The Manifesto…of sorts.
Over the years I’ve been frequently asked about a “build philosophy.” I get asked about it so much that I think it might have to get capitalized: “Build Philosophy.” I’ve always been a bit hesitant to subscribe to a certain doctrine, but instead ask myself, “do the predetermined pillars of a particular dogma prop up an unrealistic edict of hard and fast rules, or does an individual’s experience and build process serve to create a perspective from which to operate?” I reckon it’s the later, but it’s not something I talk about, or really even think about, for that matter. For me, the tools in the shop, the bikes themselves, and the process where one is borne out from the others, forms an aesthetic, a point of view, always in flux, waiting for new ideas or new information with which to make the bikes better. Whether it’s exploring the nuance within a bike I’ve made seemingly countless versions of, or trying out a different technique, finding that language and creating that ideology is something that is always in motion. Seems a bit dramatic when I look at it in black and white, but I’m a man of tools, not words.
People ask what my favorite part of building a bike is. To me, it’s the actual process; the step-by-step. I’ve always been attracted to the seemingly benign details that can become linchpins to the entire outcome, excited by creating opportunities to individualize each project within a specified protocol, and tried my best to apply each result toward the next. Not that interesting to many people, but it’s what floats my boat.
That said, any step-by-step process is a bridge between intent and the realization of intent. Wanting to create something only goes so far; knowing how to create something requires an innate understanding of each step required within that process.
Any process is worthless if it's not repeatable and the outcome not predictable. No winging it. No leaving it up to chance.
So, if all that boils down to a philosophy, there you have it.
Now, let’s tamp out our pipes and remove our monocles. To put a finer point on some of the things that in practice go into making a bike, here’s a list of what I strive for in each build. Checking these boxes is what makes for a winner.
Hands down, the most important trait of a bicycle. If the bike doesn’t fit correctly, it will affect the rider’s ability to ride the bike fluidly, free from thought. Your bike should corner easily, descend confidently, and climb symbiotically with you. A proper fitting bicycle affords these characteristics by putting your weight where it needs to be; you are balanced and ready to act and react with no hesitation. Without the fit, the rest doesn’t matter.
After the perfect spots for your saddle, handlebars, and pedals have been located, the next job is connecting the dots. Placing the right tubes at the right angles, based on the right fit dimensions is more nuanced than it seems at the outset. Designing frames is a business of the ethereal and the concrete. Vague descriptors translated to millimeters and quarters of degrees. While there are no determining single measurements, there are recipes to create something more than can be described with numbers.
Difference for the sake of difference is not a good place to start. When designing new frame components the first question I ask is: Does this solve problems? Seems laughably obvious, but creating parts that meet a myriad of standard requirements, don’t create supply chain issues, solve a problem or two, and look sharp, is a difficult endeavor. The components I’ve designed and use have all been thoroughly vetted in the real world, on real bikes. Visually, these make the bikes obvious Black Cats. In use, they enhance an already sweet package.
Design is only as good as the execution. One without the other is lost potential. While this facet is the most celebrated in media, it’s the least yielding. This isn’t whether the seat cluster's proportions are to your liking, this is the stuff that elevates a beautiful bicycle to an unflinching partner. There's a certain amount of personal taste that goes along with most of the above aspects, however the rules of fabrication are more black and white. Tolerances go down to the width of a hair, and sweating the smallest details can mean the difference between mediocre and magical.
Humans have decorated their belongings since we started having belongings. Whether it’s a simple single color or something that blurs the line between art and craft, the personalized finish of a Black Cat is something I take great pride in. I personally design and apply all the paint, so these bikes are the truest extension of their builder.