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Louis, Don

Posted: Wednesday 03rd June 2020

Author: Robin Haigh

Every part was hand chosen by me and even though I was only 15 I knew exactly what I wanted. I understand that Don Louis framebuilder whose name I forget worked also for the local Post Office but he was a genius as a framebuilder.

Richard Mead's Don Louis showing the track heritage of the marque based at Herne Hill which was the home of track racing in the South
Richard Mead's Don Louis showing the track heritage of the marque based at Herne Hill which was the home of track racing in the South

The frame builder was Johnny Monger says John Barnes. Subsequently I had four track irons made by Don Louis all 24″  and 74 parallel and I would dearly like to be able to buy one back again !

The Don Louis shop was in Dulwich Road in Herne Hill and the building is still there now according to Google Earth Street level mapping. I remember that the counter was right angles to the shop window as you entered and the brazing/assembly room was behind.  Boxes of lugs were there as well as frame jigs and fork sections. He stocked a large range of what we think of now as quality parts.

All his frames were hand built in shop unlike many others who simply put their own badges on frames made elsewhere.

Robin Haigh - Florida  

Tells us that, as a teenager and as my funds improved I had my first track iron brazed up to fit while I stood and watched by Don Louis Cycles which was located just around the corner from Railton Road in Dulwich Road.

Detail shots of Robin Haigh’s Don Louis frame number 7959 (No. 79 0f 1959?) below:

Gary Whelan:

Regarding Don Louis frames, and with reference to Robin Haigh’s frame number, John Monger (the builder) used the day, month, and year of completion as his frame number. Thus Robin’s would have been built (or completed anyway) on 7th September 1959.  Mine was 1261. I am assuming that JM was the builder in 1959….. I showed up (as a 14-year old) in 1960, I think. Then started putting my paper-round money in a jar…..

Mark Stevens states:

In his piece on Gillott frames, Mark Stevens states: Bill Philbrook had annoyed Harry by making ‘homers’. Harry had also caught Bill with torch in hand at Don Louis’ cycle shop in Herne Hill.

Head of Don Louis with second style of Nervex Professional lugs introduced c.1955. Speculating on the frame number could date this frame as fifteenth frame built in 1959
Head of Don Louis with second style of Nervex Professional lugs introduced c.1955. Speculating on the frame number could date this frame as fifteenth frame built in 1959

Peter Holland on Don Louis:

As a young lad Don Louis’s was one of of the shops that I visited often, I found him hard to get on with but he was certainly a character. He spoke with a very broad French accent, smelt of garlic and had a black onion berry on his head, he always rambled on about France and cycling there.

I can remember on several occasions when I glimpsed into his workshop there would be a frame in the vice and a file in his hand that was just for effect. I am am pretty sure he had the brazing equipment but I am very doubtful that he did any frame building himself. I had also heard the story about Bill Philbrook moonlighting for Don Louis.

Head of Don Louis with second style of Nervex Professional lugs introduced c.1955. Speculating on the frame number could date this frame as fifteenth frame built in 1959

Graham Strugnell tells us:

I had a Don Lous built in the early sixties by Johnny Monger, it was light blue with Cinelli fork crown (this was sold to help pay for a scooter). I can remember Johnny cutting down my Brooks saddle and trying to soften it by pressing it with a hammer handle. I used to take various frames to the sprayers (in Streatham I think) to help Don and John out when they were busy. I would ride on my bike with the frame slung over my shoulder, true ‘trackie’ style.

Peter Underwood (Webmaster) went to a cycle event over the weekend and spoke to the owner of a Don Louis standing near the race headquarters. The owner, Richard Meed of the Lewes Wanderers CC, kindly mailed me the following:

The only marking on it when I got it when I bought it as a tatty bare frame was the frame no.1559 on the bottom bracket. I bought it from Ian Burgess, son of Mick Burgess (now sadly passed away) stalwart and chairman of Lewes Wanderers CC early last year, 2009. He used it on the track at Preston Park and Ian used it in time trials in his junior days. Ian couldn’t remember what the makers mark was before Mick refurbished the frame with red aerosol! Only that they got it from Peter Crowsley, now of Edenbridge. Eventually I contacted Peter, who methodically recorded all his bikes from day one. He said the frame was a Don Louis and was originally owned by Ian Jenner, followed by John Goldsmith, then Graham Orchard before it got to him.

I found an origional set of varnish fit transfers at H. Lloyd Cycles at Penrith and had the frame re-sprayed by Dave Crowe at Colourtech, Dartford, who transformed it as you can see. I use the bike now, usually on a 66″ fixed gear, most weeks and it is built with a mix of old and new parts, TA cranks and ring, Bayliss Wiley Airlite hubs. The rest is ‘parts to hand’ to make it ‘comfortable riding’, new Brooks team Pro saddle which is slowly becoming comfortable, the first time I’ve ridden one since the 60’s when riding with the East Surrey Road Club.

Roger Rivenell

Roger Rivenell from SE Australia, on a sudden whim I did a Google on Don Louis and found your site:

I have a Don Louis road frame I designed on graph paper and had built by Don Louis in mid-1956.  My original plan has alas long since disappeared.  I specified Reynolds 531 double-butted tubing, forks and stays, Nervex Professionnel lugs and all the measurements including fork rake.  They used Campagnolo front fork ends, which created a bit of a problem with the front British Hub Co. Airlite QR hub spindles, which are slightly thicker than Campagnolo’s, but some very gentle work with files fixed that problem.  I still have the original ‘Gem’ tape on the GB alloy Maës handlebars as well as the GB (French brand this time) handlebar ends.  I did have a Cyclo dérailleur, the latest model, Mark 7) in 1956, but finally replaced it with a Japanese one with the now usual parallelogram action.

I replace the front dérailleur too, but kept the original Cyclo levers on the down tube.  Apart from the heritage aspect, there are brazed Cyclo brackets there. I couldn’t afford Campagnolo at the time, or probably wouldn’t have used Cyclo. I’m glad I did now!  My frame was built by John, who reputedly had come from Gillott.  I was pleased about that, as the other frame builder, whose name I’ve totally forgotten, didn’t quite have the technique of blending the spelter which came out of the lugs during brazing into the tubing, thus the excess was visible, a bit like glue which had oozed out of a joint.  I noticed that on a few of his frames.

It’s been repainted a couple of times since and I used to have a set of Don Louis transfers, but they were kept in a typing manual of my mother’s and when she went back to England the manual went with her!  Enough said.  I built a complete bike from it with my favourite components of the time, including GB brakes, which were never sold in Australia as far as I know.  I’ve had a few offers for it here over the years, including one from an English-born bike-shop proprietor, who knew what he was looking at.

I thought that Don Louis wasn’t French but Welsh!  Perhaps someone knows for sure.  I can just vaguely see and hear him in my mind, but a French accent isn’t part of the picture.

Michael Johnson says: 

I had a Don Louis bicycle with the following spec: 10-speed Campagnola Gran Sport gears (obviously just a double clanger though triple clangers where around), Mafac centre pull brakes (all the rage for a short peroid) Campagnola chain set (not cotterless) Campagnola quick release hubs (small not large centres) Cinelli handlebar extension, chrome fork bottoms (again all the rage in that era). The bike was made by Don in 1958 and was about as good as you could get; it cost £50-00 and I purchased it a year later for £25-00, I do have one photo of it-what would it be worth now? At that time certain parts of my old bike where very much of that era; cotterless chain sets came out first in 1958-59, centre pull brakes were used I think for about 3-4 years then side-pull where improved and they went out of popularity. I lived and still do, about one mile from Herne Hill and well remember his shop; my few dealings with Don remind me that he could be very bad tempered, I can’t rember him being French though he did wear a beret and perhaps liked to leave the impression he was so!!

Steve Gledhill adds:

John Monger was one of the frame builders who worked for Don Louis along with Bill Philbrook plus some times, Harry Healey (moonlighting) and Jim Collier…JM was a great builder and I still have one of his frames built in 1960. At that time JM was a member of the OLD KENT CC…At one time there were 21 Don Louis’ in the club plus some track frames. JM who started racing later in life started out as a 3rd category rider and from memory got to be a 2nd cat licensed rider…I rode many times with him and so did Mick Cooper. However the shop was a big hangout on Saturday mornings if you did not have to work that day, but the big problem was watching your bike outside as many got stolen also stuff got stolen from the shop itself.

JM also started a Tuesday and Thursday night training run from the store leaving at exactly 6.45 pm…If you were not on time, too bad we were gone and it was like a race over the same route every night. It became really famous and lots of new riders learnt an awful lot from us. Even some Independants rode with us like Bart Weston of Helyett Cycles, a very young Reg Barnett who I taught to sprint and Dave Burwood was a club member. At the end of the race/ride (joke) there was a mass bunch sprint for the Croydon Sign which the council eventually took down to get rid of us.

However with new shops opening and other problems Johnny told me he was having trouble making ends meet and his wife Phil was getting on to him about money. So that is when he quit working for Louis and got a job with the GPO, which was the postal delivery system. He still rode with us and worked part time at Louis’ shop but again the problem was money I think…John and his wife lived in an apartment above a store on Lordship Lane, East Dulwich and I used to call on them to say Hello, and really that is where I last saw him and had any contact with him. John was a very straight guy but could be funny as hell with some of his stories and at a later date passed away. He was survived by a daughter but I cannot remember her name.

These where the best days for the club,we promoted events on the road and at Crystal Palace and Herne Hill,  lots of members joined and left for bigger things like Reg Barnet and the club finally folded in the 1990’s. Eddie Wingrave OBE was the glue that held the club together.

Anyway that’s all I can remember of the great builder Johnnie Monger and it is most likely that there is somebody else who can remember more about him, but I am pleased to say that, along with Mick, to have been a genuine friend of John Monger…He probably forgot more than most builders, he was one of the best .A new complete frame was10 pounds and 10 shillings painted….Those were great days !!!!!!!!!

Steve Gledhill
Winner Eastboune to London  rr
Sccu road race champ  (junior)
BCF London junior sprint champion
plus others…

Raymond Root tells us:

I lived in Herne Hill as a teenager, knew Don Louis and was a frequent visitor to his shop. This would have been around 1952. In fact at the age of 15, I pestered and pestered my mother to buy me a gorgeous bike that was on show in Don’s shop window. The frame was not Don Louis but built by a visiting frame builder named T J Quick I believe and was badged TJQ.

Anyway, it was definately made on Don’s premises and was a real eyecatcher. Don never made frames but did build wheels. Saturday afternoons spent in Don’s shop (and right after the Herne Hill track meets) was absolute mecca for me – it was chock full of us lads checking out the latest gear and drinking Don’s coffee. You could walk out of Don’s shop with the latest ‘Double Clanger’ and he would insist you personally pencilled in the item, amount and your proposed weekly payment into his sales ledger book.Talk about trust!  I don’t think he made much money!  I suspect that a lot was stolen as Don allowed ‘customers’ to go behind the counter – there were more of us lads behind the counter than on the actual shop floor! He really was a friendly bloke but would also use foul language when the need arose.

As I remember, Don usually rode a flashy,wholly chromium-plated track bike and would accompany some ten or so of us lads on Sunday morning circuits around Dulwich Park, shouting obscenities if we overtook him! Tearing around and emulating our particular hero eg Coppi, Reg Harris or, in my case, Dave Bedwell (I am also quite short!) – we were not popular with the local pedestrians or park wardens! As far as I remember, Don was Welsh and always wore a beret and lived quite near to the shop.I have since heard it said that he (er um!) liked young boys but I and my mates never encountered this.  I often wonder what happened to him, as we moved away from Herne Hill in about 1953 and I lost contact.

Now living in France, I did recently acquire a Don Louis bike which I have temporarily converted to a hybrid for use on our local canal towpath and off road rides. My Don Louis is used daily for a trip to the Boulangerie – I call it ‘My Baguette Bike” and I actually enjoy riding it in preference to my 1970’s Raleigh Record Ace and my very modern road machine! When daily I walk into my garage and see my Don Louis – I am taken right back to the early 50’s when I used to cycle down to Don’s shop every evening and peer at that lovely display of gleaming enamel and chrome! Happy memories of Don Louis and thanks to my very generous late Mum who often omitted to pay the milkman in favour of the weekly payment to Don Louis Cycles!

If you know more about Don Louis or if you have any images of a Don Louis frame, or of a Louis bike being raced, please contact the webmaster.  Email address is on the home page.

Thanks for reading

Posted: Wednesday 03rd June 2020

Author: Robin Haigh

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