George’s bike, my bike tour, and George’s other bike

I just got back from bike tour around the Olympic peninsula on my tandem. When I walked back into my shop, I found George’s new touring frame on the stand where I’d left it. It’ll go home to him in a few days after I finish a few final touches like the handlebar tape and mudflaps. Excited to see the adventures this bike goes on, including a big cross-country tour starting next May.

Speaking of my own bike tour, my wife and I just traveled 540 km around the Olympic peninsula on our tandem for nine days. We spent most nights in campsites, and two in hotels. We rode for four days, then took one extra rest day at Lake Crescent, and rode another four days to get home. The entire ride strung together a bunch of highlights of the area. The Olympic Discovery Trail was well-marked and scenic. We stayed next to three beautiful lakes: Lake Crescent, Lake Quinault, and Lake Sylvia, and camped next to the ocean on all three sides of the Peninsula at Potlatch, Sequim, and Kalaloch. It was nice to take time to enjoy the route and scenery, riding all in daylight!

And George’s other bike… If you’re a member of Randonneurs USA, you may have seen his dark green Thompson on the cover of the latest issue of the magazine. It was great to hear from friends as they received their copy in the mail and snapped a photo.

Next up is Steve’s touring/rando bike. I’ve been keeping busy with custom builds, wheel builds and restoration projects. Stay tuned for updates!

Ian’s new bike

Repeat customers are great.  Several years ago, Ian and his girlfriend Sierra (now his wife) ordered a tandem from me.  Even at that time though, he was overdue for a new single bike.  The years of waiting have finally come to an end and last spring he took delivery of this one.  Mostly, it’s a randonnuering bike, but when the front lowrider rack is installed, it will work great for light touring.  I’m sure it will see a lot of gravel miles too.

I posted some teaser shots of various parts of the bike on Instagram a few months ago, but I never got a chance to take pictures of the whole thing after it was done because Ian was immediately headed to California and Nevada for a 1000km brevet.  The season has slowed down a little bit now and I was finally able to get the bike back for a couple photos.  Judging by the amount of wear on the chain and tires, he’s been really enjoying it!

Birthday Bike!

This customer had been dreaming of a nice randonneuring bike for years and decided to treat himself for his 50th birthday.  Happy Birthday!

We started with a set of Pacenti lugs, re-shaped to please my eyes. Original is on the right, modified on the left.

Compass bottom bracket shell, also heavily modified.

Compass fork crown, just after brazing and before any cleanup. This crown is hollow, so the wire from the Schmidt hub can run inside the fork blade, through the crown, and into the steerer tube.

Starting to look like a bike- getting ready to fit the seat stays.

Fitting the seat stays.

My very last pair of MAP dropouts. The stainless faces have been polished and left bare of paint so that they’ll always look nice.

The front derailleur tab, like most of the other braze-ons, is stainless. The face where the washer bites in has been polished and left bare- no chipped paint here!

The assembly always begins with the lighting system- the wires are easiest to run when nothing else is in the way. Next is the fenders.

Ready to ride!

The fenders received a blue accent stripe in each flute and custom mudflaps.

Spring 2018 deliveries

It’s hard to believe the new year is nearly half over already.  It’s been a busy spring in the shop with lots of fun projects.  Here are a few of them.


Jeff and Wendy taking a very chilly first ride on their new tandem.

This was a fun project with lots of cool features like a thru-axle Schmidt dynamo front hub with automatic electrical connection integrated into the dropouts, a Rohloff 14 speed rear hub, and S&S couplers.


Mike’s Raleigh 650B conversion and repaint.

Mike brought me a ’70s Raleigh Competition for a make-over.  I added numerous braze-ons, 650b wheels, modern drivetrain parts, and a hub dynamo light system.  My friends at Forever Powdercoating matched the original color.


New bike day for Lesli!

Lesli got a new randonneur bike with all the bells and whistles- fully internal wiring for the lights, a stem top light switch, a usb charging port for her phone or GPS, and a set of low rider racks for light touring loads when she’s not doing brevets.  I look forward to seeing pictures of this bike all over the world.

John got a new bike too, and was in such a hurry to rush off to his first ride that I didn’t even get a picture.  Hopefully he’ll bring it back soon so I can take one because I think it’s pretty interesting- he chose SRAM etap wireless electronic shifting and it turned out to be the lightest randonneur bike I’ve built at 20.0 pounds with rack, fenders, lighting system, and pump!

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.

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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.