Monday, June 23, 2014


Shooting the breeze recently with my mate Andy, we concurred that we both strongly support the notion and culture of ‘Having a crack’.  That’s certainly one of the main reasons I keep posting things on this site – in the hope that sharing things here encourages others to do have a crack themselves.  This little project was much more in the having a crack category than the nailing it category for me.

This one’s a bit of a make over of an ‘plain’ old road frame into a daily communter - note that this 80’s Kojima even came stock with a ‘plain’ sticker!  Now I know the paint on this was in good nick and some purists might scream out to keep this beast original but, really it’s nothing exotic in it’s original form and it made a good donor frame.  I haven’t really played with an oxy torch much and I was keen to get a bit of experience doing some simple braze-ons.  So, the main vision here was off with the down tube shifter mounts, a shuffle of the brake cable guides so that it runs under the top tube and on with a couple more cable guides to accommodate a riser bar conversion.  The torch was fun and this quite basic job definitely opened my eyes to just how much there is to learn.  This project was a good taster.

After the braze-on mods we pursued a special paint job experiment.  I’ve done a couple like this in the past where the first layer of colour is powder coat, providing some heavy duty and long lasting frame protection and then a thin layer of cheap matt black, slightly rubbed back to give the finish a little punk flavor.  The black wears with use making the bike look a little ratty and a lot less attractive to thieves.  This green is a special opaque number that goes on over a white layer.  The Webster family at Southern Powder Coaters were especially helpful here, taking extra time to carefully mask the braking surface of the of the rims that we had done to match the frame.  Special shout out goes to Mark at Standish Cycles Mile End for a very tidy job on the wheel build.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014



I came across Dan Bolwell by chance, though he was easy to spot, cruising the sleepy Sunday streets of the rural city of Horsham on bright red penny farthing.   And, as it happened, I didn’t really get a chance to strike up a conversation with Dan until we ended up on the same table at the cake competition hosted by the local CWA branch.  In parallel with the meticulously baked sweets we were surrounded by I began chatting with Dan about his meticulous penny farthing.  I became even more excited as he told me that he made his own, from scratch and that he had recently begun taking orders to make them for other people. I wasted no time in asking for a peek inside his workshop.

I have no substantial understanding of ‘Penny’s’ aside from the fact that they fit somewhere in the mythical creatures category of my mind.  I have seen a few variations over time but never really understood what I was looking at.  I had once seen a lone penny rider, with loaded panniers on a deserted stretch of road in the middle of Tasmania, only later coming to understand that Evandale and it’s annual National Championships are a definitive penny mecca in the whole of the southern hemisphere.

Dan made me a cuppa and filled me in on many of the technical traditions of penny building, the majority of which he continues to adhere to, albeit with minor engineering advances.   The wonderful thing about Dan’s building is that his meticulous machines begin life incredibly raw.  His workshop is not a dust free, air locked bunker filled with digital CNC mills- it is a simple backyard shed in which are applied a few simple DIY processes, a few basic skills, an immeasurable amount of passion and a genius approach.

Dan is a humble and articulate man and I am very grateful for the time he took to share his making.  I’ve cobbled together a few highlights from our chat but it’s safe to say that a I left Dan’s place with my mind overflowing and I simply couldn’t retain all of the great details that he openly shared. Enjoy the pics below and check out his site.  You’d better get your order in soon if you’d like one as his waiting list is already quite long.

It turns out you need a somewhat oversized truing stand to build penny wheels.  This is the one Dan made.

Bike nerds know what they are looking at here – radical custom spoke technology.  No heat, pure material, absolutely reliable 600mm (ish) spokes.  Did I mention that Dan makes his own hubs from scratch?  They are based around a modified BB axle – I’ll let your imagination do the rest.

 This is the lovely tool that Dan has made to create his awesome custom spokes.

A template for the unique headtube junction that becomes part of the ‘spine’.  Dan's headtubes are a traditional penny 'internal' design rather than the more common and contemporary design.

Prototype penny bars commissioned by Nitto, made in Horsham.

A very particular part of Dan’s design and his commitment to traditional forms are his tapered fork legs.  The best donor material for this happens to be pre-loved tailshafts!  Upcycle mastery.