The Simplicity of Vintage Cycles

Vintage Bicycles Done Proper :: Corvallis, Oregon

A Tribute: Jon Williams

I’ve never met you. We haven’t emailed. You don’t know me. But the craftsmanship you left behind is worth showcasing for all to experience. Here’s to you, Jon Williams.

This site is an outlet for mea one man show. It’s where I display my work. It’s where I highlight incredible bicycles with stories from honorable and fascinating people. Sometimes I’m even able to find intriguing bicycle related print pieces worthy of your eyes. But, I stay fairly focused. Straying too much, to me, feels sloppy. But, straying, sometimes is necessary. This post slightly blurs the line on my focus but one I felt compelled to publish.

Mr. Jon Williams

Mr. Jon Williams, 2017

Jon Williams passed in March, 2018 and with it came an outpouring of grief from the cycling community. He was a true craftsman accomplished in ways most of us, myself included, could only dream to be. His machining work was typically done on massive, decades old equipment, made of aged iron. He coaxed magnificent works of art out of typically higher-end bicycle components through what is known as the drillium process.

The “Drillium” period of the early 1970’s inspired by parts on Eddy Merckx’s race bikes and the work of some talented machinists and racers Stateside was about the clever lightening and aesthetically pleasing modifications of racing components. The style of that period is what I am focused on at Drillium Revival.

I take my inspiration from skilled craftsmen like Frank Spivey, Peter Johnson, and Art Stump, as well as the small machine shops, and team mechanics in Italy, and the British TT racers, who whittled away at Campagnolo’s Nuovo Record bits hoping to shave a few grams or just have a “trick” piece for their ride that nobody else had. My goal is to turn out unique, stylish, modifications in a period style that does not go beyond the practical limits of the original parts (at least not too far beyond).

Jon Williams; Drillium Revival

Jon Williams Photography

Jon shunned the term, “artist”. Craftsman was what he preferred to keep his work grounded in the strong traditions of cycling. But what Jon did was an art form. Functional art. We can all appreciate the end results but below is a small showcase of some of his rarely seen steps taken. Modesty was his specialty as these images show a true master’s craft.

Campagnolo Record Seatpost
“Long buried in an old frame this Record seatpost one had some bad pitting and gauling on the upper section. No way to restore to a stock appearance but a good candidate for what I call a full “California” mod.
Initial shaping is done with a file then sanded out and buffed smooth. Finally, finished with flutes, drilled saddle rail boss, and a light polish.”

Nuovo Record Brake Levers
“I lay-out and drill the levers by hand. I then cut the center slots on the mill. I do not have a jig for them. Milled and drilled, the tips are re-shaped.”

Jon’s web presence was carved out at Drillium Revival (webpage now defunct), but Jon showcased his work elsewhere, specifically on his Flickr page*, where you can still find all of his projects experimentation and final pieces.

Mr. Jon Williams

Jon Williams Photography

Clearly, his work took time for planning, execution and patience. He’s mentioned, through different vintage blog posts, that his projects took weeks. Months even. He was calculated and his mind was part artistry and part craftsman. A beautiful blend.
Jon did it right. What he created was incredible. Not only was the machining jaw dropping but the polishing alone was always impeccable, putting even factory buffed pieces to shame. He was able to see something in a component that only a cognoscenti could, then masterfully coaxed it out of the raw metal.

World Colors. Jon Williams Photography

Like many of us with eclectic and incredibly narrowed taste in certain items, we often stray to other finer things with the same elements of precision, craft and ability to  enhance life. Jon was an aficionado of other simple pleasures such as classic vinyl. Through the images he posted, it was clear he had a penchant for vintage jazz, 50’s surf and deep southern blues. All wax that spun atop his vintage McIntosh hi-fi system.

Jon had a discerning eye for well-done photography and composition. Carefully he balanced showcasing his work and did it in the most artistically pleasing way possible. This man was of many talents yet lead a life of simplicity, which I feel we can all appreciate. Because, in the end, how many of us are going to regret a few more hours spent in the office rather than watching the sun set, cocktail in hand with your old hound dog milling about.

Tools of the Trade

Burke Millrite with Bridgeport J Head
“My basement shop is too small to get a complete Bridgeport milling machine into. But this is a good alternative.”

Clausing Lathe
“I’ve had this machine for awhile but had not used it much except for small quick jobs. So I spent some time fine tuning the spindle preload, countershaft assembly, belt tension, all the gibs, and slathering everything in fresh 20wt. Now that it purrs like a kitten and cuts right I guess I can learn how to use the damn thing…………..

“The bench actually came with the house. I added the square holes for dogs when I was doing a lot of woodworking. The Vise was on the end then and had wood jaws with the same hole pattern. It has served me well over the years.”

From what we can see of Jon, he was in the prime of life. That was the true gut punch and what pushed me over the edge to dedicate a post honoring him. His work was unlike anything else out there. Classic yet unique. He continued to push boundaries and redefine the drillium process and respected tremendously within all the same circles we both engaged in.

I didn’t know you, Mr. Williams, but I have nothing but the utmost respect for you and the precisely drilled, milled, fluted, chamfered and polished pieces you left behind for us to use and appreciate. You created new components out of old that others will study and emulate for years to come. Craftsmanship to be long admired with your name easily inserted into the same conversations as other artisans who have left legacies, and unfortunately, this planet, much too soon. We nod our heads in respect for your deep footprints where the line between classic and modern was toed. For that, and your exquisite talent, we thank you, Jon Williams.

Jon Williams, Eroica California; 2015

Mr. Jon Williams – Eroica California; 2015

*All images on this post are property of Jon Williams

© Josh Capps and The Simplicity of Vintage Cycles. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Josh Capps and The Simplicity of Vintage Cycles with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

10 comments on “A Tribute: Jon Williams

  1. ryansubike
    June 18, 2018

    Saw the news of his passing on BF, truly a craftsman, a nice showcase of his work Josh.

    • Josh C.
      June 18, 2018

      I appreciate that, Ryan.

      I feel it is my duty to pay my respects the best way I know how. When one of us goes down, it is important to celebrate the legacy they left.

  2. Kris Koller
    August 21, 2018

    Thank you Josh for this post about Jon Williams. A man I too have never known nor have ever heard of but now know thru your beautiful eulogy of his life! Truly a great craftsman and man after my own heart for I too love many of the things he loved! Nothing better than classic vinyl, McIntosh Hi-Fi, Steel Bikes, and vintage bike components! I’m sure he will be missed by many who have crossed his path.

    • Josh C.
      August 21, 2018


      Jon certainly checked all the boxes for “things I love” too.
      I’m pleased that I have the ability to provide a respectable tribute to the man so his name, and work, can continue to live on.

      • Kris Koller
        August 22, 2018

        Josh where did he do his work…California, Oregon, etc? How did you find out about him? Just curious.

      • Josh C.
        August 22, 2018

        Jon lived in Grants Pass, Oregon. Way, way down south. I spent time in Medford (very close) so I know the area a bit.
        Every now and again I’d see his work on some of the vintage bike forums I subscribe to. He was highly respected in the vintage bicycle community. Having something reworked by him was special, even when he was alive. His products just oozed of craftsmanship. Precise, accurate and well done on every level. But, I don’t have to actually say that. You can already see it in his images.

  3. Bob Hovland
    December 30, 2018

    Jon was a client of mine. I worked on much of his hi-fi system over the years, McIntosh pre-amp and 240 amplifier, and if I remember correctly, his phono cartridge/headshell assembly. He also had me work on hi-fi equipment of some of his friends and associates in Grant’s Pass. I was lucky enough to be able to meet him in person last year, we ate at Maxwell’s Cafe in Mar Vista, CA when he was down here for a visit. I just learned of his passing, and was very saddened. Rest in peace, Jon. A true craftsman and amazing person.–Bob Hovland

    • Josh C.
      December 30, 2018

      Thank you so much for your comments on Jon, Bob.
      One thing was clear to me. Although Jon lived a simple, quiet life in the fairly small town of Grant’s Pass, he was dearly loved by so many. This was proved by the outpouring of sadness and shock throughout the classic and vintage bicycle community (here and here). To me, it is wonderful that those who enjoyed his company are still coming out, to speak on his behalf, so many months after his untimely death.

  4. John Frankforther
    May 26, 2020

    Josh-thanks for writing such a wonderful tribute to Jon. He was such a craftsman and perfectionist with everything he did. I got to know Jon by working with him throughout the years on some of his various projects along with many hours of conversation on the bike. For those reading this article they may not know that Jon was also an incredible bike rider. Anyone who had the pleasure of riding with him would say he had amazing bike handling skills and yet could wield absolute brutal pain if you tried to race with him (speaking from many personal experiences here). It still saddens me to think about Jon passing and that we were all cheated out of many, many more years of his company.

    • Josh Capps
      May 26, 2020

      Thank you for taking the time out to give a small, personal glimpse into the life of a decent, yet fascinatingly layered individual, John.

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This entry was posted on June 18, 2018 by in Tell Your Story, Topics and tagged , , , .

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