Southeastern North Carolina’s Lost Gem: McLean Bicycles Dec 29, 2010


McLean Fonvielle was born in Wilmington, NC, my home town. He went to the School of the Arts in Winston Salem to study art and shortly after, he dropped out since his interest was in bicycle building. In the late 60’s he started an apprenticeship at Holdsworthy in London, under Roy Thame. Later, he moved back to NC where he started Silk Hope, named after a town near Chapel Hill, NC. Many people wanted a Silk Hope but couldn’t afford one, prompting McLean to begin a new company, aptly-named McLean Bicycles. These bikes flourished in the South and between 1978 through the end of his life in 1983, McLean built many beautiful bicycles.

Even though he died at the young age of 29, his bikes are regarded as devoid of ostentation and a true example of American craftsmanship. I had the opportunity to document a pristine example of one of McLean’s bicycles yesterday. Owned by the proprietor of Two-Wheeler Dealer here in Wilmington, NC, this bike is not only period correct, it’s been hanging in the rafters since the mid-80’s!

Check out some photos of Jim’s McLean road bike below!


This bike has been repainted multiple times since its creation, with the current paint job an exact replica of its original colors.


Collectors claim that McLean’s shaker-sensibilities rival many modern builders.


Simplicity and elegance, lacking any razzle or dazzle.


Beautifully-thinned lugwork.


And fine lines give McLean’s frames a modern flare even though this one is over 20 years old.


This was Jim’s racing bike. He began racing it in the early 80’s. Everything is just as he left it.


He spared no expense on the restoration.


Every last detail is impeccable.


His original computer and a flying-c Cinelli 1a stem are nice touches.


The brakes are immaculate.


As I was shooting the bike, we joked about how everything back in the 80’s had “2000” in its name. I guess it was supposed to be high tech.


This is the first Two-Wheeler Dealer water bottle and cage.


The bottom bracket cluster accents the Super Record cranks.


I’ve seen many resorations but this drivetrain is squeaky clean!


Minus some scratches on the rear derailleur.


The Ambrosia Montreal rims are devoid of brake wear.


Just one of the many details that gives this bike a presence.


This is hands down one of the most beautiful builds I’ve ever seen in person.


After I shot these photos, I headed to Oakdale Cemetery where I began to look for McLean’s grave marker. This slab of granite was the alignment table in his workshop. His family knew that he’d want to be buried under it. It’s eerie to see something like this and it was one of the best experiences I’ve had in a long time.

If you’re interested in learning more about McLean Bicycles, head over to Classic Rendezvous.

I’ve got some more photos up on my Flickr, so head over and check them out!

Many thanks to Jim and the crew at Two-Wheeler Dealer!

  • Devotion

    Nice piece, John. He’s an unsung hero of American framebuilding and it’s nice to see some coverage.

  • Eric


  • mlp

    mclean in mcdonalds (not so lean) colors.

    good post… always cool to see the local shop’s work.

  • neil gunnar berg

    I happen to own a McLean. It has morphed a little since these photos, but you get the idea.

  • Paul Isabella

    Man, great article. It is amazing you found one in such perfect shape.

  • Dale

    Thanks John for this very nice paean. McLean was a great friend and is missed still. Thanks for showing us Jim Mincher’s bike. That color scheme was a bit atypical, a bit wilder than McLean would have liked, but Jim and the team riders in Wilmington asked for that combo and McLean accommodated. There are quite a few collectors/riders of Silk Hopes and McLean bicycles and many in fine original condition or carefully restored. Some are pictured in the section devoted to him (under USA builders.) Dale

  • Taylor

    That bike is perfect!
    Quallity photos and writing documenting the work of the older American framebuilders is hard to come by! Keep it up John!