Dave Wiseman hand crafts fillet-brazed bike frames out of a small shop just outside Chicago and his fat-bikes caught our eye so we prepared this story to tell you all about Dave! (Click on any photo in the story to make it larger!)
FB.c – Your interest in frame building was sparked when you moved to Boston, tell us about that.
Dave – I moved to Boston from downtown Chicago in 2004 to earn my Masters degree in Architecture. After living in Boston for a year, I moved to Somerville, MA. As many readers know, Somerville has been the breeding ground for some incredible frame builders – Merlin, Fat Chance, Independent, Seven, to name a few. This sparked my desire to learn more about the craft and gain a greater level of understanding of frame geometry and how it all plays out on the trail.
After receiving my master’s degree, my wife, two year old daughter and I moved back to Chicago. By that time, the economy was a disaster, and no firms were hiring, especially someone fresh out of school. So, after several months of beating the streets and numerous interviews, I decided to form my own contract architectural business to assist firms on an ‘as needed’ basis. Because I focused on contract work, I was able to carve out 3 weeks to attend a frame building class. Once I made the decision to attend Doug Fattic’s class, I had to wait many months until a spot was available. His depth of knowledge and patience made it an incredible experience. Upon returning from the course, I set myself a goal of having a bare-bones working shop within four months. I did not want to lose the skills I had just acquired. With money tight, I had to dig hard to find some of the key items to round out my shop. My first purchase was a Blanchard ground welding table, which I found on Craigslist for a decent price. With the help of eight neighbors, I hauled it out to my backyard shed, and the centerpiece of my shop was in place. Eventually, I fired my torch and did my first practice braze on March 2nd 2013, a couple weeks under my self-imposed deadline.
FB.c – When did you first discover fat-bikes and what got you into building them?
Dave – I distinctly remember the first time I saw a fat-bike, in spring 2007. Honestly, the look of the bike took me by surprise. A few weeks later, I stopped in a small bike shop outside of Davis Square in Somerville and they had one of the early Pugs on display. The owner of the shop explained that he rode it on beaches. I thought that it was an interesting way to explore new areas, but I much preferred technical single track. I hate to say it, but I really did not give it any thought until I moved back to Chicago. It was a soggy late fall day and I was just logging some miles on the limestone path when I passed a guy on a Pug. He actually yelled at me to stop- wanting to check out the old Ti frame I was riding. We started talking bikes and he let me take his for a spin. WOW! Too fun! A couple of weeks later, 2 Bici Bike Shop near Palos Forest Preserve outside of Chicago was hosting a Surly/Salsa demo day. Fortunately, we had 5 inches of fresh snow the night before and the trails were perfect. After that experience, I was hooked! Within in a couple of weeks, I had built up a Pug and was riding any chance I could get.
FB.c – When did you actually build your first fat-bike?
Dave – After completing a frame for my wife, an old friend got in contact with me to build a bike for her husband. I was incredibly grateful for her trust and support, but at the same time I was apprehensive because this would be the second frame I had ever fabricated in my shop. It was then that tons of thoughts came back in my head from Fattic’s class. I knew how and what to do, I just had to be very organized and take my time. Ultimately, the frame had to fit my client, have good riding geometry, and be straight and true. Luckily, my friend gave me free reign on the design and build. Here was her message: “Build me whatever would be really cool.” Based on her husband’s size, I decided to undertake a 29+. It was a huge leap for me, a step which completely tested my new skill set. I ended up using an 83mm BB with 135mm rear spacing. It was during this build that I had the opportunity to meet Greg from Fat-Bike.com/Schlick Cycles. I wanted to use Schlick’s new 29+ Northpaws and I had to get them fast to complete the build. I remember the day Greg and I both jumped in our cars, (me with two little ones in tow), to meet somewhere between my shop and Milwaukee. Thanks to his extra effort, I was able to deliver on time! Since that build, I have built two other fat bikes. The most recent build turned out to be a pivotal frame for me because everything came together perfectly. I felt much more confident behind the torch and had a greater understanding of how the frame behaves through the fabrication process.
I enlisted Dave to build a bike to give to my husband- an avid rider who has been distracted by work too much lately. Dave’s passion for bikes and customization was apparent after our first phone conference…He was not going to just build an awesome bike, but rather, he created a piece that would not only meet my husband’s needs but would also represent him. Dave’s enthusiasm for creating and building was clearly reflected as he allowed me to see the whole process unfold. We discussed logistics, performance, cost- through it all, I knew that I was in the best hands and my husband would be thrilled with the end result. My husband was so surprised and absolutely loves his Wiseman frame…people are constantly stopping him asking where they can get one! I absolutely loved working with Dave and I look forward to working with him again…this time for myself! – Jen V.
FB.c – What have you learned and/or improved since you built your first fat-bike?
Dave – As a new builder, I am constantly trying to learn. Each frame has pushed me to hone my skills and has challenged me to remain flexible during the build. The second fat-bike I made was for myself. Carver had just released the Transfat suspension fork and I wanted to try it, so I built a frame with the correct geometry to run it. I also wanted to try out Paragon Machine Works’ Polydrops. The flexibility of being able to swap out inserts to run different rear end configurations seemed like a cool idea and it exposed me to working with stainless steel. This build also proved that I could not live without a decent bender. In order to get the necessary tire clearance, I had to run the seat stays up to the top tube. In the end, I really like how it turned out, but it was not how it was planned. I have since picked up a Nova bender and have created some custom bending jigs.
FB.c – Do you do symmetrical frames, offset or both?
Dave – At this point, I only do symmetrical rear triangles and I think I am going to stick with them. The development of the asymmetrical rear end was extremely creative and filled the need when there was little in the way of dedicated fat-bike components. I personally believe that the symmetrical set-up is just easier for the end user since there is a lot less trouble mounting and un-mounting the wheels, better clearances for various brake set-ups, etc… Plus, you do not have to explain to the random guy riding behind you that- no, my bike did not get run over by a car, that’s how it is supposed to look!
FB.c – How are your frames finished? Paint? Powder coat. Benefits of either?
I powder coated the first frame I completed, but I found it too limiting. I was fortunate enough to search through some local forums and discover my current painter, who is here in Chicago. His work is exceptional and he is always open to new ideas. I believe that the type of person seeking out a custom frame appreciates the opportunity to have some aspect of their personality come through in the paint job. I really enjoy the fact that I can drive over to his place to sit down and discuss the paint job from start to finish. He also has been there for me in a real pinch, like when I had to add a slight dimple to a frame that had already been painted (of course I had damaged the paint job in that area). I was under a tight timeline and he turned it around in 24 hours for me! Ultimately, the finish quality I get from my painter is the level of finish I want to see on my frames.
Whether on the trials or city streets, I’ve loved riding bikes since I was a kid. It was not until my wife surprised me with a fat- bike built by Dave that I realized what I had been missing. Without my knowledge, Dave consulted with my wife on several occasions for everything he needed to create a frame that fit me perfectly. I have to say the finish quality of the frame is nothing like my bikes in the past, it is absolutely beautiful and every joint is crafted perfectly. It is very apparent that Dave’s passion translates into his work. I absolutely love this bike! – Brain L.
FB.c – Do you work strictly with steel or have you explored any other materials?
Dave – Currently, I only work in steel, but I have started to practice a bit with stainless. After years of riding all frame materials, I just feel that the characteristics of steel make for great riding frames.
FB.c – Are there organized fat-bike events in your area? Have you attended any?
Dave – There are a few organized rides popping up, but no dedicated fat bike races in the immediate Chicago area. I think some people need to realize that fat-bikes are not just for riding in snow and sand. They are great year round bikes and in the soil conditions we have in the Midwest, we can typically ride most trails a day after a storm without creating any damage. Back to your question- my goal is to get out to more events this year. I think when people to have the opportunity to see a handmade frame in person they can really appreciate the difference. Plus, I love to let people to take my bikes for a spin.
FB.c – What do you like to do when you are not building bikes?
Dave – It seems that most days-if I can find some free time- I am presented with the choice of working on a build or going riding. Since I know my customers are counting the minutes until they received their new frame, I usually opt to build, plus I love it! At this point, I still have to maintain my day job too, so there aren’t many free hours left in most days.
FB.c – What is your favorite beer? Any good, local brew houses in your neck of the woods?
Dave – I have been on an IPA kick for the last year or so and I really like the offerings from Solemn Oath Microbrewery- which opened up a year ago, and is located only few miles from my home. Not only are their brews incredible, the names are pretty crazy too. Just had a growler of “Butterfly Flash Mob” IPA last weekend, check them out!
Thanks, Dave! We look forward to seeing more work from you. If you are interested in talking to Dave check out his website at http://wisemanframeworks.com.