Sunday, August 17, 2014

Loss Of An Unknown Legend: Tom Teesdale

I know it's old news by now, but Iowa framebuilder Tom Teesdale passed away this summer at the age of 63, suffering a fatal heart attack while riding the 2014 RAGBRAI.

Let's get this out of the way up front: I'm not going to make this about me. I don't have a Tom Teesdale story. I never met the man, never rode one of his bikes. I lived in Iowa City for six years, rode through his town of West Branch several times a week, and never stopped in. Never even knew he was there. I'm sure his Hot Tubes feature in the long-defunct Bicycle Guide magazine came out during those years, but I must have read right over his location. It's an Iowa cyclist thing, or maybe just an Iowa thing: We don't think that important people come from here, or if they come from here originally, they leave when they get important.

Instead, this is a media critique, specifically of what passes for cycling media in 2014. Try this experiment (I'll even give you the links): Go to the Bicycling magazine website, type "Teesdale" into their search engine, and see what you get. Hit VeloNews and do the same thing. Since he was best known as a mountain bike builder, try Dirt Rag next, a publication dedicated to off-roading. For the sake of science, I even tried Mountain Bike Action, though I won't make you add that embarrassment to your browsing history.

You know what you'll get? Nothing. "Your search returned no results."

This is a guy whose torch touched some of the most iconic frames of early mountain biking. Check his resume if you don't believe me. And yet, the online properties of the two biggest general-interest biking magazines in the U.S. and two magazines devoted to mountain bikes didn't even mention his passing.

Granted, by all reports, Mr. Teesdale was a quiet guy, and much of his work had someone else's name on it. Even yours truly, a mountain-bike obsessed college kid living just up the road from him through most of the 90s didn't know he was there. But here's the thing: I don't get paid to write about bicycles or the people behind them. It's my side gig, done strictly for fun. I don't even pretend to be a journalist. But the folks behind those magazines do pretend to be journalists. They get paid for this stuff. Hell, some of them probably had people covering RAGBRAI. And they missed it.

Shortly after Mr. Teesdale's death, his website ( went down. The error message said it had "exceeded its bandwidth." And I thought, well, at least that's something. Lots of people must have heard the news and visited his site to learn more about him. Thankfully, the site is now back up, so you can see examples of his amazing work and learn about his framebuilding philosophy. It's just a shame that the cycling press doesn't see that work and the loss of the man behind it as worthy of mention.

UPDATE: I checked in on Bicycle Retailer and Industry News (a.k.a. BRAIN, a kind of "Inside Baseball" publication for bike shops and other industry wonks), and they did in fact post a news story on the passing of Tom Teesdale almost immediately after it happened. So, kudos to the folks at BRAIN, and further jeers to the folks at the other brain-less magazines.

1 comment:

Steve Fuller said...

I was lucky enough to stop by Tom's shop in 2008, and even luckier to visit with Ira Ryan. I stood out of the way and let Ira, Tom, and my friend Steve talk and do their thing. I had only an inkling of the part that Tom played in the history of bicycling, all based on the conversation that took place on the way to West Branch that evening.

I think the reason that many people have never heard about Tom was that he was one of the old school people that just went about the business of doing what he loved, without worrying about self-promotion or boasting about his place in the history books. The world lost a true artisan with his passing.