Back in 1999, I was between a few things. Working at a bike shop in Quakertown, PA and had just sent out my application to the design school RISD, when I bumped into the then Design Director at Bicycling Magazine Chris Neyen while on a day off mountain biking in Emmaus, PA on South Mountain in Rodale Press’s back yard. We got to talking, we arranged an interview, I got a job as an intern, and then got accepted to RISD so there were a bunch of decisions to make.
Meanwhile as the internship moved along, my duties included helping Chris with Graphic Design, photo shoots, photo correction, coffee breaks and building a handful of bikes that were coming in for testing or photo shoots. At the same time, they were dismantling a full frame / bicycle shop that used to house then Technical Editor Jim Redcay for Bicycling Mag and of course Bike Tech I believe if memory serves me well enough.
So as a perk, Chris said “Take anything you want – it’s all going to be tossed if no one takes anything.” And there was a treasure trove down there too including a full Campi tool kit I still kick myself for not taking… (Edit: The then editor in chief, Bill Strickland, came upstairs with the Campi Tool kit and announced to Chris and I “Hey!! Look what I found. Should look pretty cool under a glass coffee table.” Chris and I exchanged looks since I had just told him I was feeling a bit guilty for taking such a large complete tool kit and he was chiding me I should just go back down and nab it.) One thing that had my attention was this beat up old Merlin frame in a corner. So that came home with me. Asking around no one seemed to know anything other than it had changed hands so many times and had been ridden hard. It’s in need of a repair due to a broken rear drop out. Time passed and I just keep the frame with me in my travels. I had sent some pics to Merlin a while back and they were intrigued but couldn’t place it. No one was working there that knew anything that could have dated back to Merlin’s beginnings. More time passed. I built out my shop and have been building bikes all while this old Merlin was hanging in a corner of my own shop. Then yesterday after finishing up some of my own prototype work with Titanium, it dawned on me that while speaking with Tyler at Firefly he mentioned his days at Merlin. So I emailed him, he did some super sleuthing and made contact with Gwyn Jones. Here’s what Gwyn had to say:
“I know that frame. It was one of the first Merlin frames and it was made for an experiment being run by Jim Redcay, technical editor of Bicycling Magazine at the time. My memory is that he was getting frames made of different materials and testing them on flex testing setup he had built as well as riding them. I remember seeing it at Rodale when we went to visit and Jim was in a quandary because he was having trouble with an early molded carbon frame that when he flexed it on the apparatus did not come back to where it had been. Basically, it was showing a lot of creep. He started the project when very stiff frames were in vogue (driven partly by Cannondale and Klien, who had to make their frames almost infinitely stiff to avoid fatigue problems) and he felt that flex was valuable and not necessarily a waste of energy. His idea was to measure both how much each frame flexed under a controlled load but also how much of the energy that went into flexion came back out. So, the weird behavior of the carbon frame took him by surprise. It was pretty interesting and the upshot, as I remember it, was that among steel, aluminum and Ti frames the energy lost from flex was super minimal. Of course, a super flexy bike can have losses due to tire scrub, etc.
So, that frame is almost unique – we actually made three of them and picked the best one to send to Jim Redcay. It was made to his geometry and the parts such as the dropouts were made completely by hand with a hacksaw and a file. If memory serves they are pure titanium not an alloy. The Merlin sticker was from before we had any kind of logo.”
So now with names and such in hand, I’ve been able to dig up THE article from December of 1987’s Bike Tech “Titanium Lives!” Looks like an article written by the owner/founder of Seven Cycles, Rob Vandermark, was kind enough to post up a copy of Bike Tech via an old blog he had been writing. Check out the December 1987 Bike Tech article here (pictures).
Thanks to Tyler Evans at Firefly for doing the digging and Gwyn Jones for providing the back story to this frame. Seems a bit happenstance all these guru’s of Titaniums origins are popping up onto my radar as I begin my own journey with the material.