Frame and Fortune

By Jamie Wolfcale
Photos by Brevin Blach

(Published in the September 2010 issue)

Whether it's a result of the recession or just because we have the best weather, bikes are bigger than ever in San Diego. In keeping with this trend, countless custom bike-frame builders have been popping up all over, many of whom claim to be the best.

To these self-proclaimed experts, Brian Baylis would say, "How could you make the best bike in the world? I do."

A Southern California native currently living in La Mesa, Baylis has become a legend among bike connoisseurs over the past few decades. His East County workshop is a bike-geek wonderland, with frames in various states of repair hanging from the walls. Sitting on a stand in the middle of the room is a recently completed jewel-like bike frame-the attention to detail is so astonishing that it would almost be a shame to attach the wheels.

For Baylis, building bikes has been a lifelong passion, and he regards his work as a privilege versus a business venture. He got his start after meeting Faliero Masi, the legendary Italian bike builder who still has devoted "Masiphiles" that collect his vintage frames. The two met in the early '70s, when Masi had just built a factory in Carlsbad to capitalize on the American bike boom exploding at the time.

"I just happened to meet him at a bike race in 1973 in Escondido, and I was riding a Masi at the time," says Baylis. "The old man was just standing there, and I got his autograph on my racing number."

Baylis went on to work for the man whose work he had long admired, learning and crafting alongside Masi for two years.

Nowadays, Baylis keeps a low public profile. His only official Internet presence is a blog a friend set up for him, and though he does occasionally post updates, his focus has never been on promoting himself. Instead, he prefers to build frames only for those people who are willing to go through the trouble to find him.

"Unlike blogs whose purpose is to promote and advertise," he says, "my purpose shall be primarily, but not exclusively, to educate."

A Baylis custom frame costs upwards of $5,000, and each one can take up to two years to build. But some of his customers have waited even longer-a few months ago, he got a call from a customer who had first ordered a frame 20 years ago. For various reasons, the customer had put the process on hold, but Baylis plans on building the frame soon and delivering it as promised. Seems the ride will have been worth the wait.

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