Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Jamie Swan's Custom Built Fork Crown

While I was collecting submissions of favorite fork crowns, I got this really incredible one from Jamie Swan, a very talented builder located in Long Island, NY.

Jamie Swan has been in the bicycle industry in one way or another since the 1970s -- racing, building wheels, building frames, running a bike shop. He does some beautiful frame building work, as evidenced by this and some other examples one can find on his website. (Jamieswan.net) Not only is there a gallery with pictures of some other frames on the site, but there is also a pretty extensive history on Jamie and his experience.

When I first saw the fork crown pictured on the left, my first thought was that it was maybe a commercially available fork crown -- perhaps a vintage Davis track crown -- that had been heavily (and artfully) modified. But no. What sets it apart from most of the other crowns I've posted is that instead of being a commercially-made cast or forged fork crown, it was completely fabricated from scratch. Jamie was kind enough to send some "work-in-progress" photos to show how it was built. The pictures are great to see, as it helps give some idea as to the kind of hand-work that goes into something like this.

Take a look at the pictures below and try to imagine the the time involved in creating a truly one-of-a-kind fork crown .
Here, Jamie is boring out a pair of sockets into a steel plate to accept the round fork blades. He's using a jig to keep everything aligned properly.
Here are the two milled plates that will form the basis of the fork crown. Notice that one of the plates is milled all the way through (to become the lower plate in the finished crown) while the other is milled only about half-way through (to become the upper plate). On the left would appear to be the jig Jamie used to keep the pieces aligned for the boring operation.
At this stage, the two plates have been brazed onto the end of a steerer tube. It looks like a recess has also been milled into the side of the plates for a brake mounting bolt. The fleur de lis tangs have been hand-cut out of steel tubing, but haven't yet been brazed into place. Looking through pictures of other frames by Jamie, it would seem that the fleur de lis is a favorite motif of his -- he's used variations of it on a few other frames. It looks fantastic on this piece. 
Now the fleur de lis tangs have been brazed onto the lower plate and filed so that they smoothly and gradually disappear under the crown.
In this photo, you can see that Jamie has re-shaped the formerly rectangular plates to match the curve of the fork blades. The joint between the tangs and the crown has completely disappeared, and all the curves and contours just look "right."
The round-section fork blades have been brazed into place. You can see in this picture just how clean the brazing work is. It also looks like a bit of reinforcement has been brazed into the recess for the brake mounting bolt. All done and ready for paint. Truly exquisite work!
A final look at the finished fork. One thing Jamie mentioned when he sent me the pictures was how proud he was of this -- and rightfully so. This bike won an award for "Best Lugs" at the 2008 Cirque du Cyclisme -- a gathering for vintage bike enthusiasts and "keepers of the flame."
Thank you so much to Jamie Swan for sending these photos. It's a pleasure to be able to feature your work here on The Retrogrouch Blog!