Philly's Closing Ceremonies: more from the show founder

The tribute to the four departed figures of the bicycle world planned for Sunday, November 6th at 3 pm was the idea of Stephen Bilenky, founder of the Philly Bike Expo.


“Looking back upon losing these four greats in the span of two years gave me a feeling of mortality. We never really know if our time will be next,” mused Bilenky.


Bilenky knew all four men, Brian Baylis, Tom Teesdale, Tom Palermo and Jeff Archer, through his frame building business or by way of PBE, and he gave us his memories and thoughts about each of these men.


“I had a real connection with Brian [Baylis]. He gave me encouragement as a new builder in the 1980s, and called me up one time for help getting some decals for a frame restoration project. Brian Baylis came to me! That’s the kind of guy he was though. He showed respect for and offered help to the new kids in the trade.


“Later on I went out and helped him with his show in San Diego. He gave me - or maybe I bought them, but I think he gave them to me - these beautiful Confente lugs.”


Bilenky remembered how Baylis would travel across the country from his San Diego home to Greensboro, North Carolina for Dale Brown’s Cirque du Cyclisme event.


“This was in 2008 or 2009, before NAHBS had gotten to the level it’s at today. Brian enjoyed seeing what everyone else was doing, and he shared his knowledge and passion.”


Tom Teesdale was similarly magnanimous with his encouragement and advice for Bilenky.


“This was in the days before the internet, when getting in touch with other builders took a bit more effort, and you were never sure if someone was going to answer the phone. But Tom would call me up from Iowa and give me advice on fillet brazing. He was a real master at fillet brazing and built a lot of bikes for Gary Fisher.”


Baltimore, Maryland builder Tom Palermo was a virtual neighbor of Bilenky’s, just an hour’s drive south of Philly on Interstate 95. Bilenky recalled how Palermo referred many customers to his shop.


“Palermo gave me many repair and restoration customers. He would tell his potential clients, ‘that’s not really my area of expertise, you need to go see Stephen Bilenky about that’ He had the wisdom to realize his limits as a relatively new builder.”


Bilenky also recalled how both he and Palermo ended up with some frame shop equipment from Proteus Bicycles in College Park, Maryland, which offered frame building classes and new builder DIY tubing kits in the 1970s, and which also employed many framebuilders over the years, including famed Japanese-American builder Koichi Yamaguchi, and later, a young Tom Palermo, who was a student at the University of Maryland. After Proteus owner Larry Dean died in 2011 after a long battle with Multiple Sclerosis, the new owners divested themselves of the old frame building tools.


“I know that Tom ended up with a beautiful Italian frame building jig that Proteus used to own, because that’s where he got his start as a builder. It was sort of like keeping it in the family.”


Bilenky knew Jeff Archer not from the frame building trade, but more as a collector and a curator of his MOMBAT (Museum of Mountain Bike Art and Technology) exhibition. He poignantly recalled a conversation with Archer earlier this summer that should remind us all to never take tomorrow for granted.


“I spoke with Jeff earlier this summer, and encouraged him to come to the Philly Bike Expo. He said that he just couldn’t work it into his schedule for this fall. ‘Maybe next year’ he told me.”


Archer was killed by a drunk driver while crossing a street in Mooresville, North Carolina in July 2016.


About the tribute ceremony, Bilenky said that he and his daughter Bina are assembling bikes that were built by or belonged to each of the four men, but that he was still missing a Palermo bike for the exhibit.


“I think Larry Black of Mt. Airy Bicycles has a Palermo, or knows people who own them. Hopefully he can bring one up to the show for us.”


Groovy Cycles owner Rody Walter will announce his new legacy foundation for fellow Ohioan Jeff Archer. We’ll have details about this foundation in a separate story.


The final tribute to the four will be a musical tribute intoned by the sonorous, distinctive sound of bagpipes. The musician plays in a Philly-based rock band, but makes a living playing bagpipes at funerals.