies and racers. I built road and MTB, singles and tandems. I built coupler frames, suspension frames. I built with steel, Aluminum, titanium and carbon.

Now about 3500 frames later Iím still building and still loving it. I see no end in sight and donít ever plan to retire. If Iím lucky Iíll be writing new pages for my site and building frames in 30 years....

NAHBS - Strong Frames (2008)

Mr. Strong was kind enough to answer a list of questions for us that are a mix of standards and member a few off-the-wall thrown into the mix. Our hope was to convey the builders love of their craft, hard details, and offer a few questions that bring out a bit of the human element that that helps them create the works that we love. Carl is also a member of the forum so if you have additional questions you would like to ask him about his craft, please do so.

Q&A with Carl Strong:

How / why did you decide to become a frame builder?
It seems like all us Framebuilders have the same story so I'll skip past the part about a life long love of bikes, that's probably pretty obvious. As a child I was always attracted to mechanical things. I was racing BMX from a very early age and learned with the help of my dad, neighbors and trial and error how to do all my own work. In middle-school I was lucky enough to have very good shop programs and teachers, so I built on what I knew, taking drafting (the kind with a pencil) wood shop, small engine shop and finally metal shop. In the 7th grade in metal shop I made a mini-bike from scratch with an engine I rebuilt. It even had brake rotors I made myself. All this continued through High school. After High school, I started road racing motorcycles, again doing all my own work. That lead me to do a lot of road riding to stay in shape for motorcycle racing. I moved to Montana to go to MSU and once in MT I started racing road bikes, cross and MTB's like crazy. I just couldn't get enough. Being a poor college student I wasn't able to afford a really nice bike but I'd been reading the Hottube features in Bicycle Guide and those builders inspired me to try to make my own. From that point of I've been building frames and it slowly turned into my profession hanging out my shingle in 1993.

What influences the artistic side of your designs?
Performance, everything I do is lead by performance. The outcome, with the exception of paint is a result of that goal. Performance at the function the customer bought the bike to serve. I prefer not to include any feature that does not lend to the overall performance of the bike.

What is your method to determine fit?
My fitting process is pretty intensive and based on a both data and a series of interviews. I do nearly all my fits remotely so the process starts by validating all the data the customer provides. It is then interpreted and I compare my conclusions with customers feedback. Once I know we're talking the same language we explore their goals and priorities and I can then propose a solution. The key to my system is that it's collaborative. I take the process apart into many small choices. That, along with starting the design process upon deposit allows us to work at a slow comfortable pace making many small choices as we move along. This way the customer knows exactly what choices are made and why. They were completely involved and it gives them confidence in the final design and eliminates the stress of the unknown. I also tailor my process to the customers level of interest and expertise. That allows me to accommodate those ranging from the experienced expert buyer all the way to the completely inexperienced or uninterested buyer. And by uninterested I mean they rather just let me design the bike without their involvement.

What is it that keeps you passionate and focused?
I've never been sure, but I know I live to build frames and look forward to work everyday. If wasn't married I'd work seven days a week. I hope I never have to retire. I just assume I found my calling.

How many times have you burned yourself?
Just about every time I build a frame I burn myself. It's my way of passing a little of myself along with every frame

Do you have a favorite material to work with?
Steel, it's the first material I learned to work with and I've done more of it than anything else.

What's your favorite beer?
I like IPA's, Bridgeport is one of my favorites.

Heard any cool music lately?
To me all music is cool. I like to listen to Pandora and explore. But my main entertainment in the shop are Podcasts.

How did you meet your spouse or significant other?
It's kind of embarrassing but we initially met at a BBQ. Later on when running a shell company building frames for Ibis and others we hired her to run the office. Against any good advice we get involved and the rest is history.

What's there to do for fun in your town?
We are an outdoors enthusiasts Mecca. We have world class MTB, road riding, skiing and snowboarding, rock and ice climbing, hiking, trail running, camping, dirt biking, snowmobiling, fly fishing and hunting. We are also an hour and half from two Yellowstone National Park entrances, and it's just a bit farther to Teton National Park. No world class dining or haberdasheries in this town, but we make do.

Do you put ketchup on your Frankfurter/Wiener?
Ketchup and relish. I know it's wrong but I do it anyway.

What is the main difference between working with steel vs. Titanium?
Not much, you spec different tube sizes when you design. You shouldn't really use abrasives on Ti and I double pass weld. Otherwise if you use good practices when you build steel, you don't have to change much with Ti.

Who would you want to build a bike for you?
Dave Kirk and Nick Crumpton would be first on my list.

What is it about your approach to building/designing bikes makes you unique, or separates you from the other builders out there?
My process, it starts from the day you place your deposit and continues through the start of your frame. It is very detailed and and involved. It's a lot of fun and I believe every bit as valuable as the actual bike that is delivered as a result of the process.

How long is your wait list?
Currently eight months, but that's because I'm moving to a new shop and I wanted to build in time for that. Normally I like to keep it around 4 months. I think I overshot on the extra time needed but better safe than sorry.

How long have you been building frames.
2013 will be my 20th year.

Do you have a favorite part of the building process?
I like cutting the tubes because I can sit at the bench while the machine feeds and check out Paceline and monitor my email. I'm a regular lurker here but prefer not to speak up. After that I like to load the fixture because you see the frame come together. I also love to weld the frame and oh, I like to assemble the bikes and test ride them too.

What is the most unusual / unique bicycle you've ever built?
There have been a lot but I try to forget those. I'd rather not build anything unusual or unique. I prefer to focus on performance and proven design.

What is your favorite non-cycling obsession?
Motorsports, I love cars and motorcycles. I've raced both off and on for years and plan to do more competing in the future. Motorsports and cycling compliment each other perfectly both as far as fitness is concerned and technical understanding. I think my Motorsports experience has given a lot of value to my frame design understanding and cycling has brought fitness and technique to my Motorsports experience.

Crick or Creek?

Many thanks to Carl for taking the time to answer our questions! Please feel free to ask him any questions that you would like to ask.


PS: In case you missed it, the previous Builder Spotlight can be found here...
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Last edited by William; 12-08-2012 at 09:52 AM.
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