Tom Kellogg has announced that Spectrum Cycles will close sometime in the future. It’s an unusual sort of retirement announcement as press releases go. Kellogg’s plan contains a surprisingly big-tent approach. Kellogg and Jeff Duser will keep building in the shop until they fulfill all their orders. Straightforward, right? Not so fast. They plan to take orders through July 31. You’ve got five months to get an order in for a steel or titanium Spectrum and then that’s it. They will keep building until that entire book of business has been satisfied and then it’s lights out on the shop.
Just another frame builder retiring; how big a deal can that be?
It’s a big deal, truly. This one hurts. The duo of Tom and Jeff have been turning out frames for decades. They’ve got a combined experience of 80 years. Tom himself has been at the bench since 1976. What he has learned in that time could fill a book, maybe two.
I’ve gotten to interview Tom a couple of times over the years and last year was lucky enough to cajole him into helping judge the awards at the North American Handmade Bicycle Show. His eye is what you’d expect of someone who’s been doing something for more than 40 years.
Here’s something people don’t appreciate about Spectrum: They make all of their lugs from scratch. No one else does that. It’s an exquisite amount of extra work, but it’s one of the reasons Spectrums look as good as they do. There’s a relationship between tube length, tube diameter and how long a point should be, a kind of golden mean. Not everyone gets it right, but you look at a Spectrum and just nod your head. It’s so right that it slips under the radar. The way the lug point curves is another place builders sometimes get it wrong, if they even bother to try to shape the lug point. Spectrums drip with elegance.
And then there’s the fact that Tom has been working with titanium frames longer than anyone else still working in the bike industry. Early Merlin’s handled okay, but not great. When Tom started doing their geometry the handling of Merlins improved dramatically, primarily because he knew how a great road bike should handle. He was also able to help on tubing selection to give the bikes a better ride; early Merlins were super flexy. Merlin became the “it” ti bike and Litespeed had to do a lot of chasing to catch up.
Tom’s expertise doesn’t end there, though. He has built more bikes for the track than any other builder I know. He understands nuances of track geometry in a way I’ve not found in another builder. Not only can he talk about the difference between a bike meant for matched sprints and one for pursuit, he’ll delineate how a team pursuit bike isn’t the same as one for pursuit. T-town track riders will mourn the end of Spectrum in their own special way.
The tragedy (I fear) is that Spectrum will be remembered primarily for really pretty ti bikes, which will leave Jeff’s work out of what is remembered. What Spectrum ought to be remembered for are some of the most sophisticated lugged bikes that were ever made. I put Spectrum in my top tier of builders the world has seen, along the lines of Richard Sachs, Mark DiNucci, Brian Baylis (RIP), Peter Weigle, Chris Bishop, Dave Kirk, Erik Noren, Dave Wages and Darrell McCulloch. Few builders pour themselves into their work to this degree. With Spectrum shutting down, it’s a signal that we may be entering the end of the golden age of frame building.