• Aly Brown
  • Tue July 22 2014
  • Posted Jul 22, 2014
Somewhere in Tom Teesdale's West Branch shop sits a steel bike frame, never to be finished.

The local frame-building legend died Monday while riding RAGBRAI. Teesdale, 62, of West Branch, was renowned in the international biking community for his custom frame designs and for pioneering the mountain bike design.

For 38 years, Teesdale owned and operated TET Cycles out of a warehouse in West Branch where he sold custom bikes, including cyclocross, mountain, road and tandem.

Steve McGuire, 3D design and metal arts professor and head of dimensional practice at the University of Iowa School of Studio Arts, said Teesdale often would build custom bikes for special needs students at Camp Courageous and would ride tandem alongside them when they needed a partner.

"He had an engineer's mind and the generosity of a pope," he said.

RAGBRAI medical director Bob Libby said a quick-response motorcycle and ambulance responded to the scene between Terril and Graettinger. Teesdale later died of a heart attack at Palo Alto County Hospital in Emmetsburg.

The last time a rider died during RAGBRAI was in 2010 when a rider collided with another cyclist and suffered a head injury.

"When you have 35,000 to 40,000 riders out here, inevitably something is going to happen," he said. "There are a lot of crashes."

According to his obituary, Teesdale was born March 14, 1952, in LaHarpe Ill., to Thomas, Sr., and Norma Teesdale. He married Cathy Jo Dunker in 1980 and had one daughter, Kate, four sons, John, Matthew, Andrew, and Jacob, and was grandfather to Henry and Annabella.

He grew up in Niota, Ill., graduating as valedictorian of his high school class at Nauvoo/Colusa High School in 1970. He graduated with honors from Western Illinois University with a degree in mathematics and minor in physics.

Son John Teesdale said Tom Teesdale was a loving father with a good heart and a passion for bicycles.

"It's nice, well, it's not nice, but if you gotta go out, you might as well go out riding your bike," he said.

McGuire said Teesdale was a visiting professor at the university, and he first met him when Teesdale designed a custom bike for McGuire's adult son, who has cerebral palsy.

"I regarded him as a great friend, a mentor," he said. "He just knew so much."

McGuire said Teesdale was quiet, but a wealth of knowledge about the history, design and science behind the bicycle. Teesdale could be "one of the longest contemporary frame-builders still around," he said.

McGuire said Teesdale was at the forefront of mountain bike design, including designing the 1988 Fisher Mt. Tam, which McGuire considers "one of the great bikes made."

Teesdale went on to become a pioneer in the field, working on Gary Fisher bikes, Kona 94 Haole, Barracuda, Yokota Halfdome 93, among many others.

His work has been shown at the Chicago Bicycle Show, and McGuire said at the time of his death, he was designing his first titanium frame to enter with students into the North American Handbuilt Bicycle Show.

"He had a level of precision," he said. "He really strived to make every bike unique for the person it was for. Over the years, he acquired a knowledge of materials that few people will ever achieve just through experience."

Sean O'Harrow, director of the UI Museum of Art, said Teesdale was one of Iowa's many "secret famous people."

"What I think is amazing is that cycling has such a high profile in Iowa, partly because of RAGBRAI, but I think a lot of people had no idea who Tom was," he said.

O'Harrow said he was working with Teesdale to curate an archive of historic materials following bicycle design before his death.

"He was kind of a machine in the sense that he was the ultimate bike builder, bike designer," he said. "He was a real artist and a real craftsman, and a real revolutionary thinker."

Rick Hopson, cardiologist at Mercy Hospital and president of Iowa City Cycling Club, said Teesdale was well-regarded among "old-school cyclists."

"You could buy steel bikes from the factory or you could get a local craftsman to build them," he said. "If you were early into racing in Iowa City, our guy was Tom Teesdale."

Hopson said early on, Teesdale was a popular bike builder for racers, but as the sport trended toward carbon fiber frames, he was forced to branch out into custom recumbents and tandems.

Hopson said he frequently visited the builder at his shop by the river in West Branch.

"It was always kind of hit or miss whether you'd find him," he said. "You'd go up and bang on the door and the whole building would shake as the dog would run up to the door. … It was one of these magical places. You go inside there and there would be, like, a thousand bikes around in various stages of repair and lots of steel tubes and welding equipment. You knew you were talking to the guy."

Teesdale was not a salesman or showman, Hopson said, but a true artisan.

"He was always completely dirty with welding solder and welding glasses and an apron on," he said. "He would sit down and talk with you about what it was. He definitely had the spirit of cycling."

RAGBRAI director T.J. Juskiewicz released a written statement Tuesday saying, "The thoughts and prayers of the entire RAGBRAI Nation are with the family who lost a loved one while he was enjoying RAGBRAI."






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when building my xtracycle I wanted disc brakes. Not able to locate a new fork I called Tom and after a few minutes on the phone my fork was in the mail. Tom welded a disc bracket on my fork and returned $20 since it didn't take that long. Tom was an honest craftsman.

#1 - clunker posted Aug 4, 2014

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