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Framebuilder Roland Della Santa dies

Published May 6, 2019
Updated with comments from Greg LeMond and Dannie Nall.

RENO, Nev. (BRAIN) — Noted framebuilder Roland Della Santa, known for his custom steel frames made for racers and collectors including a young Greg LeMond, died this weekend, friends say.

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Jan Johnson, a longtime friend of Della Santa and wife of framebuilder Peter Johnson, said Della Santa was found dead at his home in Reno on Saturday morning. Della Santa was not married; a cousin was driving to Reno from Southern California to make arrangements, she said.

Della Santa, who was 72, began building frames in 1970 and recently attended the North American Handmade Bicycle Show in Sacramento. 

LeMond told BRAIN that Della Santa educated him about European pro cycling and inspired his career.

"Roland had a big impact on my career. Really when I was 16 I had no clue what pro cycling was — I showed up at my first race in a yellow jersey, I didn't know you're only supposed to do that if you won the Tour de France. But I rode to Roland's house weekly. He had a living room that was maybe 20 feet by 20 feet and he'd have this huge stack of European racing magazines. That's the first time I saw pictures of the great races and the riders and it got me hooked. So Roland was probably one of the biggest influencers on my career," LeMond told BRAIN on Tuesday.

Della Santa was LeMond's first sponsor and built frames for the future Tour winner, his father and his wife. Later, Della Santa built the first stock steel frames sold under the LeMond label in 1986.

"He was a nice guy, really sarcastic, kind of snarky sometimes. He had a good sense of humor and was always calm, always mellow. He was a great racer, too, people don't remember. If you ordered a frame at the wrong time, it might be delayed because he was off training too much to finish it. He was part of the Northern California racing scene with people like Gary Fisher and Joe Breeze and Tom Ritchey," LeMond remembered. 

Industry veteran Dannie Nall, who later worked at Specialized, Accell and other companies, also was part of the NorCal race scene and was a longtime friend of Della Santa.

"I talked to him every two or three weeks for over 30 years," Nall told BRAIN. "He will be remembered for a lot of things. For one, it will be the great steel bikes he made. He was a self-taught master craftsman. When he got out of the Navy he decided he wanted to build bikes, and unlike some of the hobbyists today, he wanted to actually do it for a living. He took machine shop classes, welding classes, and he actually learned how to do metal work. He was a student of the science of cycling and of being a framebuilder, and he was also a real artist," Nall said.

"Roland loved the sport of cycling and had strong opinions he loved to share with friends. And if you didn't like it, he didn't care," Nall said with a laugh.

A memorial viewing is scheduled for Friday, May 17 in Reno at 875 W. Second Street from 4-7 p.m. A service will be held at Our Lady of the Snows at on Saturday, May 18 at 10:30 a.m. A small service will be held at the Mountain View Cemetary at about noon. 

Della Santa Bicycles homepage.

Della Santa with an award-winning frame at the 2009 NAHBS.

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