Jan Kole was sitting on the top tube of his bike, exhausted and dehydrated after a hot, humid stage of the Tour of South China. A paunchy middle-aged Chinese guy stood nearby and gawked at him for a minute. Finally, the Chinese guy pointed at Jan and asked another spectator, “Hey, how old is that man?”
Jan is far from being fluent in Mandarin, but he understood the question. ”Wu shi wu,” he responded, giving his age in Mandarin: 55.
All the Chinese guy could say was, “Waaaaaahhh!” – the typical reaction in China to something amazing. The response was appropriate. No other man in China was doing what Jan was doing: racing people half his age in a stage race.
It has been a while since I’ve added a profile story in my series about great people I’ve met in the cycling industry. The last one was about Al Kreitler. The other day, I was looking at pictures on an old memory card and found the ones I took of Jan at the Tour of South China in December 2008. I decided it was time to say a few words about him.
I first heard about Jan on a group ride in Guangzhou. One rider started talking about a former Dutch pro who built fantastic steel frames in his factory in Shenzhen, the southern China boomtown, just across the border from Hong Kong. My ears really pricked up when another rider said, “Yeah, the guy is in his mid 50s and chain smokes unfiltered cigarettes, but he can still kick any of our asses on a bike.” I decided then and there that I had to meet this guy. I sent Jan an e-mail, and he agreed to meet me at his operations in Shenzhen. I thought Jan would make an interesting profile story or a trend piece about the resurgence in hand-built steel frames. I pitched the idea to my editors, but they were fixated on the upcoming Olympics and said they would only be interested if Jan was making bikes for athletes in the Beijing Games. Go figure.
Jan is a gracious host and gave me a warm reception. After he shook my hand and gave me a cup of coffee, we sat down in his meeting room. Sure enough, the first thing he did was get out a pouch of Zware Van Nelle tobacco and roll a smoke for himself. I was amazed at his skill, and later I would watch in greater awe as he rolled a cigarette with one hand while steering his SUV through chaotic Shenzhen traffic. We had a great conversation about cycling history, especially the 70s and 80s – my favorite era. Jan rode for the Belgian Solahart-Hercka team and the Dutch Femis Bank squad in the early 80s. When he retired, he got into the bike-building business and worked in Taiwanbefore following the industry as it migrated to southern China. He now builds bikes on an OEM basis for some of the most famous European brands (which I’d love to name but can’t), and he sells his own frames under the Colossi label. (Check out the Colossi page on Facebook). I’ve been riding my Colossi for three years now and I love it. The frame is beautifully crafted, and it continues to turn heads, especially in America where the bikes aren’t available.
A couple years ago, I cracked the frame while trainingin a tropical storm. I attempted to ride through what I thought was a puddle, but it turned out to be a submerged pot hole at least 8 inches deep. When I told Jan about how I damaged my beloved frame, he said he would fix it for no charge, no questions asked. That’s the kind of guy he is. During the Tour of South China in 2008, a rider on another team cracked his carbon frame in an early stage. Jan called his factory and had his crew pull an all-nighter to make the guy a new frame based on the geometry of his busted one. Again, a great guy.
A few years ago, Jan began training again, formed his own Colossi team with Chinese riders and started racing. He became an immediate contender and attracted a lot of publicity in the local press. He showed me a pile of clippings, and in one photo I noticed that he seemed to be riding with an earpiece. I told him I was impressed that his team used radios. He said, “Nah, I listen to my iPod during races.” He said all the other riders speak Chinese, so he has no one to talk to in the peloton and gets bored. When I asked what he usually listens to, he said, “The Stones, Deep Purple, Hendrix, whatever gets me ready for battle.”wafflesandsteel | Filed under: Colossi, Jan Kole | 1 Comment »