Torchbearers: Spectrum Cycles, Part I
Padraig: Where are you based?
Tom Kellogg: We’re based in Breinigsville, Pennsylvania, one town west of Trexlertown where the velodrome is in the Lehigh Valley of East Central Pennsylvania.
Padraig:Is that where you grew up?
Tom Kellogg: Close. I grew up just west of Philadelphia, an hour due south of here.
Padraig: What’s the riding like there (where you live now)?
Tom Kellogg: From my standpoint, it really is as good as it can get. The quality of riders, mostly because of the track, is phenomenal. On any given ride we’ll get from one or two to many professionals. There’s a very high level of riding here, higher than most places. There’s sufficient climbing to make me really uncomfortable, but as a crappy climber I can avoid the hills if I want to.
Padraig: How long have you been building?
Tom Kellogg: Almost 35 years now.
Padraig: How did you get your start?
Tom Kellogg: I got hit by a car.
In ’75 my parents talked my brother and me into bicycle touring in England. On our second day I made a boneheaded move, and forgot about people driving on the other side of the road. I made a turn and collided with a car. The accident destroyed the frame, wheels and a couple of other components. When I got out of the hospital late that evening I was stuck without a bike. My brother gave me some names to look up and the next day I took the train to London. I looked up Holdsworth, took the commuter, got to East Penge. I bought a frame, rims, spokes and some other items. Then I took the train back to Salisbury where my brother was. The next day my brother and I rebuilt the bike and continued. That’s what got me interested.
Padraig: How did you learn to build?
Tom Kellogg: That next winter of ‘75-’76 was the final academic year for me; I was a sociology major. I was either heading toward teaching sociology or doing something completely different. I was getting Bicycling Magazine at that time and that winter there was an article on American frame builders. Up to that point I thought you had to be British or Italian to build frames, so that came as a shock. I knew I couldn’t do it, but I wanted to try anyway. I wrote letters to a number of American frame builders east of the Mississippi. I got two responses and one job offer, that was with Bill Boston. It was for a five-year apprenticeship, but he fired me after two months.
Padraig: Why didn’t things work out?
Tom Kellogg: I sucked.
But here’s the thing: All beginning frame builders are bad. The stubborn ones don’t realize how bad they are and stick with it.
Briefly, Bill did teach me how to make a frame strong and straight. How to make it look good and how to design them to fit and work properly, no. There hadn’t been time for that. I had to do that myself. And that’s what I did. I knew enough to know what basic equipment to acquire and make and over the next few years I got over the worst of it and started making bikes that worked pretty good and fit and looked decent, too.
Padraig: Have you held other positions in the industry?
Tom Kellogg: Yeah. A couple of official ones and some others that weren’t so official. In the early ‘80s I was hired by Ross Bicycles to start their Signature Bicycles line. It was their attempt at handmade bikes. I was there a couple of years before I went back on my own. I became Merlin’s geometry guy in the early ‘80s when they were in Somerville. I continued straight through until a few months ago when the line was shut down.
Padraig: When did you strike out on your own?
Tom Kellogg: Up until I was hired by Ross my frames were Tom Kellogg frames. When I left Ross I took with me my assistant, Michael Overcash, who had been Jim Redcay’s assistant before joining Ross. He came up with the idea to call them Spectrum. We did it because we were planning other items: accessories, socks, gloves and other items, and you don’t sell a Tom Kellogg sock. Plus it went well with the world championship stripes.
That was in late ’82.
Padraig: What is your assistant’s name and how long has he been with you?
Tom Kellogg: Jeff Duser. Jeff has been here for twenty six years. I hired him away from Ross. He had replaced Jim Redcay in the Signature department and I needed someone who could build and who already lived in the area.
Padraig: Do you ever work in a material other than steel??
Tom Kellogg: Yes, sir. We work with titanium, kind of. We have been using Merlin as a raw titanium frame supplier for us since the earliest days of modern titanium. We don’t actually fabricate them. We design them and then Merlin fabricates them. ABG (American Bicycle Group) continues to supply all the materials, but once they produce the materials, they ship them up to Seven and Seven does the fabrication for us. So I’m working with Rob again. When he was at Merlin he was a real sponge. He came in right from art school and he learned a lot. I’ve always had a lot of respect for how well he listened in the early years and his insight into the artistic aspects of bicycles. When he joined Merlin out of college, his intuitive understanding of materials and his intellectual curiosity along with a very serious approach to the business side of things allowed him to rise very quickly within Merlin and has served him and Seven very well since.
Padraig: Are all your titanium frames made using 3al/2.5v alloy tubing?
Tom Kellogg: 3/2.5? Absolutely.
Padraig: Who makes the tubing and lugs you like to use?
Tom Kellogg: Instead of particular brands, because steel’s modulus is exactly the same through different alloys and heat treatments, in individual tubes there are certain characteristics we look for: diameters, gauges, butt lengths, not the brand. We typically end up, with somewhere around three or four brands of tubing in a single frameset.
For example, piles of companies make piles of .8/.5/.8 top tubes. Depending on the weight and strength of the rider, you can play with the length of the thin section to adjust the torsional stiffness of the front end.
Padraig: And lugs?
Tom Kellogg: We have only been making our own for years. The available lugs, until recently, were really limited in diameters, angles and appearance. We were always cutting parts off and brazing new ones on. It occurred to us that starting from scratch was easier. When it’s all you do, it gets pretty quick. We can make any shape, any angle, any size and it doesn’t make any difference. If we start with 1 1/8” [diameter] top tube you use a 1 1/4” [diameter] .058” [wall thickness] for a nice slip fit.
The lugs look exactly the way we want them to. It was always a compromise in appearance before. Now it never is.
Padraig: What sort of cutting and shaping of lugs do you like to perform? Does it vary from bike to bike or are there stylistic elements people can find running through all your bikes?
Tom Kellogg: Yeah, our lugs, they look like an updated version of the old Prugnat standard long point because that’s the lug I started with. That’s kind of our look.