Portland, OR  |  503-922-1934

Meet the builder

The Littleford Custom Bike Shop

Jon Littleford – Bicycle Maker

It’s kind of funny. As I read and hear other builder’s stories, I realize that quite a few of us share so many childhood memories. I suspect that our career paths (most career paths) started long before many of us knew what a career path really was. (I thought I’d grow up to be an airline pilot… still at the age of 22!)

My ultimate path began, in retrospect, when a bike was my main personal transport. (Sound familiar?) I grew up in the rural wooded mountains of Northeastern Pennsylvania. With only a few distant neighbors and a seemingly infinite wilderness to discover, my too-big Huffy 10 speed was my ticket to everywhere.

Alone or with “neighborwood” friends I’d take the rough and muddy power line roads to beautiful secret cliffs hidden among the oaks; to an overlook high above the Susquehanna Valley; even to a distant, picturesque canal- an engineering marvel from the post-depression WPA program- where drinking water from a distant creek was pumped upward and then channeled for miles along ,and ultimately straight through the mountain on which I lived.

I didn’t know it then, but I was home-for-dinner cycle touring at 12 years old.

It was more than twenty years later, on a rookie ride from my house in Portland to my childhood home in Pennsylvania, that I first thought of learning to make bicycles. I was slogging laboriously across the vast Canadian prairie. As I rolled along, heels still occasionally scuffing the bags that nearly dangled off the rear end of my rack, I thought of all the ways that my vintage Italian road bike was completely unsuited to 10 hour days with thirty plus pounds of gear on a four thousand mile journey. Here I was on a road- a pathway by definition designed for long distance travel- with a “road bike” barely capable of hauling me and my stuff.

Of course, this problem had been solved a long time ago, by bicycle “constructeurs” a half century earlier. In fact one could say that the problem was actually created by marketing wizards of the mid to late 1980’s, who somehow convinced the masses of American cyclists that they were close enough to professional athletes that fender clearance, rack eyelets, and comfortable geometry would really slow them down. I knew none of this, but as I pedaled along it was good exercise and an entertaining pastime for me to focus on the design and function of what I now consider the most practical mobility device on Earth.

Had I been on an actual touring bike and had those books-on-CD I’d meant to bring, I might have been blissfully distracted on those long days in the prairie. I may have ridden to Pennsylvania with nary a thought about the geometry and ride characteristics of my bike, and ultimately ended up doing something entirely different with my life. Instead I discovered a passion. Countless hours in the shop and the occasional R&D tour later, the time still flies. Whole days can disappear while I craft personal, functional, durable bicycles on which I can proudly place my name.