Robert Freeman of North Bend has been involved with biking and the bicycling industry for more than 37 years. Now that he has retired, his focus is on riding and building his extensive collection of vintage bikes. Part of his collection is being shown off to the community as an installation in the North Bend Visitor Information Center.
Robert Freeman, retired, is happy toshow off his bikes in the Visitor Center and share the history behind them.
Currently Freeman’s collection clocks in at about 80 classic racing bikes. He has been collecting and restoring them since the ‘80s.
“My first collectible bike came to me at about 1987, that was a 1972 Schwinn Paramount. I still have that and a bunch more and I’ve built that collection over the years.” Freeman said. “I would call it a world-class collection of classic bikes. From all over the world really, but mostly from Europe and the U.S.”
Not all of his bikes made it to him in good condition. A lot of times the use of these bikes over the years left them in really bad shape. Freeman takes these opportunities to restore the bikes to proper working condition.
“Some of them I find in mint condition and that’s preferable, but I also find a lot of them that have just been abused and they are restoration candidates, so I do a nice restoration on them.” Freeman said.
He has a lot of bikes, but Freeman tries to cycle through them all, taking each out for a ride. He got into this because he loved riding, so there aren’t any bikes he deems too sacred to enjoy.
“There are a few bikes I haven’t ridden but there are none that I would not ride. There’s probably 30 or 40 bikes that are ready to go at any time.” Freeman said. “The nice thing about this is none of them will wear out since I have so many to lighten the load.”
His collection has grown so large that he uses a storage facility to hold them and keeps some at his home.
“I have some in my house, but I can’t have too many in the house to keep marital peace.” Freeman said.
Since retiring, Freeman has been looking to eventually pare down his collection to keep it manageable, but his inner collector makes that a tough proposition.
“Since I’ve retired I’ve sold about eight bikes but I also acquired about as many so it’s about a net break-even,” Freeman said. “One of these days I’m going to build a new facility on my property and transfer over all the keepers and then I’ll have a better idea of what I can let go.”
Freeman is so passionate about his classic bikes because they represent a level of craftsmanship that isn’t too common in today’s industry.
“In my opinion, these older bikes that I ride the most are as nice or nicer than anything made today. They can last forever because they can be maintained, and are easy to work on by a home mechanic. They don’t require a huge amount of experience or expensive tools to work on,” he said. “No bike made today will ever achieve classic value unless it’s a handmade bike.”
Freeman’s experience with handmade custom bikes and the bike industry goes all the way back to 1979 when he started working at a bike shop called Northwest Cycle. It was there that he met Bill Davidson, a custom frame builder. Freeman persuaded Northwest Cycle to take on selling Davidson’s custom frames, which turned out to be a hit.
“He was very successful,” Freeman said. “I think that we were selling 40 or 50 custom Davidsons every year, which is a lot for any kind of custom bike.”
During the summer of 1983, Freeman and Davidson decided to leave Northwest Cycle and create their own professional quality bike shop in Seattle. They opened Elliott Bay Bicycles in December of that year.
Elliott Bay Bicycles was successful from the start, partly because both Freeman and Davidson had become well known in the community. Freeman was president of the Cascade Bicycle Club in 1980. So when they opened their doors a lot of customers who knew them from Northwest Cycle followed them to their new shop.
“At one point we were making about 700 custom frames a year,” Freeman said. “That part of the business was very good for us.”
The business remained good for both of them until about five years ago, when the big construction boom in Seattle made traffic difficult and cut off easy access to their location. Along with other changes, Freeman and Davidson decided to close up shop after three decades.
“Last fall we decided to wrap it up. We had been in the business for 31 years at that location and that was long enough,” Freeman said. “The location couldn’t support us any more so we had decided to call it a day.”
Davidson has opened up his own shop in Fremont to continue working on his custom frame building. Freeman decided it was time to retire.
“I’m 65 now and 37 years in a career is long enough, I’m ready to kick back, ride a bit more, and get healthy,” Freeman said. “I’m 65-years-old but I’ll leave the 45-year-old guys on carbon bikes in the dust when I’m climbing the hills. So that part of it is fun, too.”
The Paris Tour de France, made in 1982 for Michael Kemp, head of the Paris Lightweight Cycle Co., hangs in the VIC. A copy of the bikes made in the 50s, and made by the same builder, Tom Board. Made in England.