Zinn and the Art of Bicycling

Zinn racing at the Cross Nationals in Verona.

Imagine a world where you step into a bike shop with someone, and that person is treated like a rock star. Crowds form around him, pictures are taken, hands go out to be shaken, pats on the back and a beer magically appears. You might even see some female cyclists swoon–actually, the guys might be swooning as well.

This was my perspective when Lennard Zinn was in town for cyclo-cross nationals as we walked into Machinery Row bike shop for their Belgium party. It was kind of amusing…but then again, I got it. Growing up I cared a lot more about pro racers than rock stars–they were my rock stars.

So how did I find myself in this position? Thanks to a good friend, Jon Patz, who was an old roommate of Lennard’s, I got to have dinner with him and interview him after his race. I was even treated to a story of them knitting hats in their college dorm room.

It’s hard not to spot Lennard in a crowd. He’s 6’6-6’7, has a lean athletic build and warm smile. For those of you not familiar with his work, the list is long. First, he’s written several books on bike maintenance including the mechanic’s bible “Zinn and the Art of Bicycle Maintenance”. He’s the technical writer for VeloNews. He started Zinn Cycles where he designs and builds custom mountain, road, cross and tri bikes. He designs components and clothes to fit tall and short riders and he also races (both bike and cross country ski).

He started out as a physics major, but simply put, he loves bikes and prefers to study the physics of bicycling! During dinner we were talking about the start of Zinn Cycles and he said, “Contrary to what most people think, I actually got into this because I was tired of seeing shorter women bounce around in their saddles due to cranks that were too long for them.” I have to admit that even I thought his driving force was to help taller riders. As a hard to fit rider myself, it’s wonderful to see a frame/component builder care so much about sizing.

Scott Anderson, a 6’6 yoga instructor here in Madison, is a believer in what Zinn is doing. I asked him to contribute to this piece and here’s what he sent:

It was nearly twenty years ago that I first rode a Zinn bike. In the days before Internet ubiquity, information was more likely to be passed word-of-mouth, and I’d heard that Lennard Zinn was the go-to guy for big bikes. Well, I certainly needed one of those big bikes at 6’6″! I had been riding an off-the-shelf Ritchey, which was a gorgeous piece of equipment, though it didn’t even come close to fitting. Via the combined efforts of an extra-long seat post and a supple spine, I thought this bike was as good as it gets. The Ritchey ultimately showed its age, however, and it came time to replace my trusty steed.

On a trip to Boulder, Colorado in 1993, I swung by Lennard’s shop. Rather than talking about bikes and fitting, Lennard suggested we go out for a ride. He let me ride his bike, and he grabbed another as we rode about the Boulder reservoir. Within about ten minutes I’d decided to purchase this bike; it tracked straight (lacking the twitchiness I associated with a high-end bike) and did not require committee-approval to turn. It was the smoothest, easiest-riding, fastest and most comfortable bike I’d every ridden!

I loved that bike, and poured on off-road miles all over the Southwestern US, and gobs of commuting miles in both Minneapolis, MN and Madison, WI. (Even after it was completely and utterly tired and worn, it still commanded a respectable bid on eBay last year.) People properly appreciate Lennard’s gift for building the right bikes for BIG people.

Since Scott is a yoga instructor, he also mentions that although he can help people become more adaptable and resilient, those things can only go so far. He sees so many riders trying to make too-small bikes work for them but one size does not fit all.

Lennard is so dedicated to helping those that are hard to fit that he started a program with basketball players and the Boulder Center for Sports Medicine. Zinn and Andy Pruitt, a certified athletic trainer, work with athletes on bike fitting to help them prevent back, knee and neck injuries.

Zinn has not only been a leader in bike fitting but also in using different frame materials. Although he loves steel, his bikes now lean towards titanium and magnesium. Until cross nationals, I had never seen a magnesium frame. After his race, while his bike was still covered in mud, I picked it up. Even with a full water bottle and a few pounds of mud, it was still lighter than my much smaller carbon frame. My jaw dropped and I think I drooled a bit. Calculations of how I could scrape enough money together to get one of his frames started dancing in my head. The best part is that his frames are made right here in the United States!

Lennard and his long-time friend Dag who pit crewed for him at the Cross Nationals. Photo by Jonathan Patz.

I couldn’t resist sending Lennard a few questions for this post. Here they are with his responses plus photos:

1) What is one of your fondest cycling memories?

Winning the Durango-to-Silverton Iron Classic road race in 1980. Felt like I was floating that day. I set the course record that held until Jonathan Boyer smashed it a couple of years later.

One very hilly stage of the Tour of Ireland in 1981 where I felt great, initiated the break, and won the Most Aggressive Rider award.

2) Regarding bicycle building, what frame are you most attached to and why?

Wow. Hard question. I guess I’d never throw out or sell the first bike I ever built (in 1980, for my girlfriend who became my wife).

I’m currently most attached to both of my cyclocross bikes, but I’m sure they’ll be replaced within a few years, so that hardly seems like attachment.

I poured my heart and soul into the Columbus KL steel lugged bike of my wife’s. She still rides it, we’d never get rid of it, and it weighs like 15 pounds, built back in 1984 or so.

My wife and I haven’t ridden our tandem in years, but we are very attached to it, as it is what we rode when she was pregnant with each of our daughters. It has kisses all over it under the clear coat.

3) When you first started building, were there any frame builders that influenced you and why?

I worked for Tom Ritchey after having only built one bike prior to that. I even lived at his house part of the time; the shop was in his garage up on Skyline Drive above Palo Alto. He had a very strong influence on me. Between Tom, me and one other guy, we built around 100 fillet-brazed Ritchey mountain bike frames, forks, and Ritchey Bullmoose fillet-brazed handlebars a month (at the very beginning of the mountain bike boom in 1981). Understanding how a small operation could be super productive was very useful to learn, and for the bikes I made in the 1980s until the mid 1990s, it was great that I had learned from Tom how to fillet braze (and without air bubbles) and especially how to finish the fillet so that it was super smooth and made a beautiful transition from tube to tube.

I learned how to weld titanium and tricks of building frames out of it from Gary Helfrich, the founder of Merlin.

Otherwise, I was inspired by the beauty of old-world lugged frame craftsmen when I was starting out.

4) What bikes are you riding now?

I have two matching 17-pound magnesium cyclocross bikes with single chainrings and 205mm cranks I describe in this video here and below. You can see detail photos and get a full description of those bikes at my website here.

Zinn Mastermag

In five minutes, thanks to replaceable dropouts on both sides, I can convert them to singlespeed ‘cross bikes (see photos of red bike below).

I have a sub-17-pound Zinn Fassa magnesium road bike with Campy Super Record 11-speed. I love that bike for long mountain rides.

The Fassa

I have a titanium bike with four couplers on the frame and a coupler on the titanium stem that I travel constantly all over the world with. I’ve raced a lot of Gran Fondos in Italy and Canada on it. I can pack it in about 10 minutes into a 28 X 28 X 10 case that flies free. The video below shows me packing it and shows Madison’s native Olympic Gold Medalist on her Zinn coupled titanium bike. This bikes gives me incredible freedom and allows me to have great rides wherever I am.



I also have a steel bike with four couplers on the frame that has such a beautiful green powder coat on it that I rarely travel with it, but I do ride it a lot around here. (My titanium travel bike is unpainted and hence I don’t worry about scratching it when traveling.)

I ride the 6-inch travel Zinn Gigabike 29er equipped with SRAM X.0 and Fox TALAS Terralogic fork that is on the cover of Zinn and the Art of Mountain Bike Maintenance. https://bigandtallbike.3dcartstores.com/Zinn-and-the-Art-of-Mountain-Bike-Maintenance-5th-edition_p_136.html

I ride a titanium 3-inch travel Zinn Tyrant 29er equipped with SRAM XX components and fork http://zinncycles.com/Zinn/index.php/about/classic-custom-series/full-suspension/tyrant

I have a bright yellow magnesium track bike that I ride on the indoor velodrome here in Boulder.


All of the above bikes have my custom Zinn cranks on them.

5) You’ve been such an influence on folks wanting to learn bike maintenance. What would your top three tips for those just starting out–besides buying your books?

  • Just get started working on your bike. Don’t be afraid to take something apart. While it’s possible you may make a mistake, there’s no better way to learn.
  • Build some wheels. It’s good for the soul to ride on a pair of wheels you built.
  • Just as you take a shower after riding, spend a bit of time on your bike after every time you ride. At a minimum, wipe the drivetrain with a rag and lubricate the chain after every ride or two.

Me with Lennard, photo by Jonathan Patz.

About Kierstin Kloeckner, Bike Fed Board Member

Kierstin is a personal trainer who lives and bikes in Madison and a board member for the Bike Fed. She writes guest posts for us here, but you can read more of her thoughts on how cycling fits into her life at her personal blog Two Wheels From Home

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