Building our ANT Bikes

The perfect cycling vacation: building bikes with Mike Flanigan at ANT

Ant Bikes

2014 has been a huge year at Bike Law: we launched our new site, developed a network of first-rate bike lawyers across the country, moved into a dedicated Bike Law H(after renovating the 1825 Charleston Single House), and represented more and more injured bicyclists in South Carolina and beyond.

August rolled around and realized that we needed a vacation.  What does a bike lawyer do to take a break: build bikes, of course.  Some of you know that I love the bicycle as an object (as art) as much as I love to ride.  I have a mid-sized collection of droll-worthy bikes: a Grand Bois randonneur (from a 2011 trip to Kyoto), a Mariposa randonneur (recently repainted by Chris Kvale), and my three Della Santas.  (I’ll show off these beauties in posts soon).

But I’ve always wanted to build a bike.  When I say “build,” I don’t mean assemble, I mean start with a pile of steel tubes and finish with something you can pedal away.

And I’ve long wanted to do this with Mike Flanigan of ANT Bikes.  I’ve followed his work over the years, and dig his approach and focus on gorgeous, practical roadsters, a modern take on the classic English three-speed.  Mike is well know for sharing his craft with others, running week-long frame building classes (he also offers longer programs to train hobby and professional builders).

We “needed” everyday bikes for commuting, shopping, light touring and riding around.  “Gentleman Cycling” is my thing, and I wanted to build a gentleman’s (and gentlewoman’s) bike (much much more on Gentleman Cycling in the near future).

Lauren and I packed up the car and drove north.  We left directly from a deposition in a bicycle accident case in Greenville, SC and drove to Mike’s shop in Walpole, Mass.  (On the way, we spent a few days at the Mohonk Mountain House, an old-world spa in the Hudson River Valley, and visited with friends in Amherst).  It is a perfect summer in New England, especially in comparison to Charleston.

We arrived at ANT at 9 am Monday morning, excited but clueless about what was in store.  I’ll admit, as much as I think about bikes, I really never thought about how much work goes into a bicycle frame.

ANT Bike

STEP 1: Welding

Our first task was learning to weld.  I use the word “learning” loosely.  I am a believer in the 10,000 hour rule to do something well (it takes me at least that long), so I knew that a week was an introduction to the beginning of learning.

For us bike nerds, TIG welding is to brazing as bass fishing is to fly-fishing for trout.  The classic, artsy steel frames have long been built by brazing (i.e., melting a softer metal (like silver or brass) to “glue” steel tubes together, either into a steel lug (and they can be beautiful) or by seamless fillets (my favorite style)).  TIG welding uses a high temperature electric arc to join the steel tubes together with melted steel (mostly from a steel wire).

TIG welding gained prominence with BMX bikes and mountain bikes in the 80s.  It’s a quicker, cheaper, and usually uglier way to join the tubes together. Debates used to rage that welding was weaker than brazing (because of the higher temperatures), but with steel tubes now designed to withstand welding, the issue is dead.  It’s only an issue of aesthetics.

Mike is a skilled brazer, but most of his work is TIG.  Part of the reason is that he began his trade with Fat City making mountain bikes, another reason is that TIG can be more versatile, but the most important reason is that he is fantastic at it.  It only took a few hours with Mike to abandon any notion that TIG welding is a lesser craft.  He is amazing at it, and his small symmetrical welds look great.

But before we welded, we decked out in protective gear:

Welding hat

Mike had us start welding heavy pieces of flat stock together.

Welding torch

We spent the better part of two days getting the hang of it, graduating from welding heavy steel plates to sample bicycle tubes.  Welding is a game of millimeters.  You use the arc to form a puddle of melted tube, and then dab the steel wire into the puddle to form the circular welds. One tiny misstep and the tungsten point can dab and stick, the wire can ball up, or, worse yet, the steel tube can blow a hole and melt away. We made all these mistakes, over and over. But after two days, we got to the point of being able to actually kind of do it.   There are so many variables: the tungsten tip, the foot pedal to control heat, the angle and direction of the welding gun, the speed of dabbing, and on and on.

STEP 2: Designing the bikes

We knew what we wanted before we got here.  His-and-her bikes in the ANT house style.  While one of us was welding away, Mike measured us and and watched us “ride” a fitting jig of his design and construction (one of the coolest thing about Mike and his shop he builds most everything himself).

He then put those measurements into a Bike CAD program and made design prints.  Here’s mine:

Bike CAD

I’m used to seeing the sizing measurements and geo charts, but these plans have tube dimensions and construction details.

STEP 3: Preparing the tubes

We started with a stack of steel tubes and various metal bits.

Pile of bicycle tubes

Each of the tubes had to be cut to size, slotted or mitered (cutting them at the correct angle and radius so they could fit together), and prepped.  Here’s Mike showing Lauren where to cut:

Bicycle tube

Working with metal was a revelation.  It is intensely satisfying to cut, grind, and file steel.

Cutting bicycle tube

STEP 4: Building the main triangle

Once the tubes were prepped, we assembled our bikes in a jig and tacked them together (using a few bigger welds to temporarily hold the bike together).

ANT Bikes

Then we got to it!  I was pretty confident with my test welds, but all changed when I was working on my own bike.  I got nervous that I was going to screw it up. Mike reassured me that this was normal; he has had good welders freak out a little when they got to their own bikes.

Here’s Lauren welding the seat tube to the bottom bracket:

Lauren welding frame

Wednesday (our third day) was nuts.  The goal was to complete our main triangles.  And we did it.

Main triangle

Laurens ANT

STEP 5: Building the rest

It was overwhelming to realize that after the main triangle was welded, the real work started.  Think of all the parts of a bicycle frame, all of those bits need to be prepped, cut, welded, filed, etc.  Here’s me grinding the rear drop out:

Grinding drop outs

Mike stepped in on the hardest parts, and I am very thankful that he did!

And he brazed lots of bits.  It was really cool to see how gentle brazing was compared to welding.  The temperature is much lower, the flame an actually flame (and not an electric arc), the softer silver melts and flows like liquid.  Our next trip to ANT, we are going to learn to braze. Here is Mike brazing a lug detail on the head tube.   The care and attention he gives to bike building is awesome to watch.  You knew that he wanted us to have gorgeous bikes.

Mike brazing

Mike also made many trips to another jig (of his construction) to align the frame.  (I have ridden many bikes, but this city bike is the easiest to ride no-handed, probably because it is perfectly straight).

He built these amazing stems:

ANT Bike Stem

And racks:

ANT Bike D Rack

STEP 6: Painting

One of the hardest parts of getting a custom bike is deciding on paint color.  Believe me, been there done that.  Not this time!  Any color you want as long as it is black.  Lauren agreed.

Like TIG welding to brazing, powder coating is the red-headed stepchild of traditional wet paint.  Unlike paint that relies on nasty chemicals and solvents, powder coating uses the magic of electricity to bind a fine powder onto metal, and then into the oven for 30 minutes to bake on.  The result is a thicker finish that is much more durable that regular paint.  No fumes, no multi-coats, just sandblast to prep, spray on powder, and then bake.

Powder coat oven

For an everyday bike, powder coat is by far my preference.  In the few weeks I’ve had it, I have locked this bike up at least a hundred times to bike racks, parking meters, fences, and nary a mar.

STEP 7: Assembly

Saturday was devoted to assembling the bikes.  I’ve been my own mechanic for years, and I thought we would fly through this step.  But it took all day to put the two bikes together.  The biggest time drains were running the light wires through the frame and fork.  It was only during final assembly that Mike’s complete vision came into view.  Every facet of these bicycles has been thought out and perfected.  Mike patiently helped build them up.

ANT Bike Assembly

STEP 8: Our first ride!

It was such a joy to jump on these beauties and take our first pedal.  It was immediately apparent that Mike had nailed the design: cosy, as light as practicable, very responsive, solid, and quiet.  Smiles all around:

Riding ANT Bike

Two ANT bikes

STEP 9: Go do it yourself!

I cannot stress this enough: go see Mike Flanigan at Alternative Needs Transportation in Walpole, Massachusetts, and build one for your very own.  He is such a skilled craftsman, patient teacher, and all-around great fellow with great taste in music!  As far as vacations go, way better than sitting on a beach, and, IMHO, even better than going somewhere exotic and riding yourself into a jelly.

Thanks Mike, and save some a week for us in a year or two to come back and learn some more.  Here’s Mike, proud as hell:

Mike Flanigan



Brendan Kevenides Jun 04, 2018

At sea a boat under power must give way to a more vulnerable craft.  The law requires that a power driven vessel give way to a sailing vessel.  A sail boat must give way to a craft engaged in fishing. These simple rules are consistent with the maxim that with greater power comes greater responsibility. […]

Read More
Commuter Bike
Bruce Hagen May 29, 2018

Recently, my wife and I moved into a new home that’s closer to my office, which has allowed me to start commuting by bike.  I rode my bike to and from my office 4 consecutive days before my schedule forced me back into the car. My hope and plan is to commute by bike at […]

Read More
Pat Brown May 10, 2018

Strength, ambition, and courage are just a few words that come to mind when we think of Anthony Lue.  Growing up, Anthony enjoyed playing competitive sports such as baseball, volleyball, basketball and mountain biking, but his true passion was discovered on his high school track.    After winning gold for 100m hurdles at the provincial championships […]

Read More
Lauri Boxer-Macomber Apr 30, 2018

Following a horrific bicycle crash in 2016, Dr. Michael Rifkin has become a new type of bicycling advocate — one who is deeply committed to ending distracted driving. Read his op-ed on Making Distracted Driving in Maine Taboo here. Dr. Rifkin’s piece reminds us that we can be distracted by our phones and other electronic devices even […]

Read More
Brian Weiss Apr 26, 2018

On November 21, 2017, I saw a TV news story about how the Broomfield District Attorney’s Office was routinely offering lax plea deals to drivers that injure cyclists.  In bicycle crash cases with injuries, the DA was offering plead deals to “broken headlight” or “defective vehicle” charges. A “defective vehicle” sentence is one of the […]

Read More
Atlanta's Bike Czar
Bruce Hagen Apr 19, 2018

Who is looking for a great job in a dynamic city with a great opportunity to make bicycle advocacy not just a passion, but a full time, rewarding and well-paying job?   The City of Atlanta is in search of a a new Chief Bicycle Officer to replace the outgoing CBO, Superstar Becky Katz, who after […]

Read More
Joe Piscitello Apr 04, 2018

Piscitello Law – Bike Law PA is pleased to share highlights from the third annual Vision Zero conference, held March 17 in West Philadelphia.  The event was hosted by Philadelphia Bicycle Coalition and opening remarks by the Executive Director Sarah Clark Stuart encouraged 250 participants to “listen, learn and be inspired….”   Mayor James Kenney […]

Read More
Lauri Boxer-Macomber Apr 03, 2018

The first issue is that many bicycle crashes are not being reported into the State of Maine Crash Database, which leads to incomplete and inaccurate state-wide crash reporting data and arguably also leads to uninformed priority setting and budgetary decisions.  The crashes that are unreported and/or underreported on a state level are sometimes, but not […]

Read More
Lauri Boxer-Macomber Mar 25, 2018

Foundational Principles Bicycles are Traffic and Belong on Maine’s Roadways In Maine, bicycle riders are included within the definition of “traffic” and should be treated as part of Maine’s traffic system.  See 29-A M.R.S.A. § 101 (82).   Rights and Responsibilities In general, a person riding a bicycle in Maine has all of the rights […]

Read More
Joe Piscitello Mar 20, 2018

Vision Zero (VZ) is multi-nation initiative with a guiding principle that death and serious injury should not be an acceptable outcome of transportation.  Vision Zero plans often draw attention to flaws within the transportation system such as dangerous traffic patterns, speeding and a lack of sufficient protected bike/pedestrian lanes.  VZ action plans utilize data to […]

Read More
Danny Feldman Mar 15, 2018

I will not pretend to speak for all cyclists, but I feel pretty confident in saying that being passed by cars on the road is a primary area of concern. Most of the time there is no problem and the vehicle passes safely. Nevertheless, I personally have been “buzzed” more times than I wish were […]

Read More
Bruce Hagen Mar 14, 2018

Georgia Bicycle Laws   I find myself in what some people might describe as an odd position.  As a lawyer, I represent people who have suffered injuries while riding bicycles due to the negligent actions of others, mainly car drivers.   However, as an advocate for safe cycling, I spend a lot of time trying to […]

Read More
Load More