In a way, Burnsey (… just Burnsey, like Cher), the builder behind Oddity, is best understood in opposition… which is why it was exciting to have Richard Sachs agree to ask the questions for this Builder on Builder interview and to be able to highlight these two back-to-back. After all, how better to highlight an anti-establishment character than in direct opposition to what he deems to be the establishment?
If you put an Oddity and a Richard Sachs side by side, how this clash of philosophies extends to the bicycle form is beautifully showcased. The Richard Sachs is a physical manifestation of decades of obsessive refinement and trial and error and innovation within a tightly constrained physical envelope, crafted by a true master in the traditional sense. You know it’s good because it is a Richard Sachs. It is the best the tradition has to offer.
The Oddity on the other hand, has extra components of time and space to it. Even photographing it is challenging because the typical drive side shot cannot capture it. The frame and fork explode in three dimensions as soon as you deviate from the right hand view and the bike changes character as you view it from different angles. In addition to experimenting with form, Burnsey gets his kicks by adopting new technologies… and dragging them into his lair and applying them to his curvy klunker-derived format. As a result, the Oddity is experimental and highly expressive in process and form.
I’m smiling as I’m typing this because looking at these two bikes and builders makes me appreciate the breadth of philosophy and personality of the small builder community. These two bikes don’t belong in the same universe, but they will be in the same room at the Philly Bike Expo…
RICHARD: When you began the commercial business you now have, how many frames had you made prior to this?
BURNSEY: First, I believe that quantity of frames and experience are two totally separate things, as the gist of your question is, in a way, trying to validate one’s abilities to fabricate a bicycle frame. To this I totally disagree. Quantity means nothing, to me. Quality, innovation, originality, artistic style, fabrication methods and an understanding of fit and ride quality means everything. I could say I had built zero frames before the birth of Oddity. I could say that I’d built a few hundred frames; but, in my eyes it’s never about numbers. It is about what you are doing right now, what you are bringing to the table, and what experience you are providing for your customers.
RICHARD: If you could add an element or experience to your path leading up to the brand’s launch, what might that be?
BURNSEY: I would have to say some sort of business background could be helpful. My past life-experience has everything to do with design, fabrication, art, dissent, travel and physical movement, but almost nothing to do with the red-tape and organization of running a small business. Even though I am ultimately living my dream, being one’s own boss and trying to make a living as an artist is an extremely difficult task; hence, our longer delivery times as custom, handmade frame builders.
RICHARD: Do you think about, or know now, what you’d like your business to be 5-10 years hence?
BURNSEY: Yes, I think about the future of Oddity constantly; what it is and what it can become, what I desire vs. what I need to set free to allow long-term success. I’d really like to push the brand to be as efficient as possible in every way, while maintaining our non-conformist ethos, free from the constraints and limitations of the big brands, especially misconceptions of what a bike can or cannot be. All the while keeping the output at a manageable enough number, so that I never lose the close relationship with every customer. The experience and journey is of so much value to me as a builder, and hopefully that translates into a customer that is beyond stoked with whatever product I craft, and the experience getting to and beyond delivery of what I hope meets and exceeds all expectations in both quality and performance.
RICHARD: Is there a single frame component, or tool, that you wish you had today?
BURNSEY: There is always something, be it a tool, a one-off frame component, more experience, more time…mostly time. I think that is what I am most lacking, but aren’t we all? I probably average a 60-80 hour work week trying to balance all aspects of the business. But I’d really like to be in the studio full-time solely building. Unfortunately, I have to find a balance, and more time would be my wish.
RICHARD: What task in the frame making procedure do you wish went better for you than it does today?
BURNSEY: That’s a tough one. It seems like all of my processes and methods are evolving with each new frame or component. Experience becomes the education, along with making mistakes and devising new ways around them. Building with more traditional straight tubes would allow easier miters, fit-up and design. Shaping tubes has become second nature, but fitting these curvy tubes together…there is no simple way to do it. You cannot use some of the basic fixtures that are available, so I’ve had to develop my own tools and methods to do a lot of what I believe to be fairly standard procedures otherwise. I also hate bridges…
RICHARD: Could you sustain what you have now if the internet went down and all that was available was mail and telephone? That is, are you dependent upon sites, blogs, and social media for survival?
BURNSEY: In this day and age, I do rely heavily on social media and the Interweb for survival. I believe that starting out in our aspect of this industry the way you did back-in-the-day would be much more difficult. Advertising budgets nowadays are astronomical and would put most new builders under before they started. The internet and social media outlets have opened the door for more humans to start profitable businesses in a way like never before. Would I survive? I believe I would, but mostly because I believe it so strongly.
RICHARD: How important is riding a bicycle to you such that your decisions at the bench are informed by the activity?
BURNSEY: This is the most important part of who I am. I love to ride bikes. If I were not an avid cyclist, I would never even attempt to build bicycles. The experience gained through actually riding is priceless and necessary. I don’t understand how anyone could believe otherwise. I’d stop building bikes before I’d stop riding one. Riding a bicycle is the breath of the framebuilder.
RICHARD: Does any part of the industry at large threaten you or your brand’s evolution?
BURNSEY: I rarely feel threatened by the industry at large because I refuse to take it too seriously, and by that I mean getting hung-up on what a cyclist wears, performance enhancing fill-in-the-blank, race-governing bodies and their rules, the newest gadgets, closed-minds who can get past tradition, and even other builders shit-talking. I just do what I do. I ride bikes, I enjoy getting outside, away from the concrete jungle and into a serene place where miles and miles of dirt and stone flash by. The evolution of my brand will be whatever I make it or whatever the flow of riding becomes within the close-knit crew I roll with. I believe we make our own destiny and we can be what we want to be. To me, Oddity is about limitless bikes, the experience while riding, being true to yourself and keeping an open mind about the endless possibilities.
Stay tuned! In tomorrow’s Bikerumor.com Builder on Builder Interview, Burnsey tosses some questions to one of his major inspirations, Curtis Inglis of Retrotec