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.
It had to happen.
Not that the 2013 Boston Marathon had to be ruined by the acts of one or more sociopaths who do qualify for George W. Bush’s term “evildoers,” but an act of this genus and species was inevitable. Attacking a sporting event in the United States was—to use a cliche—bound to happen sometime. Let’s be honest, the idea had been out there since 1977 when the Robert Shaw and Bruce Dern thriller “Black Sunday” opened in theaters. In the film, Dern, a blimp pilot aids a terrorist group (back when they were disaffected Europeans) by constructing an explosive device that attaches to the bottom of his blimp, which is scheduled for camera work at the Super Bowl.
For aspiring terrorists with a short memory, the idea got a reboot in 1991 with the Tom Clancy novel “The Sum of All Fears” in which a dirty bomb—a nuclear weapon that doesn’t go critical and instead sprays radioactive material over a few square miles—is detonated at (you guessed it) the Super Bowl.
The business of terrorism has been something like a game of chess. Someone attacks a Federal building in Oklahoma City. We surround all Federal buildings with bollards. Several someones fly planes into buildings. We up security at airports. Someone sets their shoe on fire on a plane. We all take our shoes off at the security checkpoint in the airport. They move a pawn, we move a pawn. The important lesson is, they never move the same pawn to the same square twice.
What it suggests is that whoever these people are, what they don’t lack (we can debate why they lack a moral compass and empathy until the next election) is creativity. That’s what makes them so dangerous.
When I was in high school I worked as a concessioner, selling hot dogs from an aluminum box with Sterno in it. I did this at the Liberty Bowl, the football stadium in Memphis, Tennessee. One night, as a game drew to a close, I found myself standing just outside the press box, next to a paramedic who was on duty for the football game. One of the sportswriters heading out got to talking with him and when the paramedic told him there’d been two heart attacks and one knife fight, the journalist responded with surprise. That’s when the paramedic said something I’ll never forget. He said, “Think about it; you put 60,000 people together and these things are bound to happen.”
I think the Super Bowl has never been attacked because at this point fights at lesser events have been too prevalent. The Super Bowl is too obvious a target; security is too high to be worth the trouble.
But what of events that are run over open roads?
The Boston Marathon is arguably the closest thing the U.S. has to the Tour de France. Even so, it’s broadcast to a fraction of the households that the Tour de France or even Paris-Roubaix is.
To be sure, France’s national pastime has seen its share of disruptions. From farmers protesting to Basque bombs—hell, the riders themselves!—the Tour has seen a variety of pissed-off people use its spectacle to garner attention for their causes. And that’s the important distinction—those people wanted to be heard, they wanted a place at the table, had something to negotiate. However, those behind the biggest acts of terrorism here in the U.S. weren’t looking for a dialog. They were simply acts to hurt others and inspire fear. Because initially we didn’t know who was responsible for any of the incidents and as a result didn’t know either if they were more acts to come or what the motivation was, the acts—the explosions, the murders, the families torn apart, the destruction—accomplished boatloads of both hurt and fear.
I can’t help but think about Lance Armstrong and the force field of body guards he used to travel with when he was King of le Tour. He claimed to have received threats. Because Armstrong’s life has been built on so many fictions, we can’t know if that was true or just part of the myth that was constructed. However, it doesn’t matter. Would I have been disappointed had religious extremists made Armstrong the target of an attack? Of course. Would I have been surprised? Given the way he embodies a particular image of America, not in the least.
It may be that the Tour and other races have so far escaped these most random of terrorist acts for the simple reason that it is not an American event. But that doesn’t mean that we should expect it will always escape the gaze of those who look to disrupt our lives. At a certain point the ease of access, the size of the crowds and the TV viewership make the Tour de France a more than obvious target. I’m reminded of that Far Side cartoon that goes “Bummer of a birthmark, Hal.” This is no laughing matter, of course. As much as I’m concerned for the welfare of the riders, my greater concern is for those who wish to witness the spectacle. I’ve been to a great many sporting events in my life, but I’ve not witnessed anything that left me feeling as simultaneously breathless and alive as the Tour de France. It’s something every cyclist should see, the absolute #1 bucket-list item for anyone who has ever been inspired by anyone who went fast on two wheels.
Now, I have to be concerned about taking my boys to the Tour. Well doesn’t that just suck large-scale ass.
Boston is a city that has seen share of dark days. It has all the ills of any big city and while only one war was ever fought in its streets, the sons of Boston have fought in every war Americans have waged: 1812, Civil, WWI, WWII, Korea, Viet Nam, Iraq, Iraq again and Afghanistan.
But Boston has never been a symbol loss or the problems of society. When we utter the word Boston, what comes to mind for most people is the birthplace of democracy, a place where I new idea about what freedom really meant, how society could be re-imagined. Name another place on earth where a notion of hope did more to rebut tyranny than in Boston. It has a history marked by attracting greatness, as exemplified by serving as the home to one of the greatest centers of learning, Harvard University. And because Merlin Metalworks, Fat City Cycles, Independent Fabrication, Seven Cycles (just to name a few) have all called Boston home, it is the de facto spiritual center of cycling not just for New England, but all of the East Coast.
Boston will heal.
But where will they strike next?