Frank Wadelton aka Frank The Welder has been in the mountain biking industry for long time. His passion has led him to build frames for multiple companies including Yeti, Spooky, and Sinister. His passion for frame building and the sport is clearly evident when you talk with him. Frank was generous enough to grant me this interview to get his insight to frame building and mountain biking.
How long have you been a frame builder?
Frank: It depends on what you call frame building. I remade frames from parts of other ones, made alterations and helped other people for many years before building one “solo”. I started the process in process in 1975, but it was while working at Yeti around 1985 that I built one solo. I didn’t call myself a frame builder till late in the 90’s.
What training have you been through to build frames?
Frank: I learned to TIG weld while working at a small factory. Then I production welded Mongoose forks and built fixtures. I then went to Yeti and Chris shared his skills. It was all “on the job”.
Why did you decide to start your own handmade bicycle company?
Frank: I didn’t make a decision to start a brand. I sell things I make and we all seem to like branding on stuff so I started putting stickers with my initials on frames when people didn’t have their own sticker to use.
What inspires your frame designs?
Frank: I am not very athletic and I feel I can make a bike work better for me and others by carefully tuning it. Making the parts I need is more fun than buying them. I also like the look of welds and machined parts.
What are some of your founding principles you live by for creating bikes?
Frank: This is a complex question and I hope I am able to convey my thoughts clearly. Basically I am never satisfied for very long. I can’t clearly see the point where I should stop and only when I have run out of time do I finally surrender. It’s more of a structural or engineering thing where shortcomings only appear at some later date. If I was a hair cutter, everyone would leave bald and my best customers would also stop growing hair.
What part of the frame building process do you enjoy the most?
Frank: Welding on clean beautiful machined parts.
What do you feel is most important for clients to understand going into a custom bike frame build?
Frank: Custom goods are like a performance. If the same thing is practiced daily with no change the end result will be usually be predictable. The more complex an item is, the more likely that more variations from perfection you are likely to find. Don’t be afraid to take your time finding the right vendor.
What trends in bikes are you seeing right now? Do you agree with them or not?
Frank: I see all technologies purely from a functional perspective and understand priorities. To make an example, I prefer large diameter bearings to be further apart than many designers. It’s just a preference based on an engineering principle to me but I also understand that there are situations where simply replacing the bearings at reasonable intervals makes the issue go away. I have to replace my BB bearings anyway.
What trail / where do you enjoy riding the most?
Frank: I love tasty wet loam, and new sticky pavement. Cool riding partners should be close by.
What has been your favorite bike you’ve owned?
Frank: The one that is 90% done and keeps me awake at night.
Do you have a favorite bike you’ve ever built?
Frank: That is a secret.
Who do you admire as a frame builder / who would you want to build you a frame?
Frank: Charlie Cunningham is an example of a builder who makes a complete frame. Bilenky is another. I like that sort of thing.
If you’re mountain bike frame builder and would like to be featured on Old Glory MTB, send me an email.