Owen Bryars - early 50's
Posted: Wednesday 19th August 2020
When I was twelve (until fifteen) I worked for Ben Baker, a greengrocer, delivering heavy boxes of fruit and veg on a low-loader bicycle to customers from Garrat Lane in Wandsworth to Parkside on Wimbledon Common. This built some youthful strength. A full time employee at the shop was Geoff Speed, a keen cyclist and member of the South Western Road Club. One Saturday in 1952 or 53 Geoff announced that he had purchased a Norton motorcycle and wanted to sell his bike.
I needed little persuasion: I had ten bob per week wages and made about a pound in tips, this was supplemented by further income from making similar deliveries on Saturday evenings for the Off Licence. I’d saved quite a bit and paid Geoff nine pounds for the bike and all his bits and pieces. The lot consisted of the Bryars frame, BH LF Airlites with Fiamme sprint rims, Williams C45 chainset, Brooks Flyer saddle, Cinelli stem and GB bars. It was set up with fixed wheel and one Weinmann brake.
I joined the South West Road Club early in 1953 and did my first 25 TT in 1954 (1:5:54). In the meantime I came to know Owen Bryars at his shop at 153 Lower Richmond Road in Putney. Many SWRC members used Owen’s services and bought frames and components from him. He himself was a SWRC member.
In 1927 Owen became the manager of Holdsworths at 132 Lower Richmond Road, where I believe that he was also a frame buider. During this time Owen’s sister married Sandy Holdsworth. He stayed there until sometime around early 1939 when he had some kind of disagreement with Holdsworth so he left and opened his own shop at no. 153 opposite. I always assumed that he built his own frames but I cannot recollect that he ever had any staff so I now wonder how he could have found the time for building. In 2006 I had some correspondence with Roger Armstrong on the subject. He wrote,” I had a Bryars frame, which I bought from Bill Gray, Claud Butler’s frame builder. Bill knew everything about frames and their builders, and had ridden the Bryars to work for over 40 years. He stopped using it because the steering was tricky. It had a 78 deg head and 24″ top tube. It would have been made just after the war and Bill said that Owen Bryars built it.” Roger later wrote; having seen my frame, ” It is a very nice frame, which I agree must date to about 1947-8 and it looks every inch a Bryars.”
In 1955 I cracked the hour barrier with a 59:47 (see image below) and Owen gave me a pair of beautiful Pirelli tubs for future events. In 1956 I went much lower and he helped me lot, giving me generous discounts and free tyres. Late in ’56 before joining the Royal Engineers I sold the Bryars frame with chainset and saddle to a work colleague for five pounds
|Frame||Owen Bryars road frame no. 108569; 24" seat tube, 23½" top tube; head angle 74/75º, seat angle 71/72º; wheelbase 42.1"; Reynolds 531 DB tubing|
|Wheels||Early Campagnolo (FB) hubs with Fiamme sprint rims|
|Chainset||Stronglight 49D cotterless with TA rings - set up with small inner ring for L'Eroica
Stronglight bottom bracket
|Pedals||Lyotard 'Marcel Berthet' Platform|
|Gears||Campagnolo Gran Sport front and rear with down-tube levers|
|Brakes||Mafac Dural Forge centre-pulls|
|Stem/Bars||5" Cinelli badged steel stem with GB alloy bars|
|Saddle||Brooks B17 Flyer|
|Extra details||Rare Campagnolo BB cable guides incorporating pump support; alloy bottles in cages on bars and down-tube|
In August, 1958 I was home on leave from Cyprus and went to see Owen at his shop. He seemed ok to me but he died in October the same year. His wife continued the business with his son as manager but Holdsworth bought the business within a year. Holdsworth himself died in in 1961.
The years went by and by coincidence, in 1998, I came across the chap to whom I sold my Bryars. He still had it, having spent his entire career in the RAF and riding the bike in Germany, Canada, Hong Kong and many other postings including N. Ireland. He was no longer riding and returned it to me (unrecognisable, having been over painted in what he termed “NATO green”)
I scraped the paint off to reveal the original colour and enough of the down tube decal to reconstruct the script. Roger found a waterslide headbadge in his collection. Argos renovated the frame for me and I collected together my old bits and acquired others to put it into a fifties configuration as far as possible.
I came across your article by chance on the internet and was fascinated with the contents. I lived in Wimbledon and bought my first decent racing bike from Owen Bryars’s shop in Putney. I had his frame, Campagnola gears and a Cinelli stem. The saddle was a Bath one unlike your own. Tubular tyres were Michelin 25’s I think (which we used to wrap in a Lyons ice cream sign!). I am attaching a photo taken in the 1950’s around the time I first became interested in 25 mile sprints.
The other thing that interested me was like you I eventually sold the bike and bought a Norton mine being a Rapide. Which was 1000 c.c but only had one exhaust, which made it look like a 500cc. Oh the joys of kick-starting that thing. Unfortunately I never saw my old bike again.