Friday, September 4, 2009

McLean Fonvielle 1953-1983

In an earlier post I wrote about McLean Fonvielle and the Silk Hope Dragon. McLean was an art student who dropped out of school and went to England to learn bicycle building as an apprentice at Holdworthy, Ltd. Upon his return to North Carolina he set up his shop four miles outside of the small town of Silk Hope. There he lived in an old farmhouse heated with a wood stove and without running water or indoor plumbing. This house also contained the shop where, without power tools, he created his lean, almost spartan, bike frames. There certainly is a kind of mystic to Fonvielle. From the Mike Dayton interview in about 1978. In 1978 there just weren't vegans:

"McLean has what most folks would consider an odd diet. He is a vegetarian and has not eaten meat for six or seven years. He says, "I'm not a fanatic. I mean, I used to be, but I'm actually most agreeable these days. I've started eating bread again, and I've started eating dairy products again. I used to eat nothing but -- well that's another story.”

However he chose to live and whatever he ate (or didn't eat) the bicycles he left have beautiful proportions and graceful curves. His earlier frames were designated Silk Hopes, so indicated by a single head tube decal. Later he switched to his name, "McLean" on the down tube and those are simply known as McLeans, and are so noted with an M prefix on the serial number. Serial number M05030 is 60cm tall, with all Cinelli lugs and fittings - all first class stuff. The unusual semi-fastback seatstays are the only ones I have seen, certainly on a McLean build. (I have since discovered that Patrick Craft's #M20049 built in April of 1979 has similar stays.)


On March 5, 1980, at the peak of his skills, he built frame #M05030. In 1983, McLean Fonvielle died unexpectedly, at the age of 29. On Sept 4th, 2009, at the age of 64, I unexpectedly purchased #M05030.

5 comments:

Jonny Hamachi said...

Living The Dream

Bikesmith said...

Nature abhors a vacuum. The Kvale left a void that had to be filled. Every time I think I've succeeded in thinning the herd, I'll stumble into another bike I wasn't looking for, but suddenly have to own.

Gunnar Berg said...

Yeah, nature abhored your vacuum 30 times or more. I am using you as the gold standard, rather the norm, for dealing with Lorna about too many bikes.

I'm selling the Colnago (did you see that the other day?) and maybe the Heron frameset to help finance the shiny bits.

Anonymous said...

hey Gunnar,

I posted at VO before reading all this on your blog. I am so glad to see all this about McLean . . . he was the first builder anyone told me about when I moved here to Wilmington in 94. Did you point out the ball bearing pump peg? Cool stuff. .

michael white

Anonymous said...

I also have a 1983 Mclean which I bought the year he died. McLean and I both grew up in Wilmington and I used to visit his shop outside of Chapel Hill when I was in medical school. I miss him

billyafh@hotmail.com