He comes to frame building from bike racing back in the 1970's. He says he used to race a wide range of bikes that all had the same basic parts package so he learned how the frames were different. During the second bike boom, he notes the first was in the 1890's, he was working for one of the Twin Cities first pro bike shops in Minneapolis and they started importing British Lugs, Hayden crowns and other frame building parts. He had a friend who built frames and asked the guy to teach him the ropes. So he started his own frame but soon after his friend moved away. " I had to finish it myself" he says. That was the beginning of a lifetime of framebuilding.
I asked about fitting and he says he doesn't use a fit kit. He goes for a bike ride with his customer. Makes a suggestion and then they tweek a bit. He thinks you need to be out on a bike before you can understand how the customer uses a bike and what they need. He rode 7000 miles this year.
I ask about how a new framebuilder gets to know when they are getting good penetration on a lug. Out comes a box of cut-away lugs and he points out where the top tube butts up against the head tube often there is no penetration.
It is not common for a framebuilder to also be a great painter. Most framebuilders send their frames out to someone who specializes in painting. But Chris does framebuilding, painting and he can electroplate dropouts himself. In the spray booth are his own frames and new and old repaints for others. His paint jobs compliment good lug work and don't bury the lugs in paint. He says it is easier to do with metallics because they are semi-transparent and you can see the edge of the lug through the coating. But solid colors are harder and if he knows a customer wants a solid color he can purposely not file down the lugs as much to maintain the lug lines when he is making the frame.
His frames and his paint jobs are top notch. He only does about 6 frames per year these days so he can get in those 7000 miles a year on his own bike. But that means you have a chance to get a frame from someone whose work is as good as it gets but doesn't require a 4 year wait.
If you are thinking about getting a new frame made you owe it to yourself to give Chris Kvale a call and see what he can do for you.