Portland, OR  |  503-922-1934

Meet the builder

Jon Littleford – Bicycle Maker

It’s kind of funny. As I hear other bicycle builders’ stories, I realize that many of us have similar 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, though it turned out I just wanted to be a bird.)

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

Alone or with “neighborwood” friends I’d take the rutted, often muddy power line roads to discover beautiful secret cliffs hidden among the oaks, or to a rugged overlook high above the Susquehanna Valley, where an old moss-covered canal channeled drinking water for miles along, and ultimately straight through the mountain on which I lived.

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

It was more than twenty years later, on a two month ride from my house in Portland, OR to my childhood home in Pennsylvania, that I first thought about bicycle construction. I was slogging laboriously across the vast Canadian prairie, my heels occasionally scuffing the panniers that nearly dangled from the rear end of my rack. I thought of all the ways that my vintage Italian road bike was completely unsuited to hauling forty pounds of gear over a four thousand mile journey. Here I was on a road- a pathway by definition designed for long distance travel- with a “road bike” just barely capable of hauling me and my daily requirements.

Of course, this problem had already been solved, by bicycle “constructeurs” a half century earlier who specialized in bicycles designed to tour the countryside with luggage onboard. 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 only 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 one of the most practical devices ever devised.

Had I been on an actual touring bike and had those books-on-CD I’d meant to bring along, I might have been blissfully distracted on those long days in the Canadian 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, I still love the challenge of making a practical machine still more practical. Whole days can disappear while I craft personal, functional, durable bicycles on which I can proudly braze my name.