Mid-Life Cycling

Mid-Life Cycling

21 April 2015

Before They Made Bikes: Cannondale

There are a few bike brands that even non-cyclists can name.  Here in the US, Schwinn is one of them.  Others include Raleigh, Peugeot, Motobecane and Fuji.  

Cannondale might also be included in that list.  I think they gained notice with the general public because when their bicycles were first introduced in 1983, they looked very different from the others.  While Klein may have been the first to make aluminum frames from large-diameter tubing, Cannondale made them a mass-market (relatively speaking, anyway) item.  To this day, those frames are the first thing most people associate with the name "Cannondale".


What most people, especially those younger than--ahem--a certain age, don't realize is that Cannondale was in business for more than a decade before they built their first bicycle.  Furthermore, even though the first product they ever made was bicycle-related, their early reputation was established as much on non-bike equipment as on accessories for two-wheelers.


In the late 1960's, Joe Montgomery was a self-described "grunt" on Wall Street.  The experience, he later related, taught him how businesses work.  Always an avid outdoorsman, he saw a growing enthusiasm for hiking, camping and related activities--and foresaw the North American Bike Boom.  He knew he wanted to build bikes but didn't have the necessary capital.  So, when he started Cannondale (and named it, as nearly everyone knows by now, after a Connecticut train station) in 1971, he knew he had to develop and market a product that would distinguish his new enterprise as well as help him raise the money he'd need to build bikes.


Thus was the world's first bicycle-towed trailer--the Bugger--born.  One funny thing about it was that it predated, if unwittingly, the luggage that people roll through airport lobbies all over the world.  That's because the Bugger was, in essence, a big backpack on wheels.  Since it was mounted on an angle, it transferred all of the weight carried in it to its tires and didn't add to the weight of the bicycle.  I never owned one, but had opportunities to ride with one.  While it increased the turning radius, it didn't affect other aspects of the ride nearly as much as I expected.



The original Cannondale Bugger, 1972.




Sales took off and in spite (or, perhaps, because) of the connotations of its name, it sold well in the UK.  That allowed the new company to create other products for which they would be known.  They included panniers and handlebar bags with innovative designs and sturdy construction.  


Within a couple of years, Cannondale was also making backpacks, sleeping bags, parkas, and other items for camping, hiking, snowshoeing and other outdoor sports.  LL Bean sold them through their catalogue; one was as likely to find Cannondale products in ski shops as in bike shops. 


The "Trackwalker" is on the left.  Mine was black, with tan leather and red tabs.


During that time, I used several Cannondale products, in part because the shops in which I worked (as well as American Youth Hostels, where I also worked) carried them.  For at least a decade, my "Trackwalker" backpack was my go-to bag when I was off the bike--and sometimes on it.  With its black body, tan leather bottom and red "spider" zipper tabs, it had a very distinctive look.  Also, I wore one of their parkas through a number of seasons.  They, like their bike bags (I used one of their handlebar bags and seat bags on my first few bike tours) were well-constructed and practical.  


But my favorite Cannondale product of all time (Remember, I owned and rode two of their bicycles) was the glove they made--by hand, in Pennsylvania--during the 1980's.  I don't think I've come across another sport glove--or, for that matter, any glove--made from such high-quality materials and with such good workmanship.  It was like a Brooks saddle:  stiff at first, but once broken in, a perfect fit that would last for many years.  I wore mine until the crochet backings deteriorated--a long, long time after I first started wearing the gloves.



The best glove ever made--by far!




I wish I could find a pair of them--or something as good--now.  Back then, a pair of those gloves retailed for $25-30, which, it seems,  is what a "good" pair of gloves costs now. 

 I'm guessing that Cannondale couldn't continue to make them in Pennsylvania--or anywhere in the US--without raising the price significantly.  So production of those gloves was sent overseas.  Later, that of their bike apparel and accessories and, finally, their bikes followed.  Around the time Cannondale introduced their bicycles, they stopped making and selling backpacks, parkas and other non-bike-related gear.


(If you want to learn more about what Cannondale was doing before they started building bikes, check out this site.)

21 comments:

  1. Thanks for the interesting historical info. I wasn't familiar with Cannondale's other non-bike products. I also believe they were one of the last mass-market bike companies to move their frame production overseas.

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  2. MT--You're right: Cannondale was indeed one of the last US mass-market bike makers to move their production overseas. If I'm not mistaken, Worksman Cycles--just four and a half miles from my apartment--is the last US mass bike producer. And, of course, their product line is very different from that of Cannondale or other makers.

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  3. I have an '87 Cannondale mountain frame that I keep hanging in the basement. I just hate to part with that hideous looking (tubes and color) frameset. Every once in awhile I'll throw some spare parts on it and ride around in the snow. It's as light as a feather, even with the slim and graceful Tange front fork.
    I loved those old crochet gloves. I use the Trek/Bontrager ones now. They seem to hold up well and are reasonably priced.

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  4. Chris--I would love to find a pair of those old Cannondale gloves!

    As for your frame: I understand how you feel. Those early Cannondales were so ugly that you just had to love them. Plus, mountain frames like yours can be turned into loaded touring bikes, bulletproof commuters, "country" bikes and other kinds of two-wheeled vehicles.

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  5. I had one of Cannondale's earliest racing bike models. It came in an amazing shade of purple. Hardly anybody had seen oversized-aluminum bikes at that point, and people were always commenting on how "fat" it looked, and how "that must weigh a ton" -- then picking it up and being amazed at how light it was. Funny thing, but by today's standards, when Bicycling Magazine criticizes 18 lb. bikes as being heavy, that bike would be considered a real porker.

    I loved those gloves. Why does NOBODY make a nice leather and crochet cotton glove like that anymore, with quality leather, and simple, straightforward padding in the palms? Crochet gloves are such a rarity, and even if you can find them, they pale in comparison to those Cannondale classics. And padding? Everybody makes gloves now with supposedly "anatomic" design padding that actually increases pressure in all the contact points. Somebody out there should be able to copy those gloves.

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  6. Brooks--I got similar reactions when I, like you, acquired one of Cannondale's earliest racing models. And, yes, I remember that shade of purple!

    Although I prefer high-quality steel frames, I wouldn't discourage someone from buying or riding an early Cannondale if he or she likes the ride. When I first got mine, I thought I was cool because I had the stiffest bike on the block. But after a while, that novelty wore off for me.

    I agree that the more "anatomic" gloves are claimed to be, the more uncomfortable they are. Plus, no glove even comes close to the quality of those old Cannondale gloves--or even to that of an average glove of that era. It seems that any crochet glove I find today starts to unravel after a few rides.

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  7. They included panniers and handlebar bags with innovative designs and sturdy construction.

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  8. Jenny--I remember those well. I used one of their handlebar bags for a long time.

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  9. That's considering that the Bugger was, in quality, a big backpack with wheels. Since it was attached with an angle, it transferred the many weight carried in the item to its tires and didn't boost weight of the pedal bike.

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  10. Lisa--That's a great description of the Bugger and how it worked.

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  11. I do not think I've come across another sports activity glove--or, for that matter, any glove--made from such high-quality materials sufficient reason for such good workmanship.

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  12. Gary: Did you ever have a pair of those gloves? If you did, you're lucky!

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  13. Just a great and informative post. I really liked it. Thanks for posting here with us.
    To know more log on: http://omisport.com/best-hybrid-bikes

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  14. It is a fantastic write-up thank you regarding revealing this kind of useful details.

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  15. Great post ! I also love Cannondale product. They always have perfect quality. I have 2 cool bike of Cannondale. I bought them 3 years ago. Now they are still very well.

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  16. Alex--I'm not surprised. Thank you for stopping by.

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  17. Awesome read! Thanks for putting a lot of work into this, it's very informative. I've had a couple of Cannondale purchases before and should I need one, still my go-to brand.

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  18. David--Even with all of their changes, the quality of Cannondale products is still very high. Thanks for stopping by!

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  19. Hi Justine,
    I was Cannondale employee number 2 - My dad is Ron Davis one of the founders :-)
    It is interesting that Joe Montgomery's dad made his fortune with the Green Thumb Garden Glove - it's good that Joe carried on the tradition!

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    1. Wow! You are cycling royalty. You, Joe and his dad certainly have interesting stories.

      Thank you for stopping by!

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