Artist Or Engineer?

by | Aug 1, 2013

I’m not a fan of compromise, but understand it’s a tool we need every so often. When a compromise involves me, I become more sensitive, particularly if I’m asked to lend my voice to a wider conversation. And if a compromise is conflated with a shortcut, I lose all ability to roll with it.

I was closing the Dell Vostro 1710 this past Thursday and noticed an email that just arrived from half way around the world, and some sixteen hours ahead of me. It came from someone who was looking to tell a story and who asked for my point of view.

I’m a freelance journalist writing a story on lugs for a niche magazine. I’m wondering if I might prevail upon you to answer a few quick questions for the story. My deadline is Monday, so if you are able to do so quickly, I’d greatly appreciate it.

Given the hour, I reply with thanks, add a link to my website where related texts live, and suggest starting there. The next day (Friday), I hear back from the sender. She mentions not having seen the articles, but could I please still jot down some thoughts in response to her questions. Saturday morning, I send my replies, with a let’s begin with this caveat. Here –

1) Why do you prefer to use lugs when building your bicycles?

On a bicycle, tubes intersect and must be joined to make a structure. There are many ways to accomplish this. I use lugs, an oxy-acetylene torch, and filler metal because they’re what was there when I walked into the room, it’s what I know, the method I have worked hard to perfect, and one I am very comfortable with. It wouldn’t be wrong to say I stay with this method because it’s the baggage I inherited. Rather than lament about it in a changing world, I take my training, intuition, and skills, and use them to an advantage in a decidedly non-ferrous market.

2) When did you fall in love with lugs?

I haven’t fallen in love with lugs, and don’t expect I will. They are things I need to make yet another, grander thing – the frame.

3) When you design a lug, what kind of compromise do you need to strike between strength and beauty?

If one is going to create the part (a cast piece) at all, there’s no sense making it ugly. To that end, all of the lugs, fork crowns, bottom brackets, dropouts, and braze-ons that I have designed satisfy a particular aesthetic. The strength of a joint is a result of quality miters and torch work; the lug that envelopes the area is little more than a temporary fixture that holds the tubing while the filler material is applied.

4) Do you consider yourself more of an artist or an engineer?

I consider myself neither. I am neither.

Realizing there was a deadline looming, I later ask about the exchanges. The writer found this article, and said some quotes she mined from it were enough. I replied that the text in question was from twenty years ago when I was hired to write for Bridgestone Bicycles’ 1993 catalog. I asked for further clarification about her assignment, and added that my numbered points might be a good place to begin a dialogue, and those words from two decades ago, for a story I was once paid to write, are not relevant.

I hear back from the writer. She was contracted for an article, the article was written, a doc was handed in (it’s now Sunday night), and her task is complete. It ended with these words –

Was it rushed? Yes. That’s how we roll in the journalism business. It’s how journalism works.

Huh! That’s how journalism works?

Maybe I’m from another time, or planet. Or simple-minded. Or idealistic. In the period that began Thursday and ended Sunday, I thought I was helping a journalist fulfill a goal of writing an article. I’ve sat in that seat often. The four days had me anticipating the depth to which such a subject might develop. It touches my world, and I was pleased to be contacted for a contribution. I expected more. A dialogue. Maybe a hard question or three. I came away thinking that someone calling herself a writer was happy with just a sound bite, and that a twenty year old text is still as fresh as the day it was wrapped. I concluded that her brand of journalism is what I call cut and paste. Actually, I call it other things, none of which are flattering.

Before Thursday I had never heard of the freelancer or the publication that hired her. I’ll leave this entry intact as a reminder of what the article might have included in case my replies never see the light of day. It’s how journalism gets reworked here.


the frame is the frame.2