Wheels for 1945-60s classic lightweights
Alex Von Tutschek
“Some years ago it suddenly dawned on this slow developer
the very easiest way to assemble a classic cycle was to first
concentrate on matching the chosen frame to a date correct pair of
suitable wheels. To that generation like myself (who spent many a happy
hour with our noses pressed up to our local lightweight cycle shops
windows) the equipment therein was etched forever in our memory. It has
occurred to me that this knowledge cannot now be gotten as easily and
that a few guiding words may well help my fellow enthusiasts. What I am
intending with this listing is to give a guide as to what are the most
suitable combinations bearing in mind what you are most likely to be
able to source.
It is my observation that of the frames that we find nowadays MOST of
those built before 1950 are built for 26 x 1 ¼”
MOST after were built for 27 x 1 ¼” wheels. I know
27” wheels were introduced pre-war and am surprised regularly
finding frames built in the very late 1950’s that take
wheels. Whichever size they were built for there
invariably clearance for mudguards too. Very few frames were
built without mudguard clearances and they would mostly have been pure
track frames. These rare items can be identified by having no drillings
for any brakes. An observation is that many of the frames built for
26” wheels are now being ridden with 27” wheels (or
“sprints” or modern smaller wheels in them), these
reduced mudguard clearance.
Rear dropout width.
Most frames are either 110, 115 or 120mm wide and this defines what you
can do with gearing. Basically 110 is for a single speed
either free or fixed-wheel. 120 mm is perfect for five-speed
freewheels which are freely available and suit most machines from our
chosen era. 115 is best suited to 4-speed and the available choice of
derailleur gears from the 1940’s might guide you towards
4-speed even in a 120 frame too. Remember with a
Regina freewheel you can create a four speed 3/32” block by
removing the smallest overhanging sprocket….. very easy!
Also remember that you can use one of the period Sturmey Archer hub
gears, as these fit into a 110mmm wide frame this enables gearing to be
easily used on a single-speed frame.
Choice of hubs.
Whilst there were many hubs available in times gone by some
fairly obscure (Powells, Shellwins, Coventry Ultralite etc) and some
imported ones aren’t easy to find (i.e. Simplex).
what you are likely to find:-
1. Airlite .Introduced in the mid 1930’s and the mainstay of
the lightweight scene.
2. Postwar the large flange Airlite Continental was very popular. Most
suitable for 1945-1965 era.
3. Bayliss & Wiley in both large and
small-flange look very similar to Airlites.1945- 1960
4. Hardens. Most are drilled large flange with annular
Available variations are a rarer small flange version, un-drilled large
flange (now known as Bacon Slicers), most of these are single fixed but
a rarer gear-sided only also turns up sometimes) Also the Harden
Flyweight large flange only and with cup and cone bearings. These later
are surprisingly available in two distinctive versions. 1946-1956
5. Blumfields. An alloy hub available in large and small
Have grease nipple in the centre of the barrel and quite attractive
engraved makers marks. 1946-1959
6. FB and Gnutti (almost identical), small flange imported
Italian hubs turn up, the large flange version is much rarer. Chrome
barrel and alloy flanges. I can’t help wondering if Airlites
copies of the FB as this hub as this too was freely available before
7. Campag Gran Sport. Very similar to both of the above (were
they all made by FB in the beginning, surely someone must
know?). More easily available in both small and
Note. Of these hubs you have a better chance of finding Airlites and
Campag in QR versions, the latter quite easily. Also, as more good
English fixed hubs turn up than gear versions, remember that it is
possible to convert fixed to gears but that it is more cost-effective
to do two or three of them at the same time.
1. Dunlop “Special Lightweight.” The most
sporting rim of the sporting cyclists. Chrome-plated steel and prone to
rust. Warning, whilst re-plating is possible, acids
get trapped within the voids and rust re-appears too soon, should you
be thinking of going this route why not keep the original rust instead
of having later non-period rust? 1945-1965
2. Dunlop “Stainless Special
Lightweight”. As above
but rarer, the 40h rear is prone to cracking around the spoke holes,
check carefully. 1946-1955
3. Dunlop alloy turn up occasionally and look very attractive. BEWARE.
There is a very shallow well in these rims and getting a tyre on ( even
a Dunlop) can be difficult. Getting one off after a puncture on a ride
can be a nightmare. I know, it has happened to
me. 1946- 1955
4. Weinmann Alesa. The most easy and economical option. Early
ones from the early 1950’s have different engraved markings
no dimples around the spoke holes. The latter are a perfect choice and
the former an acceptable one. 1950-1970
5. Constrictor (both the hollow Asp and the solid
versions), this crescent shaped rim is the pretty choice of the era and
this rider’s choice. Very tough but are never truly
“true” as the riveted joining piece affects
this. 1945- 1960
6. Alumite. A very attractive an unusual shaped rim
that you might have a chance of finding. 1946-1955
7. Fiamme (Italian) and Mavic (French) sprints.
forget sprints. Fiamme sprints have been on the British scene for a
very long time. 1948-1965
8. Wood sprints. Most of what we find are French made America
Fairbanks imported into Britain by (and marked) Constrictor.1945-1955
Virtually all road wheels in Britain
were 32 in the
front wheel and 40 in the rear. Again most of what you will find in
Britain will be 32/40. NOTE, classic wheels look good with
gauge spokes. If you want your classic lightweight to look as if it has
moped wheels in it use common 14/16 spokes. This is the most common
error in today’s restored machines. (I do know that thicker
spokes were used in heavy touring machines and tandems and by those
with a fuller figure etc)
Matching hubs with rims
The following is a personal opinion as to what goes better with what.
1. Small flange hubs look better in 26” wheels but
must have large flanges the smaller “large” flange
Blumfields look best. Also the small flange Powell hub has quite large
“small” flanges but these are not an easily found
Blumfields look superb matched with Alumite rims
Hardens look good matched with Constrictor rims.
FB, Gnutti and Campag work well with Fiamme / Mavic or Weinmann Alesa
Any of the English hubs go well with wood rims…but small
flange is best.
2. Suggestions of poor matches
Campag, FB, Gnutti with Constrictor wood and alloy rims.
Hardens and Blumfield with Weinmann rims
Note. The dates here are only estimates as to when these rims were
freely available. In the 1940’s there were serious shortages
improved towards the end of the decade.”
Alexander von Tutschek . Feb 06
It is traditional to build wheels 4x with 40 hole rims and 3x with 32
A 1951 Bates Vegrandis with correct wheels as approved by AVT:
27" Conloy Asp HP rims 32/40 hole. Built on to Harden
large-flange, double-fixed hubs with 15/17 gauge double-butted spokes
laced 3x on front and 4x on rear.