Small British Builders

(Continued from yesterday) If you’re a regular reader of The Early Morning Cyclist, my fondness for vintage lightweight road and touring machines is no secret. The history of these bicycles is as much of interest to me as the machines themselves, and equal to the fascination I have with the blending of functionality and aesthetics. My own collection has ebbed and flowed, occasionally threatening to overrun my studio. And I’m always very interested to see what other enthusiasts have collected. There’s a fellow a few miles from me who collects bikes and focuses on vintage track bikes. He’s not a rider at all, yet his basement is filled to overflow with very desirable “rode and put up wet” road bikes; the main floor of his house has bikes leaning against every single wall. It is, in fact, a bit difficult to navigate through the place. (As I recall, he’s unmarried!) He has collected back stories on many of those bikes, as much as he has the physical bicycle itself.

I’m generally interested in knowing more about the bikes in my keeping. What was their place in the bicycle world? Where did they come from? Who rode the machine before it came into my possession? What is special, unusual, unique? These two-wheeled machines were built for use and that is what interests me most about them. Very occasionally I come across a time capsule – a bike that was ridden a couple of times and then put away for decades, forgotten. Aside from scratches acquired from thirty or more years of other objects leaning up against them and hardened lube, these are often in “like new” condition. It’s easy to get excited about that type of find, but also – ultimately – quite sad. They have never really been a part of someone’s life, never been a mode of conveyance for whatever reason, to whatever place. Not so oddly, they have made me think of The Island of Misfit Toys, from the animated Christmas television special Rudolf the Red Nosed Reindeer. The bikes that interest me most are those that have been used, and that show some earned scuffs and scratches as part of their history of use.

My long distance conversation with Shaun continued, and began to evolve.

Hello Mark,

First of all I am delighted that Dick Poole has been able to help you and I would say that your ownership of the Hobbs has a great deal of meaning and sentiment to him.

I thought you might like to see my latest effort of returning an old frame back to its proper use (above and at top of post.)

It is an F H Scott of Ealing, West London and dates from the late 1950’s or early 60’s.  They were one of many small independant frame builders in the London area and had gone out of business by the mid 1960’s.  I can’t recall ever seeing another.  The frame had been refurbished at some point by Hetchins as it has their transfer on the seat tube and I would assume the original F H Scott transfers could not be obtained at that time.

The frame came from a friend who like me is keen on these sort of bikes and I added the ivory, black and deeper purple panels.  Lloyds Decals supplied the appropriate transfers.  The equipment fitted is a varied mix which sits reasonably well with the period of the frame – Campagnolo gears and shifters, GB Bars and headstem.  Fitting a suitable seat post wasn’t entirely straightforward – mm’s are everything and the only one that would fit was a 25.8mm size.  Even then it was slightly loose – my first trip felt like I was riding one of those office swivel chairs and I’ve had to insert a sliver of brass to prevent any movement. The frame size is 22 inches though some others I have are 23.

My small collection of bikes are all steel framed, the sort of beauties I would have loved to have owned as a schoolboy but could never have afforded.  A new bike in the 1960’s was never cheap.  Early retirement means I am so very lucky in being able to ride out most days but looking at the thick frost outside now I may leave that until at least noon.

If you are not a member have you ever considered joining the V-CC,  Veteran – Cycle Club?  Membership has the benefit of receiving a superb magazine and journal which are published quarterly.

Best wishes

Shaun

I find the many small mark builders of 30’s, 40’s, and 50’s Great Britain to be very interesting, and Shaun’s collection emphasizes those very bikes. To my eye, his F H Scott is quite a sharp looking bike that very much appeals to my own aesthetic tastes. British bikes of this period 60’s have a look and feel all their own. The exuberance of tube color seems to blend in so nicely with the classic graphics. In particular, there’s something quite “right” about the crest-like designs that are often present in head badge and seat tube artwork. The head tube lug work on the F H Scott frame is intricate and elegant. As a designer myself I appreciate the idea of taking something that is purely functional and endowing it with elegance. I praised the lilac color of the tubes, in particular – it catches my attention at the moment because it’s similar to the color I’m leaning toward for a new build that’s currently underway.

Hello Mark,

Thanks for your kind comments regarding the F H Scott.  The frame was already finished in the lilac / purple colour when I bought it but being quite artistic myself felt it needed a little more enhancement hence the additional panels.  Actually I came close to selling this frame and had put it on Ebay, thankfully no one was interested and I’m very glad I kept it.

I entirely agree regards the style and finish of these bikes; the badges and lug work can be like works of art.  Certainly I’m no lover of logos which applied to modern bikes look quite tacky and cheap, little or no style in my book.  One of the most imaginative badges for me has to be the Mal Rees ‘Ahead of Time’ which is just superb and so original.   I’ll dig out some pictures of my various bikes and email you them over the next few days.  In the meantime here are some of my Major Brothers of Thornton Heath (above) – please excuse the poor composition of them, also the Mal Rees badge (above) which is slightly damaged in the picture and has since been replaced with a new one.

The yellow and green bands on the Major are the club colours for the former Ravensbury CC which was located near Mitcham in south London.  This is the bike that I traced its former owner who bought it new in 1956.  He passed this classic bike onto a cycle charity shop where someone recognising the potential acquired it for probably very little, totally stripped every part – shades of your Hobbs, and sold the bare frame and forks (not even the headset) to me for quite a lot but I was so pleased to get it.  What is particularly nice is that I have a picture of him racing it when he was a young man and I in turn have raced the bike on time trial events.

Best wishes

Shaun

My initial reaction: Wow! Those graphics are amazing!

Hi Mark,

A couple of pics – my Jack Sibbit bike (above.)  He was a famous track cyclist up in Manchester and built some very nice frames in his day.  Very attractive looking transfers on the forks, it is a pretty looking bike

If you like I can send you the pdf download of the Middlesex club journal – now in colour and we can add you to our regular mailing list.

Best wishes

Shaun

That Jack Sibbit is another very interesting one. I was really enjoying the opportunity to see Shaun’s bikes and appreciated his willingness to share. These small British frameworks might seldom – or never – be seen on my side of the Atlantic. It’s fascinating to me how various countries or regions tended to develop their own history and philosophy of bicycle design. Many enthusiasts Stateside have a decidedly Italian taste, so quite a few of those venerable bikes are well represented in collections both small and large. With the renewed interest in 650b, low trail, and randonneuring, there is also a American revival of interest in French constructeur bikes. I find it intriguing how British bikes followed a very different path of development in which fixed wheel and IGH transmissions were favored for a time over derailleurs. Where French cycle-touring and constructeur designs leaned toward front loads, British designs balanced things nicely with rear load. Even today, there’s a fundamental difference between what one might consider to be a randonneur vs. a sportif design.  I like how nicely many of the frames from the smaller British builders fit my own personal concept of lightweight sportif or spirited rider.

Our correspondence continued in this vein:

Hi Mark,

Thanks for your email.  Britain has long been a place where the varying types of cycling thrived.  Whilst there has been a long tradition of touring and using bikes for a means of exploring far off places there has also been a  strong competitive and club orientated element that in particular enjoyed a golden age after the last war.  Sadly traditional clubs such as ours are waning though the enthusiasm for cycling remains strong.  Traditionally sons would follow fathers into a cycle club but that is now largely, a thing of the past.

If you are unaware of this website it may be of interest to you  www.classiclightweights.co.uk/   It is a goldmine of information and pictures both of the bikes and about the people who built them.

Here are some pictures of my H E Green of Fulham (above.)  H E ‘Doc’ Green also had a shop in Morden, South London from where I also have an example.  One of my other cycle clubs is the Morden CRC hence my interest in this marque.

Like your Hobbs this 1957 frame had a club name ‘Silchester CC’ painted on the top tube though sadly no other name.  I assumed, wrongly as it turned out, that this was the Silchester not far from where I live.  The club no longer exists but I was keen to find out what its club colours had been as I wanted to paint them on the seat tube – the original paint was badly worn there.  After much asking around I found this out and also that the club had originated in London circa 1930’s – from Silchester Road, North Kensington.

I noted with a smile your comments on that US forum about the weather where you are.  It isn’t any better here – freezing fog and frost.  I managed all of two miles today before accepting it really wasn’t worth the risk!

Best wishes

Shaun

It had indeed been cold. Apart from a couple of days of unseasonably warm December weather, I’ve been stranded indoors. Today, in fact, school is canceled due to heavy snow and below zero temperatures. Our correspondence had become a very welcome diversion from the otherwise tedious conditions.

I found myself enjoying the unusual combination of colors on the H E Green frame. It looked to me like Shaun was using slightly later period components on some of his bikes. I know some feel very strongly about everything being all “matchy-matchy” and from the same time period as the frame, but the way I have always looked at things is that most cyclists would have updated components as better/affordable stuff came along, without any concern about “originality.” It’s certainly what I and the cyclists I knew did in the 70’s and early 80’s. I don’t agonize too much about such things today either – for instance, my ’66 Paramount sports late 70’s era Japanese wheels and an early 80’s crank set.

I enjoyed a bit of immersion in the Middlesex cycling club that evening, diving into the excellent journal Shaun sent my way.

His mention of Silchester made me curious. I understand the Middlesex club is based out of the London area, and my own family hails from Watford, which is perhaps twenty miles north-ish of London. I was curious if the club members are centrally located or come from all over the city. When I was in my teens, the “club” I rode with was a loose group of the like-minded, and we all lived within five minutes of each other. Fast forwarding to today there are a couple of local clubs with members from all across our metropolitan area. We’re a fairly automobile-centric culture, so it’s not a big deal for a cyclist to strap his or her bike onto the back of an SUV. I do find it a bit ironic that we may drive 45 minutes or an hour from one part of the city to another to join the “local” club for ride. I was curious if there’s a parallel in Shaun’s part of the world.

Hi Mark,

One way or the other I was quite lucky that the Silchester’s colours were orange and black and not say, cerise and pale blue!  The frame itself is an unusual bronze tint of dark green that almost looks brown in very bright light so the colours work well together.  I was able to get a paint match which was useful in touching in other small areas of paint loss.  On my other H E Green I’ve likewise painted the Morden’s colours on the seat tube.

As for period equipment, one reason why I don’t go on V-CC runs is because of the total adherence some members have to only using 100 per cent correct parts.  Rod Boot aka ‘Das Boot’ in the Middlesex belongs to them and gets a little irritated with the nit picking aimed at him – and his old bikes are absolutely show room finish quality.  They’d probably want to burn me at the stake as a heretic.  I try and keep things within reason but have a liking for drilled chainsets and large flange hub wheels, I also much prefer the look of alloy as opposed to steel.  A while back I briefly owned an Ephgrave that had the whole period set of parts including Lauterwasser bars but I didn’t enjoy the clunky, heavy ride;  tyres on it looked liked they had come off a tractor – again my own preference is for 700 x 23’s though the Fulham H E Green has 27’s.  But you’re right, these bikes were often upgraded in time as we all wanted better parts for them.

Watford; we pass through there sometimes on club rides usually with a cafe stop at Cassiobury Park. 

Historically our club drew its members from the part of Middlesex that lies to the west of London particularly the suburbs of Hayes and Southall.  Riders in say, Hendon probably joined clubs like the Edgware CC or the Willesden.  When the Silchester folded in the mid1960’s many of the surviving members joined the Willesden CC.  Nowadays our membership is spead out between Ealing, Hayes and South Buckinghamshire out to where I live in Berkshire.  Much like you and your friends do though, we’ll stick our bikes in the backs of our cars and meet up wherever, we couldn’t ride in any numbers otherwise.

Here’s another bike – something of an oddity.  It is a 1950’s or early 60’s S. Roland – Jones of Acton (above.)  This was a cycle shop albeit one that had an elaborate badge which they used on frames built and supplied from elsewhere.  I’ve no idea who originally built the frame which is quite standard for its day with Nervex lugs- possibly Wally Green who built for just about everyone perhaps and so far I’ve failed to find anything about the cycle shop itself, even through the local history society there in West London.  Many of the parts are original to the bike but it had a strange hub gearing system combined with derailleur gears, a more recent addition which I replaced with Campagnolo throughout.  The bars are GB, a particular favourite that I use on other bikes.

All the best

Shaun

(To be continued…?)

Advertisements

3 thoughts on “Small British Builders

  1. F Smedts says:

    and the lovers come out to the woodwork 1939 Baines, before called flying gate. An icon regards frank smedts Wassenaar, the netherlands

    >

  2. I followed the links to the Veterans Cycling Club, etc. and stumbled across the Hilary Stone site i had not looked at in quite a while. This looks very interesting: https://www.facebook.com/HilaryStoneCycles/photos/a.1664278047163046.1073741828.1664265487164302/1820843171506532/?type=3&theater It’s described as a 1945 Hobbs (I too am a 1945 model.) Original finish in not too desperately decayed condition. It would fit right in as an elder British cousin next to my 30 year old Mercian.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s