Brilliant behind the scenes break-down of an infographic from Kevin Quealy at the New York Times Graphic Department.
– kevin quealy
Can you tell me a little bit about yourself and Sportsman Flyer?
Well, I have a back-round in welding and fabrication and have been working around equipment most of my life. I’ve been building and restoring cars since high school. I also enjoy sports, not the traditional team sports like baseball or football, but other sports like surfing, bike riding, flying, hunting and fishing. The Sportsman Flyer idea combines my interest in bicycles and the motor sports. Sportsman comes from the sporty nature of the bikes I build and Flyer refers to my time spent in aviation as a glider pilot.
How did you first get interested in building motorized bikes?
I have wanted a Whizzer, which is a vintage motorized bicycle, for years. Seems I could never find a decent deal on the right bike. A few years back my wife and I had been over surfing in Santa Cruz and we saw some guy ride by on a motorized bicycle. It wasn’t a Whizzer, but it was still pretty cool. That finally gave me the idea that I just needed the right bike and engine. I could combine the two and have my own motorized bicycle.
For someone who has never ridden a Sportsman Flyer, what do your customers say about the experience of riding their Sportsman?
They all say they find the experience pretty exhilarating. Especially the current bikes were building. It’s one thing to run around at over 50 mph on a motorcycle, but going that fast on a motorized bicycle is quite exciting.
How did you first find out about the motorbikes and motordromes of the 1920s?
I had seen a few vintage motorcycles and then the race bikes of the same era, the board track racers, at a couple vintage motorcycle shows and auctions in Monterey California. To me board track racers are just the coolest of the vintage motorcycles. Monterey has some of the best vintage motor sport events in the country and it’s a half hour from my house so I go every year.
It was a popular, and dangerous sport back then…
Yes, quite popular and very dangerous. The board tracks had huge banked corners. Speeds slowly crept up past 100 mph as engine designs advanced. Any sort of mechanical failure or collision could send the bikes flying off the track and into the crowds watching the race. Riders wore little in the way of safety gear. Crashing onto a wooden surface guaranteed at a minimum a serious case of splinters.
What’s your process for building bikes – strict pre-planning or making it up as you go?
I would say a bit of both. Because of my engineering background and drafting skills I prefer to hammer out the complicated details, off-sets, wheel base, rake and trail, on the computer first. Once I have a sound platform I build out the chassis and various components. From there I finish out the bike and stand back and take a good look. Does it look right? Are the proportions correct? How does it feel when I sit on it? Once I am comfortable with the overall look and feel I dress it out. Tires, grips, leather color on the seat, paint, etc.
As time goes on I continue to fine tune all my cad drawings. Some parts I manufacture have not changed in awhile, other parts, well I change every time I make another production run. You can have a perfectly engineered bike, but if it doesn’t look and feel right, what have you accomplished? I find sometimes that after all my hard work I try to convince myself that something looks good, then my brother or some friends will drop by and say ‘that looks lame.’ These guys are my harshest critics and I respect them for it.
Can you tell me a little bit about yourself?
I’m from Vermont.
Where in Vermont?
Putney. (Named after my dog).
First bike you ever owned?
A super cool Flandria five speed road bike with little kid sized 24″ wheels. It’s hanging in my shop now.
How did you get interested in building bikes?
I had a pretty good gig teaching dance for a bunch of years (?). I always used a bike to get around. Students started approaching me wanting to become commuters. I took it upon myself to use whatever money they could come up with to put them on an appropriate bike. Lots of scouring Ebay, and Craigslist…finding frames that seemed like a good starting point and then building from there. Word got out, and people were coming to me with more and more money, and I became a bit of a bike stylist (gag.) When I finally ran away screaming from the dance world (something I had meant to do for years), bike building just appeared as the obvious next thing to do. To have real control over the final bike, I felt like I had to be building the frame as well as choosing what to hang from it.
What skill sets did you have already when it in came to bike building? Which ones did you have to learn?
I had a pretty decent background in fabrication. Mostly wood working. My father was a woodworker, and I grew up making stuff in his shop. Later, as a teenager, I worked construction around southern Vermont in the summers. Somewhere in there, later on, I took a year off from dance and worked in a cabinet shop in NYC. I had NO experience with metal work, though (besides an elective jewelry class in college). So, the basics of working with machines and understanding joints and learning how to make fixtures that allow you to repeat operations accurately…this stuff was all natural. I had to learn how to braze, though. And had to learn a lot about bicycle design, and just how the bloody things go together. Still learning that stuff, really.