The Matt Bike

Cesare Before Cesare after, the Matt bike
Before After

I have been riding in the at the Trexlertown Velodrome over the last two summers. I take the adult basic course where I learn competitive bike racing techniques and race other amateur cyclists.  I started riding my friend's fixed gear Colnago on the road to train for the track this summer and it really helped me with my racing.  I decided that I wanted my own "fixie" to ride.  When I was young I rode a track bike on the street as my daily ride.  Life without brakes was a challenge.  The Colnago had front and rear brakes which made much more sense on the street.  I wanted fixed gear bike with brakes that I could commute and take longer rides on. I began to search ebay and Craig's list for a suitable ride.  I was thinking of converting an old steel frame to fixed gear, or adding brakes to an old track bike.

Unfortunately, my youngest son Matt passed away unexpectedly during my search. I loved my son dearly and it was a tragedy to loose him at 17.  Matt had recently gotten into riding his bicycle, riding it to his job and on errands. He purchased a road bike with an aluminum frame and STI shifters. He liked this bike because it was fast. Matt knew all about fast, as he spent 11 years as a quarter midget racer.  We had also taken the occasional ride together which we both enjoyed.  He was quite a fast rider and I had to work to stay ahead of him.  I know the cycling bug had bitten him.  There were so many rides that I wanted to take with him that will never happen. I decided to sell his bike as I did not need another road bike and it would make me sad to see Matt's bike without Matt.

Matt's Tiranno Razza Matt with bike
Matt's Tireno Razza Matt and his bike before the first ride

My friend had an old Cesare track bike that he raced at the velodrome in the late 1990's and early 2000's. It was a very nice bike, but it was not being used. It was hanging in his garage for the last 10 years or so and the steel framed bikes at the track had been replaced by aluminum and carbon. This bike's racing career was over and he offered the bike to me to make into a road bike.  He wanted to see the bike used.  This bike was a pure race bike and it had no brakes.  To make it road worthy, I would have to install front and rear brakes.  It would also be nice to have bosses for mounting bottle cages.  It would take a lot of work to give it the features I wanted.  

I decided that I would take my friend up on his offer and also make this bike up as a memorial to Matt. I would paint it the British racing green of his old bike and trim it in white. I wanted to do the best job I could so I decided to braze on the water bottle bosses and add an internal guide for the rear brake cable into the top tube. As a finishing touch I would mount his racing number "84" on the head tube to mark it as his. I figured this bike would remind me of Matt and respect his memory without making me sad that I was riding his bike or he was not riding along with me.

Trek doner bike Shimano 105 brakes Bars, stem, and aero levers
Trek donor bicycle Shimano 105 Brakes Aero Levers, Stem, and Bars

I ran into a bit of luck when I found an old Trek bike that was being discarded by the side of the road.  It was a nice aluminum bike that was 15-20 years old.  Besides being a bit of an antique it worked well.  It had a nice set of brakes and levers which I needed for my project.  The bars and stem would also end up getting used.   I actually put a seat on the bike and a rear tube and went for a 10 mile ride.

Rear brake Rear Brake rear brake Rear Brake
Remove Paint Boss Boss Mounted Brake

I wanted to ride the bike a bit to make sure it was what I wanted and fit me well.  I figured it would be a good idea to install brakes.  I made up a couple of little bushings to braze onto the brake stay to act as a reinforcement for the brake.  I cleaned the paint off the tube and clamped my little boss in place using a small bolt.  I used the typical bronze brazing alloy to make the attachment.  The original track wheels were for sew up tires and did not have braking surfaces.  These would not do for street duty.  I found a nice set of wheels in white that had a rear flip flop hub.  I mounted the brake and put the brake levers on the track handle bars.  I used the cables from the donor bike and managed to get everything to fit and work.  This was a good chance to see how the components worked and how I liked the bike.  I was also waiting for some mail order components and I was itching to ride my fixie.

Cesare ready to ride
Cesare Track Bike Ready for Test Ride

The real fun started when I got moving on the actual frame modifications.  Where does one get the little threaded things that go into the frame that let you mount the bottle cages for a steel frame?  How do you attach them?  What if I screw up?  A quick Google search turned me onto Nova Cycles where I found they had water bottle bosses for just this purpose.  You could even get these cute little reinforcing plates to help strengthen the area you drilled to mount the boss.  Cool.  The next thing was to figure out how they run the rear brake line inside the top tube.  Google came to my rescue again when I found the Kirk Frame Works blog that showed the details for installing the brake guide. I went back to Nova cycles again and found the brass tubing and the cute little reinforcing plates to go over the tube when it emerged from the frame tube.  Super cool.  

I did not want to screw up the real frame so I went on a search for suitable bicycle tubes to practice the installation.  It turns out that another friend had a bike that had been hanging from his garage rafters for years with a broken frame.  This would be a perfect donor for real tubes to practice on.  I placed an order with Nova cycles for two sets of parts.  One to use and one to install on my practice tubes.  I brazed one set of the bottle bosses onto the tube and it went fairly well using my oxy-acetylene torch.  The heat was difficult to control and the braze came out a bit lumpy.  It was a real challenge to file them smooth after brazing.  All in all they came out well.

Practice bottle mount practuce bottle mount
Bottle mounts on practice tube

I went to the Philly Bike Expo to see some cool bike stuff and possibly talk to a real frame builder to make sure I was doing things right.  It was also a great chance to take a long test ride on the new bike.  I rode 25 miles down the Schuylkill River Trail from Oaks to center city.  The ride was great and it turns out there were a bunch of frame builders in attendance.  I learned that one should not use the typical bronze brazing alloy on bicycle frames, especially on the thin tubes.  The correct material is silver braze.  This melts at a lower temperature and flows better.  The borax flux is also easy to clean off with hot water.  These were key tips.  (Thank you Tom Faust

When I got back from the expo I was able to start striping another piece of the donor frame and making ready for installing the brake guide.  My first problem was how to bend the thin wall brass tube to fit into the frame.  I knew that trying to bend it by hand would only kink it.  Google disappointed me by not providing me with any sure-fire way to bend the tubing.  I tried to bend it by filling it with ice and using a form.  This kinked badly.  I wrote to Nova and they did not have any good answers.  I then tried annealing it by heating it dull red with a propane torch and letting it cool.  This made the brass much softer, but it still kinked.  I then found a set of bending springs at Home Depot for $10.  This was the hot ticket.  I could now bend the guide tube without kinking.  

The next challenge was making the oval hole for the tube.  That turned out to be fairly easy.  I drilled three holes next to each other that were slightly smaller than the tube.  I connected them with a die grinder, then made the hole oval with a rat-tail file that was about the same size held at an angle.  I bent the brass tube into a gentle arc and pushed it in one hole and it came out the other.  I fitted the little covers over the tube and everything fit well.  I brazed it using my newly acquired BAg-7 alloy and my propane torch and Bob's your uncle.  I used a bit much alloy, but I was able to grind it off.  The finished guide tube looked very nice.  

Sucessfully bent tube Tube in place Cover plate installed
Tube bent and ready for placement Tube in place Reinforcing plate installed and flux applied
Tube brazed in place Braze cleaned up Looking through the tube
All brazed up Completed joint Looking through the tube

Practice time was over and it was time to get busy on the actual bike. The first step was to remove all of the components and strip off the paint. The old paint was not willing to let go of the frame it had known for so many years.  It took many, many applications of stripper with lots of scraping to get it down to the bare metal.  After the frame was scrapped clean I sanded and wire brushed the last vestiges of paint off the frame.  I mocked up the bottle cages on the frame with masking tape to get the right location.  I would hate to put the mounts where the bottles won't fit.  Mounting the bottle bosses was fairly easy.  I marked the holes carefully and drilled.  A sharp, high quality drill is a real plus.  I used a carbide center drill to spotface the hole and that worked well.  I slathered the frame with flux and then dropped the bosses and plates into place.  The brazing went well with just the propane torch.  I touched up the fillet with my die grinder and 3/4" disks.

Determine the location for the bottles Bottle Mounts with reinforcing plates Complete Mounts
Mock up for the bottle mounts Bottle mounts with reinforcing plates Complete bottle mounts

The next big step was to install the brake line.  Having done the practice tube made this much easier.  I heated the brass tube dull red to anneal it and then bent it using the spring into a gentle arc.  The actual installation into the top tube was a bit trickier than the practice tube as I needed to go quire a bit further along the tube.  This meant that the tube would not fit directly into the tube as bent as the distance between the two holes was too long.  I pushed the tube into one hole and when I pushed hard the tube straightened just enough to keep advancing down the top tube.  I was starting to get worried when the the tube kept going in and I could not see it coming out.  It did not come out until it was almost all the way in.  It turns out I only had about 3 inches extra.   I brazed it up and then cleaned up the excess and trimmed the tube.  It came out quite well.

I was relieved when a piece of cable housing passed through without a problem.

Bending brass guide tube Bent tube in frame Brake tube with cover plate
Using spring to bend annealed brass tube into arc to fit into frame tube Brake guide tube installed into frame tube.  The excess shown was all that was extra. Reinforcing plate installed and flux applied.
Brazed in place Complete brake tube Completed brake tube
Completed joint Finished front joint Finished rear joint

The next step was to make the numbers for the head tube.  I wanted to match the font used on Matt's race car.  The font was not one of the ones that came with the computer.  I searched around a number of sites before I found the right font.  I was able to download the font adjust the size and print it out.  I glued the paper to a piece of polished stainless and tried to cut the numbers out using my jeweler's saw.  The stainless took the teeth right off the saw.  I tried several different pieces of stainless with no luck.  At this point I thought I may be beat, but I remembered something that my dad used called German Silver.  I looked it up and found that it is a common name for nickel brass.  It has the same color as silver, but is stronger and is more corrosion resistant.  I ordered up a little piece.

The German silver was much easier to cut.  I cut the numbers out and filed the edges smooth and polished the face.  The next challenge was to get the numbers so they fit on the head tube.  They had to be bent on the proper axis so they would be inclined at the correct Italic angle.  I placed them on a piece of masking tape at the right angle and then placed a second piece of tape over the numbers.  The head tube was about 1 1/4" in diameter so I used a 1" drill to form a trough in a piece of scrap wood.  I figured I would make it smaller to account for spring back of the brass.  I placed the numbers in the form and placed a piece of 3/4" pipe over it and gave it a couple good whacks with the dead blow hammer.  They came out perfect!  The curvature and angle were just right.  I improved the fit a bit more by wrapping a piece of fine sandpaper around the head tube and rubbing the numbers back and forth.

Matt racing Matt 84 Nickel Brass Numbers
Matt in his car Close up of numbers Numbers cut from German Silver resting on masking tape in the proper orientation
Bending Numbers Bent number Fits perfect
Numbers in wooden form Number formed to curvature of the head tube Numbers resting on frame tube

The next challenge was to hold the numbers in place as I brazed them.  They could not move during brazing, but I would need to position them perfectly before brazing.  I got a tip from the framebuilders forum to use a wire and pull it tight to the seat tube with a rubber band.  I used stainless steel wire and a bungee cord.  This worked perfectly.  It held the numbers securely, allowed fine adjustment and did not interferer with the brazing.  I was very pleased with the way it came out.  Matt would be happy.

Holding numbers Holding numbers Brazed Numbers
Numbers with flux applied and held in place with stainless steel wire Bungee cord attached to seat tube keeps proper tension on wire Numbers brazed into place

Once everything was brazed in place it was time for paint.  I decided to have it painted at ZRZ Powder Coating who I knew would do a great job.  It came back looking great. The color was a perfect match for Matt's old bike.  While the frame was away I kept myself busy polishing all of the aluminum bits.  This included the brakes, brake levers, seat post, handlebar, and stem.  This removed the scratches put there by previous owners and removed the brand markings from the parts.  Just like taking the badges off a car this really cleaned up the way the bike looked.  The shiny parts also looked nicer.  

One little issue was the quick release on the brakes.  When I buffed the brake parts the little plastic caps that covered the quick release pivots got messed up.  They were a little knackered anyway so I removed them.  I needed something to cover the pivot.  It turns out a Mercury dime would fit just right.  I cut the dimes down to the proper diameter then I ground the back away to make them thinner.  I then dished them so they would fit properly in the cavity on the levers.  I glued them in place with JB Weld.

I went with a K810ST chain because it was unique and came in bright nickel plate.  The last thing I did was change over to a white saddle and bar tape to match the other white trim items.  I did not start out to make a hipster bike, but that is how it came out.  I am sure Matt would approve.  I like how it came out and I really like how it performs as it is very responsive.

I have big plans for this bike in 2015:

Go to my fundraising page

Painted frame Partly assembled Brake
#84 all polished up Starting to look like a bike The components were "de-branded" and polished up.  I replaced the plastic cap on the quick release with a modified Mercury dime.
Brake Line KMC Chain Brake Line
Brake line installed KMC chain with holes The brake line came out well
Complete Pottstown Ride At Game Farm Pond
All finished, with white seat and tape After my first long ride On frozen pond

Matthew R. Dille

Matthew R. Dille

(May 22nd 1997   -   September 26th 2014)

The Matt Bike #84

In loving memory of Matt. My beloved son who I only got to spend 17 short years with.  I will think of you every time I ride this bike and remember the great times and fun that we had together.  I will remember all of the time we spent racing either racing at Oaklane or traveling to other tracks.  The memory of winning the dirt states race is particularly precious to me.  I also cherish the countless time we spent practicing and working on the car.  We were a great team.  I know you were impressed with my cycling and I believe you were proud of me when I raced at the Velodrome.  I enjoyed out annual end of summer rides towards Philadelphia on the Schuylkill river trail where every year we would  get closer.  This last time we made it the full 25 miles to Center City and spent the day together.  Rest in peace.

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