Tim Neenan and Lighthouse Cycles
I was born in Austin Texas. I was an army brat and moved a lot at the whim of the military.
I remember my first good bike. They called them British Racers way back then. It was a British made upright bar bike with fenders and a Sturmey Archer 3-speed hub. It was red and the brand was called Rocket. It was too big (we’re talking wood blocks on the pedals) so I could “grow into it.” I rode that Rocket everywhere until high school. It wasn't okay to ride your bike to high school.
As a teenager, I became interested in performing magic. This landed me my first job out of high school at the Magic shop in Disneyland. Interestingly, I had a coworker at the shop named Steve Martin, who later became “a wild and crazy guy.”
Next, I spent time as a metal hand former for Douglas Air Craft Company and worked as a radio mechanic with American Airlines at LAX. After that I attended college in Santa Maria, California where a jewelry class project got me a job as a jewelry designer while attending school.
I dug out that Rocket, overhauled and painted it and began riding it. Longing for a 10-speed, a friend talked me into buying a White Peugeot U-08. (You would be surprised at how many older riders have a U-08 in their background.)
I moved on to finish my Philosophy degree at the University of California at Santa Cruz. I started riding the Peugeot in the local mountains and got hooked. I fell in with a group of riders out of the Bicycle Center shop in Santa Cruz and was quickly educated in the ways of the peloton.
Roger Sand’s Bicycle Center was an important pro shop and helped promote serious cycling by offering the highest quality bikes and clothing available at the time. I got a job at the Bicycle Center with that Philosophy degree and soon became shop Manager.
I built my first bike in 1975 while at the shop. Orders started piling in from all the homies and I began building full time in 1976. I was still making jewelry at the time and wanted to create a head badge for the frames and selected the Lighthouse image as a tribute to those Santa Cruz roots.
The first handful of bikes had an investment cast Lighthouse on the head tube. I designed the current decal image of the Santa Cruz Lighthouse in 1977. I built steadily for a growing clientele.
I was delighted when Spence Wolf of the Cupertino bike shop, located in Pacific Grove California approached me to build custom frames for his shop. My collaboration with such a high powered shop was truly gratifying. Spence’s shop was unsurpassed! He only carried custom-built frames by Alex Singer in France, and mine in the USA, establishing Lighthouse as one of the very best.
During that time I built a full-on touring bike for a fellow with a fledgling bike company. His name was Mike Sinyard. Mike’s company was called Specialized Bicycle Imports and under the shorter SPECIALIZED, it would become one of the world's top bicycle companies.
In 1981 Mike was ready to hire a designer and called me. I designed and oversaw the production of the first bikes. The Allez, The Sequoia, The Expedition and the industry changing Stumpjumper, one of which is on display at the Smithsonian Institute.
The Specialized time was very exciting, traveling to Japan to oversee production as the company grew fast! And, how many times do you get to gave dinner with Eddy Merckx?
But I missed frame building and those beautiful roads on the California Central Coast. I left Specialized in 1981 to set up shop in Santa Barbara with my new wife Lorraine. The Lighthouse reputation coupled with a large cycling scene in Santa Barbara made for steady work.
Looking for a bit quieter community (not to mention better roads) we moved our family to the beautiful Santa Ynez Valley just inland from Santa Barbara in 1986. By now I had been building for 20 years with over 1000 custom frames under my belt.
I had always loved to cook and in 1990 Lorraine and I created The Gourmet Century. This was a ride that was a step above the regular rides. The food was extremely high quality throughout the day, followed by an elegant sit down dinner for 500 riders and their partners. The ride became very popular and one year ESPN sent a film crew to cover it. A devoted crew, including Chris King, and I prepared all the food for the 10 years of Gourmet Century.
I found that catering these large events brought my food skills up to the professional level. I was also teaching at the Jordanos Cooking School in Santa Barbara during this time working side-by-side with some of America’s great chefs.
In 1996, I decided to make my hobby my job and accepted a position of Executive Chef at the El Rancho Marketplace in Santa Ynez. I was responsible for leading a crew producing and serving $3 million dollars worth of food a year.
After 10 years in the professional kitchen, I built another frame for myself. This time I used the new oversized Columbus Genius Tubing, fillet brazed in a compact frame configuration and ended up with a 17 ½ pound bike.
I fell in love with bikes all over again and started dreaming of frame building. I re-tooled the shop around a new, state-of-the-art Anvil Jig and BikeCad computer system.
In 2009, I finally began building again with the enthusiasm that only a return to ones destiny can bring. The dream has come true; beautiful new, custom Lighthouse bikes are back on the road again!
"The most beautiful thing about a custom bike is not just what you see, it's what you feel" - Tim Neenan