Walter Croll Update

croll labelLew 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.

531Reynolds 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.

10 thoughts on “Walter Croll Update

  1. Great story! I used to ride Poto, Brighton, and other local trails with a guy that bought a Croll MTB frame. Must have been 1994-95? Nice bike.

  2. Just stumbled on this during a search for Croll frames. I grew up with Walter in Rochester, Minnesota in the late 60’s, and 70’s. Not knowing he was a frame builder, I ran into him at Interbike in Vegas in the mid 90’s. Didn’t know about the cancer. Really glad he came out the other side singing. Sure would like to find one of his original track bikes in a 55cm or 56cm. I want to start racing at Alpenrose in Portland, Oregon.

    Peace to you Walter.

    • Hey man If you were serious about that I have a one of a kind walter croll hand built road frame I’m letting go if you are interested

  3. I bought a 853 Croll in1995. I’ll never sell it. It is by far my most favorite bike. I wish the brand and quality would make a come back. I think it would be well received.

  4. Glad to find this story. I picked up my first real road bike on Craigslist, and it happened to be a Croll Reynolds 531 bike. I’ve loved the bike ever since, and always wondered about the frame. The article doesn’t lie about the paint job either — the bike is truly beautiful. I have 1 scratch on my frame from where someone crashed into me, and I’ve always wondered what paint to use to restore it.

  5. I still have my Croll. I remember going to his shop in Minneapolis in the summer of 1990. I knew I wanted a TIG welded frame but was not sure on what color to get. A lot of the guys I road with were from the Grand Performance team and had the red painted frame. So Walter and I decided on the opposing color of the team jersey. Green with a speckled blue undercoat. Beautiful even after 23 years.

  6. I too had a custom Reynolds Croll. Was a great bike and I wish that I would have held onto it. When getting fit for it I signed up to be a guinea pig for Walter to test his welding chops with titanium. It never materialized for some reason I don’t recall but that steel frame and fork sure were sweet. I’d guess that mine was from ’89

  7. I have a Croll hardtail that I’m trying to identify in terms of age and any other details
    Any chance that I could provide a serial number for assistance. Here’s a photo

  8. I enjoyed working for Walter as a frame builder for a few short years. During that time I learned more about working with light weight metals and precision hand tools than I ever would have predicted.
    To work with an engineer as skilled as Walter was a great opportunity!

  9. Walter built me a custom Reynolds 853 mtn bike in the fall of 1990 that I sold to a guy in Bend Oregon in 1994. It had a very compact geometry for downhill with a bright metallic purple paint job with Rockshocks. It was pimped out with purple anodized hardware and very unique BMX style cranks. The top tube has a small dent on the side. Please help me find it.

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