Santa Barbara :: Meeting John Jones

After a wonderful night’s sleep at Refugio State Park, we rode through Goleta then on to Santa Barbara for the evening.  We couldn’t help but stop to window shop as we made our way to the Agave Inn, a sweet little place, which we strategically picked due to its proximity to our scheduled appointment with world-renowned and master wheel builder, John Jones.

View of Goleta from bike path

View of Goleta (pronounced go-LEE-ta)

Agave Inn

Sweet Room at Agave Inn

New Helmet!

Kai buying a new helmet at Bicycle Bob’s

Temp 15 16_00028

Prana Storefront (Sheila suppressed an urge to buy all of their ‘Made In USA’ clothing).

On John Jones, Master Wheel Builder

Remember the problem I was having with spokes on my rear wheel breaking?  Although we had picked up extra spokes in Santa Maria to take care of the occasional replacement, we knew there was a larger problem, considering all of the breaks were up inside the nipple.  So, during our stay in Lompoc, Kai did some research into who we might get to rebuild my rear wheel before heading further south.  It turns out that there was really only one obvious person to rebuild my wheel, and we were lucky enough to be heading in his direction.

The renowned John Jones, owner and sole proprietor of Jones Precision Wheels, lives and works in Santa Barbara, and he had a history that spoke 😉 for itself.  A previous club racer, John had moved from England in the mid-eighties to enter the realms of the professional cycling world as a mechanic and wheel-builder, and has worked with a plethora of pro cyclists and teams over the years, including, most recently, the Garmin-Cervelo team at the Tour de California.

With a reputation that proceeds him, we thought it might be a long shot that he would be able to fit us in to his schedule on short notice, or that he would even want to, but we shot off an email to him anyway.  He surprised us by returning our email with a personal telephone call.  After reviewing the problems with us, he laid out his recommendation, based upon his experience with Rohloff hubs and wheels, and then he proceeded to ask us all about our travels.  It was as if we’d found an old friend!  We couldn’t wait to meet him, so we coordinated a trip into the highlands of Santa Barbara to pay him a visit.

John Jones

John Jones in his workshop.

And so, after checking in to our inn and grabbing a rare vegan pizza for dinner, we made our way toward John’s workshop, which is attached to his home and, as expected, we hit it off instantly.  John had previously invited us to stay, chat and watch the creative process, and we were excited to have the opportunity to watch a master at work.  Upon arrival, he offered us our choice of tea or wine and, once warm mugs were in hand, we settled into his peaceful workshop.  While chattering away with him, John expertly took apart my wheel and cleaned the individual parts in preparation for the rebuild.  The act was almost unnoticeable since he prefers to not cut spokes, opting instead for the wheel to relax naturally as he unscrews each spoke and nipple combination until all is apart.  At that point, realizing it was late, we bid him goodnight after making plans to visit him again the next morning to pick up the finished product.

On our walk back to the hotel, we effused about how wonderful an evening it had been and how impressed we were with John’s commitment to the craft.  It was obvious he was doing something he truly loved, and his final creations showed it.  A gentleman and true professional, sincerely interested in building relationships, we lamented over how he was a rare find in this day and age of mass-produced products and impersonal business transactions.

The next day we picked up my beautifully rebuilt wheel, feeling confident that spoke problems were a thing of the past, and feeling blessed that we had met and befriended John Jones.

Thank you, John, for making time for us, and for offering us a glimpse into your craft of wheel building.  You are, truly, one of a kind!

Sheila & John Jones

Sheila and John chatting.

John Jones

In years past, John opened and owned coffee retail outlets. His dream is to combine his love of coffee and bicycles in a future bike-coffee shop. As he says, “Imagine the smell of espresso mixed with Park grease!”.

John Jones in workshop

John Jones in workshop

Kai & John Jones, Sheila's rebuilt wheel

Picking up the finished product. Beautiful!

I remember building a wheel late one night, after the shop had closed and silence reigned, when I was struck by a thought that has stayed with me ever since. It was a Mavic MA40 on a Sanshin cartridge bearing hub laced with Wheelsmith 14gauge butted spokes, but I don’t think the components, or the beer I was drinking, were the source of the notion I was about to entertain!

I was struck by the similarities between building a wheel and building a life. A wheel has, if you count all the nipples, spokes, rim and hub, somewhere between forty and eighty components that would prefer not to be bound in states of great tension with each other and be required to work as a single-minded entity.  Then, they are expected to run true for long years over ruts and holes, loaded with a rider in all kinds of weather and circumstances.  How similar to a life, I thought.  All our lives have competing interests and obligations, not just the big stuff like our marriage, children, careers and health, but also the small stuff like remembering to pay bills, keep food in the house, get the laundry done, and find time to sit, relax and finish a book.  Our lives have competing forces pulling against each other and we are expected to keep all those tensions in balance and produce a harmonious whole that allows us to live well.

How like a wheel.

~John Jones, Thoughts on bicycling in general and the bicycle wheel in particular.

After saying our goodbyes to John, we loaded up our bicycles and rode out of town on the Pacific Coast bicycle path, briefly stopping alongside the beach to enjoy our normal lunch of avocado, tomato and cucumbers wraps.

Kai, Santa Barbara

Stopping for lunch in Santa Barbara

Eating Lunch, Santa Barbara
Palm Trees, Santa Barbara

Pacific Coast bike path, leaving Santa Barbara

Pacific Coast bike path.

Kai on Pacific Coast bike bath leaving Santa Barbara


Next Stop:  Carpenteria State Park & Point Mugu

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