Spectrum Cycles Eyes the Finish Line

Spectrum Cycles Eyes the Finish Line

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. 

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  1. Lyle Beidler

    I’ve never been able to afford one of their bikes, but was privileged to visit the shop once and fanboy with Tom when he built a bike for our company. To the best of my knowledge, that beautiful bike has never beeen ridden, but has hung in the lobby of a product development office it’s entire life.

  2. Mitch Levy

    True craftsman that have earned every accolade they receive. I ride a Merlin with Toms name on it and have been to the shop and spent time with Tom and Jeff. They are true gentleman and have had a great influence in the cycling community. I hope they enjoy retirement as much as they have enjoyed their many years together.

  3. Waldo

    Eisentraut is retired, Bruce Gordon is retired, Sttelman is out of the business, Richard Sachs is finishing his list in March, Pegoretti is deceased, as is Baylis. Tom and Jeff are about to hang it up. You’d think the frame building sky is falling, Mitch Prior is young, Kirk and Wages are relative spring chickens, Bishop began building in 2007, etc. DiNucci is still semi-active and Curt Goodrich is going strong. Plenty of outstanding custom frames available for the foreseeable future, they just aren’t getting any cheaper.

    1. Nico

      Pegoretti is still in business and continues with craftsmen mentored for years by Dario himself. These include his son who carries on in the bike building tradition that his father established.

  4. Frank

    Tom gave a talk to my college cycling team in Philly back in 1995 or so, and I still think about it. I have yet to encounter someone who knew as much about bicycle geometry and was able to articulate it so well. Fortunately, this is a retirement announcement and not an obituary. I hope he’ll still find ways to impart his wisdom after he puts his tools down.

  5. Michael Levine

    My Ti Custom Spectrum is superb! Kellogg and Duser, superb.
    Happy Trails, gents!
    Thanks for the ride!
    Congrats on world class craft and service!

  6. Alex V

    Gotta be that guy….

    What’s the point of a cutout in the rack tube, if it still touches the brake cable?

    Leaving the shipping tape on the brake arm is also a bit gauche.

    1. Author

      The cable wasn’t actually touching; that’s just the crappy perspective of the shot, which was the only angle that would even allow me to capture it. My suggestion: blame the photographer, not the builder with 40 or so years of experience.

    2. Alex V

      I judge the work as it is presented, irrespective of the number of years of experience. Trump has more than 40 years in the real estate game – does that mean he’s good at what he does? Experience can certainly enable skill, but it does not define it.

    3. Author

      I wouldn’t have included the shot if I hadn’t verified for myself that it didn’t touch. But you can choose not to believe me. Obviously, Spectrum isn’t the right builder for you, and that’s perfectly okay.

  7. Jay

    I find it ironic that they announced that Spectrum would be closing on a day that I was arranging a visit to the barn to order a new titanium Spectrum. I knew that this was coming, but I was surprised by the timing. Regardless, I wanted a titanium bike and I had decided that it would be a Spectrum. I already have a steel Spectrum that is perfect by my standards and expectations, but I had regretted not getting titanium.
    I agree that Jeff’s work could end up being overlooked, but he leaves a permanent mark on every frame that he builds. The left chain stay has a small brazed on badge that is embossed with the letters J D and the serial number of that frame. It is placed on the underside and is a subtle acknowledgement of the builder. It is somewhat like the working relationship between Tom and Jeff in that Tom is the public persona of Spectrum and Jeff just quietly goes about his work in the background.

  8. Steve

    Perspective is a funny thing…..I’ve been lucky enough to have 2 Spectrums…. a critish lugged road then a track bike (and a Slingshot MTB Tom custom sprayed for me). I got the first, the road, in about 1995, right as steel, especially lugged, was on its way out and you were just starting to see a number of Ti Spectrums. While those Ti bikes were beautiful (especially the Amoroso’s Racing Team/Tri State Velo custom painted version) I never thought of them in the same way as the Tom designed/Jeff built bikes I saw around the local races in PA and at T-Town. Those were the “real” Spectrums to me.
    It’s been fun to watch the resurgence of steel and lugged bikes..I thought at one point that Spectrum and similar builders might disappear and their craft lost. I got to see both my Spectrums before they were painted…the workmanship was simply amazing.
    I know Spectrum had to come to an end sometime….but its a bummer to think others wont have the same experience of visiting “the barn” that I was lucky enough to have.

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