Lew Kidder decided to answer some of the questions I left open in the recent article I wrote about his old Croll bike, now owned by Jimmy Raggett, so he called Walter Croll. Brilliant! The following is what he discovered.
Walter, now 49 and a native of the Twin Cities, began building custom steel bike frames in about 1989. He kept the output low for the first three years. By 1993 he added a partner and started building more frames, approximately 400 over the next three years. He worked closely with Grand Performance Bike Shop in St. Paul, still in operation.
His business grew quickly, due to the high quality and reasonable prices. His goal was to build custom frames in standard sizes to minimize costs. He was to learn that this business model had its weaknesses. His customer base was tailored toward road riders who wanted a custom frame, but they wanted to pay stock prices for it.
That low cost part of the equation hurt Croll. The business went belly up in 1996. The bank sold the Croll name to another frame builder, but these frames weren’t up to the same quality standards of those built under Croll’s stewardship.
Reynolds 531 was Croll’s favorite frame material to work with. He also built frames with 853, 753 and 653, and he experimented with titanium and carbon, but 531 steel was his forte. His output was primarily road frames, though he did produce mountain bike frames in the last year he was in business. He had a great reputation for lugged frames, but he also built some that were TIG welded, such as Jimmy’s (a 1996 model from Lew’s estimation).
His bikes were known for their paint jobs, based on the House of Colors brand that was designed for hot rod cars. Croll used 12 coats of paint on each frame.
Though Croll was an avid bike racer, preferring long distance races, he was also a passionate musician–string instruments–and he’d taught music as a teen. He left the bike business for music and played bars in a band named Slightly Used for many years. The smokey environment of bars, however, led to a bout with lung cancer in 2006. Thankfully, his more-than-slightly abused lungs have recovered from the cancer. He’s now working on a degree in music at the University of Wisconsin–River Falls.
Thanks, Lew, for pursuing this.