Torchbearers: Spectrum Cycles, Part II
Padraig: Tell us about the jig you use.
Tom Kellogg: Believe it or not, I made the jig in my parent’s basement in the fall of ’76. I made a jig plate and had a local machine shop in Philly make the tube blocks and other fittings for it. We’ve made some modifications since then, but we’re still using it. Still works great.
Padraig: When fitting a customer for a bike, how do you usually work? How often is it in person?
Tom Kellogg: Probably in person close to 80 percent of the time. Which means, of course, people fly in a lot. Our order form basically gets the same information that a personal fitting will get. But it’s never quite as good. I do all my fittings by an interactive, visual process. Static, linear fittings are never as reliable. I do them customer on the bike. Typically, a fitting session takes about three hours.
Padraig: Now, you do your own paint. How did that come about?
Tom Kellogg: It was quite logical. When I worked for Bill Boston, he had his own paint booth, a really nice one. So I was exposed, first, to a frame builder who did his own painting, so I have always done it that way. Until I started Spectrum in ’82 I used Jim Redcay’s paint booth in New Jersey. I’d arrive on Friday, do two all-nighters in a row and then bring them home. I was young then. [laughs]
Padraig: What’s the division of labor between you and Jeff?
Tom Kellogg: It’s fairly simple. I do all of the design work, engineering work, Jeff does all the steel building, except lug-thinning. I do lug thinning. He does all steel repair work, and all titanium prep work up to painting. Jeff also hangs parts, which is the initial frame build-up. I do all the paper work, all the design work and most phone answering and all the paint work. And final assemblies, wheel building and tire gluing.
We both wear a lot of hats.
Padraig: Let’s talk about geometry: Would you say all your bikes have a consistent ride that is your signature, or do you vary your geometry based on the customer’s preferences and needs?
Tom Kellogg: Yes and yes. I mentioned before that I want our bikes to disappear underneath the rider. The way that I design frames has a lot to do with that. Neutral steering, a well placed center of gravity, appropriate materials choices all go into making the frame work properly for the customer. There are some situations where one of our bikes won’t work like that though. Most track bikes only work just like I want them to under specific circumstances. One of our sprint bikes only becomes neutral at full-on sprint speed and a points race/Madison bike won’t feel quite perfect at those speeds. Of course, a bike designed for loaded touring won’t feel as good when all the luggage is removed.
Padraig: When designing a frame for a customer, once you know the ride characteristics the rider is looking for, do you conceive of the geometry as a whole or is there a particular dimension you look to as a starting point.
Tom Kellogg: I need to take the design as a whole. There are very few aspects of a frame’s design which don’t have effects on other aspects of the frame’s design. Something as simple as head angle, for example—a 73 degree head angle won’t feel the same on two frames when one has a longer front center. Larger riders need different geometry for their bikes to work the same as smaller bikes. And since loading has huge effects on the way a bike works, I need to take planned loading into account when designing a customer’s frame. It all works together and no aspects of design can stand alone.
Padraig: Bottom line: What are your bikes supposed to ride like?
Tom Kellogg: They’re not. They are supposed to NOT be there. I design bikes that disappear under the rider. It doesn’t matter what kind of bike it is from full, loaded touring to track sprint, I don’t want the client to be aware of it.
Padraig: How long is the wait for new customers?
Tom Kellogg: It truly varies. Steel typically varies from four months to a year. Titanium is three to nine months. Currently steel is about eight months and titanium is about four months.
Padraig: What’s your pricing like?
Tom Kellogg: Steel frame sets start at $2850. That’s frame, fork, headset, single, standard color. We have a bit more than 100 standard colors. Titanium framesets start at either $3500 or $3900 depending on whether the tubing is butted. That’s frame, fork, headset, single standard color, or natural brushed finish, or cleared [clear coated] brushed finish.
Padraig: What keeps the work fresh for you, gets you up in the morning and excited to build?
Tom Kellogg: A couple of things. But the biggest thing is that the main thing motivating me, which is customers being happy and excited to ride what I make. When I know one of our bikes is making someone happy and healthy, that’s it. Man, it doesn’t get better and honestly, that keeps happening. I just want to keep doing it. There’s other stuff, like the pride of making beautiful things and the challenge of a difficult design, those things are great too, but when I make someone happy, that’s the kick.
Padraig: What’s your life away from building like? What sort of outside interests do you have?
Tom Kellogg: Well, no surprise, I ride a lot. I have been a competitive cyclist since ’76; still do it, still love it, still win a couple of races a year, just against old guys like me. I have an incredible family, both my siblings, my parents and my three daughters and three grandchildren. My amazing wife who puts up with my riding and racing. I’m pretty active, not just riding but hiking and other stuff.