Thoughts on a Frame: An Interview with Joel Greenblatt of Clockwork Bikes

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Made for the country

 

Joel Greenblatt of Clockwork Bikes is a craftsman. He does something that I can only dream of doing; building beautiful bicycle frames from steel. Joel is a no-nonsense frame builder with a keen sense of both bicycle history and the art of modern design and concept. This is the second frame the Joel has built for me, the first being a steel, rigid fork 29’er. I was blown away by his brazing skills when I first saw that finished bike five years ago. Those skills with  a torch have only become more amazing since then.

The idea to have a new frame designed and built by Clockwork was a work in progress over several years.  Having completed many gravel races, some of them up to 340 miles long, I began to wonder if there was room for a more refined frame for this type of riding. I am also a firm believer that a bike should be able to handle more than one type of road surface. About a year ago, I started dreaming big, like 1200 km Paris Brest Paris big. That historic event takes place on paved roads (primarily). So last Spring, I began throwing questions at Joel to see if a road bike could be beefed up a bit to handle the riggers of both long distance randonneuring and  gravel cycling. I wanted a frame and bike that would feel very comfortable, efficient and stout enough to handle long, long hours in the saddle.

The great thing about Joel and Clockwork is that I consider his pricing to be very competitive. Especially when you see the quality of work that he does. His frames will last a very long time. I decided to sell two of my bikes to help finance this project. It was a risk. I agree with the theory that sometimes it’s not a good idea to be a jack of all trades, master  of none. But in this case, I think Joel did an outstanding job of making a bike that will serve both paved and gravel purposes wonderfully.

Here is the geometry for the frame. Jeremy Kershaw, buid dims

The crank, bottom bracket and headset are from Velo Orange. The wheelset is one place I did not cut corners. Beautifully made HED wheels  are laced to American made White Industry T11 Hubs. The drivetrain is a very reasonably priced Shimano 105. My decision to keep it simple was based in the practicality of on the road repairs and price. Bike technology has come so far in the last decade that middle range components are now close to the top of the line parts from only a few  years ago. It’s a no-brainer. I’m not sprinting against Tornado Tom. I just need stuff that works well in the middle of no-where. Oh…and the front rack was just too cool to pass up. Joel built it special to match the versatility of the bike concept. Removable, it will help transport sleeping pad and other light stuff on multi-day, light tours. Very pretty.

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Clockwork Precision

 

Bicycles are, at bare minimum, a rather simple form of transportation. At their highest levels, though, they achieve works of art. That’s what Joel of Clockwork has achieved…a hand-built tool that is both sublimely constructed and also tough as nails. I can’t wait to put this bike to work.

JK: I was inspired to have you make this build based off of some older pictures of bicycles I saw from the 1930’s to 1960’s. Do you have any historical inspirations that guide some of your frame building aesthetic?

Clockwork: Definitely.  The builders that inspire me are alive and well. I really like Todd Ingermanson of Black Cat Bikes, Steve Potts, Brent Steelman, and Tom Kellogg of Spectrum.  Since the bicycle has been around so long and has been so well refined there’s not a lot that’s truly original, but one can get creative with the details.  For example, the cable routing under the BB has become something of a signature and is present on almost all of my frames.  Some inspiration I take from older bikes is the tighter radius bend in fork blades closer to the dropouts, as opposed to a more gradual bend throughout the fork blade.  As for the fork bend, I just like the way a tighter radius at the end looks and maybe it offers a little more give. I love looking through the Data Book for inspiration.

JK: The idea of a frame/bike that could be used on more than just perfect road conditions inspired me. More than that, I believe that a bike should be able to go from paved to unpaved with ease. Any thoughts about frame versatility in the age of hyper specialized production frames?

Clockwork: I don’t really do hyper specialized builds unless you count my penny farthing.  On the other hand, I also stay away from the one-bike-for-everything approach.  If it works for everything, than it will excel at nothing.

JK: Hmmmm…(laughing)

Clockwork:  I didn’t mean your bike, I mean the guy who wants a mountain-cyclocross-commuter-single-speed.

JK: I still look to steel for my bikes. You obviously have some opinions about the role of steel in the world of carbon, these days. What are the differences between the steel tube manufacturers?

Clockwork: I love steel for the way it rides, looks, and builds–and quite honestly, it’s what I know.  I just don’t have the capacity for carbon or Ti right now.  The biggest difference is really just the thickness, butt profile, and diameter.  Different alloys have different strengths but not different stiffness.  The tube choice may just come down to which manufacturer makes the tube with the size/shape/butt you want.  I was able to use entirely Columbus Zona for your frame because your frame size and body is pretty standard and I didn’t have to get too creative.

JK: We discussed what I wanted this frame to be able to do. From there, I kind of left it in your hands. What guided your decisions about geometry, and which steel to use in the tubing, and where.

Clockwork: Mostly intuition and experience along with lessons learned from more accomplished builders.  I’ve had successes and failures that inform what I do today and I’ve also been very fortunate to hear from other builders so I can build on their knowledge and not make the mistakes others have already made. I focus on contact points and weight distribution and less on a specific trail or whatever.  The things that concern me most are cockpit length, saddle, height/setback, front center, chainstay length, etc.

JK: I love looking at older photos and seeing these riders just hammering up mountains and dirt roads on “traditional” steel framed bikes. Do you ever wonder how these riders might fare against riders now?  How much the frame matters, versus just pure rider strength/talent?  I like to believe that a strong rider in the 1960’s (Merckx) could still go head to head with the best of today (taking out the doping factors…)

Clockwork: It’s very hard to say, but I suspect newer technology just gets you seconds or fractions of a second which is all it takes in a race.  Outside of racing, technology matters less but I do love how strong wheels are now and how smooth shifting is.  I pay very little attention to riders actually.

JK: There is a lot of talk these days about gravel specific frames and bikes. I certainly considered this for this frame. How would a gravel specific frame differ from another more road or cyclocross designed frame (if at all?)

Clockwork: The difference would be only in that gravel bikes are usually ridden for longer distances and should still be comfortable after mile 70.  One of the key factors is weight distribution.  Getting the center-of-gravity further back will help for longer rides.

JK: What is your favorite part of building frames for a living?

Clockwork: That point in a build when I just know everything is coming together just how I envisioned it in my mind.  It’s hard to pinpoint and it’s different for every frame, but you know the feeling when it happens.

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Ready for any road

 

 

Comments

  • Avery

    Sweet new ride, I’m jealous. If you bring it this way I’ve got some cool roads to explore.

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