Talking Bikes with Roland Della Santa
By Rita Romeu 2009
I am relatively new to the frame building scene, and am on a mission to educate myself. There is a lot of good education to be had here at NAHBS. Everyone suggested that I talk to Roland Della Santa of Della Santa – they referred to him as the “best kept secret.” He has been making frames for over 35 years, is self-taught, and started by making frames for himself when he was racing back in the early 1960s. I was also told that he always has a great story to tell.
In the 1970s, Roland began to devote more time to building and got orders from the likes of Jack Hartmann, and Jackie Simes; and then Greg LeMond . In 1976 going full time into frame building, he hired a team and was soon making team LeMond bikes, producing about 15 frames a week. All that seems a long time ago now, and recently his main outlets have been two retailers in California – Shaw’s Lightweight Cycles, in Santa Clara, and Bike Nook in San Francisco.
His philosophy is straight forward. “Build a frame as accurately and as fast as possible; get it to the painter, and get it to the customer.” In designing bikes for his customers, Roland has the bike shop take the client’s measurements, since they have become experts in this. He keeps the process simple – three measurements: top tube, seat tube, seat angle. He considers the rider’s intended purpose of the bike, and weight. He has one client who was rather heavy when he purchased his first frame, but after riding on a Della Santa lost about 75 pounds, and then Roland redesigned a much lighter bike for him.
I love the
elegance and simplicity of his frames. And apparently so do many
others. He told me this story: Roland was assisting on a privately
organized bike ride. Dustin Hoffman was one of the riders. Roland
noticed that he was riding a Della Santa, and asked him where he got
it. Mr. Hoffman replied – “Greg LeMond gave it to me!”