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!
This customer had been dreaming of a nice randonneuring bike for years and decided to treat himself for his 50th birthday. Happy Birthday!
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.
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 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.
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!
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.
Flèche Northwest on a team of tandems!!!
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.
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.
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.
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!!!
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.
“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!
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!
Noel is a very accomplished randonneur from Seattle. He owns a few nice bikes, including a nice 650B bike that he got several years ago, so I was flattered when he asked me to make him another one. He had a pretty clear idea in mind of what he was after, and since I’ve ridden a lot of miles with him I also had some ideas about what I thought would work well.
The bike has many of the usual details appreciated by randonneurs- a dynamo lighting system powered by a Schmidt hub with automatic connectors, lightweight tubeless 650bx42 tires, aluminum fenders, removeable lowrider racks for weekend trips…the only real surprise was the color! I had expected something a little more subdued and would not have chosen the bright green, but I really like it. Great choice Noel, see you on the road!
JM got his new bike a few weeks ago and I’ve been meaning to share some photos of it. First a couple from during the construction, and then a few of the finished bike. Click on any of the images to see them full size.
When delivery day came, the owner’s wife drove him to my shop. He rode the bike home and a couple days later I got an email telling me he had gone out for a 100km ride after work. I hope he’s as happy with it as I am!
In August I was lucky enough to participate in the famous Paris-Brest-Paris cycling event for the second time. Many people have written about their experiences and described the beauty of the French countryside, the support from the populace, the crowds of spectators, etc, etc, etc. It’s all true. The event is incredible in every way. I had a fair idea of what to expect this time, having participated in 2011 also. My training was adequate, and, by the day before the start, I knew the weather was going to be perfect. In short, I was really able to focus on simply enjoying the ride.
I had the opportunity over the nearly 90 hours I was on the course to talk with hundreds of participants and spectators. Mostly French, since the ride is in France and I speak the language, but folks from all over the world too. Ireland, Brazil, Italy, Great Britain, Spain, India, Belgium, Denmark, The Netherlands, Germany, the USA… and many others of course. Those are simply the faces that I recall right now. In most cases, we talked about how the ride was going, sometimes about their bike if they had something I thought was really nice, or about my bike if they liked it. We all agreed though, if the subject arose, that the most special thing about PBP, the thing that makes one want to do the ride again, the thing that makes you laugh, cry, think, is the people. Both the spectators, and the participants. That’s what makes PBP different from any other grande randonee. I can do a 1200km ride with beautiful scenery right here at home in Washington state, or in dozens of other places around the country and world. On all of those rides though, I will spend a significant amount of time alone. Nothing wrong with that, I enjoy it quite a bit. PBP is the 1200 where you are never alone. I offer my heartfelt thanks to each and every one of the thousands who make PBP so special.
Since the event only happens every four years, there is lots of time for me to write separate posts about certain segments of the ride, or my preparation, or whatever. Stay tuned for those stories, and enjoy a few photos right now.
It’s hard to believe four years have passed since I did Paris-Brest-Paris. I’ll be getting on an airplane tomorrow to go and do it again. Of course, that’s not the only reason to go to France, I’ll be seeing old friends, making new ones, enjoying some leisurely rides and fine meals, etc. After the event, I’ll be recovering in Amsterdam for a week.
Obviously, Thompson Custom Bicycles will be closed during this period. It will re-open for business as usual on September 1st. My email access will be sporadic while I’m gone, and I won’t be answering the phone at all.
If you want to follow my progress during the ride, that should be possible here, once the ride starts.
From time to time I’m asked about off the shelf options for 650B bikes. A lot of people have heard about the advantages that larger section tires can offer, but aren’t ready to take the plunge and invest in a custom bike. A few good options are on the market now from Velo-Orange, Soma, Boulder, and La Confrérie des 650 for example. I’ve assembled a few and their owners are very pleased.
There’s also another option: conversions. Many bikes that were built for 700C or 27inch wheels can be made to work with 650B. Often this means a bike that was no longer being ridden, perhaps even on the way to a landfill, will see many more miles of use. Of course not every bike is a good candidate for conversion, a poorly done conversion looks cobbled together and may not work very well. Sometimes though, it’s just a question of making a few frame modifications so that the end result is a bike that has as few compromises as possible.
A couple years ago a fellow cycling club member brought me an old Trek he had recently purchased. I don’t recall how much he paid, certainly less than two hundred dollars. He also brought a box full of components that had been removed from an early 90s vintage mountain bike. The Trek frame was in good shape, and its dimensions were correct in terms of fitting the rider. I installed a pair of 650B wheels with 42mm tires. The distance from the top of the tire to the underside of the fork crown looked good. The tire cleared the fork side to side as well, not by as much as it would on one of my custom forks, but adequate. The bottom bracket height was a few millimeters lower than stock, but again, acceptable. Things weren’t so easy when it came to the rear wheel. Even with the wheel pulled all the way back in the dropouts, the tire still lightly touched both chainstays yet it was much too far from the chainstay bridge for correct fender placement. A poor conversion could have been done simply by using smaller tires, but we wanted this one to be right.
After I completely disassembled the bike, I removed both the chainstay and seatstay bridge, and spread the rear dropouts to 135mm to fit the hub provided by the customer. Then I made some deep indentations in the chainstays to increase tire clearance, and finally installed new bridges with fender mounts the correct distance from the tire.
I also added brake bosses for cantilever brakes (more repurposed mountain bike parts), a rear brake cable stop, some shifter bosses, and a pump peg.
After an inexpensive black powdercoat, the bike was ready to reassemble. I built new wheels for it using the old Shimano mountain bike hub, and a Schmidt front. I think the wheels were the most expensive part of the whole project. Wheels and tires are no place to save money, but that’s a subject for another post! Fenders, a chain, handlebar tape, and a stem were the only other new parts purchased. I never got a picture of the finished bike, but the customer loved it and rode it later that summer on his first 1000km brevet.
A couple weeks ago the bike came back for some upgrades and some overdue routine maintenance. Long harsh winters had taken their toll on the braking surface of the lightweight rims, and the old seven speed drivetrain wasn’t doing well either so it was time for some upgrades: a ten speed freehub body and cassette, new shifters, derailleurs, crankset, and rims. While I was at it, I washed and waxed the frame.
Maybe you have a similar old bike lurking in a dark corner of the basement or languishing in the attic. Could it be a conversion candidate?
Things have been busy around here lately. One of my favorite things about this job is seeing my customers see their new bikes for the first time. Here are the three most recent deliveries, beginning with Ilsina’s new custom. This one has all the bells and whistles, from a stem cap USB charger, to a connectorless Schmidt hub, to detachable lowriders.
Next on the list is David’s Boulder All Road. He brought me the frame and fork and I sourced all the parts, built the wheels, and assembled the bike. I think it came out great!
To complete the list, a quick assembly project. Mark brought me his new Ritchey P-650b and a box of parts. I turned it into a lovely new mountain bike for him.
I hope Ilsina, David, and Mark have as much fun with their new bikes as I did! Back to work now, stay tuned for more!
Kids growing up nowadays don’t get outside enough. We hear this regularly, from educators, from healthcare providers, from the media. One of my oldest friends and riding partners had a son a few years ago and I knew that this little boy was not going to be one of those kids who never goes outside. I listened to stories as the years passed, about his first time skiing, his first pedal strokes on a bicycle, his love of fresh foods… It seemed natural that he would start racing bicycles soon after he learned how to ride one. Eventually he got more serious, stronger, faster, and then informed his father that he needed a bike with drop handlebars. His parents and I decided it was time for him to get his first real racing bicycle. I set to work building the smallest bicycle I have ever built.
I found a source for 24 x 1 3/8″ tires and rims, donated a pair of hubs, and built the wheels. This needed to happen first because I had only a rough idea what actual diameter they would be- they just aren’t something one sees everyday! With the finished wheels and an inseam measurement, I was able to do a frame drawing. The idea was to make the bike as big as possible so that Henrik can ride if for more than one season. He’s growing very quickly and it would be a real shame if it was too small six months after he got it. All the frame materials were things I had laying around the shop. A Reynolds 531 down tube and seat tube, an unknown top tube which may have even been removed from a larger frame at some point, fork blades I had mistakenly cut too short for another project, etc. I figured once all the conceptual problems of making a bike so much smaller than usual were solved, the construction would progress rapidly. Then I tried to set up my frame jig. Sure enough, it wouldn’t adjust that small! I scratched my head for awhile and devised a way to hold all the tubes where they needed to go.
Henrik has raced it several times. Now that cyclocross season is over, the knobbies will be switched out for road tires.
Sierra Nevada Brewing ran a television advertisement earlier this year that equated craft brewing to the building of handmade bicycles. I know a lot of cyclists who are rather fond of a pint now and then, so hey, why not? My good friend Joe Platzner stars in the ad, and his shop serves as the backdrop, but the finished product shown at the end is the bike I built for Mark. Click on the photo below to see the ad. All of us who were involved had a good time and wound up with a couple cases of beer.
The Parisian metropolis is no fun to try and escape by bicycle, especially if you don’t know your way very well. My friend Olivier advised me to take a train to Gisors and ride to Rouen from there. He even outlined the best route and loaned me a map. It was a beautiful ride and I arrived at Alain’s house that afternoon hungry and in need of a shower, but really happy. Alain and I have many friends in common and have corresponded via Facebook for a long time, but we had never actually met face to face. He and his wife Nicole provided a wonderful meal and we talked so late I could hardly keep my eyes open. The next morning, Alain and I went for a bike ride. We stopped numerous times to take photos or simply enjoy the view.
When most people think of the river Seine, they think of Paris, Notre Dame, and stone bridges. Downstream from Paris though, the Seine flows back and forth through Normandy in great hairpin loops. Our ride required us to cross the river several times and there are free ferries at many points.
The ferries don’t run at lunch time. We had planned to eat in a particular restaurant, but missed the last pre-lunch ferry by perhaps 20-30 seconds. The two choices at that point were to ride a very long way around, or have a beer in the bar next to the ferry dock. Actually I think we had two beers and a sandwich.
The next day on my way out of town, I visited the grave of one of the greatest racing cyclists that ever lived, Jacques Anquetil. It’s in a church yard, just down the street from Alain and Nicole’s house and I never would have known if they hadn’t mentioned it. The stop earned my passing notice on the local news website.
At this point, I only had a few more days in France before it was time to fly home. My plan was to ride from Quincampoix back to Guingamp over a period of two or three days, but after wasting several hours being lost, then getting soaked in a rainstorm, I took the train instead. Vacation is all about having fun, I reasoned, and up until now I had been having lots of fun. Better off to take the train and spend a few more wonderful days with friends than to suffer needlessly in a wet tent on a long solo ride!
I was only able to spend a few days in Switzerland. Luc and Val showed me some wonderful highlights. Here are a few, in no particular order.
All too soon, I had to leave my lovely hosts. They gave me a ride over the French border in their car and then I continued on to Dijon by bike. From there, I took the train to Paris to visit another friend for a few hours of good conversation and a lovely meal.
Stay tuned for the next installment where I visit a randonneuring friend near Rouen and stumble across the final resting place of one of the greatest bicycle racers that ever lived!
After we finished our week-long tour of the Ardèche region, my three friends left me on my own and I headed for Switzerland. Along the way I stopped in Le Grand Lemps to visit an old friend and former co-worker, KC Elstun. He’s not working on bikes anymore but his alter-ego Cincinnati Slim is alive and well. Everyone should click on the link, visit his site, and buy his album! After I left his place, I rode through Annency and snapped this image:
As you can see from the picture above, rain was threatening. It held off until I was snug in my tent that night and then let loose with a vengeance. When I awoke the next morning, the storm had blown itself out and I was able to continue on my way. The rough plan was to arrive in Thonon-les-Bains on the southern shore of Lake Geneva and take a boat across to Lausanne, but I wanted to avoid the main roads. I looked at the map and selected some small roads that looked promising. I hadn’t bargained on the fact that those roads cross a low range of mountains, but it was still a beautiful ride, just a little harder than I expected.
When I arrived in Thonon-les-Bains, I was informed that the ferry there did not take bikes but that the one at Evian did, so I rode another few miles down the road. At Evian, they told me I was misinformed at Thonon and should have been able to get on any boat I wanted, but since I was here, no problem, hop on the next boat!
It was a short and pleasant ride across the lake to Switzerland. I first met Luc and Val a little over a year ago when they were riding their bicycles around the world and they invited me to visit them at home if I was ever in the region. They are wonderful photographers and you can see photos from their journey here. Their blog is here and it’s worth clicking on even if you don’t read French. Before the boat even docked I was able to recognize the two cyclists waiting in the crowd . They gave me a quick tour of Lausanne and then we rode through the vineyards toward La-Tour-de-Peilz.
My wonderful hosts spent the next few days introducing me to the joys of Swiss cooking, taking me hiking in the mountains to look at wild flowers, and picnicking on the shore of Lake Geneva.
Stay tuned for Vacation pt3!
I took most of the month of May off and went to Europe to visit friends and ride my bike. First up, after a couple days of socializing in Guingamp, was a tour of the Ardèche region with three friends. On the way to the start of our tour in LaLouvesc, we drove over the Col de la République, formerly known as the Col du Grand Bois. We stopped and took a photo at the monument to Vélocio.
Thompson Custom Bicycles is away on a product testing trip. Expect a full report soon!