Diamonds and Gems: The David Harrison Collection
Tom heard rumor of a Ritchey collector living in the Pacific Northwest who had an impressive offering of early Ritchey bikes he lovingly restored to either period- or near-period correct condition. Sure enough, after contacting the collector, the pictures began flowing in. Well cared for and, though amateur, exquisitely shot, these bikes were each a treasure trove of subtle details which more than made the builds true gems. We got a chance to sit down with David and discuss his collection and history.
Let’s start with who you are and where you’re from?
My name is David Harrison. Originally from Nottingham, England, I studied at the Royal College of Art (London). My time at the RCA, more than anything else, gave me a great appreciation for good quality design and finely crafted objects. I moved to the USA in the late 1990’s and have lived in Seattle for over twenty years.
Tell us about your bike collection.
The bikes I have chosen to collect represent your early work from 1972 to 1980.
Here is a list of my collection to date; all bikes have original paint unless otherwise stated.
- 1974 Custom racing with seat mast design - Carter Squires (blue)
- 1975/6 Custom racing, lugged - Butch Stilson (dark green)
- 1976 Custom touring tandem - Sam Hopkins (dark green)
- 1977 Custom touring, all fillet brazed (light blue)
- 1979 Mountain bike, one of the first 9 (repainted blue)
- 1979 Mountain bike, probably one of the first 9 (light green)
- 1980 650B with drop bars (silver)
- 1980 650B with bull-moose bars (red)
- 1980 Raw unfinished Chicken Coop frame
- 2 x 1980 Chicken Coop bikes, finished in 2020 by Ed Litton with replicated forks, (one blue and one lavender)
- 1980 MountainBikes - came with ugly repaint, now nickel-plated
- 1980 MountainBikes (dark blue)
- 1980 MountainBikes (dark blue)
- 1980 MountainBikes, matching pair - his & hers (gold)
- 1980 MountainBikes (silver)
- 1980 MountainBikes (sand)
- 1980 MountainBikes (dark grey)
- 1980 Custom road touring, this is the only bike I have with a stamped serial number (silver)
What was your first Ritchey?
My first (Ritchey) bike that I stumbled upon (in 1996 or so), was a lightly used 1989 Ultra, which was for sale on consignment at a local Eugene bike shop. The original owner had broken his pelvis and had given up on or was unable to ride anymore. This bike served as my primary method of transportation for many years in both England and the USA.
How did your collection grow?
Slowly I became a collector of Ritchey mountain bikes, becoming increasingly interested in the early mountain bikes, which led to collecting some early road bikes as well. I really became serious about collecting Ritchey about fifteen years ago and began focusing on 1980 and earlier in the past five years. Part of the added challenge and excitement of looking for the early examples is that they are hard to find because fewer were made.
Which bike is the most unique in your collection?
The most unique bikes that I have are the blue 1979 Mountain Bike which has all the fine details of your first MTB but has the same fork as Gary's (#2). This bike has tapered seat stays and a threaded (English) bottom bracket like the road bikes, the two 650B’s also (bottom bracket) have this detail along with taped chain stays, 1” top tubes and the 'park bench' details. These three bikes in particular represent the big transition or evolution of the bicycle from road to mountain, illustrating their origin/inspiration while forming a new design direction or bike usage.
What drew you to collect Ritchey bikes?
High-quality, simple design and innovation, amongst other things, is what drew me to collect these old bikes.
What was the last bike you added to your collection?
The last bike I added to the collection was the red 650B.
A fellow bike friend tipped me off that Jim Sullivan had it. Over the course of two years, I persuaded Jim to part with it or put it up for sale. Unknowingly another collector ‘friend' had also contacted Jim about buying the bike - and a small bidding war ensued. The bike has clearly had a hard life of constantly being ridden and was in rough shape when it came to me.
The clamp-on nickel plated bull moose bars had completely rusted through (either from marine air exposure or rider sweat). Usable identical bars were found as replacements, the original were kept. After a sympathetic restoration the bike is now on the trails again.
Is there a favorite Ritchey?
The red bike, along with the blue 1979 mountain bike, are my favorite riding and are the most hard to find bikes.
Do you only buy bikes you can ride?
Unusually amongst collectors - I don’t just buy bikes that are my size. Some of them are so hard to find it seems crazy to pass on something that is 1 or 2 inches too small or big. This has created a healthy cross section of examples from the years in a variety of sizes. It’s always a big plus if something is my size.
Favorite place to ride?
Washington State has some beautiful trails but riding conditions are very seasonal - unless you like mud and rain. California’s weather is far better suited for biking. Don’t really have a favorite place to ride, though there is a lovely network of small wooded trails near Indianola, WA that are very vintage bike friendly - this is where I most often ride.
Where do you find the bikes and parts to restore them?
The most difficult thing to find are the bikes or frames themselves. Restoration often involves replacing wrong or replaced original parts that don’t fit a specific timeline. Correct or better suited components with corresponding date codes (where applicable) are sourced ideally with a condition that matches the bike. Bikes are found via a small network of like-minded friends or connections and online sales listings. Sometimes whole (donor) bikes are purchased just for one specific very rare part.
What’s most difficult about restoring a vintage bike?
Period rims are becoming increasingly hard to find for the early MTBs, 1979 to 1980 is a very small window and only a few specific parts apply. Being a perishable item, correct tires in good condition are by far the most difficult item to source, reproduction tires (and brake pads) are used for riding purposes.
Is your collection available for the public to see?
They are frequently shared though pictures posted online with friends and ridden in rotation at events with fellow enthusiasts. A dedicated website is definitely required - hopefully this will happen this year. Having the site to display other peoples early bikes (as you suggest) is a good idea - not just the twenty or so that I have. Seems like I have the pictures and the brief stories to each bike - I just need to sit down and put it all together.
One of the things that my collection is missing is an example of your innovative fixed-angle combined seat/post using a Cinelli Unicanitor (road) or Avocet Touring 11 (MTB) saddle. The Carter Squires bike and also the 1979 blue MTB may well have come with such a post.
If you could whip a couple up - that would be appreciated :)