FRANK THE WELDER If you Build It, They Will Ride

VYNL Race Bikes designs every tube and geometry angle to our own specifications, but good design is nothing without a good fabricator. We parter with the legendary Frank "The Welder" Wadelton, who makes sure every tube is joined with a sexy stack-of-dimes. For Metal May, we sat down with Frank to see what drives his passion for bikes, welding, aluminum, and maple syrup.

How did you come to be known as “Frank the Welder”?

I got that name when I worked at a special effects place in the early Yeti days. I worked part-time for a guy named Richard Armillo, who had difficulty pronouncing my last name, Wadelton. So whenever someone called on the phone asking for me, he’d yell out ‘Frank the Welder!' Longtime cycling journalist Zapata Espinoza was in the shop one day when this happened and he laughed out loud. And so it stuck.

How long have you been doing what you do?

My first memory of welding was when I was 10 or 12. My Dad was welding and I helped him build a motorcycle trailer. I found it fascinating…the light, the welding hood, and so much heat radiating three feet away from the source. I thought, “Man, this is cool!” And then growing up in the suburbs of Southern California there was a group of 10 of us riding around on early BMX bikes and Schwinn Stingrays, doing our best to imitate motorcycles. Things broke, and so I started welding pieces back together and fixing bikes, and then I started modifying them instead, and just kept going.

Would you say welding was your calling? What would you have done if you could start over?

Welding was all I really wanted to do. From the 8th grade I was already tired of school and more into working on things and fixing anything I could fix for money. And I love racing. I’m not the best at it, but I love tuning and adjusting things and doing anything I can to make things faster. I’ve dabbled in all sorts of gigs from helping fix cars and trucks in off-road races in the desert, to pitting for Ivan Stewart, to prototyping parts for GM Proving Grounds, aircraft parts, race cars, restorations, all sorts of odds-and-ends. It always pays off with some idea, or development or progress. It’s always about performance and I enjoy changing the way things perform. If you’re going to improve anything, you have to risk failure, and that’s what racing, bicycles or cars, brings to the table. That’s how you learn and get better, and that’s how you develop the best practices. I built my first frame in 1972, and haven't stopped building since.

gorgeous welds are worth seeing

Who else has your torch graced?

I started working as a contractor for Mongoose Bicycles. I built thousands of stems and forks, and made the tooling and fixtures for those parts. A lot of it’s piecework, and it becomes a kind of competition to develop better tooling and fixutres so you can make more pieces, and more money, without sacrificing quality. It’s that mindset that I brought to the table in the early days of Yeti Bicycles. I was working with Chris Herting of 3D Racing. He knew bicycles and I knew welding, and we helped each other along until John Parker came along and that was the start of Yeti. I’ve also welded for Land Shark, Bullseye Cranks, Barracuda Bikes, Norco, Turner, and a number of others.

You’ve got the skill to build with anything but you’re best known for aluminum. What’s up with that?

When I was at Yeti, John Harrington and Chuck Teixeira came over with Easton’s new tubeset. I was already doing some work at a place called Cryogenic Experts Incorporated, working with high pressure tubing and liquid gas processing tanks, pretty high tech stuff. When John showed up, he was excited about their new tubing, and so was I. Aluminum is a whole different game, it’s bigger and brighter, you can’t hide the welds with paint, and it builds a really light yet durable bike. I wanted to make the most out of the material as it advanced, starting with Yeti’s race-winning team bikes.

People don’t understand materials. There are so many assumptions about the inherent qualities of any given material, but it all comes down to how much you use and where you put it. All the advancements over the years that we’ve seen with tubing of all sorts has taken aluminum to the next level because it’s so easy to work with. I appreciate other materials, but aluminum offers a rare combination…if you use it right and don’t get too greedy (with weight savings) it often has better performance than steel or titanium or carbon, especially if you throw price and stiffness in the mix. Aluminum remains very attractive to this day.

Frank doing what he does best.

Why did aluminum lose favor?

A couple of reasons. A lot of people went too far with the weight thing. And I don’t believe the material usage was focused on ride quality. The tubesets that Easton designed had a great ride, but it took a long time to get it right and by then people were looking for the next trend.

What non-bicycle things do you do?

I have “Product Fabrication Disorder”. I find challenges and go after things that seem impossible or difficult, and stuff that ultimately needs to be pretty. I built a bracket for a fire truck siren, and got it red hot and then textured it with a thing called a pneumatic needle gun, so that it looks like a casting, which is a very different process. So I can make great reproductions of castings and make things look original on restorations. Not many people need this stuff, but when they do, I’m one of the guys who can do it.

I build sections of an exhaust system for one of Steve McQueen’s old motorcycles. That thing went on to sell for $250,000. And I have this Jeep Cherokee that I’ve been messing with. It’s a flat-belly (no parts are exposed below the frame rails), has an onboard air compressor, Ford axles, Chevy brakes and two transfer cases. It has 26 forward gears and 3 reverse gears. I’m always building something.

So, what's good with Vermont?

The food. I love that I can buy food of the highest quality without any trouble at all. Cows are local, Goat milk is local, community supported agriculture program here is top notch, maple syrup, what's not to like? I love riding the dirt roads, and the road riding is sublime. So yeah, the food and the riding. Some really nutty people out here, too.

Garfield does an inspect. Safety first.

The Vermont fuel that feeds the FTW fire.

Straight up XXX weld porn.

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