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Vol. 1, Issue 11

Posted: Thursday 18th June 2020

Author: Peter Underwood

Some weeks ago I was given a machine by a friend, Ted from Cambridge CC, who was afraid that it would rot away in his shed if it stayed there any longer. It was built for his wife in 1951, the year after they were married. It had a 21½” Mal Rees frame which is too small for me and too big for Patricia. However I sort of fell for the frame as it was very nicely built and looked a true classic but the paintwork – which was not original – was in a sorry state. For some time now I had thought about trying to renovate a frame myself by brush painting as I know one or two owners who have done this with varying degrees of success. I already had the correct transfers for it from Nick Tithecott, that is the autograph ‘Mal Rees’ down tube and the ‘Ahead of Time’ head and seat tube badges. One day I decided to take the plunge and took the frame to a shotblaster (I hated the thought of all the hard work involved in stripping the paint) and so I happily paid my dues of £15.

Two hours later I had a call to say that it was ready to collect – so no turning back now. I had intended to look around for some Japlac enamel which had been recommended for the painting of a frame. But, with the frame being done so quickly I had to get a coating on it fast and I remembered that Mervyn Cook (Hobbs Marque Enthusiast) had told me that he had used smooth Hammerite to good effect on some of his restorations. I found that I could not locate any Japlac but I managed to find some of the smooth Hammerite at MacKays, just up the road from here. I thought, that as I had always wanted a grey and white frame I would buy a tin of white and one of black so as to be able to mix my own grey and use the white for the head tube. I could also use the remains to restore another frame in white, black or another shade of grey should occasion arise – what’s known in the art world as a limited palette! Very respected it is too I’ll have you know.

As soon as I had the paint mixed and the frame suspended ready to start painting the sun came bursting out and the temperature rose to about 32+ degrees which made the paint rather tacky. The instructions said that it could be re-coated in more than one hour but not more than eight hours. I got the first coat on which was quite satisfying as no primer is needed and Hammerite covers very well, so straight away the frame was looking quite good. I left it about three hours and then added a second coat thinking that I would then leave it for about 24 hours, rub down and do two more coats.

In the meantime I spoke to a friend about something else and mentioned what I was doing. ‘You have to leave the frame for five weeks’, he said – and this to the most impatient member of the V-CC! I also spoke to Mervyn who said it should be left for three months and then burnished. I left it for about a week in the shed which was rather like a paint oven at the time with outside temperature of 30 – 35 degrees and the sun shining through the window most of the day. I then lightly flatted the paint with some dry ‘Carat’ finishing paper made by ‘Mirka’ of Finland – the grade was P 280 so I guess they use a different grading to us.

I then tried thinning the paint for the next two coats to come. I really thought that it was too thin but just as I started the job the temperature shot up as the sun came out again. The paint still seemed to drag a bit but I got the coats on. In some places it looked really good but in some others some brush marks showed which I put down to the heat. I hope to burnish these out when the paint has cured. One lesson learned was how critical lighting is for a project such as this – especially as one has to approach the job from so many angles.

I wonder if I should have fitted a seat pillar to the frame and locked it into a repair stand so as to be able to rotate the frame in several directions at will. I did do the head tube in white but what a job! The lugs are quite curly (Legere – I do not know which version as I don’t have illustrations for 1950/51 – I do for 1958 but these do not quite match any on that sheet). It was a real struggle to get in all the corners and even more to do the edge surfaces which of course are right angles to the frame and have to be consistent. It suddenly dawned on me why so many lugs are lined!!! I think the moral is to do the head tube first. I did buy a very fine (No. 1) brush from an art shop and had a go at some lug lining around the bottom bracket.

Luckily I had some thinners and was able to remove the resulting mess it before it dried, I don’t think I’ll give up the day job yet. It is a shame as the head tube looks quite striking against the dark grey frame and if the remaining lugs were outlined in white it would finish off the decorative effect. I am pleased not to have lost the edge definition of the lugs using this paint as I have seen some frames painted so thickly that this effect is lost. Patricia’s Gillott was like that when we got it. I have since spoken to Ken Jaynes who tells me that a ‘Rigger’ brush is the one to use for lining so watch this space.

I have taken the frame to our garage/bike store and suspended it up so high that I need a ladder to get to it so I will try to let it cure – five weeks though? – I can’t see it myself.

I spoke to Ted, the original owner of the frame who told me that he had seen the frame built in the rear of the shop in Coldharbour Lane by Bill Perkins: this was before they got the frames made by an outside builder. Apparently Bill Perkins used to put a ‘doubler’ in the chainstays of some of the frames he built for Mal Rees – this can be checked by looking in the BB. Ted did not think that his wife’s frame had any and I can see no trace of them. He had a Mal Rees built for himself the year before (1950) and this had the doublers – sadly this frame is no more. Bill Perkins rode in the Cleaver Road Club and was a member of their BAR competition team, presumably in the early fifties.

I now have some information on Mal Rees from Peter Stray the Marque Enthusiast. It is funny how one thing leads to another in the collecting world, as I had never really rated Mal Rees as of any interest until now. I have some late fifties and early sixties copies of Coureur Sporting Cyclist and there are several reports and articles written by Mal Rees himself which are very readable, also several adverts adorned with cartoons depicting mythical hazardous conditions with a rider escaping from the scene on his Mal Rees bike. Later on the frames were built for Mal Rees by Bill Hurlow and a recent N & V (296 p.81) has shown examples of his lugwork on a model called the Rameles (anagram!). These lugs are different to mine.

We have just had a weekend cycling in Helsinki and can thoroughly recommend it if you find yourself in the area. We were there as Patricia attended a conference at the University and I flew out on the Friday to join her. There are cycle paths everywhere and like most of Europe the cyclists get priority at junctions. Helsinki is on a complex of beautiful harbours and the area round the city comprises harbours, islands, lakes and large wooded areas. We hired bikes and followed a prescribed route on day one which followed the coast very closely and went from island to island via bridges.

On the following day we went on a cycle path around a large lake surrounded by a wooded nature reserve and then rejoined the coastal route on the other side of Helsinki. On each of the days we also spent some time cycling round the city and it confirmed my view that this by far the best way to explore as one can cover more ground and also remain much fresher.

The following weekend we did the Ephgrave ride – how I wish I rode 21” to 22” frames as they always look so beautifully proportioned and there were several on the ride. I had noticed that there was not much chrome on display and Dudley Cheal explained to me that Les Ephgrave actively discouraged it for some reason. It was another of those super days when all the ingredients fall in together to give an enjoyable day out, weather, company, organisation and the catering at the lunch stop. Riders attended from the South coast right up to Yorkshire which probably accounts for the quality of the machines being ridden.

Most of them were Ephgrave as you would expect but there were one or two other classic makes as well including a Macleans Apollo with the rather ‘Baroque’ looking lugs which made a change from all the varieties of ‘curly’ on show. I rode my 1953 Ephgrave No. 1 road frame and Patricia took her Bates fitted with sprints. This ride is quite demanding as there are a few respectable hills, as those choosing to ride fixed soon found out, although I have done it a couple of times on my fixed Ephgrave (64”) using the earlier route which I think was slightly hillier than this one.

Our next ride was the Rotrax ride in the New Forest, about 16 riders and I think about six were on Rotrax. This is always a great ride with genuine lightweight enthusiasts and a wealth of knowledge amongst them. Mervyn Cook and Tony Beckett were the joint organisers: Mervyn on his Rotrax and Tony on a Kingston, which is Rotrax throughout except for the badge and transfers. The lunch stop was at a pub, deep in the Forest, and on show to the riders was a beautifully restored Rotrax track machine which had been ridden in 1947 to take the UK unpaced 1-hour track record by Charlie Mariner at Herne Hill. This record had stood since June 1926. This Rotrax was close clearance with sprints and had a Major Taylor stem which had been shortened to the optimum length and then plugged at the end with wood.

The bars were Baileys, Chater chainset with ½” chain, Fiamme sprint rims on Airlite LF hubs with 15/17 spoked tied and soldered. Although well over 50 years old it has a classic beautiful simplicity which looked as if it could be used today for the ‘Athletes Hour’ record. Mariner took the record with 26+ miles. It is said that the machine was used for this one event and then hung in the shop window as advertising. Neither Patricia nor I have a Rotrax so we each took a Hobbs (his [Racelight]and hers [Superbe]) as Mervyn is the Marque Enthusiast and he had not seen ours on the road. Hampshire section rides are always a treat for us as they are all lightweight enthusiasts.

September was a busy month for us as we next went to the Suffolk Trudge which catered for a varied selection of machines from Ordinaries to lightweights. About 30 machines out and another good days riding. A Flying Scot and a Paris Galibier caught my eye.

When I fix Patricia’s machines up I try to get a fairly uniform selection of gearing based on a low gear with which she feels confident for the hills we encounter on some V-CC rides. If you have ever done the ‘Mad and Foolish’ you will know what I mean! The Gillott and Bates have 5 and 4 speed Simplex gears between 45.5 and 78. Her Hobbs has a Sturmey Archer AM with 42 x 18 which gives 52.5 to 70.1 and the Hetchins has a FM hub gear on 44 x 18 giving gears from 42.4 to72.4. As you can see the Hobbs is rather higher at the bottom end but she would not fancy a top much lower than the 70.1 really.

I know that she is a twiddler compared with me but there is a limit. As a matter of interest one of her modern machines (wash my mouth out with carbolic at once!) has 27 gears between 24” and 99”. Believe me she has used them all on the Italian mountains some of which are used for the Giro d’Italia stages.

Image of the ‘Jug Handle’
Image of the ‘Jug Handle’

Here is an image of the ‘Jug Handle’ which was ridden on Patricia’s ride by Jun Sato from Tokyo. The frame, an Imperial Petrel was made by Joe Cooke who had a company based in Birmingham pre and post-war. As the image shows the frame has strengthening tubes at the head and rear end, hence Jug Handle. This frame is pre-war, possibly about 1938. Jun has a small collection of pre-war British machines, all with correct period parts, which he rides with a club in Tokyo where all the members ride similar machines from the UK.

I realise that CLN is becoming rather like one of those notorious Christmas letters which drone on and on about how great the kids are at school, details of all their pets’ endearing little habits, and what a wonderful life they are all having. The reason for this is that, much to my surprise, I have not bought a bike or frame this year. I seem to spend a reasonable time doing little upgrades but no headline grabbing jobs. Perhaps the answer (apart from buying more bikes) is for readers to send in some items which would be of interest to our highly selective band of lightweight enthusiasts.

Does anyone know the spoke lengths for 26” Dunlop Lighteight HPs on LF hubs, also 26” Conloy HPs on large flange hubs both 32/40 and fronts 3x, rears 4x? More to the point I suppose, where can we get SS 15/17 guage spokes to build the wheels. Preferably not the modern ones which are 14/17. This paragraph reads like a wartime enigma message!

Thanks for reading

Posted: Thursday 18th June 2020

Author: Peter Underwood

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