Thompson Custom Bicycles is away on a product testing trip. Expect a full report soon!
Mark’s brushed-finish KVA Stainless winter training bike is finally finished. This was a really fun project and I’m excited because I know Mark is going to ride it a lot. It’s a little different from my usual aesthetic, but I’m quite pleased with the result. It was especially fun to be able to assemble it right away after I finished it instead of shipping it off to be painted or powder coated and waiting for it to return.
While it doesn’t have provision for a handlebar bag, this bike is certainly going to be ridden in the dark so we decided to use a front and rear light system powered by a Schmidt SON Delux hub. This is the SL version so instead of plugging wires into the hub with spade connectors, a special fork dropout automatically makes contact when the wheel is installed. The extra fender stay will keep the front part of the fender stable even though there is no rack to attach it to.
I had a birthday back in January. Miraculously, the weather was wonderful! Three customers and friends came out to ride with me making the largest gathering of Thompson bicycles to date. I was very gratified by their attendance, but even more amazing is that with the addition of Theo on his MAP and James on his Weigle modified Raleigh, half of the people on the ride were running 650B wheels and six out of ten were on “proper” randonneuring bikes! If someone had told me ten years ago that such a thing would happen, I would have laughed out loud. We’ve come a long way!
Thanks to pal Theo Roffe for the photo:
There’s been lots of activity here lately so I guess I should share some of it!
Kirke picked up his new bike. Thanks to pal Theo for taking this photo of Kirke and me.
Here are a couple more shots:
You can find all the build shots for this one here.
Robert’s single speed road bike left for powdercoat. He’s getting a pretty cool build with Curtis Odom hubs, Herse cranks, Mafac Competition brakes, Nitto bar, stem, and seatpost; and a Berthoud saddle. Expect photos when I get it assembled.
I’ve finally started building the racks for Ian and Sierra’s tandem:
The next project is Mark’s winter single speed road bike, all in stainless. This will be a fun one with a full KVA Stainless tubeset, fork blades, and a stainless lugged stem.
I’ve also found the time to play a little bit too and get re-acquainted with my mountain bike. Here are a couple shots from my last ride. I got on the trail a little before 6:00am and was done before 8:00.
Last year I attempted to ride the Seattle to Glacier 1000km brevet in hopes of earning an R5000 award. Lots of things didn’t go according to plan and I quit around 400km into it. Riding in the hot, dry, windy conditions of Eastern Washington has always intimidated me and that was that. A month or so later, I rode SIR’s Crater Lake 1000 and it was perhaps the best ride I’ve ever done.
The memory of last year’s failure must have softened a bit though, because when my buddy Andy suggested trying again, I let him talk me into it. “C’mon,” he said, “you’ve got unfinished business… I’ll ride my new bike and you’ll have two Thompsons complete the event, it’ll be great!” A number of my favorite riding partners also signed up so by the time I rolled away from the coffee shop on Mercer Island, I was feeling pretty good about the whole thing.
No one seemed very eager to roll out and I realized that I was at the head of the pack, save for one ambitious fellow who quickly disappeared from view. Soon the stronger riders began to apply some effort, I stopped for a second to remove a layer; and I was relegated to the back. Andy was right there with me. At Greenwater, after we’d been climbing gently for a few miles, we stopped at a store for food and water. A few of the others were just leaving. We let them go because it was the last store until Cliffdell, 85km later. Chinook pass was breathtaking, but gave us our first taste of heat and I soon finished off all my water. There was a large RV parked at the summit and I caught the eye of a woman inside. She graciously gave me two bottles of water and we began the descent into the arid side of the state. At Cliffdell, (almost 1/5 done, or more than half way to the first sleep stop!) we were a bit behind the schedule I wanted to keep, but I was out of water again and pretty hungry. We could have gotten some “food” at the gas station and been on the road in a few minutes, but instead chose a sit down meal in the air-conditioned Whistlin’ Jack’s Restaurant.
Walking out of the restaurant felt like stepping into an oven. As we rode, the terrain changed again, this time from dry foothills to fruit country. Soon it seemed we were directly in the center of a monumental orchard. Then suddenly there were buildings again and we arrived at the Yakima Fred Meyer where we got sandwiches and ice cream at the deli. I think every randonneur in the event must have talked to the same young man at the deli counter as well as the pre-riders because he knew all about us and was able to describe Vinny and John to a T!
It’s really at Yakima that the monotony of Eastern Washington begins in earnest. We left town on the Yakima Greenway Trail, a refreshingly cool meander along the river. Soon though, we were on a straight flat highway bordered by hop fields.
As the sun disappeared, the hops gave way to wheat and desert. It was around this time that I began to regret the large dill pickle I had eaten perhaps 20 minutes after my healthy serving of cookie-dough ice cream. Lots of riders seem to suffer gastro-intestinal problems on long rides, but I’m not one of them. Unfortunately, I was not so lucky that evening and was very happy to reach the restroom at the Vernita Rest Area. Andy had the appropriate medication in his bag and after forty minutes or so, I was able to continue. I don’t remember what time we finally rolled into the “overnight” contrôle in Othello, perhaps 2:00am, or 2:30. We showered, ate a few bites, and were in bed in minutes.
A mere three hours later, the wake-up call jolted me from my slumber and I pulled on a complete clean cycling kit, prepared in advance and packed in my dropbag. The hotel was serving breakfast so, thinking of the heat and the need to stay hydrated, I gulped down some orange juice, some terrible coffee, and a bagel.
When we stepped outside, we realized there were thunderstorms in the area and we actually needed our raincoats for the first 10-20km. The storm was moving faster than we were though, so we didn’t get much rain at all. I tried not to worry about the lightning and we began to make better time as we warmed up. We could tell it had rained hard in the night, every low spot was filled to capacity with standing water and all the ditches were flowing rapidly. The cloud cover was very welcome, in addition to the dramatic beauty of the sky, it kept the temperature down if only for a few hours.
We had a few minutes of entertainment watching a cropduster at work. Back and forth the plane flew, working a hillside just on the other side of the horizon. This produced the odd visual of the plane dropping below the horizon, only to shoot back up every three or four minutes. My lasting memories of nearly the entire rest of the day are of a miserable howling headwind, and waves of wheat. The words of Paul Fournel, author of Need for the Bike came to mind. He was writing about riding from Death Valley to Dante’s Peak, but the feeling is the same, “The spectacle is exceptional, grand, sublime, etc., but it’s not cycling-related. As for a lot of American landscapes, the bike’s rhythm is just not appropriate.”
Late in the afternoon, we passed through the hamlet of Endicott. We stopped at the little grocery for ice cream sandwiches and sat on a bench in the shade for a few minutes. One of the locals stopped to chat and told us how he used to live in Seattle and ride a Rodriguez bicycle but he had moved his family out here twenty years ago because the cost of living was lower. It didn’t seem logical, but whatever, it takes all types! We sat there longer than we should have, but the shade was nice.
The next control was Colfax, which we reached with a mere twenty minutes to spare. I don’t like pushing that close to the time limits, but the headwinds had been so bad all day we hadn’t managed to build up any time reserves. We had a sit-down meal of sorts at the local Taco-Time… another one of those places I usually wouldn’t be caught dead in but the air conditioning sure felt good! Unfortunately, though we had been on the road all day, we had only travelled a bit over 100miles which meant we had almost exactly 100 to go before our next planned sleep stop.
Near the Idaho border, we made one more food stop at the Tekoa Market. It made sense to stock up here for the night in case we didn’t make it to Plummer, Idaho before the store there closed. A few more miles and one nasty climb later, we descended into Plummer where, luckily, the mini-mart was still open. I had a Cup-a-Noodles and thought to myself how wonderful it was that we were “almost there,” meaning almost to Kellogg and our next sleep stop. All we had to do was get on the rails-to-trails bike trail for awhile. We’d been riding with Joe since mid morning and he seemed to catch a second wind after we’d been on the trail a couple miles. He soon gapped us and we never saw him again. Meanwhile, Andy was getting sleepy and I was beginning to realize that “almost there” meant another 45 miles. I was very alert and eager to get to Kellogg, but not moving very fast. Andy was acting even more drowsy so I gave him a caffeine pill, which seemed to help. Every few minutes another mile post appeared to let me know that I was in fact getting closer to the objective and then suddenly we were there. I took a quick shower, had a snack, and was in bed less than twenty minutes after our arrival.
There are aspects of riding a 1000 or 1200 kilometer brevet which remind me of the movie Groundhog Day. After another three hours of sleep, I have risen, zombie like, and donned a fresh set of cycling clothes from my dropbag. The hotel breakfast helped a little, but tasted mostly of cardboard. The sun hadn’t been up long, but it was already quite comfortable outside in shorts and short sleeves. We began the day by backtracking a few miles on the trail. I always find this part of the day to be particularly difficult. When I turned in last night, my body decided we were done, only to be rudely contradicted a short while later. The saddle feels hard, the handlebar feels too far away and too low, my neck and shoulders ache. Just like in Groundhog Day, here we go again. Ugh. Luckily, those feelings don’t usually last too long. After six miles or so, we turned north on Coeur D’Alene River Road and the scenery caused me to think of another movie, A River Runs Through It. I wish I had taken a few pictures, but it doesn’t matter. Pick any scene from the movie.
At the 25 mile mark, we turned away from the river. A store provided the last provisions available before the next controle in Thompson Falls, Montana, still some 40 miles distant. I bought crackers and cheese for the handlebar bag, and an ice cream bar for immediate consumption. As usual, Andy dropped me on the climb and I slogged along on my own, wishing fervently for some shade. I drained the warm water from both my bottles and while it didn’t make me feel any cooler, I know it helped keep me hydrated. Eventually, the heat was too much and I found a tiny patch of shade to stop in. I sat on the ground and drank the last of my water, trying to cool off. It wouldn’t do to make it this far into the ride and give myself heat stroke by pushing too hard. Just then, John and Jim, the ride organizers, drove past and stopped. They filled my bottles with ice water and offered words of encouragement before leaving to find the others. I felt much better and pedaled another mile or two up the hill where I found Andy sitting in the shade next to a tiny waterfall. We soaked bandannas in the cold water and tied them around our necks before continuing. John and Jim were waiting at the summit and graciously took our photo: Thompson at Thompson Pass!
We congratulated each other on having ridden our bicycles all the way from Seattle to the Montana border in two and a half days, then began the long descent. What a reward! As soon as we saw the city limits sign for Thompson Falls, I told Andy we had to stop for a photo: I posed in front of the sign with two Thompson bicycles, as though we had all fallen there. It was hilarious at the time! Someone asked me how I hang on to my sense of humor on these long rides. I think most often it’s the only thing keeping me going. Bad jokes keep us awake at night and in the daytime, things which are only moderately funny become side-splittingly so.
One of the highlights of this ride is Minnie’s Montana Café, in Thompson Falls. Thompson Falls is also a controle, so if one has time “in the bank,” it makes sense to stop for a proper meal. I noticed Ken’s bike outside when we rolled up. We hadn’t seen him for more than 40 hours so it was nice to say hi, especially since this was his first 1000. He paid his bill and left just as Andy and I were ordering food. We had our brevet cards on the table while we waited for our food. Not long after the waitress took our order, she returned holding a brevet card. It turned out Ken had left his behind. She asked if it was important and if we could return it to him please? I’ve always dreaded losing my card on a brevet. Not much worse could happen, but not much better could happen than having a thoughtful soul return it! We had a good laugh and headed back out into the heat.
Our route for the next few miles followed the Clark Fork River on a gently rolling road with no shade.
We looked longingly at the river below, but there was a railroad track and a tall fence between us and the water. We stopped at a business that had a faucet outside, but the water was turned off. At one point, we passed a group of houses. One of them had a shade tree, and a lawn with a sprinkler! I yelled out to Andy and made a quick U-turn. Surely the residents wouldn’t mind us trespassing in their yard for a little relief from the heat! The sprinkler water was so cold it took my breath away as I rinsed my head and helmet. I soaked my bandanna which I wrapped around my neck, and my socks, but the relief only lasted a few minutes. On shorter rides, I try to only stop at controles. A lot of time is wasted when one stops, so the best way to build up a reserve of extra time, or to finish inside the time limit, is not necessarily to ride fast, but to simply keep moving. This ride was different though, the heat made it important to stop at every opportunity in order to cool off, take on fluids, and eat a little. Twenty-five miles after Thompson Falls, we pulled into the grocery store parking lot in Plains. A fellow randonneur had passed by not long before us, we could tell because he left a bag of ice on the table out front. We bought some nibbles for the road and some ice cream to eat there while we sat in the shade. Even though it was after 5:00pm, the thermometer read 99 degrees. I looked at my phone and since there was a signal, I alerted the ride organizer that we had Ken’s controle card. He graciously agreed to record Ken’s finish time and then transfer it to the card when we arrived.
From Plains, the course again heads across the grain of the landscape, which is to say we have to climb some more hills! The first one lasts for five miles, but the countryside is beautiful. We pass a ranch for sale, and another one where longhorn cattle are grazing. One hill gives way to another and we pass fields where farmers are making their evening rounds to turn on irrigation systems in the cool of the evening. There is a Conoco gas station near the town of Hot Springs so we stopped again, this time for microwave ravioli and a 20oz lemonade. Fellow rider Chris was there icing his knee when we pulled in. Precious minutes ticked by and the lessons learned during shorter events told me to leave, but really, it was no longer critical. We had only a bit more than a 100km to go, but twelve or thirteen hours to do it in. I savored my canned ravioli and watched the people filling their cars at the pump; a local in a pickup, tourists in an SUV, three young folks in a run down Volkswagen Beetle.
Last year after my dnf, I got to see this part of the course from the passenger seat of the ride organizer’s car. It was no less beautiful this year, but my sense of time and distance was distorted by the experience. I kept remembering important landmarks and thinking they must be just over the next rise, or around the next bend, only to realize that they were still miles ahead. We caught up to Chris who was having more and more trouble pedaling due to knee pain. A small saddle adjustment seemed to bring him some relief and the three of us made good time for several miles. Twilight deepened and we switched on our lights.
A screaming fast descent brought us to the shores of Flathead Lake. Just like at home, following the water’s edge means rolling hills. We pushed hard, but didn’t make it to Lakeside before the store closed. So much for our last opportunity to buy any ice cream! Luckily there was a pop machine, so we had cold drinks and some crackers. Chris’ knee was hurting badly again so we rode with him for moral support. He didn’t ask us to and I’m sure he would have been fine on his own, but I know if I was in his shoes, I would have been happy for the company. At the north end of the lake, we finished with the worst of the hills and were soon in Kalispell. Somehow in my memory, the northern outskirts of Kalispell had blurred with the southern outskirts of Whitefish so after we got through the downtown, I was looking for the finish on every street corner. Reading the route sheet and doing a little simple subtraction (not so simple at this stage!) reminded me that we actually had another 15 miles of rolling terrain. There was no danger of not finishing at this point, but I wanted to be done as soon as possible so I could sleep. Finally, as the sun was rising, we turned into the parking lot of the hotel.
John singed our cards, took our picture, congratulated us, and then we went to bed. Andy had the presence of mind to ask the hotel clerk for a late checkout, so we were able to sleep until noon local time. Our train wasn’t until late evening, so we had lots of time to while away. The first stop was the Loula’s, a wonderful local breakfast place. We met up with some of the other riders and shared our experiences of the ride over a wonderful meal and then stepped out into the boiling mid-day sun just as the restaurant closed for the afternoon. In our fatigued state, it felt critical to get out of the heat, so we went around the corner to the Great Northern Brewing Company to relax over a pitcher of IPA, and more stories. Very late in the afternoon we felt recovered enough to collect our belongings from the hotel and ride to the train station. One of the wonderful things about this ride is returning by train. I would far rather return by train than by car or plane simply because it’s possible to get up and walk around. The other reason that the train is better than flying is Amtrak’s bike boxes: they’re huge! Turn the handlebars, remove the pedals, roll the bike into the box, and tape it up. We still had time to kill after the hard work of bike packing, so we went out to dinner, and then to ice cream.
At breakfast the next morning, still on the train, we started planning the next big adventure.
Andy got his new bike a few weeks ago. He came to my shop with the last few parts and we spent a couple hours finishing the assembly. By test ride time, we were pretty hungry and it was starting to rain so we didn’t go far, just downtown for lunch.
It’s been a fairly long process- a couple years ago when we were rolling out on a ride, literally on the road and underway, he handed me an envelope. “My deposit,” he stated. I was a little surprised and quite pleased because he hadn’t talked about having me build him a bike and he already owned several very nice ones. There’s another post here if you’d like some more background.
This project was really a delight because while Andy is a very experienced cyclist with very particular ideas about the correct way of doing things, he gave me almost completely free rein. I really appreciate that level of trust and from Andy’s feedback, it seems like I didn’t disappoint:
After the first 100km ride:
I left at 0800 on my 100 km permanent. It was cool and dry and of course soon after crossing onto Mercer Island it began to drizzle. I was day dreaming and several times rode off route. I stopped and ate breakfast (at the counter for faster service) at a cafe in Maple Valley and finished the ride faster than I ever have. More than likely riding alone contributed to that but I’m just sayin…..
The bike descends well. Stable and comfortable. It is easy to get up to speed when I stand up on the pedals. There is not noticable flex in the forks nor is there a “mushy” feeling from the tires. Comfortable ? Yes.
Did I mention the bike was light? 23.5 # with rack, decaluer, pump, 2 bottle cages, blinky light, dyno front and rear light, spare front light and dyno hub. That’s impressive. the bike would be under 23 if I took off the blinky and the front spare light for sure.
Thanks again for taking your day off to help me get the bike on the road. I hope my concern over the orange color caused me more anxiety than you. It looks great. Often times so called custom bikes do not fit well. Some of that may be also based upon the customer asking for an incorrect size based upon information gathered from a different bike. This is my second custom bike. The first never felt quite right. Too long in the top tube and it was difficult to get it up to speed. I even rode it across the country.
And after a recent 400km brevet:
The bike performed flawlessly on the ride. No problems. It rides well no hands when changing clothes (w/loaded HBB). Floats over crappy pavement and was a pleasure to ride on steep, winding descents….in the dark. The light pull of the Raid brakes is awesome.
Later this month, we’re scheduled to ride a 1000km brevet together. I’ll provide a ride report afterward! For now, here are some photos:
(full build sequence here)
My friend John has a nice Eddy Merckx titanium bike. It was built by Litespeed if I remember correctly. It’s a really fancy bike, but it’s seen a lot of miles and needs a bit of a makeover. One of the things John was concerned about was the longevity of the original fork. The item in question was made by Time out of carbon fiber, sometime in the early to mid 1990s. It was without a doubt top-of-the-line and quite expensive when it was new. That was almost twenty years ago though and it’s a bit dated at this point.
We decided to replace it with a steel fork that will undoubtedly last as long as the frame. There are lots of options when one is building from scratch, so John opted to get Schmidt SL dropouts. If he ever decides to use the bike for a summer (dry weather only) brevet, a dynamo hub can be fitted and the electrical connection will automatically be made by a contact plate in the right dropout. He’s also had some injuries and surgeries that mean he needs the handlebar a little higher than he used to, so we left the steerer tube a bit longer than the original. I’ll put in 20-30 mm of spacers between the locknut and the adjusting cup when I reassemble the bike, the extra steerer will support the technomic stem nicely.
That was the side project, now for the progress report! Awhile back, I wrote a post about making lugs, but all I had to show was a couple of lug sockets. They represented a fair amount of work, but really, they weren’t much to look at. It looks like a bike now, although there is still quite a ways to go- in addition to a few more braze-ons and some finish work, I need to make racks and a stem.
More photos here!
I’m quite pleased with how it turned out. Vinny wanted to try fat 650B wheels, but his tastes run more toward the new-wave so we decided on a sloping top tube and a stiff frame made from large diameter tubes. There’s a USB charging port on top of the stem which is powered by the dynamo hub, and it has S&S couplers so he can travel with it more easily. I think it’s a very successful blend of traditional and modern, taking the most functional aspects from yesteryear and pairing them with the best of today.
I finished assembling the bike and Vinny came to pick it up on a Saturday afternoon. It was a perfect dry and crisp fall afternoon, so we decided to go for a little shakedown ride. After perhaps a mile, we stopped to make a small seat height adjustment and then took a meandering scenic route to the Olympia Coffee Roasting Company where we sat and relived some of our great rides from the year. Before long it started to get dark so we switched on our lights and headed for home. As I write these words a little more than a week later, the bike already has more than 200 miles on it. Let’s hope it’s a sign of many more to come!
In this day and age of tig welded bikes, lugs are mostly the domain of small custom builders like me. There are a few exceptions of course, but by and large modern lugged frames are made one-at-a-time and lots of effort is lavished on each one. Oddly enough, the variety of available ready-made lugs has never been greater, and the quality has never been higher- even though the big bike companies buy very few or none.
So why make a lugset from scratch? Occasionally, the market doesn’t offer an off-the-shelf part with the correct dimensions, but that’s not the case with the bike I’m working on right now. The only other reason is simply for looks. Builders have always modified existing lugs to make them pleasing to the eye, and to set them apart from others. Certain builders developed their own unique shapes and styles, many of which can help identify an older bike, even if it has been stripped of decals and paint.
Sometimes the customer wants the lugs on his or her frame to look a certain way and will offer me some loose guidelines- or sometimes they know exactly what they want. Other times I make them a particular way just to satisfy myself. Often I will create my own interpretation of a style or shape that someone else has done before. Let’s face it, it’s nearly impossible to do something in the bicycle world that’s truly new.
Some think it’s silly to try and re-create the past, others think there is meaning in paying homage to those who might have provided inspiration, instruction, or encouragement. I know that the first time I saw this shape, I fell in love with it. Here are the beginnings of my take on a style used by many but that I first saw on an Alex Singer bicycle.
The piece on the left will become the top tube socket of the seat lug. The piece on the right is for the other end of the top tube and will be fillet brazed directly to the back of the head tube. A similar socket will be brazed on a few inches away for the down tube. This makes a unique looking one-piece head tube/head lug.
Just got word that Vinny’s 650B bike is on it’s way back from the powdercoat shop. Some of his parts are here already, in fact I built the rear wheel a couple days ago using a Pacenti PL-23 rim on a Curtis Odom large flange hub. I’ve been using the Pacenti rims on my own bike for a few months now and am delighted with them. They have all the attributes one could want: classic good looks, welded seam, machined sidewall, and they’re tubeless ready. The Curtis Odom hubs are even more amazing, I only wish there was a dynamo hub for the front that looked as good. Here are a couple photos. Thanks for looking!
Well, you’ve found it: Thompson Custom Bicycles’ own little corner of the internet. This is where to come if you want to know what I’m working on. Most of the time it’s a fine randonneur bike and I’ll put up photos with a few words of explanation. Sometimes I do actually get out for a ride though, so there should be a ride report once in awhile.
This one is currently getting a beautiful finish at Spectrum Powderworks. When it comes back, I’ll post photos of the assembly process and the finished machine.