Ted Wojcik, (pronounced “woah-jik”) a fixture in the custom bicycle industry for almost three decades got his start building gas turbine engines and helicopter transmissions, then worked on and raced motorcycles for several years. Ã‚Â As fate would have it, his future wife, Sue, was an avid cyclists and at 5’2″ was having a hard time finding a frame that fit her. Ã‚Â She loved it, and so did their friends, and nearly 3,000 frames later, Ted’s what you might call a master bicycle builder.Ã‚Â
Based in New Hampshire, TWÃ‚Â bicycles have won medals at USCF championships, NORBA events, Tour Du Pont, the Pan-Am Games, and World Champnship Track events.Ã‚Â Here’s how he rolls…
BIKERUMOR: You’re a popular guy…I was just reading an interview you did with TwentyNineInches.comÃ‚Â in March, so I’ll run down the basics they covered rather than ask the same questions. You’ve been building road and mountain frames since 1981, produced about 3,000 frames during that time, and before that you were an Aviation Machinist Mate in the Navy, then moved on to building competition motorcycles for 10 years. Anything you’d like to add?
TED: I still work on hot rods, aircraft, and motorcycles from time to time. I have a BMW motorcycle that I bought new 33 years ago. I still run the wheels off it.
BIKERUMOR: How did you go from an Aviation Machinist to motorcycles to bicycles? Have you always been into bikes?
TED: I have ridden motorcycles since I was 16. My mother rode a motorcycle a bit. Her brothers had them. I worked in a motorcycle shop part time while stationed at Quonset Point Naval Air Station in Rhode Island in the late 60’s. I have always liked to go fast and there is no more affordable way to do that than on a motorcycle. I love two wheels.
BIKERUMOR: 3,000 frames over 28 years…that’s about 107 frames per year. Has that been a steady pace, or has it sped up / slowed down over the years? Are you limited by time or by demand?
TED: I built frames in my cellar from 1981 to 1990 when, with the help of a group of investors, tried ramping up to a 1500 frame a year business plan. From 1990 to 1996, there was this attempt to services dealers and be a small factory. In that time we had about 220 U.S. dealers and a distributor in Japan. We shipped frames all over the world. Spain, U.K., Denmark, Germany, Italy, and Poland. Approximately 2000 frames were made in this business model. This is when I realized, when you loose money on every one, you can’t make up for it in volume. It took too many people to make too few frames. I have serious doubts on whether a small boutique shop with a dealer program can be profitable enough to be worth while in the U.S. I now work alone making frames. I will make about 75 frames this year with my own name on
them. I also do small runs of contract frames for other entities. I’ll be 62 in a few weeks and I do all I can do. My customers wonder why there is such a long wait for a custom frame, but I try to make sure my frames are as good as I can make them. Some times it takes longer than others.
BIKERUMOR: For the uninitiated, which admittedly includes me on some of these, can you briefly explain T.I.G. welding, Fillet Brazing and Lugged, along with their pros and cons:
TED: The age old question of what is best in frame construction. T.I.G., Lugs, or Fillet Braze. Which is the strongest? The question doesn’t matter, if done correctly, they are all strong enough. They can all be done in a substandard manner and produce a compromised frame. T.I.G. welding requires the highest skill level with the most devastating results for a substandard weldment. Fillet brazing can be the most work intensive, but is used most by newer builders because of the lowest investment in equipment.
Lugs limit frame geometry because of the limited availability of angles. At one time, Fillet brazing and brass brazed frames produced chrome-moly frames with the lowest yield strength because of heating the tubes above 1500 degrees F. A good portion of the strength, both yield and tensile, come from cold working during tube manufacturing. Heating above this temperature causes the steel to go through grain growth and strength drops. Silver brazing is done at about 1275 and the tubing’s strength is pretty much unchanged. T.I.G. welding is a quick process and the result can be a loss of ductility and toughness can suffer. There are secondary processes that should be done to a T.I.G. welded frame to restore toughness.
The new airhardening steels have brought a great increase in frame strength. The mechanical properties are far above the traditional steel bike tubing and even the heat treated tubing. To put it simply, there has never been a better time for steel frames. These tube offerings require a high degree of skill to produce a sound frame, but the result is worth the effort.
BIKERUMOR: Your material of choice is Steel…what’s the state-of-the-art in steel tubing these days?
TED: At first, I thought the stainless tubing being released was going to take steel frames to a level that couldn’t be approached by other materials for custom building, but the cost is staggering. Cost is what I’m most concerned about in the future of handmade bicycles. Our bike’s cost is approaching that of motorcycles. Except for a handful of individuals, cycling is not a career. It is about having fun, staying fit, and to some extent, transportation. You don’t need a $4000 bike to do any of this. I can’t make frames for less money and make a frame superior to production bikes. Some people will always need special sizing, but high quality frames with state of the art materials is going to be a high cost purchase. Working with these materials requires a high degree of skill and that costs money. Fortunately, I have a long list of repeat customers that are willing to give value to pride of ownership and are willing to pay for it.
BIKERUMOR: What upcoming bicycle technology are you most excited about?
TED: I don’t really see any new technology that is going to revolutionize cycling. The governing bodies of cycling maintain bicycle racing is a competition of athletes, not equipment. If anything is a clear cut advantage it is going to be restricted. A lot of smoke and mirrors out there.
BIKERUMOR: What’s your favorite bike you’ve ever built?
TED: My favorite bikes have been the ones that I have made for my son Cody as he was growing up. I have included a picture of his first bike. Carbon hubs, Ti spokes,Ti cassette, Ti springs in the fork, custom crank, and very light frame.
BIKERUMOR: What’s the craziest / wierdest / strangest bike you’ve ever built?
TED: I haven’t really made any crazy, weird, or strange bikes. I try to discourage useless labor. I did most or the early prototype work for Montague, a folding bike company, but that was a productive process.
BIKERUMOR: What’s the craziest / wierdest / strangest request you’ve ever received from a customer?
TED: The weirdest request for a build that I ever had was to build “The Bicycle That Leaps”. It had a giant clock spring that was wound by pedaling, and the by pushing a lever, the energy in the clock spring was released through some plungers to shoot the bicycle and it’s rider 6 feet into the air. I discouraged the inventor by telling him how expensive it would be to make.
BIKERUMOR: What’s the most expensive bike you’ve ever built?
TED: The most expensive bike have made would have to be adjusted to today’s dollars. It was a Campy equipped fillet brazed time trial bike with disc wheels and internal cables. Red, white and blue pearl fade paint. It would cost $10,000 today.
BIKERUMOR: What’s your favorite type of bike to build?
TED: My favorite builds now are touring/randonneur bike. These pretty much have to come from a custom builder.
BIKERUMOR: What’s your average order timeframe from deposit to delivery?
TED: The typical wait for order to delivery varies with the type of bike and time of the year, from 4 weeks to 1 year, because of locating special materials and components.
BIKERUMOR: How many bikes do you personally own, and how many of those did you build yourself?
TED: We own seven bikes right now. I made them all except for a 1980 Univega Gran Turisimo.
BIKERUMOR: Which one’s your favorite and how’s it spec’d?
TED: My favorite bike is the lugged road bike that is on my website. It has a Campy Chorus triple group and it is a great ride.
BIKERUMOR: You’re one of the few custom builders that features a “normal” looking full suspension mountain bike as a regular item. The rear triangle on those is aluminum…do you build those, or do you source them from someone else? Can you customize that part, too, or just the front triangle?
TED: I have been making dual suspension frames since the mid ’90s. First with AMP rear ends and then with some made by Battle Mountain bikes. The Solution uses a rear system made by Devin Lenz. I’m now making frames with rear systems from Ventana and Easter 26. The problem with the dual suspension market is it is driven by obsolescence. Unless you can show a new design every year, you are old news. Small shop like mine can’t come up with a new design every year. I concentrate on making a durable bike that fits correctly. Ventana can supply a variety of rear systems to meet different needs.
BIKERUMOR: In the TwentyNineInches interview, you mention that the reason for going custom is to get something that’s tailored just right for a customer’s riding style and size, but your 29″ mountain bike (shown below) page lists some standard build sizes and geometries. Do you build those as shown for immediate purchase, or are the numbers there just guidelines to get the custom process started?
TED: The website shows specs for Mountain frames because I have found that many clients are intimidated by the idea of a full custom order. They also want to compare products with others builders. The truth of the matter is all my frames today are full custom. I don’t make frames for inventory. Everyone is made to order. So many riders today feel that they can determine the ride qualities of a frame by the numbers posted, but the fact of the matter is there is far more to it than angles and top tube and chainstay length. Builders who have been building as long as I have know what the result is going to be when the frame is made. The client would be better off telling their builder what they want in terms of handling.
BIKERUMOR: You’re based in New Hampshire…do most of your customers come from the Northeast? Is it harder to build something custom for someone that rides primarily on the West Coast since the trails and riding styles are so different from what you’re used to?
TED: Different geography benefits from different geometry. Also tastes change in steering characteristics.Ã‚Â There is a trend today for slow steering, heavy frames, based on style more than function. Not my thing, but if that’s what the customer wants, that is what I’ll make.
BIKERUMOR: Speaking of riding, where’s your favorite place to ride? Do you prefer road or mountain?
TED: I have always loved touring, but we started mountainbiking is the mid 80’s and really had a lot of fun doing that. I’m a diabetic that has some significant nerve damage in my feet, so I’m road riding again. Sue and I will start touring again soon.
BIKERUMOR: What’s your favorite cycling event you’ve participated in? Spectated at?
Our favorite cycling event was always Pedro’s festival. I don’t know if you will print this, but I have a company policy that says, “Never give money to an asshole”. Unfortunately there were a few of them putting on the event for the last 6 or 7 years, so we stopped going.
BIKERUMOR: Are you kidding, we’ll print anything! Ã‚Â And, without naming names, that’s exactly why I won’t race a particular 24 hour series ever again.
Anywhoo, what’s your take on the 650b (27.5″) wheel size? Are you building many of those?
TED: The 650B wheels have some advantages for those who just don’t have legs long enough for 29″ wheels. 26″ wheels still have there place. How long these options will be available will be determinedÃ‚Â by the manufactures of tire, rims, and forks.
BIKERUMOR: Does your wife still have the first bicycle you made for her?
TED: My wife still has her bike. I have include pictures of her road bike built in 1981 and the first mountain bike I made for her in 1986. Also Cody’s first bike.
BIKERUMOR: Ted, thank you very much!
TED: Thanks for the opportunity to ramble on for a while. 28 years, “what a strange trip it’s been.”