Rider who died of heart attack was one of Iowa’s ‘secret famous people’
Story by Aly Brown, Iowa City Press-Citizen
IOWA CITY, Ia. Somewhere in Tom Teesdale’s West Branch shop sits a steel bike frame, never to be finished.
Teesdale died Monday after he had a heart attack while riding the Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa, his son said. Teesdale, 62, of West Branch, was known in the international biking community for his custom frame designs, especially for mountain bikes.
For 38 years, Teesdale owned and operated TET Cycles out of a warehouse in West Branch where he sold custom bikes, including cyclocross, mountain, road and tandem.
Steve McGuire, a University of Iowa professor of 3-D design and metal arts, said Teesdale’s son called him to tell him about the death.
McGuire said Teesdale would often build custom bikes for special-needs students at Camp Courageous in eastern Iowa and would ride tandem alongside them when they needed a partner.
“He had an engineer’s mind and the generosity of a pope,” he said.
Son John Teesdale said his father loved his family and had a passion for bicycles.
“It’s nice — well, it’s not nice — but if you’ve got to go out, you might as well go out riding your bike,” he said.
RAGBRAI medical director Bob Libby said a quick-response motorcycle and ambulance tried help Teesdale on Monday morning between Terril and Graettinger in northwest Iowa. He later died at Palo Alto County Hospital in Emmetsburg.
The last time a rider died during RAGBRAI was in 2010 when a rider collided with another cyclist and suffered a head injury. In 42 years, 29 people have died during the ride, which is organized by Register Media, publisher of The Des Moines Register.
More than 18,000 people were cycling on the RAGBRAI route Monday, according to the Iowa State Patrol.
RAGBRAI director T.J. Juskiewicz released a written statement Tuesday saying, “The thoughts and prayers of the entire RAGBRAI Nation are with the family who lost a loved one while he was enjoying RAGBRAI.”
Sean O’Harrow, director of the UI Museum of Art, said Teesdale was one of Iowa’s many “secret famous people.”
“What I think is amazing is that cycling has such a high profile in Iowa, partly because of RAGBRAI, but I think a lot of people had no idea who Tom was,” he said.
O’Harrow said he was working with Teesdale to curate an archive of historic materials following bicycle design before his death.
“He was kind of a machine in the sense that he was the ultimate bike builder, bike designer,” he said. “He was a real artist and a real craftsman, and a real revolutionary thinker.”
Teesdale married in 1980 and had one daughter, Kate, and four sons, John, Matthew, Andrew, and Jacob, according to his obituary.
McGuire said Teesdale was a visiting professor at UI and that he first met him when Teesedale designed a custom bike for McGuire’s adult son, who has cerebral palsy.
“I regarded him as a great friend, a mentor,” he said. “He just knew so much.”
McGuire said Teesdale was at the forefront of mountain bike design, including designing the 1988 Fisher Mt. Tam, which McGuire considers “one of the great bikes made.”
His work has been shown at the Chicago Bicycle Show, and McGuire said Teesdale had been designing his first titanium frame to enter with students into the North American Handbuilt Bicycle Show.
“He had a level of precision,” he said. “He really strived to make every bike unique for the person it was for. Over the years, he acquired a knowledge of materials that few people will ever achieve just through experience.”
Rick Hopson, a cardiologist and president of Iowa City Cycling Club, said Teesdale was well-regarded among “old-school cyclists.”
Teesdale was not a salesman or showman, Hopson said, but a true artisan.
“He was always completely dirty with welding solder and welding glasses and an apron on,” he said. “He would sit down and talk with you about what it was.
“He definitely had the spirit of cycling.”