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Bikes of Steel

Posted October 03, 2012 in Community Featured, Urbandale

Tobin Bennett, always willing to lend a hand, helps fix a friend’s flat tire during a winter gravel road ride.

There is no room in Tobin Bennett’s Urbandale garage for his car, a versatile SUV with plenty of room for hauling the tools of his trade and toys of his hobbies.

Bennett has enjoyed hiking, cycling and camping for most of his life and recently took up flat-water kayaking. A professional photographer, he can often be seen between shoots driving with a kayak on the roof and a bike on the rear rack, headed out for an afternoon of exploring trails and waterways.

While he has modern bikes and a kayak, one of his most prized possessions is a custom, hand-built steel bicycle frame created by his brother, Chris in the late 1980s.

In the 1980s, steel was the material of choice for high-performance bicycles. It could be built to be both light and strong, yet retained a smooth, comfortable feel on the road.

Most prized at the time were custom-built bicycles, which could be tailored to an individual rider’s size and riding style. Different grades of steel were available to dial in all the factors needed to make a truly customized bike.

“My brother was really into bike racing at the time,” says Bennett. “He also liked to build things and was handy with a torch. He just decided that he wanted to build his own custom frame, so he figured it out on his own.”

A jig was necessary to hold the steel tubes together while they were cut, filed and brazed together. Chris, Tobin’s brother, calculated the size and shape he wanted his bike to be, based on some of the European models that were popular at the time. After some trial and error, Chris eventually had a ridable, raceable bicycle frame.

“He didn’t ride it long. It’s not quite perfect, but it’s really cool that he built it,” says Bennett of the red-painted frame. “I’ve ridden it, but now I just enjoy having it as decor in my garage.”

While Bennett enjoys the old steel bicycle frame in his garage, he enjoys riding bikes much more. Bennett is very involved in the local cycling scene and has participated in events ranging from wintery gravel road races in Madison County in mid-February to 24-hour mountain bike races on the West Coast.

Bennett next plans to ride in one of the largest mountain bike races in Iowa, the Mullet Classic at Lake Ahquabi State Park in October.

Contact Darren at 953-4822 ext. 304 or to recommend someone for an upcoming issue of “What’s In Your Garage?”

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