Interview with Fritz Fleck by Speedbicycles Ltd liab. Co
Fritz Fleck with 1972 Flema Campionissimo titanium road bike in front of his workshop at Mannheim, September 2005.
Fritz Fleck, born 1928 in Germany, a technical designer and manufacturer, made probably the first titanium road and track bike frames
under the Flema brand (FLeck, MAnnheim), manufactured in small series.
Speedbicycles (SB): Mr. Fleck, how did you come to build road bike framesets?
Fritz Fleck (FF): I was an enthusiastic cyclist from childhood and later became a proper racer.
Naturally I was also always interested in the bicycle and its technical aspects.
Through my apprenticeship as a construction plumber I acquired the skills to build my first racing frame.
At first, I brazed them on the floor. Later on I built myself a jig when friends also asked me to build frames for them.
SB: Then you made framebuilding your profession?
FF: Yes. I started in 1953. I made up to a hundred frames a year.
Many of them I made for other marques, such as the "Le Taureau" for the German wholesale trader Stier.
Here the Flema titanium frames had been produced: the workshop of Fritz Fleck at Mannheim/Freudenheim (Germany)
SB: When did you have the idea to build titanium frames?
FF: In the beginning of the 70s. Somewhere there already existed a few one-off frames made of titanium;
as I recall, the Porsche factory had made one. I knew some people from the Steinzeug company, Friedrichsfeld (Germany).
They were familair with titanium and produced chemical industry tools (since ti does not oxidize).
SB: Did yo get your titanium tubes from Steinzeug then?
FF: Yes. Of course they had only a pretty narrow assortment. The stays had to be tapered manually.
Dropouts and small parts had to be hand-made from solid blocks of material.
SB: Did you copy tube dimensions from usual steel tube diameters?
FF: Yes, but exact measures were not available then. Standard bike braze-ons did not fit and I had to make special adapters
like for shifters and front derailleurs. Of course out of titanium because steel cannot be welded together with titanium.
SB: Do you know the compostion of the titanium?
FF: As I said, there was no great choice and I had to take what I could get. I do not know about the alloy.
SB: How did your first bikes ride with titanium frame tubes?
FF: Horrible. My test cyclist Karl Mertes crashed a prototype in a race.
While going downhill he pedalled so fast that the frame developed a bad shimmy and he lost control.
Titanium is very firm and ductile but unfortunately also very flexible.
Karl Mertes and Fritz Fleck (right) testing a Flema Titanium track bike
SB: Is that why the frames got those conspicuous reinforcing plates?
FF: As I said, I started by looking at the design of standard steel frames. With each new frame I gained experience and modified the construction.
I got a grip on the shimmy with reinforcing plates on the head tube and around the bottom bracket shell.
I also made special braces on the front fork steerer tube and crown. Front forks had been the biggest challenge as they often cracked in use.
For example, I experimented by using PU foam to fill the tubes, but without effect.
SB: How many titanium frames have you made?
FF: From 1970 to 1975 around 25 pieces, plus the prototypes.
SB: That seems to be rather few.
FF: That is right. I was a one-man-business and the making of a titanium frame needed heaps of time.
SB: Didn't you get many enquiries and orders?
FF: I never did much promotion and only insiders knew of my products. I virtually made frames only for selected professional riders.
Some frames were ordered by people from foreign countries. Due to my limited capacity, private client enquiries got no response.
SB: In 1972 the English-made Speedwell was introduced on the market. Was this competition for you?
FF: I did not hear about them then. In those days you you did not learn about every development immediately.
I had an order of two frames from England once.
SB: Do you think that they ordered them as a sample?
FF: I do not know. Maybe.
Guenter Haritz (2nd. from left) winning gold at 1972 Munich Olympiade
SB: Could your cyclists rack up any achievments on Flema titanium bikes?
FF: Günter Haritz (Germany) won Olympic gold team pursuit in Munich, 1972.
Although his trainer was skeptical at first and did not want to use the titanium frame, riding tests convinced him.
SB: Did you ever consider other materials, such as aluminum?
FF: No. Titanium was an exception, I only built steel frames otherwise. For a time I made frames with stainless steel.
SB: Are you still in business today?
FF: I still build around twenty frames a year, mostly special orders or a tandem.
SB: And do you still cycle?
FF: Yes, of course.
SB: How do you assess your past with titanium cycles today?
FF: Things developed as I went along. I always was a cautious man. Problem was that I never liked debt,
and so I only ordered the materials I could pay for. Maybe it would have been different had I been willing to take more risks.
I once tried to build frames with Steinzeug, but they had no flair for bikes and it did not work out.
SB: What's your relationship to the bikes of today?
FF: As in former times, the bicycle continues to be developed and refined. Unfortunately, people today often do not know
what kind of bikes they should buy for their purposes. Sales people make them believe they need a different bike for every tour.
SB: Thank you for that interview.
© November 2005, Speedbicycles Ltd liab. Co, Switzerland
(thank you for some translation support: "The Editor, Hetchins.org")