MY MATE'S DAD'S OLD BIKE: PART ONE
On the grass lay a red bicycle frame and forks, with a tangled mass of cables entwined around the tubes. It did no look very promising, but Steve Dyster is not one to look a gift horse in the mouth, so yet another machine joined the fleet.
There's more to cycling the riding a bike .... sorting out the components, for example.
I’d been offered a bike by an old friend, Steve, from Norfolk. It had stood, wheel-less and without chain set or dignity, in the corner of his garage. Unridden for some forty years, he had no use for it and the garage was being rebuilt. It was going somewhere. Rather than discard it, he sought to find it a good home.
A bit of background
He had been given the bike by his father. He’d used it for getting around the countryside around Norfolk, for commuting and for carting his climbing gear to the nearest climbing walls. It had a longer story, though it was by no means clear. Sadly, his father, the original owner, now suffers from dementia.
“He bought the bike when he started an engineering apprenticeship in 1947 or sometime around then,” Steve told me. He’d been measured for the frame by Bryant’s of Norwich, but post-war shortages meant that he sent the measurement to a “Midlands frame-builder” to be built. He had then added components as and when he had been able to afford them and upgraded when possible. As a good local club racer he used the bike for all purposes - commuting, competing and courting.
Eventually, he left cycling behind, passing his pride and joy to Steve in 1973. Upgraded with Campag five speed gears, he rode it as a utility hack. Now he was passing it on. “If you’d like to take a look at it, you can have it. See if there’s anything you can do with it.”
He’d told me all he knew of it. So, I began to strip it. I removed the nineteen-seventies’ reflector, bottle-dynamo, and rather nice Campag rear mech. The chain was rigid. The Phillips’ “Butt Leather” saddle, cracked and worn, is still - three months later - being basted with leather recovery potions. Weinmann brake levers and calipers, GB (Gerry Burgess) bars, Compe stem, all dismantled with surprising ease. The expected seizure from years of inactivity proved to be a phantom; all emerged from hibernation with barely a blink.
Already, beneath the verdigris coating, curved lugs and incredibly neat braising could be seen. Dual drop-outs for tracks and road drew everyone’s attention. Drop-outs, lugs, seat-post were by Chater Lea - Britain’s premiere quality component manufacturer either side of the Second World War. The bottom bracket was by one of their subsidiaries, Bayliss-Wiley.
There were a couple of odd bosses welded onto the underside of the bottom bracket and the drive-side chain stay. A bit of a mystery at the time, which we put down to the owner’s engineering background and stereotypical inability not to tinker. “He was a good engineer and learned all the skills of the time, so jobs like this were nothing to him.” He did them very neatly, too.
There were a few numbers and some lettering on the bottom-bracket, obscured by the mystery add-on. No indication of the maker. Later research on classic-lightweights, through forums and by contact with clubs, experts, and the Eastern Daily Press, provided no useful information - though I thank them for their efforts. Matters were not helped by the fact that Bryant’s archive of bike sales had been torched in an arson attack.
Cleaning up and into the workshop
Getting the bike home and cleaning everything up, I sent a few photos to Steve, who showed them to his father. He’d been having a tough time, with fewer and fewer lucid episodes. Three hours later, Steve was fighting of the urge to get to bed as his father talked about his bike. and his younger days.
I arranged to take the bike down to Bicycles by Design, for Peter Bird to give it the expert once over and plan, if the frame was sound, its rejuvenation. Meanwhile, back in Norfolk, new information was emerging; the forks - clearly not the originals - were the result of a crash - and it had started life as single-speed, been upgraded to three and then to five. The frame-builder remained a mystery.
In Peter’s workshop, we removed the mysterious boss on the bottom bracket. More letters and numbers were revealed, but nothing to indicate who and where it had been constructed. Peter pointed out the craftsmanship and the signs of the method of construction. Small pin holes for keeping the frame in a fixed position on a frame-maker’s table. Typical of a small builder, suggested Peter. Top grade 531 tubing. “That piece we removed - and replaced - was for an Osgear,” Peter suggested. I Googled it. A forerunner of the derailleur, where the “rear” mech was on the front. Peculiar arrangement, it seemed to me to be no surprise that the derailleur became the preferred system.
Lack of a head-badge, or even holes to secure it through, and odd little bits of less-than-perfect workmanship in the darker recesses of the frame, indicated that the builder was not constructing the frame for their own range.
Fortunately the frame was sound, and a few minutes with some hi-tech artisan re-alignment equipment soon saw it back in shape and ready to be packed off to Argos for a new paint-job.
Choices and decisions
Restoration for riding requires difficult choices. Practicality meets authenticity, their tricky union hampered by budgetary considerations. For me, the main objective was to get this back on the road for a good look over by its original owner. I’d expect criticism from purists - very fair criticism. Yet, we should remember that the bike had a story, and we did not know a good chunk of it. One could always ask the question, "Restore it? To which period?"
Frame and forks were to be restored to their Post-Box Red; white cabling, ferrules and bar-tape would contrast. Existing components would be polished up, as far as possible. It would be a single-speed, which lead to the usual debate about ratios. Bearing in mind that I am no spring chicken and the availability of suitable chain rings and cranks, we waited to see what we could get. Wheels would be modern, but Peter, who had already gone through the painful process of teaching me wheel-building once, was willing to undergo the ordeal again. He would source some components, I’d restore and source the others.
We had a plan
We also researched decals. Despite help from various sources, we found nothing helpful. Thus we decided to ask Lloyd’s to design something era-appropriate and use some others from their catalogue.
A Facebook message from Steve changed the plan. His Dad, had been searching for photographs, but found none. During the process he had recalled how the bike had no decals. He said this was because the frame had come from somewhere in the Midlands, but the components were assembled form different shops in Norwich - so the bike was not built purely by Bryant’s, although they had been his main support (when the bike was taken there for its 1973 upgrade, the owner recognised it).
Well, that made life easy. No decals. More good news; Steve’s Dad and I are roughly the same height and build.
And so, we had a plan, and we were sticking to it - for the moment. The paint job will be done by early November and a date is fixed for the build. In the meantime, I have been assembling parts and polishing. More of that and news of the build in part two, to follow.
In the next part; assembling the components and building the bike. then the hardest bit. It will need a name!
Bicycles by Design build bespoke bicycles ... amongst other things.
PUBLISHED OCTOBER 2017