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.
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.
Ti S&S travel bike by Carl Strong
Bicycle frame builders are an enigmatic lot. They are as different as peanut butter and jelly, but to the average cyclist they are as fascinating as the unfolding of Paris-Roubaix. Most of us, when given the opportunity to visit a frame builder in his shop will spend the first hour just standing around mouth agape staring at tools, works in progress, more tools, tubing, whatever’s on the walls, and then maybe talk to the craftsman.
Getting some of them to actually talk about their craft can be a challenge, but it is when they reveal their insight into the process that they tend to become most interesting. I can say this with something approaching authority, having interviewed builders who knew what they were doing and why as well as guys who didn’t see what all the fuss was.
A work in progress by Mike Zanconato
Our friends over at Velocipede Salon began a series back in 2008 called “Smoked Out.” Each installment is a builder-written profile aimed at the cyclist who has never visited the builder’s site or even seen one of their bikes. Think of it as a one-page autobiography/mission statement/resume.
The seat cluster from a frame by Dave Kirk
Richard “Atmo” Sachs is to be largely credited with getting this going. It’s unlikely that any other builder can better attest to the power of speaking up, not just about the sport, but about oneself. He has mentored more builders than he’s willing to name and “Smoked Out” reads like a kick in the pants to get each of these builders out there in the public eye a bit more.
That some of these profiles have been viewed upwards of 5000 times is a testament to the interest in the handmade frame, not to mention the hard work of the builders to let people know the profile is up; not all threads are read equally.
Frame builders are like chocolate chip cookies. They vary endlessly, but I’ve yet to meet one I didn’t like.
Check it out: http://www.velocipedesalon.com/forum/f22/