Sunday, May 12, 2019

RIP Roland Della Santa

One of the greats of American bicycle frame building died last week. Roland Della Santa, who was 72 years old, was found by a friend, having apparently died peacefully in his home.

At the North American Handmade Bicycle Show, Della Santa always
had a low-key presence - letting the workmanship of his frames
 speak for itself. The frame he's holding here was a
winner at the 2009 NAHBS. (photo from ClassicRendezvous)
Della Santa was a part of the Northern California racing scene in the '60s and early '70s - often racing with people like Gary Fisher and Tom Ritchey who would go on to become pioneers of mountain biking. Della Santa started building frames in 1970 and described himself as largely self-taught. He had learned how to braze in high school and started building frames - at first for himself and friends, studying Italian racing bikes for inspiration. "I copied the Italian frames I raced on," he said in a 1987 Bicycle Guide interview. "I rode Italian bikes, French bikes, and English bikes, and it was obvious the Italians knew how to build race bikes."

One rarely hears the name of Della Santa without the name Greg LeMond - often within the same breath. Della Santa first encountered the young phenom when 15-year-old Greg and his dad, Bob LeMond, came into the local bike shop where Della Santa was working. Bob was looking to get himself and his son new racing bikes that they could race together during the "off season" from skiing. Greg quickly proved himself a champion, and the following year Della Santa quit working at the local shop to focus full-time on frame building, and sponsored the future star.

Over the years, Della Santa would make many of the bikes LeMond rode and raced on, regardless of what name was on the frame. In 1986, he added more building staff and started making the first line of LeMond-branded frames (later iterations of LeMond bikes were made by Trek. Let's just say that ended badly).
That's Roland in the middle of this shot. The long-haired guy on the left is none other than Gary Fisher. (photo from Della Santa's website)
Della Santa sponsored a team in the late '70s. That young blonde kid to his immediate left would go on to great things. (from Della Santa's website)
LeMond winning the Junior National Road Race Championship - and immortalizing Della Santa's name along with his own.
Roland Della Santa outside his Reno workshop, from a 1987 Bicycle Guide magazine profile.
Della Santa was known for excellent craftsmanship on his frames - but was not overly interested in fancy ornamentation or obsessive filing and detail work. He meant for his bikes to be ridden and raced - and for that, it was more important that they be perfectly aligned and solidly built. He wasn't all that interested in building wall-hangers or art collectibles. People who bought his frames were often repeat customers, and many people recall that he loved to talk and tell stories. For nearly 50 years he humbly made great bikes and dispensed the sage advice of a master.

I'm sorry to say I never met Roland Della Santa, though I've admired his work for much of my bicycle-obsessed life. The bicycling world will miss him greatly.


  1. Thanks for this tribute. RIP Mr. Della Santa.

  2. We Think of him daily now , for the rest of our lives.

    He helped out so many cycling friends here in Reno.