Joe Bell

Joe Bell and Tenspeed Hero

As the designated wheelman for Tenspeed Hero, I am often responsible for the lives of a significant percentage of the Hero brain trust. It is a big responsibility. On a recent sojourn to and through Southern California, three of us were eating Italian—Italian food to be specific, when a sudden desire, nay urge (what comes after urge?), to visit the men’s room overtook me. Soon the need presented itself again. And then again. We were planning to brave the freeway to Temecula where Luke’s sister lives as soon as we finished dinner. I feared I would be left behind if my behind did not behave. I used my considerable mental powers to outwit my unhappy, and fortunately dimwitted, gut and decided to risk the ride. Todd took over the wheel as I tossed and turned and occasionally dozed in the back seat. Luke navigated. Luke has navigated this Hero all over France, Belgium, The Netherlands, Germany, England, and the US. And seeing that I am writing this from home I can say he has done so successfully.

By the time we arrived in Temecula, my gut was almost forgotten about. That is, until Luke’s sister/doctor asked a question concerning blood that I will not repeat in mixed company. Luke’s sister was a great host. All three heroes had their own beds. This hero had his own room (which I should thank my sick stomach for). At 7 a.m. two small people entered my room and stared at me. That was my cue to rise and shine. Sister doctor fed us kale smoothies, eggs, strawberries, coffee, and toast and then we continued on our journey.

Part II

Sunny Southern California was a welcome break from our respective homes in chilly Chicago and Boise. We drove south on I-15 through scenic arid hills stopping only three or four times for coffee. We arrived in Spring Valley California a little unclear on the actual location of Joe Bell’s shop. We arrived at a large building with a sign that said Deering Banjo Company.

We thought we were lost until Google Maps led us to a door with a hand-written sign that said, “This is not Joe Bell’s shop.” Then we knew we were lost. Heroically, Todd opened an unmarked door and we found ourselves in the windowless World Headquarters of Holland Cycles (handmade titanium bikes). Could this be the master frame builder Bill Holland, who first hired Joe Bell to paint bikes? Indeed. This wasn’t the type of bike shop with greasy, pierced, tattooed kids eagerly trying to help (or eagerly trying to be disaffected), but the type of bike shop that made us feel like we were underdressed.

After a few moments of browsing, one of us mustered up the courage to ask for directions. Through a door in the back of Holland was the Valhalla we had been searching for. A brightly lit warehouse space with bicycle frames in every direction. The first person we met was Nick who was sanding an ornate Rivendell mixte. The second person we met was Rob Roberson, thus completing our introductions to the entire staff at Joe Bell. Rob repairs frames—replacing a bent dropout here, filling in a dent there. He also happens to be an excellent frame builder, building upwards of one bike a year. Sometimes fewer. Nick and Rob showed us around while we waited for JB. To say we were smitten with what we saw would be like saying Romeo was smitten with Juliette. Dream bikes waiting for their turn in the silicon blaster, more dream bikes with thick coatings of dust that were either left behind by nonpaying clients or otherwise part of JB’s collection, a row of forks that serves as JB’s filing system. Each fork has the name of the client written in Sharpie and the fork farthest right represents the next bike to be painted. JB showed up soon in a beat up Datsun pick up truck. Maybe it was a mint Ford Ranger or a slightly rusty Mazda B2000. We did not travel all this way to talk about lightweight pick up trucks.

If you have ever talked to JB on the telephone you know that his low voice can be a bit intimidating, answering with a curt “This is JB.” But when you hang up, two hours later (I exaggerate for effect), you are sure you just made a friend in Spring Valley. JB was extremely welcoming. When I introduced myself he instantly recalled both of the bikes he had painted for me, even my MX Leader back in 2004 or 2005. He took at least an hour and a half out of his day to accommodate our curiosity. He walked us through his entire process until we felt like we could start our own bike painting business. Considering how busy Joe Bell is, he would probably welcome the “competition.”

JB commented on how many photographs we were taking. Everywhere we turned there was something to look at—JB’s huge collection of stickers, his huger collection of booze bottles. Bike posters, rock posters, family photographs, customer photographs, Silca pumps, camel hair brushes, withering mandarins and oranges, art, tiny bits of 2000-grit sandpaper and more, and more, and more.

Le Tour de Joe Bell eventually lead us to a Look 585 with Luke’s name on it. It was none other than Le Ramrod. Patiently and generously, JB went over the paint scheme (white) and evaluated the Todd Hero-designed decals with us. Now, when JB makes a suggestion we find it best to do exactly what he says. This approach has always worked for us in the past. As he made recommendations on sticker placement we replied with variations on, “sounds good,” and “perfect.” When Luke asked when the bike would be finished JB said, “When do you need?” We did not want to come across as demanding so we tried the wishy-washy approach. But he pushed us to simply tell him when we wanted the bike. “We want it in time to take it to France for Paris-Roubaix.” And it was ready.