MY MATE'S DAD'S OLD BIKE, PART TWO
Being given an old frame and some old components that approximated to a late nineteen-forties racing bike, Steve Dyster, had decided to see if it could be restored to something like its original state. The quest for information, hampered by the original owner’s descent into dementia, gave some ideas, and expert help from Peter Bird, from Bicycles by Design, convinced Steve to go ahead. All about that, and more, is in My Mate’s Dad’s Old Bike Part One.
So, to the rebuild and the ride, in this, My Mate’s Dad’s Old Bike Part Two.
Fortunately for me, Peter Bird is not the sort of chap to desert a cyclist in need. I’ll make that plain at the start. His technical knowledge and advice made the rebuild possible. As did a day in his workshop. There’s lots of good advice and generous help available on the web, Facebook groups for marque enthusiasts, who generously give supportive advice.
Trouble was, we had not got a bike with a marque. The machine had undergone many modifications as a cash-strapped apprentice tried to build the machine of dreams during post-war austerity. So, we would need to take some liberties that might turn purists purple. There was a strict budget, too.
We’d decided to go for some authentic components - many of which are readily available. Even so, some would not be, even if they were desirable. For example, David, the original owner, had built and used it as a single-speed on both road and track. There’d been up-grades to for road, and as an engineer, he’d not been unwilling to add his own little touches.
He’d welded on brackets, which Peter suggested were for an Osgear, for example. A sort of derailleur type gear but with the tensioner on the front ring. which appeared around 1934. Would have been lovely to find one. Sadly Googling “Osgear” brought information and the odd photo. Seems the Osgear was condemned to cycling history rather than the spares bin of cycling historians. I eventually came across one on ebay, but it was too expensive and too late.
Googling “Osgear” also brings up lists of steroid dealers. I prefer a slice of sponge cake at the cafe.
My only real rule was to use all the original items that were attached to the frame when it was handed over. I’d got the original Bayliss-Wiley bottom bracket, which still runs like a dream. Gerry Burgess (GB) bars and seat post, Compe stem, Weinmann brakes - levers and callipers - and a Phillips’ saddle, had all been in situ on the day I first set eyes on the frame on a campsite near Bungay, in Suffolk.
Wheels? Well they needed to be genuine 27 inch so as the original brake callipers could be used. Taking the 700c route and buying longer drop callipers was an option, but obsolete rims were available from bankrupt stock. In the end 27 inch saved time and money.
We went for modern Miche hubs, but were able to obtain a Chater-Lea 48 tooth chainset, courtesy of Hilary Stone, at a very reasonable price. With period-appropriate Schwalbe Active tyres, brown gum hoods, white ferrules, we just needed to wait for the frame to come back from Argos, and a day down by the Severn in Peter’s Coalport base beckoned.
Postponed three times because of snow, early spring was on the way when I wandered into Bicycles by Design to tax the patience of John, one of Peter’s mechanics, and build my mate’s Dad’s old bike.
Initially we slid the bottom-bracket back into place. John and I then commenced to build the wheels, surprisingly, in my case, getting the knack quickly. Peter had taught me wheel-building before, and much of it came flooding back. Even so, it was slow going, so we decided that John should get on with the chain-set, whilst got the wheels as close to absolute true as I could. We’d then swap places and I’d get on with the basics whilst he perfected the truing.
Of all the components I remember as a child, the one that brings nightmares even today is the simple, useful, humble cotter. I can’t say I wake up in cold sweats over them very often, but if they occupied my dreams I’d be thrashing around with the screaming habdabs. Serenely, I trued with ever smaller turns of the spoke key; John, showing great restraint, filed, tapped away with a mallet, breathed a sigh of frustration, and started all over again.
Eventually, the crank held firm, and we had something that was more bike than frame. All the rest went on speedily enough, with the exception of the upper race on the head-set. For some reason the race would not stay in place. Time was running out on the day, so I left it in Peter’s capable hands for a touch of cajolery and tender care.
Apart from that, there she stood. Post-Office Red, looking as good as new. All 10.1 kg of her. The following week, I took pedals and toe-clips to pick her up, and rode her home. Getting out of the Severn Gorge made for a good initial test.
I know you are dying to know the ratio. Well, I do not wish to go fast. I am not into accelerating away, leaving others standing. I want to be able to ride most of the hills in my locale - mind you, I’d not be trying some of those out in the Staffordshire Moorlands on this lovely old machine. So, the front was a forty-eight - because that was what was readily variable in good nick - and the rear … ta-ran-ta-ra …..
Twenty-two. Yes, this is a stupidly low ratio. I spin out pretty quickly on the flat at my usual cadence. However, I get up the hills, too, without Herculean grunting or bursting a blood-vessel. A slightly restrained cadence, delivers a serene ride to the cafe or pub. Maybe I should have gone for a flip-flop, but, the cog is easy to change and adjustment straight-forward, so I might stick an eighteen or nineteen in the saddle-bag, along with the necessary tools. One thing, you can say for this old bike, it was made to be used for all sorts of riding and needed to be rapidly adapted.
How does it ride? It is great, I really enjoy it. Power is direct, but there’s sufficient flex for comfort. By the way, I initially added Genetic Heritage Cage pedals, with MKS Steel Toe-clips, before changing to the swankier - and heavier - Soma Citoyen du Monde pedals, with their Deep Four Gate Toe-clips and straps. The Phillips’ Butt Leather saddle, rubbed with a reservoir of leather restorer, is still not in suitable shape for my delicate derriere. Instead I’ve added Soma’s Okami Lite saddle, which looks good, in my opinion. When the long winter nights return, I shall get back to the Butt Leather, to pass the time.
Cornering is excellent, despite the slightly incongruous, heftier fifties forks (the result of the originals being damaged in an RTI). Honking up hills, there’s a real sense of power, aided by the broad Citoyen du Monde pedals and double toe-straps.
Having a bike like this, with its personal history, its quirks and oddities, is about more than how well it rides. This was hand-built by stages for - sometimes by - a young man setting out on life with skill, enthusiasm, and hope, after a childhood at war. He handed it on to his son, Steve, who has now passed it to me because he is, simply, one of life’s generous gentlemen. I’ll not be riding LeJog on it in the near future, but I sincerely hope to ride it across the Midlands, over the Fens, and back to its home city, Norwich.
With special thanks to Steve and his Dad, David, for letting me play around with their bike, and to Peter Bird, and John, at Bicycles By Design for their expert help, advice, and work. Now, I’m pedalling, with a steady cadence, to the pub. Toodle pip!
PUBLISHED JULY 2018