The world of cycling is full of great stories – tales of hard riders, artisans, innovation and integrity. The tale of McLean Fonvielle, lesser-known but no less important among modern American framebuilders, is one of the most pure, but also one of the most tragic.
Born in 1953, McLean lived a mere 29 years before succumbing to a heart attack whilst riding, ironically, an exercise bike. He was a vegan, then a vegetarian, a non-smoker and physically able. Only a year before his death, he married Lanier, his true love, when he was becoming more well known as a bespoke framebuilder. McLean’s workshop was a tumbledown clapboard house in Saxapahaw, North Carolina, with no power, well suited to his methodology of building frames without power tools. His work benches were arranged with impeccably clean tools, and he preferred the company of a baroque soundtrack to being inundated with customers and visitors.
Originally, his frames were branded Silk Hope, referencing a nearby hamlet, with a griffin for a logo. After being continually encouraged by customers for a cheaper frame, he introduced a budget model, which he called the ‘McLean’. The two names were finally merged and thereafter all of his frames were branded ‘McLean’, with those frames bearing an ‘M’ prefix in the serial number.
The 1982 catalog, released a year before his death, listed the ‘Kermesse’, an ‘uncompromised’ crit racer, tourers and tandems. Also included was the model featured here, the ‘Perfect Pleasure, a classic continental road design able to traverse rough surfaces with resiliency and responsiveness’. It will be up for sale soon, and I’m hoping there’s a couple of American bloggers and shop owners that are passionate enough about their country’s glorious cycling culture to keep it in the family.