Posted: Wednesday 12th August 2020
Some bicycles win a place in Design Classics by virtue of a particularly unusual or clever design; others by popular acclaim or racing successes. Selbachs fall mostly into the latter category though some of their machines also possessed some very advanced or novel features too. One was also selected for Henry Ford as being the best British bicycle available and was presented to him on one of his visits to England.
Maurice Selbach was born in 1890 in Paris. His father was an German-American and his mother a Polish Countess, they moved to England when Maurice was 21. He soon made a name for himself as a long distance time triallist before and just after the First World War – he featured on a Cycling cover in 1914 as a member of the Etna CC and also rode a Paris–Roubaix under the auspices of the Louvet team in the early 1920s.
As was the case with many top riders (Grubb was another) Maurice Selbach decided to enter the cycle business. The earliest recorded advert found is from February 1924 and the first known catalogue is dated 1925. It’s likely that the shop opened in early 1924. The frames he built were pretty much standard for the time – 68° or so head and seat tube angles built from Reynolds A grade tubing with a choice of BSA, Chater Lea, Brampton or Abingdon fittings. In those days the fittings described the lugs, headset and bottom bracket with possibly the chainset, pedals and hubs too.
The front forks were the most distinctive part of the design of these early machines having a very modern banana shaped rake. The top model was the DP (Dual Purpose) and was proclaimed to be the same as ridden by Maurice Selbach in a 6-day track race and on his 1923 and 1924 road record attempts. Bastide flat section wood sprint rims together with Brooks B17 Champion saddle, double-sided rear hub with fixed cogs and Coventry Elite chain completed the spec with a weight of 21lb. In 1925 he collaborated with another south London builder, Granby, to launch frames built from Reynolds taper tubing.
Exactly who did what is a little confused – the patent was not in Selbach’s name. But very soon he was selling frames built with the main tubes tapered. Both the down tube and seat tube became larger at the bottom bracket whilst the top tube could either be the standard one inch diameter or could be tapered either way. Selbach also offered the option of cartridge bearing brackets. Other little innovations that appeared later from 1930 onwards included a forward facing seat bolt that clamped the seatpin win with a split cotter, Timken taper roller bearing bottom headset race, Timken taper roller bottom bracket bearings and Timken taper roller bearing hubs. Some of these appear quite frequently – the Timken headset and special seat bolt but others have never been found on surviving machines.
By 1930 over 3000 frames had been built and Selbach frames were definitely the frame to ride in the early 30s. Under various top riders of the day – Jack Rossiter, the Wyld brothers, Harry Grant and many others – they notched up a huge number of championship wins both here and in South Africa where apparently they were also sold. It’s quite difficult to track down just who won what – amateur status was very important at the time and whilst racing successes could be claimed no names were attached unless the riders were professional. Such was their success that it was alleged in Cycling that not all the frames were being built at Selbach’s works. Maurice Selbach threatened legal action and Cycling publicly apologised. The same basic frame design did not change much though Reynolds High-Manganese tubing became an option on its introduction in 1932 and Reynolds 531 in 1935.
In May 1935 Maurice Selbach was killed on his bike in Streatham when a wheel of his bike became caught in a tramline and he was run over by a lorry. The second Mrs Selbach continued with the business right up until the outbreak of the Second World War. The name was then auctioned off around London cycle dealers and Carter of Forest Gate was lucky enough to get the name. A few more frames were built at Carters but it was in reality the end of Selbach frames.
Thanks to Andrew Rowland for the taper tube machine featured.
Many Selbachs were painted in Golden Wyld – a flamboyant golden yellow colour painted over nickel plating.
In the early days the DP model was the top one, distingushed primarily on account of its racing equipment. Between 1929–31 a whole series of new model were offered – the Phantom with the special seat bolt design, the Princes Sports and Tourer and the Majestic Tourer with taper roller bearing everything. There was also a Majestic All Weather model with chaincase, guards and Timken taper roller bearings. Of course there were a variety of racing models too.
Early on Pellisier steel calliper brakes or Constrictor brakes were standard fitting. Later Selbach adopted a little known centre pull type brake that had been invented in Morden and was sold as the Crown. However, of course the cyclist’s favourite in the 30s was the Resilion cantilever and many machines were fitted with these at the owner’s request.
This was the time when the fixed wheel reigned supreme. Tourers were built with Sturmey-Archer and Cyclo gears but they were far from common.