I’m not a huge fan of the movie Magnum Force (most critics don’t even rank it in the top 10 of the Eastwood flicks) but Clint has a really great line that has always stuck with me—“A man has got to know his limitations.” In a strange way I find comfort in that line because if I’m not particularly good at something (or I don’t want to take the time to become particularly good at something) then it allows me to push my ego aside and either ask someone for help, or to hire someone else to do the job. Now, I’m all for expanding one’s horizons—or pushing your limits, but it’s a good thing to know when it’s appropriate. Certainly there are many times in life where pretty good will do, but when it comes to a custom bicycle that a customer has dreamt about, paid a surplus for, and waited for (sometimes quite a while), pretty good isn’t good enough. Not even close. Not in my shop. Not with my brand.
A couple of years ago (okay, more like ten) fueled by a second-hand purchase of Jobst Brandt’s, The Bicycle Wheel at a bookstore in San Francisco I took it upon myself to build a set of wheels. It was fun and interesting at the time. I didn’t even have the dream yet of building frames so it satisfied my urge to tinker. The wheels came out quite nice—silver Dura Ace hubs laced up with double-butted, triple crossed, DT Swiss spokes that were screwed into brass nipples, that were threaded through black Mavic Open Pro rims, which were capped off with that beautiful cloth Velox rim tape. The wheels were great for about 700 miles and then I noticed a slight hop, which I tried to fix. Then that turned into a dishing problem, which then led to spokes breaking, spokes replaced, re-dishing the wheel, and then living with the hop, albeit slightly less. About a year of wheel fussiness later, I pulled a spoke head through the flange of the hub because my solution to most any problem I had encountered along the way was to tighten the spokes. R.I.P. beautiful Dura Ace hub. C’est la vie.
Now, given my learning curve I have little doubt that today if I wanted to I could build a stunning set of wheels that would stay true for 5,000 miles. However, I am unwilling to trade my time for that payoff. I would rather hire a wheel builder to ply his trade. The wheels will be better and they’ll be built in about a third of the time that it would take me. I’d rather take the time that I would have spent on the wheels and build a frame or braze up a fork.
So, I’ll let the painter paint, the wheel builder build the wheels, and the jig maker make the jigs. It’s not that I can’t do those things but that I won’t. I’m comfortable with that. After all, a man has got to know his limitations.