Sunday, October 3, 2010

The Last 10%

Some time back I was able to pick up a late 70’s Merz cross bike and knowing Jim’s work, one thing stood out immediately - this was not Jim’s fork crown. Jim’s bikes are exceptionally well executed, with nicely shaped crisp lugs and flawless brazing. But Jim focused on purely functional machines without flourish, only what was needed to get the job done. ‘Workman like’ was how Jim often put it.

But this crown was anything but workman like. For one it appeared to be hogged out of solid material. There was never a stock crown with this much room between the blades nor could I recall one with such graceful lines. Despite the name ‘Merz’ on the downtube, this crown had ‘DiNucci’ written all over it.

Mark worked for Jim from the mid 70’s up until Jim left for Specialized in the early 80’s when Mark hung out his own shingle. He once told me that when he worked for Jim, he tried to work in Jim’s style, but apparently he couldn’t hold it back on this crown.

In showing it to Mark, he mentioned that he had modeled it after an old vagner crown, but substantially enlarged to achieve the clearances needed for a cross bike. Here you can see both the original and Mark’s version to get a sense of how similar the lines are and how different they are in scale.

Despite being absolutely huge, there is a certain grace about this crown in the shoulders. It is almost delicate. But it is the tang running down the inside of the blades that does it for me. Stripping away the paint, I expected to find the usual big fillet of brass, but here Mark torch welded on a piece of fork blade to get the extension he wanted then blended it perfectly into the bottom of the crown. There is no sign that they were ever two separate pieces of metal. The curves are all subtle and there is nothing to interrupt the flow as your eye follows the perfectly thinned edge around the socket.

These days someone would simply render this in 3D, send the file off for tool paths and then flip the switch on a CNC mill. But this was all done the old way, with a careful eye and by hand, leaving the soul of the craftsman in the work.


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