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Hurlow, W B 'Bill'

Posted: Saturday 06th June 2020

Author: Peter Underwood

Bill Hurlow was born in 1921 and at the age of 14 joined F H Grubb cycles to train as a frame builder.  In those days it was common for a newcomer of that age to be started with a back-room task such as filing lugs along with making the tea, sweeping up, doing the errands, etc.

After a couple of years of this he went to Holdsworth, moving in 1940 to Claud Butler, but only for a month or so, before returning to Holdsworth. In 1942 he joined the Royal Engineers as an armourer.  On leaving the army in 1946 he went back to work for Holdsworth.

In 1951 F H Grubb went out of business and were acquired by Holdsworth so Bill was now building Grubbs at last but not for long as he left them in 1952 as the bottom had fallen out of their market.  He became briefly involved in Paris Cycles at the time of their financial troubles in 1953 and did attempt unsuccessfully to bring them back into business but gave up when he realised the seriousness of their situation. Bill set to and designed four elaborate sets of lugs: Condor took two of these whilst Mal Rees used the other two.

The Mal Rees Rameles lugset
The Mal Rees Rameles lugset

In 1954 he was working for Mal Rees where he built their top of the range Rameles (anagram of Mal Rees) using the lug designs mentioned above. He also built the Amersham and Chalfont models whilst Wally Green was employed to produce the cheaper Chiltern. In The Condor Years Peter Whitfield says that B H also started work at Condor in 1954. He came up with a set of classic lug profiles for them, the Superbe and the No. 1 with intricate scrollwork incorporating Fleur-de-lys curls.  His No. 2 and No. 3 had spearpoints but were less elaborate and his Italia, as was the wont with other such named lugs, had a classic simple design beloved by road racers rather than time-triallists. Condor proudly advertised the fact that B H was building their machines, which was unheard of by any other cycle builder. It seems that Condor and Mal Rees were each content with the fact the Bill was working for both firms.

In 1958 B H parted company with Condor due to what could be best described as a personality clash. He started to build frames under his own name but did in fact also continue to supply Condor with frames until about 1968.

He continued to produce frames under the name of Bill Hurlow for many years to come and to this day the Mal Rees ‘Rameles’, a Bill Hurlow top of the range Condor, or of course a Bill Hurlow frame is highly regarded by collectors of Classic Cycles.

Bill's lugwork on Derek Athey's Condor, listed in Readers' Bikes
Bill's lugwork on Derek Athey's Condor, listed in Readers' Bikes

When researching this piece it was mentioned in several places that it was a day’s work for B H to cut a set of lugs from blanks. This is the true hallmark of a craftsman as they are so sure-handed that they can work very fast and very accurately, producing elaborate lugwork in the time it would take a lesser craftsman to produce a much simpler version.

Bill was a keen time-triallist himself. He rode for Galena CC and later for the Marlborough C&AC and was to post some very respectable times that would shame many of us. He was still cycling quite recently and even visiting the States to get some warm weather training. He is always made welcome over there as his work is as highly regarded ‘over the pond’ as it is in the UK.

The Condor Years – A Panorama of British Cycling 1945-2000 author Peter Whitfield (mentioned above), published 2005 is a very useful book for anyone interested in the history of cycling in the UK.  Although it could be said that the main subject of the book is the riders of the period it tells enough of the whole cycling scene to make it a read which is very hard to put down once started.

Not all the frames built by Bill Hurlow had lugs which were as elaborate as the ones above. He did produce some very well-built frames with simpler lug patterns and even brazed some with no lugs at all.

Quality brazing shown here on a 1967 frame which was built with shot-in rear stays - the frame number is 1671
A 1972 frame constructed using the simpler Prugnat lugs - frame number 1725 (middle two numbers denote year)
The 'W B Hurlow' lettering on this 1971 frame down tube was done by a signwriter employed by Bill A superb example of the craft
Barrie Carter, Roundham, Somerset.

I left school at 14 and went to work for Condor Cycles in Balls Pond Road, Islington, North London in 1955. Bill Hurlow built frames in a shed at the back alongside a lovely guy who owned a Berkley 3 wheeler (that’s another story) called Lou. Lou filed the frames on piecework at so much a frame and Bill built the frames for Wally Conway and Monty Young, his brother in law and, for a fee Bill built for other shops too, including Mal Rees and a few others.  There has been a lot of talk about who he built for and after Bill left Condors I visited him at his workshop in Hearn Bay where, at 87, he still lives. My memory is a bit faded on who he built for, but it was a lot of shops. Bill also built welded frames for some Kent based time trialists.

These of course, are not readily identifiable, but Bill told me of this when I had a welded lugless Condor about 4 years ago. As an opinion, and I stress, an opinion, British frames were artistic and prolific. This was largely a signature to identfy each frame for its originator, as an artist would for a painting, and whilst I love British bikes,and their tasteful lug and paint work, The simplicity of an Italian designed and lugged bike, is the most pleasing to my eye, and for some reason, the best ride.I raced a Hurlow built Condor for a number of years, but somehow never for got the stiffness of my Cinelli Corsa, which I still have. British frames never felt quite the same, although all my good racing results were on the Condor

Seat clusters:

Another hand-painted down tube logo as found on some Hurlow frames
Collected head lugs and various images.

Another great bike frame builder who is not often mentioned is Stan Pike. Stan’s frames are highly regarded and he was a friend of mine until his untimely death in 1982 I still have a collection of Stan Pike’s and I can say that my favourite is the closest I have ever had to and good quality Italian frame.

Thanks for reading

Posted: Saturday 06th June 2020

Author: Peter Underwood

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