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
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
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.
La Mesa, CA
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