Happy New Year!

I have big plans for 2018.  There are lots of bicycles to build, but also lots of travel and new adventures.  Of course all the travel and adventures involve riding bikes!

I didn’t post as often as I should last year, so before I head back to the bench tomorrow here are some of the projects and adventures from 2017.

Playing in the snow with Jan and Natsuko.

Sheer tandemonium! #fleche2017

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Flèche Northwest on a team of tandems!!!

The dogs participated in the Thurston County Bicycle Commuter Contest.

Polished stainless lugs and chromed fork crown.

Afternoon sun lighting up a new bike.

Tandem tour in Tuscany. Headed up the hill to Montalcino!

Taking another break on the way to Montalcino.

We had a beautiful gravel road all to ourselves. Somewhere south of Sienna.

New frame ready to assemble.

Special extra lightweight dropouts and parts on this one.

Modified René Herse crankbolts courtesy of JP Weigle.

Polished stainless face on the pannier boss- no chipping paint here! The dropout face is also polished, but hidden by the skewer.

I re-shaped the ends of the fenders. Much more pleasing to my eye than the way they are delivered.

The finished bike after a few hundred kilometers. Photo courtesy Theo Roffe.

Another new bike, ready for its maiden voyage.

Photo courtesy George Retseck.

On a beautiful road somewhere in Pennsylvania. Photo courtesy George Retseck.

Shop all tidied up for the Open House. Photo courtesy Deb Banks.


Friends came from all over for the Open House. Photo courtesy Bob Freeman.

Another from the Open House- this must have been before we fired up the bbq, lots of frowning! Photo courtesy Theo Roffe.

On the last ride of 2017, I found a peaceful picnic spot I had never seen before, even though I’ve been riding up and down that road for 25 years. Wonderful new discoveries can happen in the most mundane places. Here’s hoping 2018 is as good or better!

Rejuvenation / Creative Restoration

Recently two different frames came through the shop with broken right rear dropouts.  Usually, it’s a pretty straightforward repair.  The best way to approach it is to source an identical part and then simply replace it.  Sometimes that’s not possible so a little creativity is required.

The first frame was a Miyata.  It had Shimano SF dropout like many good quality Japanese frames from the 1980’s.  I found a full set (fronts and rears) on Ebay and got them on the way.  The fronts will go on the shelf and eventually be used on a new fork, the extra left rear one will probably languish there forever.

The broken dropout is removed by first cutting it in half to separate the part that attaches to the seat stay from the part that attaches to the chain stay.  Each piece is then heated with the torch until the brazing material holding it in place melts and it can be gently pulled free.  After the stays cool down, they get sanded carefully to remove old brazing material, and any old paint or grime that didn’t burn off during the removal process.  The new dropout is sanded to expose clean bare metal, inserted into the frame, alignment is checked carefully, and then it’s brazed in place.  After it cools down again, a little filing and sanding is needed.  The idea is to make it look exactly as it did before so after repainting no one will ever know the bike was repaired.  This one went well and was done in less than an hour, even including time for things to cool down.  The frame is now at the powder coat shop getting a new color and a fresh set of decals.  Here’s a photo of the new dropout:


The next repair was an old Gitane.  This particular frame has very rare dropouts that were only used by Gitane for a year or two, and were unique to the brand.  I emailed a few friends to see if anyone had a damaged Gitane frame with those dropouts- if they did, I could have cut the stays and harvested the intact dropout.  It was a long shot and of course and I wasn’t able to find a replacement.

There are a couple options left to the builder in a situation like this.  The best is usually to replace both dropouts.  In this case, a repair was preferred in order to preserve the look of the frame.  The problem with a repair is that the part which broke is still there, along with all the accumulated fatigue that caused it to break in the first place.  Here’s what the dropout looked like when the frame was brought in:


First, I filed away the raised face around the axle slot on each side of the dropout, and carefully filed and sanded away all the chrome.  At the two points where it was broken, I filed away material at a 45 degree angle all the way around each break.  Then I TIG welded the broken spots and filed them down until they were invisible.  I could have stopped there, but as I mentioned earlier, there is still fatigued material on each side of the repair.  To reinforce the area, I brazed a thin sheet of steel over each face of the dropout and cut to match the shape.  The repair is visible, but you have to look very closely.

The customer sourced a complete new set of decals and chose a color.  It would be possible to have the old chrome stripped and redone, but expensive.  Instead, we elected to coat the previously chromed areas with a shiny silver powder coat.

While the frame was in the capable hands of my friends at Forever Powdercoating, we evaluated which of the old components we would reuse, and which we would replace.  In the end, only the handlebar, stem, seat, seatpost, and brakes were kept.  The rest of the new parts were either ordered in, or supplied by the customer.  I built a new set of wheels and had everything waiting and ready to install as soon as the frame was ready.

Nearly 36 years to the day after he got the frame for his 16th birthday, James got his bike back looking like new.





Thompson Custom Bicycles has a new home.  The old shop was always too small, but it had lots of positive attributes like affordability and convenience.  Working out of a ten foot by twelve foot space was difficult, but I did it for a long time.


Here I am hard at work, somewhere around 2012.  The photo shows most of the shop!


On a chilly day in late November, this is all that remained.

The new shop has around four times the square footage.  It’s in an older warehouse building near the Olympia airport.  If it’s a nice day, I can see Mount Rainier from the lobby or the parking lot.  The other side of the building, the one with the roll up door that will be open whenever the weather is warm enough, affords an excellent view of the sunset.


Mount Rainier!



Midway through the move, I got a call from my powdercoat shop telling me I had a frame to pick up.  I managed to find enough tools to assemble the new tandem shown below.  In the background, you can see the fabrication area and my new big steel workbench, as well as my personal tandem.  The surface plate is now on the other side of the central post.




Assembly, repair, and wheel building area.

There is lots left to do, but the space becomes more workable every day.  I’ve been doing small projects which help me to decide what tools should be kept where, find the things that are missing, and get a general feel for how work will best flow through the space.

I couldn’t have done the move without the generous help of lots of friends and the patience of my wonderful customers.  If you’re reading this and that sounds like you, thank you!!!

First Thompson in Louisiana

Mr. Thompson (no relation!) of Monroe, Louisiana just took delivery of his new Thompson randonneur bike.  In his first ride report he says it rides “Like it has perpetual tail wind!”  Here are a few photos taken right before I boxed it up.





For the occasional tour, the bike has low rider pannier racks which can be installed or removed in seconds with six allen screws.


With low riders removed. The low riders can be further disassembled and packed flat.

Big Pink


Photo Credit: Christopher Grande

“Custom” means a lot of different things in the bike world.  In my career as a framebuilder, I’ve never built two identical bikes.  Each one is the result of conversations with and studies of the future owner.  The results are as different as the people they are for, all with a common thread: me.  Every bike I build involves lots of planning, calculating, and reflection; but once in awhile one comes along that requires a little extra.  In this case, I was lucky enough to work with Chris and make him the first bike he’s ever had that really fits.  We spent a lot of time playing with my Serotta fit bike and talking about things like crank length.  I spent a lot of time on my own sourcing tubes the right diameter that were long enough to do what I had in mind.  It was fantastic to see the grin on his face the first time he rode it!


Schmidt SL “connectorless” hub, SL dropouts made by Hahn Rossman, full custom lowrider rack, Columbus “randonneur” fork blades.


Vintage 8-speed Dura Ace, MAP Bicycles dropouts.


Custom threadless stem with bell mount and Hahn Rossman rotary light switch, decaleur, front rack.


New Bike Day!!! Happy rider, and happy short fat builder 😉 Photo Credit: Ilsina Nazarova.


I’m always interested to hear what my customers will say when I ask them what color they want their new bike to be.  Some offer vague words of guidance, some have a precise color in mind, some know exactly where they want every letter in every decal, and some are in between.  When I asked Susan, she said she wanted something to do with Dorothy’s ruby-red slippers, and the Wicked Witch’s striped stockings.  It makes me grin every time I think about it!  Now if only I had slipped in some yellow brick road pin striping…

The bike itself is an interesting blend of traditional and modern.  Sometimes folks who don’t really understand what I do accuse me of being a luddite, or falling into a nostalgia trap where things best forgotten are romanticized.  It’s not really true, I just happen to think a lot of the old ways really were better.  Susan doesn’t see the world that way, but, to my delight, she ordered a bike from me anyway.  This left me with the interesting challenge of building a machine for someone who likes all things modern, yet still holding onto the bits of the past that really were better.

I came up with a bike that still has a steel frame and fork, fat 650B tires, aluminum fenders, a front bag supported by a small custom rack, and a dynamo powered front and rear light set; but also a Shimano Di2 drivetrain, a USB charing port, and tubeless tires, all seamlessly integrated.  She’s only had the bike for a few weeks and it already has over 1000 miles on it.

Here are some process photos, and one of the completed bike.  Enjoy!


Seat tube reinforcing sleeve is brazed on, top tube is mitered to fit.


Raw bottom bracket fillet.


Looking at the cutout on the inside of the seat tube/down tube joint. This was done so that the Di2 junction box and associated wiring could be hidden and protected inside the frame.


Driveside rear dropout and chainstay, showing exit port for rear derailleur Di2 wire.


Finished fillets at the head tube/top tube/down tube joint.