“I was admiring your Hobbs frame and look forward to seeing any pictures of it fully restored for the road. In particular the reference to my club, Middlesex RC which will soon be celebrating 80 years of continued existance. Did you have any response to your approach regarding the former Middlesex RC owner of your Hobbs? If not please advise and I will check further for you. The bike of choice for many in the club was a Mal Rees, he being a founder member back in 1937. Kind regards, Shaun.”
And thus began a very interesting correspondence this past week. I’m going to share a story today, one that is all the more remarkable because it came about so unexpectedly. But to better follow the narrative, it’s important to understand the backstory first.
I initially wrote about acquiring my 1946 Hobbs of Barbican Superbe in November of 2014. It came to me as a frame, fork, partial headset, and BSA bottom bracket by way of a fellow in St. Louis. He, in turn, had purchased a warehouse full of old lightweight frames and complete bikes from someone else – in Tennessee, I seem to recall. His purchase included quite a few vintage British bikes of interest to me, and on my “short list” – a Flying Scott, Bates, Hobbs, etc. As happens so often, none of them were large enough to fit me…except for the Hobbs. We agreed to a price, and the bike was soon further west, in my studio near Kansas City, Missouri.
I was curious how a venerable British frame had made its way from its homeland, across the ocean, to the States, and eventually into my hands. A lot happens in seven decades, but to my knowledge Hobbs was small and were never an export item, like Raleigh was. Curious, I began to research.
The internet immediately yielded results. The serial number was one of the early, most important clues. First off, the number informed me that my frame was from 1946. Secondly – and very curiously – the serial number is the exact same one referenced on a Hobbs enthusiast website. I reached out to the webmaster who described the bike in loving detail as being complete and in excellent condition. The site had not been updated in several years, and my hopes of finding more information about the complete bike and where he’d seen it turned to dust when my repeated queries went unanswered. Sometime over the past two years, the site has been taken down.
But there was more to investigate. The original owner’s name and club affiliation was painted along the top tube: “A BURNET MIDDX R.C.” I correctly interpreted the latter to mean “Middlesex Road Club,” which led my internet research in a new direction. The club website, in turn, listed an “A Burnet” on the MRC Club Records page for the 24 hour men’s solo in 1947. I reached out to the club in hopes of discovering a bit more information. Few other internet references turned up, except for a chance discovery that “A Burnet” actually referred to Andy Burnet.
After that the well ran dry in my search: One uninspired email response, and then nothing else. Crickets.
Until a week ago.
Piece by piece, I’ve been building up the Hobbs. Not having anything else to go by other than examples on the Classic Lightweights website, I began to collect parts that I speculated might have been an appropriate build choice. What I didn’t have at the time was substituted for with later components. I planned for them to be place holders until a better option presented itself, and meanwhile I would have the bike rideable.
I’m not a hard and fast stickler for absolute authenticity. I figure that most cyclists would have upgraded components as better stuff came available, and so it’s not out of character to find a pair of ca. 1960’s bar and brake levers on a mid-40’s bike. My Hobbs has worn various parts these past two years, the most recent changes including a modern repop of Lauterwasser bars and a period-correct GB stem. I’m already rethinking the Lauterwasser bars in favor of GB bars when I find a pair that fits my vision. Meanwhile, I continue to ride the Hobbs in the current build.
British sport bikes of the forties, fifties, and early sixties look right to me. I love the simplicity. I love the colored bands and “flamboyant” tube colors. And I love the often complex lugs and classic “crest-like” graphics and head badges that often accompany otherwise rather austere frame work. I love these bikes as much as – but for different reasons than – the elegant designs of French constructeur bikes.
I’d pretty much given up on finding out anything further relating to “A BURNET” and the “MDDX R.C.” Yet here we were at year’s end, an unexpectedly new and enigmatic clue dangling from the Comments section of The Early Morning Cyclist blog. Just who was Shaun? And what information did he have to share?
Well, as it turns out, quite a lot. (To be continued.)