Vol. 1, Issue 19
Posted: Thursday 18th June 2020
On 5th September Cambridge Section held its second lightweight ride of 2004. 17 riders turned out on another hot and sunny ride which took in the area around Newmarket and we had several of the 50s classics such as Baines, Bates, Claud Butler, Ephgrave, Gillott, Hetchins and Paris plus some slightly newer machines. Early the next morning Patricia and I headed off for Bavaria to do some mountain biking in the Alps and got back just in time for Terry Blake’s Ephgrave Ride where I rode my Simplex geared Ephgrave No.1 road machine rather than the similar road/path which is on fixed. I know from experience that Terry’s ambition is to dispel the myth that all of East Anglia is flat so I went for gears and used all of them. Patricia rode her Flying Scot as she had no time to road-test the Gillott L’Atlantique.
This is now complete with Chater cranks, Boa pedals (what else would she have!), a Simplex 4-speed Tour de France gear and Fiamme sprints on Airlite LF hubs. Also a pair of Capo Berta style bars on GB alloy stem with GB Hiduminium brakes. She has just discovered that she is a fan of the Brooks Swallow saddle so if anyone has a broken-in 50s one lying unused in the shed she would be pleased to buy it. I find that cyclists either love or hate the Swallow: now we are both in the first category.
After our September ‘Cantab’ event several riders came back to Kingston Street, partly to re-hydrate after a hot 40 mile undulating ride, and partly to check out our collection of components and lightweights. At one stage, in the garden, I got out a large plastic storage box which was full of 50s hubs and they were examined and discussed one by one, with Mick Madgett able to show the knowledge gained after a lifetime spent in the trade (third generation).
According to Patricia it looked just like a group of kindergarten children rummaging in a play box! We then went round to the garage where most of our lightweights are stored and spent some time analysing and testing them. Peter Beavan is planning to replace the wheels in his 1950 Paris Galibier so he was able to try out several wheels with various hub/rim combinations to see which looked best. Universal consensus was that it was the 27” Conloys on Hardens – I almost expected them to get a round of applause. However Peter still fancies some red Airlites to complement the colour job on the Galibier.
One of the reasons that we went through this wheel routine was that Peter felt that his Paris looked a bit ‘gappy’. I knew just what he meant and recalled that I have had this same conversation with other ‘classic’ owners. I have always fancied a 50s track machine with very close clearance on sprints but keep seeing frames built to take 27” HPs as well as mudguards. When they have sprints fitted they have this look which we call ‘gappy’. On a recent ride I was chatting to someone about this and he pointed out that this was not a problem with earlier machines as they were built for 26” wheels and guards plus sprints (700cc) when racing. Obviously the extra diameter of the sprints filled the gap left by the guards. When 27s came to the fore frames were still built to the same format but now the sprints were smaller than the HPs. I think everyone knows that in the 50s a frame was often used for all jobs, as a tourer/trainer with HPs plus guards and then stripped down for racing with sprints.
It was common for cyclists to ride many miles to a time trial with a pair of sprints on ‘sprint wheel carriers’ and arriving near the start (usually about 6am!) to change wheels for the race and then changing back to the HPs afterwards. By then it was about 8 – 9am and we would set off straight away on a club run complete with the spare wheels. We thought nothing of doing 70 – 80 miles like this, an old toestrap between each wheel and the bars helped to make the set-up rigid enough to do so. I guess you know that in the 50’s 700 wheels were sometimes known and sold as ‘Continental 27s’.
Pre- and just post-war there were also 26” sprints available. I only have one odd wheel of this size, a wood-rimmed sprint on a Baylis Wiley LF hub. It is very hard to get tubs for these although it is possible to stretch a modern 650 if you are hard enough! Think Charles Atlas with his chest expanders – that should do the trick. The modern tubs are really too narrow for the older rims, which are quite wide. There were a pair of alloy 26” sprint rims at Mildenhall which I should have bought for one of Patricia’s machines but they were rather pricey. A pair of Barelli pedals were also on offer there but they too were a bit over the top, especially as they are more modern than our collecting policy dictates so would just have been just for local interest (they were made in a village outside Cambridge by one of our club members). The endless discussion on these pedals in N & V had bumped up the price in the mind of the seller – thanks to my old mate Geoff for this. He’s all right as he has a mint pair.
At the end of September we went to Kent for a group ride for lightweights organised by Graham Brice who has the most amazing collection of classic racing machines any of us had seen. His real delight is in Italian bikes and he was very pleased when Bryan (Clarke) turned up with a Bianchi Paris-Roubaix complete with the much coveted Campagnolo Paris-Roubaix gear. Here are two images, one of the complete machine and the other of the gear mechanism. For those who are not familiar with the gear it works as follows: the top of rear drop-outs are notched and these coincide with notches on the axle. There is no chain tensioner at all – as the gear is changed the wheels walks backwards and forwards to keep the chain relatively tight.
How on earth does this work I hear you say. As you can see, a rod goes up alongside the chainstay and has a lever at the top, not unlike a QR lever – which is appropriate as it happens. The gear is changed as follows – pay attention as I will only say this once – first take a tranquilliser or a double shot of whisky. Next make sure there is no one in front, or even worse, watching from behind. Reach down to move the lever on its first part of travel which will then release the tension holding the wheel in the frame. The next part of the lever travel moves the gear selection fork which can be seen astride the top of the chain. Now pedal backwards (because the striker is on the top of the upper chain) whilst moving the lever to select a higher or lower gear.
If you select a lower gear then the wheel will have to ‘walk’ forward along the notches to accommodate the larger sprocket. When this is done move the lever back to its original position to lock the wheel. Breathe a sigh of relief and start pedalling in earnest again. For a higher gear, that is to a smaller sprocket, the wheel will have to ‘walk’ backwards to take up the slack. Questions will be asked about this when we next meet so you had better make sure you’ve fully grasped it.
You may have already guessed that I am an armchair expert as I have never ridden one of these gears but I suppose that goes for 99.9% of us. The Paris-Roubaix gear was introduced in 1950. It superseded the even more complicated Cambio Corsa which had been available since 1946. This gear worked on exactly the same principle as the P-R but had separate levers to release the hub and execute the change. I think I am right in saying that a third version of the gear was produced where the striker operated on the lower chain and so obviated the need to pedal backwards whilst changing.
These gears were really doomed from an early point as the Simplex Tour de France, Campag Gran Sport and the English Benelux were all at a development stage immediately after WW2, as well as the Osgear. This of course is why the P-R and C C are so rare and represent the pinnacle of exclusivity amongst lightweight collectors. Stop Press: Graham Bryce has just acquired a Bianchi with P-R but wouldn’t you just know it! The only thing that his machine lacked was a period spoke protector to add a finishing touch so I was pleased that I had one to spare.
“1951/2 Bianchis were imported exclusively by Matt Newton of Middlesborough in two sizes – 57cm and 59cm C/T. As the top of the seat tube is around 2cm above the top tube, they are really 55 and 57cm respectively – hence I can ride the larger frame with a decent amount of seat pin showing. The seat pin is only 25mm diameter because there is a collar welded into the top for extra strength. One could buy it as frame only or a complete bike, either way it came with the classic Bianchi chainset which mine doesn’t have yet. At present it has a Magistroni Chainset with Magistroni rings made under licence from TA. By 1954 the ‘Paris-Roubaix’ model sported Gran Sport gears and a single chain ring being sold as the slightly cheaper ‘Campione del Mondo’.”
For well over a year I have said that with just two more frames I could call my collection complete – honestly! So for ages I have kept an eye open for a 24” Bates plus a 24” BLRC style machine, I fancied equipping the Bates as a NCU time trial machine and the other as a BLRC massed start iron. Several times I have seen almost what I want, but never quite the right size. Well, as eagle-eyed readers of N & V 303 will have noticed there was just such a Bates for sale, not only that, a Percy Stallard frame as well – you can’t get more “League” than that.
I contacted the owner of the Bates and found that it had a rather unusual paint job in that the frame is red whilst the forks and stays are yellow. Although it has been restored the paintwork is a replica of the original. Rather unusual but I thought I would give it a go (Patricia has a Hetchins Swallow with a more sophisticated version of this theme – it is the original paint job done when the machine was new). The Bates is a 1951 Vegrandis and I plan to set it up on fixed as a 50s time trial machine, I have a pair of Conloy on Hardens looking neglected on the wall and a Chater chainset and pedals which is a good start but I was surprised to find that I didn’t have an eighth Chater chainring either 46 or 48.
The Stallard has Osgear ends which is good luck as I plan to build it with Osgear as a ‘League’ racer. The trouble is that I also have a Paris Tour de France done in the same style so I have already used up my stock of double bottle cages, etc.
The Cambridge Lightweight News Airmiles Competition is hotting up now as there is a challenger for Jun Sato. As you may know Jun has flown twice to Cambridge from Tokyo to ride in Patricia’s Picnics, 2003/4. We have just had a visit from Martyn Hanczyc who flew here from Cambridge, Massachusetts, so he is in a strong second place. He has both R O Harrison and Macleans machines and was interested in comparing his to ours by taking them for a short ride. The ROH Madison track machine looked as if it was made for him as he is quite tall and it had a high bottom bracket. His was on a flying visit so we did an early morning 2-hour tour of Cambridge on bikes in the time left before his flight back to the U. S. I doubt if anyone has ever seen so much of the city in so short a time.
The next day I had a visitor who came for spoke length advice! We got round to talking about stems. I was measuring some of the Hiduminium alloy GB Spearpoints we have fitted to various machines when I realised that some will only measure in inches whilst others measure in centimetres. I also noticed that the shorter equivalent to the spearpoint on the underside of the stem is of two different lengths. I had never spotted this before so I guess that at some stage the stem was altered slightly to metric and the lower strengthener changed as well. When the bad weather comes and I have nothing better to do I will try to get to the bottom of it. We recently acquired such a stem with a cable adjuster fitted in order to pass a cable through the stem to a centre-pull brake, another first.
Whilst on the subject of GB, I have been looking at an advert in ‘Cycling’ dated November 1951. It lists the GB Superhood (not Superhood Plus – 1957) along with the GB standard Hiduminium and Coureur (introduced 1949) stirrups. The other brakes listed are the Grandtour (1949) brakeset where the actual levers arc outwards rather than follow the curve of dropped bars. I mention this because for a long time I felt that the Superhood was introduced at a later date and had been reluctant to fit them to an early 50s machine in case I had a midnight visit from the style police.
I am trying to broaden the scope of C L N, details of Bryan’s Bianchi are the sort of thing I would like to do. If you have an interesting or unusual lightweight, or even an interesting component, I would like an image plus some text to go in a future edition.