Monday, March 21, 2016

Pure Custom: A Jamie Swan Original

A well-made bicycle will outlast its owner. In a bike's lifetime, it can go from being loved and cherished to being neglected, abused and even thrown out on the curb. Sacrilege, right? But even the nicest bikes can somehow end up that way. In some cases, many of a bike's obvious identifying features - like decals or head badges - will have been obscured or removed, or possibly covered carelessly in Krylon, or sometimes in the decals of some other brand. When that happens, vintage bike collectors may have to do some serious digging to figure out what kind of bike they're dealing with. They might have to look closely at things like lug shapes and cut-outs, the fork crown, the seat-stay cap treatment, or maybe some other subtle tell-tale detail in the tube joinery. In cases like that, the work of a true craftsman will still be identifiable. 

Sometimes I like to imagine what future collectors will go through in trying to identify bikes made today. What will stand out in 40 years when the once-cherished bike is covered (god forbid) in rust and a rattle-can paint job? 

A couple of years ago, I featured the work of Jamie Swan, a true frame-building artisan who had crafted a gorgeous twin-plate fleur-de-lis fork crown completely from scratch. Well, Jamie recently shared some photos of another really incredible project that could leave future collectors wondering "how the hell did he do that?"

In this unlikely instance, Jamie did the seemingly impossible by somehow combining two completely different commercially available fork crowns into one beautiful and truly unique piece.

Jamie was kind enough to let me share some of his in-progress photos. Enjoy.

Jamie started out with these two very different crowns. The one on the left is a Grand Bois crown designed for "Imperial Oval" fork blades. A lot of builders would use it right out of the box -- and why not? It's a classic-looking piece. The one on the right is a Nova Everest crown made for "Continental Oval" blades. Putting the two together wouldn't even occur to most people.
This little diagram illustrates the difference in the fork blades - and makes it clearer as to some of the challenges involved in combining elements of the two crowns shown above.
Here's the narrower "Imperial" blade inserted into the "Continental" socket.  Notice the huge gap on the side. It's just one of the challenges this project presented.
Here, Jamie is cutting away most of the upper portion of the Nova crown -- with the intent to just use the center and lower portions.
Affixed into the lathe, Jamie prepares to machine away more unwanted steel.
The Grand Bois crown is having much of its metal milled away to leave only the uppermost portion and the shoulder tangs.
Mostly there. . . 
A little more machining and filing, and the two pieces are test-fit together.
The steerer tube is brazed into place.
It's amazing that the fork blades fit as seamlessly as this.
All brazed and cleaned up. Seeing it like this, without any paint, you can really get a sense of how clean the brazing is. The look is so seamless, that it's hard to guess how this crown started out.
It's hard to imagine any bike of Jamie Swan's ever ending up obscured and neglected, but if it were to ever happen, even under a layer of Krylon, his amazing workmanship will show through.

I asked Jamie what even made him think to "Frankenstein" these two different pieces together. "I wasn't just trying to make my life more difficult," he told me. "It was all about trying to accommodate the Imperial Oval fork blades . . . well . . . and making something that looked cool."

Jamie told me he bought the Grand Bois crown specifically to use with the skinny fork blades, but "once I got that crown on my bench, I just couldn't bring myself to use the thing right out of the box. I always have the idea that if you're going to make a one-off bike frame that it should have some distinguishing features."

There were times in the process that Jamie had second thoughts and some serious doubts, but in the end, the results were absolutely gorgeous. Thank's, Jamie, for sharing!

To see more of the pictures from this set, you can check out Jamie's Flickr page.


  1. That is lovely!

    An artist is someone who isn't content with "good enough" or even "excellent." By that definition, Jamie shows himself to be an artist.

  2. I like it! I totally agree with his thought of not using the crowns out of the box.