What is a bicycle framebuilder?

Is “framebuilder” purely a description of someone who builds bicycle frames? Or is it a job title? Does it even matter?  Recently I got into hot water with what I naively thought was a simple question.  I had to re-evaluate my thoughts and perhaps prejudices, in the modern spectrum of identity politics.  Should we apply labels or not?  Is it gatekeeping? And if so, is that a bad thing?

If I asked my mentor Andrew Poudziunas this question, his answer would be quite blunt, but it would be something along the lines of –

“Someone who is competent to build a bicycle frame from start to finish to a set brief.”

This simple definition could exclude those that have built a frame but who have not attained mastery of the craft but is that a bad thing?  Is it gatekeeping to say that someone who aspires to be a framebuilder or builds frames for a hobby is not yet a framebuilder?  If someone wants to call themselves a framebuilder because they have built a couple of frames in their garage, does anyone else have the right to say they are not?  Does widening the definition actually lower standards?

The main criticism of a narrower definition of framebuilder is that it isn’t inclusive of those who build frames as a hobby, who don’t necessarily want to acquire a level of competency needed to build frames in a professional context.  Who has the right to put a label on someone else?

Since the early days of the internet I have dabbled with coding and developing websites, whether that was building a whole site from PHP, javascript and HTML or writing plugins for WordPress.  Some people with similar experience may consider themselves a coder or developer.  Personally I think I would be quickly out of my depth if I applied for a job as such. Thinking back to my own apprenticeship, “framebuilder” did not become my job title until I was considered competent to build frames to a good standard without supervision.  At that point you could apply for a job somewhere else and although there may be some interpretation on what a good standard is.  You would be expected to produce a frame which is of a professional quality and is safe to ride and therefore sell to the cycling public.

Unfortunately apprenticeships in framebuilding are almost unheard of these days and if independent framebuilders are to survive well into the 21st century then many builders will have to be self taught and/or bring experience/skills from outside the industry.  If you are offended by the suggestion that you have to be competent to be a framebuider then I would ask you to take a step back and engage in some self reflection. It’s true that building bike frames is not brain surgery, but whatever material you choose to build with, you should aspire to gain competency before you apply the term to yourself.  That may be considered gatekeeping to some, but the gatekeeping is on you because you only need to put the necessary effort in to attain the skills. No one is preventing you from doing that.

A framebuilder is someone who can competently build a frame from start to finish.  It is not just a label which can be applied to anyone who engages in the activity of building a bicycle frame.