Ritchey bicycle components have been raced to victory in some of the biggest cycling competitions in the world including the UCI World Championships, the Tour de France and the Olympics and it all began in a simple garage in Palo Alto, California with Tom Ritchey.
Tom’s love for bicycle began at age 11, when his father taught Tom Jr. to build his own wheels and repair tubular tires. Ritchey used these skills to start a small business repairing tubulars as a means to earn money to buy his first road bike, a Raleigh Super Corsa. When he was 14, Ritchey joined the Belmont Bicycle Club (BBC) and began racing. Shortly after this, he upgraded his bike to a frame he repaired himself, a broken Cinelli “B.” Around this time his father taught him how to braze, and he started repairing bicycle frames for local racers.
By learning to repair/replace other builders’ damaged tubes, Ritchey developed the confidence and skills needed to build his first racing frame. He decided to build his own frame out of a necessity for an affordable, lighter, faster bike. He bought the tubeset and lugs from local builder Hugh Enox at the time for $21, and in 1972 built his first frame, which he raced on that year. On this very frame he won many junior races and titles. Eventually on future bikes he built, Tom won the Senior Prestige Road trophy and the BAR (Best All-Around Rider) in 1973 and 1974 as a Junior. These feats lead to Ritchey being known as the ‘Senior Slayer’, having beaten top Californians (many of whom considered to be some of the best riders in the USA at the time) and former Olympians.
Tom rode for Team USA’s Junior Worlds road racing squad, and then enjoyed a stint on the US National Road Team. In 1976, Ritchey retired from road racing. He continued to race mountain bikes through the early 80’s, competing more recently in races like the Downieville Classic, La Ruta, Trans Andes, Trans Alps and Cape Epic in South Africa.
During his early racing years, Ritchey began building bikes for the Palo Alto Bike shop and its national mail order catalog. In 1974, as his senior year in high school approached, Ritchey had already built approximately 200 frames. It was around this time he honed his fillet brazing or “lugless” method of fabricating frames. Ritchey sought to challenge bicycle industry standards of frame tubing diameter at the time, which was limited by the use of fixed dimensioned lugs. Ritchey’s fillet brazing construction method allowed the choice of larger thin-wall tubing diameters and unique ovalizations to create lighter, stiffer frames. By 1979, Ritchey had produced over 1,000 frames on his own.
Tom Ritchey often cites his friend, the late Jobst Brandt as being crucial not only to his development as a cyclist and component designer, but for his deep passion in off-road riding. Brandt, author of the iconic book, The Bicycle Wheel, had a riding style that was unlike anyone else at the time. Brandt would lead his infamous rides that quickly left the paved roads behind and ventured onto to dirt single-track trails on traditional road bikes with no modification---something completely unheard in the 60’s and 70’s.
In addition to Jobst’s frequent off-road adventures, Tom was also on the scene with other pioneers in the early days of mountain biking and he saw numerous ways to improve the equipment they were using. But his desire to build better parts wasn't rooted in some grand business plan - many parts simply didn't exist and the ones that did required substantial improvement. Tom saw an opportunity to develop lighter, stronger, better components.
Jobst Brandt was crucial to the young and aspiring Ritchey, and the products he was designing. Brandt, a mechanical engineer at Hewlett Packard, always called into question Tom’s new ideas - scrutinizing every detail of his designs. Ritchey, who sought to design and produce components that were light and fast, was often countered by Brandt who demanded components be durable and strong enough to endure the backcountry epic rides Jobst liked to do. Ritchey’s foundational design principles emerged from these dueling philosophies.
Among the first of Ritchey’s designs to be brought to use was his “Logic” steel frame tubing. With the new era of fillet brazing he pioneered, and the new uprising of TIG welded frame production, Ritchey knew that condensed, force-direction butted tubing would produce steel frames that would be lighter and stronger than common butted tubes previously manufactured. Initially Ritchey tasked Italian tubing giant Columbus to produce this new style of butted tubing, however their inability to produce tubes to Ritchey’s specifications drove Ritchey to a Japanese company named Tange. Their success lead to the birth of Logic Tubing. This tubing changed the way tubing manufacturers thought about butting profiles, ushering in a new era of lighter, more lively, yet extremely durable larger diameter steel tubing bikes. He later took his same shortened butt concept to spoke manufacturer DT Swiss to produce spokes to build lighter, stronger wheels.
Below are a list of a few innovations and firsts Ritchey produced over the course of his ongoing career in cycling:
- 1974 Twin-plated crown forks
- 1979 New Mountain Bike frame
- 1979 First production mountain bike company
- 1980 130mm mountain bike specific rear hub
- 1980 120mm bottom bracket spindle to account for wider chain stays that accommodate a wider rear tire
- 1980 The Bullmoose integrated mountain bike specific handlebar and stem
- 1983 Standard unicrown tapered fork
- 1984 Logic butted tubing
- 1984 Developed new MTB specific tread design with IRC, Japan. No one had approached them to build specific treads before. Ritchey wanted to apply lightweight road tire technology to MTB tires by introducing a folding bead and 120tpi. In 1988, Ritchey furthered this tire technology with Vector Force Analysis (VFA) tread designs that revolutionized mountain bike tires featuring front and rear specific and rotational direction tires.
- 1985 Vantage rim, the first welded mountain bike specific rim produced by Ukai. A wider, 25mm rim developed to better handle a wider knobby tire.
- 1989 Logic Condensed double butted spokes produced by DT Swiss
- 1989 Developed alloy 3D net shape forging, for stems that lead way to a new generation of lighter, stiffer and stronger stems that did away with welding.
- 1992 First to succeed in Off Center Rim Technology (OCR) made possible a balanced spoke tension in rear wheels and off center disc specific front and rear wheels.
- 1995 2x9 speed drivetrain for mountain bikes
Tom still puts in 10,000 miles a year on his bike, constantly thinking of ways to make it better. These miles of experience and unending passion for bicycles shine through in every detail of a Ritchey component.
In 1988, Ritchey was inducted into the inaugural Mountain Bike Hall of Fame in Crested Butte, Colorado (now located in Fairfax, California. In 2012 he was inducted to the United States Bicycle Hall of Fame in Davis, California.