Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Thoughts on forks

This is probably going to be a bit rambling, since I have two goals with this post:
1: Post some pictures of Doug's bike in the build process, as I promised him.
2: Entertain myself and you guys, and maybe even pass along some kind of information.

Hence I haven't thought this out very well, but here we go. If you want to waste 5 minutes reading it, be my guest.

So first off, a pet peeve - lots of people seem to think of the fork as an *accessory*, kind of like a stem, or a brake lever, or whatever. Lots of times, they'll pick a fork based entirely on weight, or cool looks, or what their friends are riding, without considering that (at least in the case of rigid forks) the geometry and ride characteristics of the stuff out there is all over the place. If, say, you're looking for a 29er fork, you'll find all kinds of lengths (anything from 460mm to 490mm long is sold as "suspension corrected") and rakes (from 38 to 48mm, just on production forks). Match this up with a frame at random and you can easily change everything about how the bike handles - the front wheel, after all, is what the fork is holding onto, and it's also the wheel that does most of the steering and braking. Pretty important stuff, I'd say.

So here's the bottom line, for me: forks deserve to be chosen with just as much care and deliberation as frames, and the frame and fork (regardless of what types) should be carefully matched to ensure that the bike rides right.

I've built an awful lot of forks - probably 150 (including Doug's - here's the disc mount, with one side welded and one side tacked), though I'd have to do some accounting to figure out the exact number. I've done all sorts of weird ones, and tons of not so weird ones, and in some ways, I'm more proud of my forks than I am of my frames - I feel like I've really managed to provide a truly "custom" fork (ie, different fork blades, different butting profiles on the fork blades, different crowns, different steerers, rather than just a set of the same unicrown blades for every rider, no matter what).

I've definitely hit some bumps in the road - there were 4 or 5 forks that cracked because the butting on some fork blades was screwy, and several of the folks out there reading this probably remember when I messed up your disc mounts so that they didn't line up right. I had trouble with the caps on top of the fork blades for a while, too, until I started doing them with brass instead of silver. In any case, though, I'm at the point where other framebuilders order forks from me for custom frames that they're building, which, to me, is the ultimate compliment.

I guess I'm rambling, but the bottom line here is that forks are wicked cool, just as cool as frames. Really.

Finally, here are a couple of shots of the FIRST EVER Waltworks fork. Feldman and I spent an entire afternoon building this sucker, then test rode it off of my old deck at the house in Lafayette. We made the dropouts (horizontal, for adjustable rake!) out of 1/4" plate on my chop saw, because I didn't have a mill, or any other appropriate tools, for that matter. Note the sweet helmet.

Believe it or not, that fork is still around today - it lasted through a season of hard mountain biking, then was relagated to townie duty until last year, when I finally got tired of dumping the water out of the blades every time it rained. It's still sitting in the shop, waiting for a place of honor on the wall someday.


Doug said...

Wow I bet that doug guy is excited.

Doug said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
no it's not short for anything said...

i'll try to find a pic of my youngest in her car seat on your work table and then post a pic of her now...3 years later!!! i remember how pumped you were to get an actual fork jig. hope all is well.

michael slater said...

Can you describe your adjustable-rake fork in more detail. I'm building a frame now and I'd like to give it an adjustable rake.