A Space of One's Own
Tom Ritchey is fillet brazing a bicycle frame. Fillet brazing is a high-end joint-finishing process, for which he has gained worldwide fame and which underpins Ritchey Design Inc., his 40-employee bike-frame and bike-components design company, based in Redwood City, Calif. Ritchey, 44, a former national-level racer, became a pioneering designer of mountain bikes in the 1970s, when he discovered he needed better products than existed. He started the company in 1973, at age 16, and remains its only product designer. He never went to college.
Ritchey calls this his "workshop," but it's just the garage at one of his homes, complete with the usual door. He built the place in 1980 -- cheaply, because he had to -- on land he'd recently bought in California's Santa Cruz Mountains. A woodstove is the shop's sole source of heat. There is no computer.
Ritchey and his wife and their three children (ages 16, 17, and 19) also have homes in Palo Alto and the Sonoma County wine country, and home is where he loves to work. "There's a certain solitude I greatly enjoy. I'm most productive when on my own," he says.
He could long ago have "improved" the shop, "but bike componentry doesn't require Intel-type labs. The atmosphere is funky, homey. I work where I feel comfortable with my tools, and I've become dependent on my resourcefulness, not on having a nice clean floor."
Ritchey still races competitively a couple of times a year.
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