A broken bicycle and the patron saint of travelers have influenced Dave Huff.
Huff, of Marshalltown, said he came upon a broken bicycle in a garbage pile while stationed at a U.S. Navy base in Japan.
The timing was ideal - he wanted a faster way to get around the base.
T-R PHOTO BY MIKE DONAHEY
Dave Huff of Marshalltown is shown at his home recently with one of his custom-made “Christopher” bicycles. Huff adopted the Christopher Framesets Inc., brand name when he opened the business in 1995. A large copper-colored C is emblazoned on the frame above the front wheel on all work. “Made by Dave Huff” is also placed on all bicycles.
"I took the bike and rebuilt it," he said. "I installed cables and pedals. That got me interested in rebuilding bikes."
Soon he was repairing bicycles for fellow servicemen.
It was a passion he would resume in time after returning to civilian life.
Huff took Christopher - after Saint Christopher - the patron saint of travelers - as his Confirmation name during his conversion to Catholicism.
Fittingly, the saint served as inspiration for Christopher - the brand name of Huff's bicycle business, Christopher Framesets, Inc. which opened in 1995.
Custom-made bicycles - single and tandem - produced in his home - are his specialty.
They range in price from $2,500 to $3,000.
"Custom, custom, custom," is how the entrepreneur directly describes his business, which opened in 1995.
He oversees every step - from initial design to manufacturing.
What makes Huff's product special and his customers loyal is the detail, skill and materials he applies to each order - similar procedures he uses in the tool and die department at Lennox Manufacturing.
It starts when customers sit on a fixture with pedals, a seat and handle bars.
All can be adjusted - a necessary feature - as he must measure the person's inseam, reach toward the handlebars, height and weight.
Huff then retreats to the drawing board where he lays out a frame blueprint, specifically designed for the customer.
Depending on the order, a variety of metals are then assembled to make the frame.
Pedals, seats and other fixtures follow - all ordered and installed by Huff.
Professional painting is one of the final steps.
Common locations for Saint Christopher statues are automobile dashboards, but Huff has proudly affixed a cooper-colored "C" for Christopher prominently on the frame's front.
His customers are comprised of avid central Iowa bicyclers - and others - some who live and work around the globe.
Some are as unique as his bicycles.
"I built one for a man 6' 10" he said. "I recently built one for a 6' 2" woman."
Huff's customers tell him the custom design frees them of the aches, stiffness and pain often felt on store-bought bicycles.
"My typical customer is a serious bicycle rider - one who puts on many miles during a year," he said. "They are affluent - they have the disposable income to purchase a custom-made bicycle, made with the best materials."
Huff does not make excuses for his prices.
"When some have questioned my price, I tell them, simply, I must cover my material costs and time," he said.
He may see some customers on RAGBRAI XL.
One who will be glad to see Huff is Angie Whelan of Ankeny.
She will be riding her 10th RAGBRAI and on a bicycle Huff built for her.
"I'm a walking billboard for Dave Huff's bicycles," she said. "Dave has taken care of me through the years," she said. "Not only was the original construction professionally, done, he has followed up promptly with tune-ups and other service as needed. One year, a week before RAGBRAI, the frame broke and Dave quickly repaired it."
A much earlier RAGBRAI - RAGBRAI II - also influenced Huff.
Several relatives had ridden on RAGBRAI II and they encouraged him to join them in other cycling endeavors.
"I still had the bike from Japan and decided to go with them," he said. "That excited my about bicycling and I started repairing bicycles again."
He became acquainted with another rider - Gordon Borthwick, then of Marshalltown.
Huff learned Borthwick was a builder of custom-made bicycles.
Conversations followed with Borthwick and soon Huff was employed by the builder painting bicycles.
Huff learned the business from Borthwick and was in prime position to take it over when Borthwick, now living in Grinnell, retired.
The student was ecstatic in describing his teacher's talents.
"His techniques were fabulous," Huff said. "I learned and he taught me."
Huff recalled conversations with his mentor.
" 'Gordon, what you do is a bike frame, but it is art, the way you finish it. When you retire from this, I don't want it to go away.' I want it to keep going and I want to be the one carrying on. I think he took it to heart.' "
Borthwick then told Huff the best way to learn is to build a bicycle himself."
"He said to me:'I'll show you how to do it.' "