The Simplicity of Vintage Cycles

Vintage Bicycles Done Proper :: Corvallis, Oregon

1990 Davidson Impulse

The old saying goes, a plumber has leaky pipes. But when it’s time to repair, they know how to elevate their game.

1990 Davidson Impulse

1990 Davidson Impulse

When one does something for a living, they often have no desire, time, or both to maintain their own same situation. There is credence in the plumbers leaky pipe theory. I do not restore bikes for a living and I’ve got plenty of other projects, along with a young son, so my own personal bicycles typically take a backseat, unless repairs and upkeep become so bad they cannot be ignored. Until then, my personal bikes are indefinitely put in the category of, “getting to it as my next build”. So often, they don’t make it any closer to the bike stand than this. It’s my dirty secret and I’m guessing, many of us share that same reality somewhere within our lives. Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans, right? Finally, though, a vicious cycle is broken and the time came to give this incredible machine my utmost attention.

In 2016, rumor of a mint Davidson surfaced. Tracking down a friend of a friend, the discussion began. He was the second owner. The first, whether truth or lore, was the obligatory retired doctor who didn’t have much time for his new toy but kept it clean and stored indoors. It took one sparsely written email from the owner, along with six, poorly shot images to sell me on the bike. Picking it up, I could see it needed a full tear down, build up, tuning and updating for modern riding. But first, it only made sense to ride it a bit and eek out a small amount of enjoyment before it spent a month or so in the bike stand. Numerous test rides later, each one extending longer and longer, the summer ended. Other projects came up. Life moved on. Another summer goes by and a son is born. My restorations abruptly come to a screeching halt. It took a full six years to bring me to the point of updating what I figured would be my “fast bike”.

This build was special, though. To me, it’s built for sunny, weekend rides. Lone experiences with only rhythmic breath and the white noise of wind providing me with the meditative elements needed. It took time to get here because I wanted it right. I dislike compromises when I have a vision and needed a guiding light. I fell onto the word, madei. This is northern Japanese dialect for it takes both time and effort. Spare no effort and put your heart and soul into it. This is what people in this culture live by. My respect for the Japanese people and the spirit of their culture is beyond words as they understand patience and don’t seem to even grasp the term, instant gratification. Anything worth doing, is worth doing right. No matter what the timeline.

Updates included all the usual suspects of consumables such as cables, housing and tires. But for this one, I decided to remove the downtube mounted shift levers in favor of Shimano’s Total Integration, better known as STI shifting. Both shifting systems were offered for the Dura-Ace groupset so this alteration doesn’t fall out of line with the vintage. And, I won’t lie, I was thrilled for the swap to meld braking and gear shifting controls into the same component as the cockpit shifting is now a true delight for speed and keeping everything in one centralized location.

I adore the modernized cockpit and modern conveniences such as STI, dual caliper brakes and a wide range of 8-speeds, even if this is long since considered the latest and greatest technologies. But what I have found that I savor most about this bicycle is the paint. Light is a fickle friend and when it shines brightest, this frame beams in crisp, standout white. When it’s cloudy, the overall pearlescence comes out and the midtone hues brings out a seemingly brooding gray. Then, other times, the dark purple becomes prominent. This is my favorite hue as it seems to be the most elusive color highlighted. It shifts shapes and the highlights look different to me nearly every time I see it.

We were making about 700 frames a year at our peak, with 5 full-time frame builders, 2 painters, plus Bill.

Robert Freeman

I could wax poetic about this bicycle for much longer than you, dear reader, would likely care to indulge me in. I am obliged to broadcast my enjoyment of this build but it would be a shame to waste is this opportunity to bring Mr. Robert Freeman, who has previously graced us with his Cinelli, back into the fold of these pages. Bob, an already infamous vintage restorationist, has a long, illustrious and respectable history in the cycling community and spent 31 years working with Bill Davidson, the builder of this frame. Bob was kind enough to provide back story on the Impulse line and his time with Bill Davidson in Seattle, Washington.

In 1985 the Tange Prestige tubing was introduced. We were already buying a lot of Tange Champion. Prestige was a heat treated version of that, so about 50% stronger, allowing it to be used in very thin walls. We decided to make a special model for it, the Impulse. Just designed to be a nice, light, comfortable long distance road bike. I think it achieves that goal. We probably made 4,000 of them, as a guess. I would say they peaked about 1988 and the last about 1995.
We would make 20-30 frames of a size at a time, and sometimes we would have a couple hundred frames hanging from the ceiling, ready to paint and ship out. We shipped out maybe 80% of our frames to other shops in those days, and we were making about 700 frames a year at our peak, with 5 full-time frame builders, 2 painters, plus Bill who mostly did R&D, quality control, design, and training. In 2014, Seattle expense, traffic, parking hassles and high rent were enough to end the Davidson run. All conspired against us. We decided to pull the plug on the bike shop “Elliott Bay Bicycles”, but Bill is still in business, and has retained Mark Villegas, our longtime mechanic and defacto shop manager, to basically do everything else but frame building in his new frame studio. He only makes titanium frames now and has embraced all the latest components and technology including electric shifting, hydraulic disc brakes, and even some very high tech electric motors, made by Maxon, who also made the motors for the Mars Rover.

Bill still caters to a high class of longtime cycling enthusiasts, some of whom have been customers for over 40 years.

Next year will mark 50 years as a frame builder.

We remain supportive of each other’s efforts and good friends since 1977.

– Robert Freeman

Bill and the Davidson crew have long since disbanded but if you search the pages of Craigslist within the Pacific Northwest, you’ll see they have left their mark on the industry with these fine machines popping up from time to time and still commanding premium prices, both modern and vintage. I’ve heard that once you go down the road of having a bicycle built for you, there is no going back to off the shelf. I’ve brushed up against that door and although not purposefully built for me, it’s darn close and feel like I can come to some kind of understanding by the statement. Not only that, but the craftsmanship put into the frame and the top tier groupset is simply otherworldly. I’ve been fortunate to be one of the lucky ones to get to experience the flawless symphony of everything that makes this machine so special.

Davidson Impulse

1990 Davidson Product Catalog

Color: Pearl white fade to dark purple
Frame Size: 57cm (C-T) seat post & 56cm (C-C) top tube
Frame/Drop-outs: Tange Prestige; Davidson Design Investment Cast by Takahasi Press
Fork: Tange Prestige; Davidson Design Investment Cast by Takahasi Press
Bars: Cinelli Model 66 Campione del Mondo
Bar Tape: Lizard Skins DSP 2.5mm; Velox bar plugs
Stem: Cinelli X/A
Saddle: Selle San Marco Concor Settezero Supercorsa; Stitched
Seat Post: Shimano Dura-Ace 7400-B; Aerodynamic
Shimano Dura-Ace 7402; 52/39; 172.5mm
Front Derailleur: Shimano Dura-Ace 7400
Rear Derailleur: Shimano Dura-Ace 7402
Shifting/Brake Levers: Shimano Dura-Ace 7400 STI
Brake Calipers: Shimano Dura-Ace 7402; Shimano pads
Cable Housing: Shimano Dura-Ace; Silver
Cassette: Shimano Dura-Ace 7400 8-Speed Uniglide (13/14/16/18/20/22/24/26)
Shimano Dura-Ace 7400
Wheels: Mavic Open Pro CD; 32 hole; Shimano skewers
Tires: Vittoria Corsa Control G2.0; Black; 700×25
Special Features: Top tube internal brake cable guide; Two bottle cage mounts; Davidson investment cast lugs/fork crown; Engraved seat stays; Pump peg

© 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.

12 comments on “1990 Davidson Impulse

  1. Bruce Manchan
    October 4, 2022

    Great bike, pictures, and this is a winner!  Good job Josh!  I always like to view your work. Bruce.

    • Josh Capps
      October 4, 2022

      I appreciate you sticking around, year after year, as a viewer of the blog, Bruce! You are doing good work as well. Maybe it’s time you start a site to show off your beautiful machines? 😉

  2. ryansubike
    October 4, 2022

    A friend in West Seattle had a Davidson road bike he picked up second hand and has loved it.

  3. tim marris
    October 5, 2022

    What a beautiful bike. Thanks for sharing!

  4. Paul Hamilton
    January 4, 2023

    Fun article, I own a 1990 Impulse I purchased new. It still rides very comfortably after 33 years of riding.

    • Josh Capps
      January 4, 2023

      33 years old? Sounds like your Impulse is just about broken in!
      May you have many more years of enjoying the ride.

  5. Aaron Fink
    February 8, 2023

    I have a mint condition Impulse from around 1989-90 with much of the same components. Mine still has DT shifters and runs on a set of Matrix tubulars. Mine has a similar fade paint job, but is plain white to lavender with a matching Silca frame pump. This bike probably hasn’t covered more than 10-20 miles based on the lack of wear on the cogs and braking surfaces. Other than fresh bar tape and a new set of sew-ups, it’s just like it was 33+ years ago.

    • Josh Capps
      February 8, 2023

      Thanks for sharing, Aaron. It also sounds like your Davidson is itching for a beautiful summer day ride with those nice updates!
      I’d love to see an image of the white to lavender fade. I’m certain it is stunning. Bill always does it right.

  6. Luke Falk
    March 24, 2023

    I have a 1993 vintage Impulse, complete with ’93 vintage Dura Ace STI. Had the bike built out at a local bike shop after I saw the frame hanging on their wall. I still ride it, but not as often as I’d like. Still puts a smile on my face everytime I ride it.

    • Josh Capps
      April 4, 2023

      Love at first sight, was it Luke? I don’t blame you. Such gorgeous construction and continuing to age quite gracefully as the years click by.

      Enjoy the ride!

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