I Took an Awesome Frame Building Class at Brew Bikes

By: Lindsay Shepard
Photo credit: Photos of me were taken by Steve Garn. The rest are my own.

Prefer to listen? Here’s Lindsay reading her story.

I traveled to the beautiful Appalachians in North Carolina to help design and build my latest MTB frame at Brew Bikes. Here are details of the adventure, Q&A style.

Tucked away in these secluded hills, Brew Bikes is the perfect retreat to forget the daily grind and enjoy a week of frame building.

Why did you take a frame building class?

I live in my van and designed the garage to fit 2 bikes: one gravel, one mountain. My mountain bike is geared but I’m racing single speed in a couple of MTB events this year. Since I don’t have room for a third frame, I could either convert the bike with a chain tensioner or replace the frame. To minimize time-sucking mechanicals during a race, I decided to get a new MTB frame with Paragon slide drops. These will allow me to run the bike SS or geared without a dangly breakable tensioner.

Limited bike storage in the rolling homestead

Instead of buying a stock frame, I wanted something built with my bikepacking needs and body geometry in mind. The frame builders I contacted were booked through Winter 2023, so I ambitiously web searched ‘build a bike frame with no experience’, because what isn’t on YouTube. I didn’t know frame building classes were a thing but luckily several popped up in the search; problem solved!

Why did you pick the Brew Bikes class?

  1. It’s run by Steve Garn, who has been building frames and welding professionally for 50 years so I figured he must know what he’s doing.
  2. The website says ‘no experience necessary’. I had no experience.
  3. The class is one-on-one.
  4. The website stated, in all caps, that I would have FUN.

What did the class include?

So. Much. Info.

The first couple of days I was immersed in foundational knowledge, covering topics like tubing types, specs, and treatment; welding equipment and methods; and frame design. A detailed list of topics covered is on the Brew Bikes website.

Since class is one-on-one, the level of detail catered to my lack of knowledge and I was able to ask questions on the fly. At the end of day two, we discussed frame geometry and designed my frame. My previous MTB frame was a decent match so we based geometry on that and made tweaks to address grievances associated with my long legs and relatively short arms and torso, which I hadn’t previously been able to fully resolve with bike fittings. Frame geometry could be a week-long class in itself so my brain was happy we had a good starting point.

Learning and mathing

TIG welding lesson

My welding expertise ends with the lopsided can crusher I made in high school. Steve will assist with final welding if necessary, so I went into class feeling no pressure to be a natural. As anticipated, I did not become a master welder in my few hours of practice and Steve kindly welded my frame.

This was one of my favorite parts of class! I developed an appreciation for the craft, and an idea of the extensive practice it would take for me to be capable of welding a rideable frame.

Exhibit A: I am not qualified to weld a bike.

Tube mitering

For one-offs, Steve miters tubes with a table grinder rather than with his Bridgeport mill. He’s skilled enough that he can grind the miters in as much time as it would take him to set up the mill. I was not fast but appreciated learning on the grinder because if I ever want to continue a hobby of frame building, a grinder is affordable, easy to operate, and takes up far less space than a mill.

Steve patiently coached me through mitering the seat, top, and down tubes. I made small grinds and frequently checked fit. It was slow work but I didn’t destroy any tubes! Steve mitered the chain and seat stays to keep production on track. These are some of the most complex miters, and it was helpful to learn by observing his technique.

Grind, check fit, repeat

Install bottle bosses, weld the thing together

I drilled holes for the bottle bosses and Steve did the brazing as I also have no experience with that and there’s time to learn only so much in a week. The process involves a torch, boric acid, copper, and sandblasting, and looks like a lot of fun!

Steve masterfully welded the frame, checking alignment throughout.

Powder coating

As I should have gathered from the name but didn’t, powder coating means the bike is coated with powder rather than with liquid paint. It’s more durable, so should help the frame withstand the abuse of my backcountry adventures!

The entire process took less than 45 minutes. The frame was hung from a grounded rack, holes were plugged, and powder was applied with an electrostatic paint sprayer. This gives the powder a slight electric charge, adhering it to the steel. The frame was then cured in the oven at roughly 400 degrees F for 20 mins. About 15 minutes after pulling the frame from the oven, I was loading it in the van.

Spraying and baking
It’s beautiful!

Was there anything that surprised you about the bike-building process?

The skill set required to build a frame is broader than I expected. Mad props to people who do this without taking a class.

What advice would you give to someone interested in a similar class?

Know what you want in a bike; the more details, the better. Prior to class, Steve emailed several questions and we discussed details over the phone, so he understood what I wanted, I understood what was possible, and I left class with the frame I expected to create.

What a wonderful experience! I’m so thankful I picked Steve’s class. I didn’t just walk away with a gorgeous custom frame; I had the benefit of learning from someone who’s experienced decades of technical and theoretical evolution in the bike industry. And as advertised, it was FUN 😊

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