Wheel Building at Masi California

I can tell everyone from personal experience about both wheel building and mounting tires, from the perspective of Faliero Masi while in Carlsbad, CA in late 1973. I did both jobs. As a matter of fact, I was probably hired at Masi for the reason that on my "resume" I mentioned that I had built some of my own wheels, and that I had painted a few bikes using an air brush!

Someone recently asked me exactly what my chores were while I worked at Masi. I have decided to recount what it was like to be one of the first Americans hired to work at Masi, CA. Faliero was in attendance for part of the time. The very first task that I was assigned to was to build wheels for the bikes. Faliero Masi taught me to do it EXACTLY his way and no other. We accomplished this with very little language in common because the previous interperter had been let go, and the replacement, Gian Simonetti, was still a week or two from being hired. We used "S" brand 15 ga. stainless spokes, Martano rims, and Campag. small flange 36 hole record hubs. All wheels were built cross 4.

Faliero paid no attention to which way the label on the rim reads. I would start out by putting the nipples onto the washers and getting a whole bunch of them ready and sitting on the bench. I sat on a stool that allowed me to rest the rim on the bench. I would drop in the first 9 spokes and attach them to the rim in every fourth hole beginning with the first hole to the left of the valve hole. Anyway, the process had to go exactly as he dictated; bending the spokes to the angles, etc. during each step and so on.

Faliero had made two simple truing fixtures that were used to true the wheels using only ones' thumbnail as a gauge. The Wheel dishing tool was used, and between the fixture that allowed me to prestress the wheels a bit as he insisted upon, I was able to true and stress wheels to his standards. After about a week I had no thumbnail left to true wheels, and I had built probably 100 wheels.

Faliero decided it was time to put some tires on these wheels. They were fitted with Clement 250 gm. Criterium seta tires. Faliero taught me to glue rims by brushing on slightly reduced (contact cement reducer) Clement glue onto rims with an acid brush. I would wipe the rim with Lacquer thinner, brush on glue, set aside to dry for at least an hour. I was taught to stretch each tire over my shoulder and knee, inflate slightly, scrape the basetape of the tire with the edge of a 6" file (to deburr the excess "tire buggers" and give the glue exposed cloth that would absorb the tire glue eventually), and mount without getting so much as a SPECK of glue on the tire. Faliero would not allow any glue on the sidewalls of the tire. He never made any mention of which way to mount the tires relative to the labels. If it had mattrered to him, trust me, he would have made sure I did it. I learned his method and it still works for me. Falieros' wheelbuilding sequence is obsolete. It will not work with modern hub widths and other factors related to modern rims and hubs.

I probably built about 200 wheels and mounted tires on them in my first weeks at Masi. I had lots of close personal contact with Faliero as he taught me to build wheels his way. He insisted that I stand up while truing wheels. He said it made you pay attention better and kept one from becomming lazy.

The great thing about working in a low production factory like Masi was at the time, is that you are exposed to any given task for a week or two in most cases. You see the whole process going on in the shop every day. During that time you really learn to do the job very well. There was first class supervision and teaching to start you off, then you got lots of practice at it in a very short time. I was extremely fortunate in that not only was I one of the first workers to arrive, which meant that I saw more assignments than almost anyone else in the shop; but I also never really was stuck doing only one thing for the whole time. Two of the guys were frame filers from the very beginning, and that's all they ever did. I had previous experience that led me through wheelbuilding and bike assembly, then on to some filing operations, and eventually into the paint and decal department. I even got a few brazing lessons from Mario Confente along the way, as I was taught to braze dropouts into fork blades and rear stays. I also brazed on some seat stay caps. My time there was very compact with learning and doing. It was an ideal learning situation and an excellent beginning to becomming an independant framebuilder.

The Italians knew from the beginning that within the framebuilding community, those who learn from established framebuilders who have the aptitude, will eventually go out on their own. It is a fact of life. Masi did it, Colnago did it, DeRosa did it, everyone did it.

Anyway, there is the Masi view of rims and tires and the graphics thereon. Masi didn't care. Special care might have been taken on certain occassions; like if something was going to be photographed for something special.

Regarding how the wheels were laced at Masi; I'll describe the drive side of the rear wheel. The rest goes the same from there.

Nine spokes, length 305mm for the drive side of the rear wheel, were dropped in every other spoke hole on the drive side of the hub as you hold the hub in your hand drive side up.

First spoke is inserted into first hole to the left of the valve hole; it will be a "high side" hole. From there, put a spoke into every fourth hole in rim, tighten until two threads show. We used a small screw driver to turn the nipple once it was on the spoke. Once all nine were in, each spoke was bent at the flange to angle towards rim. Then the hub was twisted counterclockwise. You had to find the correct hole to insert spoke #10 by holding a spoke to the rim hole and finding where is goes to the hub as it crosses 4 spokes. Spoke #10 is inserted fron the underside of the hub. First spoke is put in and a nipple attached. Then put in the remaining 8 spokes from underneith and attach to nipples while "lacing" the spokes under the previous spokes.

Turn wheel over, find proper starting hole for spoke #19. The spokes on the left side of the rear wheel were 307mm, as were all of the spokes for the front wheel. There is some weaving to get some of the spokes in on the second side. No big deal. That's basically how it went. I don't know which spokes you call what. Wheels aren't really my bag, Baby.

I think my next job after a session of about two weeks or so was to help in the bike assembly area by doing sub-assemblies. This was fun; I learned Falieros' basic way of putting a bike together, and it was a welcome brake from the "wheel pile". I had built a surplus of wheels by the time they decided there were enough wheels, and once the wheel racks were full there was still a pile of them on the floor.

We wore these blue work aprons there. I was thinking today as I was working, that it would be really cool to have one of those aprons from the early Masi of days now. Oh well. They didn't belong to us anyway, they were supplied by the rag service. I was also looking at one of those Faliero Masi photos that Joe Starck had for sale recently; and Faliero is wearing one like it. It always cracked me up that under Falieros' apron was impeccable Italian clothing, complete with a handsomely tailored long sleeve shirt, snazzy beltless slacks, and fine Italian shoes. He was a dapper and fashion conscious gentleman.

We had these bins that were to hold pre-assembled parts to streamline assembly of completed bikes. Pedals had to have toe clips attached and toe straps installed. We rivited the ends of the toe straps just like they did them in Italy. I did lots of these sets. Then I did mounting stems to handlebars, which cannot be scratched, and then put on the brake levers. The levers had to be proberly positioned, the stem at the proper angle, everything properly tight. Every nut and bolt was to be oiled or greased as neccessary during assembly. A drop of oil in the nut before tightening down the brake lever on the bar, etc.

We had a fixture for setting the stem angle and we leveled the levers by "rocking" them on the bench to check for level. Then I taped the bars in some, but not all cases. I put saddles on seat posts. Put freewheels on all of the wheelsets. It was totally fun to wallow in oceans of Campy parts as we opened box after box and tossed them aside. We filled the dumpsters with them! There was a "parts cage" inside the workshop area where all of the components were kept, still in crates direct from Campagnolo. It was kept locked. I got to go in on many occassions to bring out quantities of goodies for the assembly projects. It was a very neat experience. Also inside the cage, were any items that were "special"; like the Columbus Record tubes sets and such. Holy Cow!

After a while, between all of the wheels and sub-assemblies I had topped up all that was needed for quite a while of bike production. It was time for me to get my first taste of metalworking on the shop floor. My next segment will go into how we were trained in the numerous preliminary filing operations required to feed the framebuilder with ready to go parts. I did everything in the filing job line except do finish filing of brazed frames. I picked that part up from two people there in "after hours" sessions, which I will explain.

Brian Baylis
La Mesa, CA


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