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A tale of two early Fuso bikes

The Fuso frame was introduced in 1984; they were numbered in sequence as they were built starting with 001.

The number one Fuso is owned by a former bike store owner in San Luis Obispo, CA. A year ago I heard about number 10, and just this week I received two emails from the owners of numbers 20 and 32.

Number 20

Paul Matrisian wrote a brief but interesting history. The "2 Wheel Transit Authority" decal on the left chainstay tells me the bike was originally sold in Huntington Beach, California. This was a huge bike store, (Housed in a former bowling alley.) that is no longer in business. They sold a lot of Fuso bikes throughout the 1980s.

Somehow the bike made it’s way to Salt Lake City, UT where Paul picked up the story when a friend of his bought the bike for $100 in 1993. Later the Fuso’s owner moved to Nashville, TN where he used it to commute to school.

He later bought a mountain bike and the two bikes were kept locked to a front porch railing at night. One evening in 2002 the mountain bike was stolen but the Fuso was ignored. Soon after this Paul wanted to try his hand at triathlons but didn’t own a bike. His friend having no further use for the Fuso gave Paul the bike.

Paul hooked up with some local bike enthusiasts who were able to help him in choosing and fitting some new components. Some new Shimano Ultega stuff, along with a new stem, pedals, and some new rims. In his email Paul said:

“I have had the opportunity to trade rides with people. All remark what a good ride this bike has. I must admit I like the feel of a steel bike over some of these newer bikes. I am very fortunate to own this bike. The condition of this bike after this many years, attests to the quality of the craftsmanship in its construction. I have included a picture of 'us' entering the transition area in my last triathlon.” (Picture by

Looking at these pictures, I notice the decals are slightly faded, probably due to the bike being left out in the elements. However, the red paint looks a bright as the day it left my shop.

Red paint is usually one of the worst colors for fading; did you ever see and old red car that has not faded to orange? I always used a candy-apple red over a bright orange (almost florescent) base coat on the Fuso frames. What you see is this bright base coat shining through the candy-apple top coat. Time has proved it doesn’t fade; auto makers take note.

I also think it is great that this bike has allowed Paul to participate in a sport at reasonable cost. Thank you Paul for sharing your story.

Number 32. (Pictured above.)

Compared to number 20, this one has led a sheltered existence. Stephen Jaffe emailed me to say he is the original owner. He bought and rode the bike throughout the 1980s, then later quit riding. However, he kept and stored the bike. He is pleased that he did, because he recently started riding again. He has replaced the pedals and saddle, but everything else is original. He said, “The bike is just as enjoyable as it was twenty years ago.”

I think it interesting that two people would contact me in the same week with two totally different stories about two very early production Fuso frames. They were both built within two weeks of each other. I went on to build close to 3,000 of them by the time I retired in 1993.

Footnote: The other number stamped on the bottom bracket shell (57 and 56 respectively.) is the frame size in centemeters measured from the center of the BB to the top of the seat lug. All my frames were measured this way. Subtract 2 cm. for the center to center measurement.


Bill Walton's Bike

Here is a rare and unique frame that was tucked away somewhere in the far reaches of my memory bank, the hard drive of my mind, if you will. It recently came to the forefront when I discovered these old photos.

No, there is nothing wrong with your eyes, and those wheels are standard 27”. (700c) It is just a very large frame. I can’t remember exactly what size it is, but it was built for seven foot basket ball player Bill Walton.

It was the end of 1980 and I had just arrived at Ted Kirkbride’s frameshop in San Marcos, CA to build the Masi frames. Ted had just got this order for a custom built bike for the San Diego Clippers star player.

The frame was a joint effort, I did the main brazing, then handed it over to Ted Kirkbride to finish. The frame was painted by Masi’s painter Jim Allen. Bill Walton did not want any maker’s name on the frame, but instead had a custom “Grateful Dead” decoration painted directly on the head tube.

Bill Walton was, and still is an ardent “Dead Head.” San Diego artist Dan Thoner did the hand painting on the frame.

So what kind of frame is Bill Walton’s? It is a Ted Kirkbride as he took the order, designed the frame, did much of the work and sold the frame. However, as Ted never put a frame out with his own name on it, (As far as I know.) The nameless frame arrangement suited both buyer and seller on this occasion.

I don’t lay claim to the frame, but only write about it here because it is a part of my history, and probably the biggest frame I ever worked on.

Ted Kirkbride owned the frameshop were the Masi frames were produced in the early 1980s. He later bought the company. Most of the frames he built were custom and special order Masi frames.

I wonder if Bill Walton still has this bike, and if so does he still ride it? I would imagine the demand for used bikes to fit a seven-foot bike rider would be pretty small.

Footnote: Dan Thoner who did the fine art work on this frame is the same artist who later did the design work for my Fuso logo; working from rough sketches of my idea.


Kubler and Koblet

Ferdi Kubler (Left.) and Hugo Koblet, two more cycling heroes from my youth.

It just doesn’t seem right to mention one without the other. Maybe because they were both from Zurich, Switzerland, maybe because they both have last names that have six letters and begin with the letter “K.” For whatever reason, to write about them separately somehow seems like breaking up a set.

In 1950 Hugo Koblet became the first non-Italian to win the Giro d’Italia; that same year Ferdinand Kubler was the first Swiss to win the Tour de France. The following year, 1951 Koblet would win the Tour de France, and Kubler the World Championship Road Race.

They were both true all round riders; at home on the track riding a pursuit race or a six-day event. They could ride alone against the clock in a time trial, and both were excellent climbers. Kubler could also out-sprint the best of his day.

Physically you could not find two people that were more unalike. Koblet (Pictured left.) had the good looks of a movie star, and would often sit up in the last kilometer of a race, and comb his hair. He would sometimes do this on a hard climb, as a psychological ploy to demoralize the other riders. He earned the nickname of "Pédaleur de Charme" for his beautiful smooth pedaling style. 

Kubler on the other hand had rugged, hollow cheeked features, and a huge nose. And, if Hugo Koblet looked pretty on a bike, Ferdi Kubler often looked like some demonic hunch-back when pictured in full flight.

Kubler (Below.) had more wins throughout his career, but Koblet often won in great style; for example on his way to his 1951 Tour win. It was Stage 11, the stage before the Pyrenees and the Alps. On such a stage, everyone would typically take things easy, saving themselves for the days that followed.

Koblet probably knew this was the way everyone would think, so he did the opposite. Some thirty or more kilometers from the start, in sweltering heat, he attacked on a small climb, followed only by French rider Louis Deprez.

The other contenders that year all chose to ignore this seemingly irrational move. After a few kilometers Deprez must have felt the same way and he dropped back to the peleton, leaving the Swiss rider on his own.

However, when Koblet’s lead increased to four minutes with seventy kilometers to go, the peloton woke up and began to chase back in earnest. Now, all the big guns were at the front; Bartali, Bobet, Coppi, Geminiani, Magni, Ockers, Robic, adding their weight to the chase but still could not make an impression on Koblet’s lead.

After riding one hundred and forty kilometers alone, (87 miles.) Hugo Koblet (Above.) reached the finish in the town of Agen. His face showed no stress at holding off the entire peloton. Koblet crossed the finishing line, then calmly dismounted and started a stopwatch to see what advantage he has gained over the rest of the field.

Two minutes and thirty-five seconds later the rest of the peloton crossed the line exhausted and astonished by Koblet’s great escape. With the best riders of that era, working together, and chasing hard, they had only managed to pull back less than a minute and a half on the flying Swiss rider.

Koblet gained the utmost respect of the World’s leading riders and French Press that day. Writing for the Parisien Libere, Jacques Grello coined the phrase "Pédaleur de Charme." A name that will stick with Koblet for all time.

Kubler and Koblet (Left.) always spoke highly of each other, and showed a mutual respect. They sometimes rode on the same team, most times they were rivals. However, they never declared it.

Hugo Koblet died tragically in a car crash in 1964, aged 39.

Ferdinand Kubler, a fitness fanatic throughout his life, is still living, and at aged 88 years is the oldest living Tour de France winner.


This looks fishy

“A man needs a woman like a bicycle needs a fish.”

This picture by Scott London was spotted over on Velorution.

Bike from Wal-Mart.....$200
Custom made fish.......$15,000

Finding a lake with a slope, so you can go water skiing...Priceless


John Boyd Dunlop

When John Boyd Dunlop invented his pneumatic bicycle tire in 1888 it was a tubular tire.

It had a rubber inner tube stitched inside a canvas outer casing, and glued to the rim, in the same fashion as a modern tubular tire.

Contrary to common belief, John Dunlop was not the inventor of the pneumatic tire. This was Robert William Thomson of Edinburgh, Scotland. At the age of twenty-four he was granted Patent No. 10996 on 10th June, 1846.

Thomson was compelled to carry out his experiments on heavy horse drawn vehicles lacking, as he did in the 1840’s the all important aid of the bicycle. Circumstances forced him to resort to leather for his treads and to build up the tire by hand. His tires were not wholly or readily detachable.

Robert Thompson’s tire never caught on due to the fact that the market was, at that time, so limited. It was expensive to produce, and with the only form of wheeled transport being horse drawn vehicles, it was not commercially viable.

Dunlop’s improvement on the idea, on the other hand, came at a perfect time. With the invention of the safety bicycle, and followed in the next decade by motorized vehicles with pneumatic tires.

Even so, Dunlop’s idea was not immediately accepted. People scoffed at his invention and called him “Pudding Wheels.” It appears however; the proof of the pudding in this case, was in the riding. When people started winning bicycle races on the new tires, his critics were permanently silenced.

John Boyd Dunlop like Thompson was also Scottish by birth. Born in Dreghorn, Ayrshire, in 1840; he studied in Edinburgh and migrated to Ireland in his early twenties. He was a qualified veterinary surgeon.

John Dunlop’s idea was financed by Harvey du Cros, a paper merchant, and prominent Irish business man. A small company was formed in Dublin, Ireland to manufacture the tires. This was the start of The Dunlop Rubber Company that still exists today.

In the years that followed there were more developments:

1890 C. K . Welch invented the wired attachment and well-base rim. (The clincher tire.)
1891 C. H . Woods, a cotton spinner, invented a perfect little valve. This took the place of Dunlop’s patent valve, which did not permit of deflation.
1893 F. Westwood invented cycle rims with tubular edges.
1893 C. K. Welch produced his cord casing system for pneumatic tires and the well-base motor rim.

John Boyd Dunlop died in 1921. Although he did not invent the first pneumatic tire, he was the first to produce a practical product. He introduced the word “Pneumatic” (As applied to tires.) into the English language. He never made a lot of money from his idea during his lifetime, but revolutionized not only the bicycle, but also every other form of transport on Earth.

The next time you pump your tires up; think of the bewhiskered old gentleman pictured at the beginning of this piece.

My source was: The Evolution of the Bicycle, by Tom Norton.
Picture from: