Chris Chance has been getting a lot of flak lately on various bike forums etc…and I thought I would say a few things about my time at Fat City Cycles. I tend to not want to write publicly about my experiences at Fat City, for I do not want people to get the wrong idea about the wild times there or as story’s get retold have it become something that it was not. Or by getting in trouble by not stating the “Official company story”. But after all this time of 20 years and with the rebirth of Chris Chance in the bike world I think I would like to write a few stories about my days there. Some good, some bad, some funny, some no one has ever heard before.
Chris Chance was a good, nice guy and I liked him a lot. Yes, there were many aspects about working for him that I did not like and the way employees or policy were handled, but there are not too many jobs out there were this kind of resentment is not present. I was a company man to the end and worked up to the moment the power was cut off [and beyond].
First to dispel one item. I did not make or weld bicycles at Fat City Cycles. I have always stated on my website and every interview I have ever had, that I was a painter for the 5 years I worked at Fat City Cycles. While at Fat City I did teach myself to TIG weld and I payed attention to everything going on around me. I learned a lot about making bikes during my years there. There was a brief moment where I might have become production manager, but backed out, because I realized that I really suck at managing people. I did try to move to the welding department, but was told I would have to take a pay cut, so I stayed in painting, which was a good skilled job that no one wanted.
Mike in booth
My years at Fat were the last 5 of the 12 that they were in business [in Somerville MA that is]. When I got there Fat was in full swing making about 1650 frames and forks a year with about 20 or so people. Fat had a high volume and that counts for a lot. You can learn a lot with that volume, making bikes that would be abused and broken. Chris did a lot of testing. While in the beginning I am sure that frames were developed by trail and error. Something breaks, make it thicker, add a gusset or both. In the years I was there Chris helped build testing equipment to destroy frames and forks, designed heat treated tubes with True Temper. Chris did not have Bikecad, so frames were cut to frame programs he calculated with formulas he developed. Chris learned from the school of hard knocks starting at Electric Boat, then Witcomb USA in CT [hired by Richard Sachs]. When Witcomb shut down Chris moved to Boston thinking he was out of the bike business. But a Chance came up to buy out another frame shop at 331 Somerville Ave called Tanguy Cycles and then Chris Chance Cycles was born in 1977
In my years there Chris was not really making the bikes per say, as in cutting tubes, welding or doing finish work and that is OK with me. He was the head of the company and paid his dues with hard work making a lot of bikes before I was there. Chris did not how to TIG weld and never did. Again that was fine with me. Chris was fantastic at brazing and using a file [among other things]. Why learn TIG at that time, because you could hire a professional welder like Scott Bengsten who had a bachelors degree in welding to be your head welder. Scott set the bar for TIG welding at that time and Chris was smart to hire him. There were many other good welders at Fat through the years, but Scott led the way.
I saw Chris got some good and negative comments about his prototypes he unveiled at this years NAHBS . The chain stays were too short on his 29er. All well, a slight over sight that will be fixed. He is using a contractor to help build the bikes. Good idea, keeps the start up cost down, see how things work out first. Two different head tubes [tapered and non]. Probably just testing which one people like best[ again proto]. And all this talk on the forks. That is a whole other post, so later on that. I thought the bikes look pretty good, especially the red 650B bike. They looked a bit unique, had the Fat look, but with a modern twist. Wish I could have gone to NAHBS to say hello and good luck.
I wish Chris the best and glad to see that he is interested in bicycles again. He was way into bikes and riding for many years. Got totally burned out and had his balls in a vise when the company went south. It was sad and I felt bad for him. Yes I was upset too loosing my job, but it was actually the best thing…I got to help start a new company and move on. Thanks to Chris for giving me a job. When I started at Fat Chris set me up at the sand blaster and said “this was where I started”. When Fat shut down I told Chris I was going to start my own paint shop, he said “Keep your over heads low”. Good advise. Wish I had stuck to it ;)
I am very interested in history of any kind and no stranger to bike history and the stories of the New England frame building scene. When I was at Fat City I would ask anyone who would share any stories before my time and have put together bits from bike books I have and I plan to share some of this here.