Thursday, 30 October 2014

Raleigh Cross-Frame

In the early 1890s, Raleigh employed G. P. Mills as their designer. Even though the strong diamond frame (with full rear triangle) had become conventional, Mills thought two crossed tubes (replacing the single top tube) would make the frame stronger still. So by 1896 Raleigh introduced what it called the 'X' frame.
The Raleigh X Frame in 1899.
Raleigh Cross-Frames continued to be made right up to 1936. Apparently they were very popular in the 1920s. Probably it is because they were so robust that so many still exist today. You may even get to see one in the village if you're lucky.

The last one pictured above is believed to have been built in 1934.

Saturday, 25 October 2014

Fisherman's Bicycle in Montenegro

There I was, on a touring holiday in Montenegro, when I came across this bicycle parked in a layby.
It was next to the beautiful inland sea or fiord at Denovici and it belonged to the fisherman whom you can just see through the frame.
There he is. What a setting for a spot of fishing!

Sunday, 19 October 2014

Cycling on Disused Railway Tracks

I grew up in an era when this was my local railway station. These sights gave me pleasure.
However, here's how that same station looks today.
Of course I feel nostalgia when I think of those trains, and I feel sadness when I contemplate the thousands of man-hours that were spent on the great engineering that produced the railway lines.

But they will not return.
In our leisure as walkers and cyclists, we must at least be thankful for the providence that has bequeathed some easy, peaceful nature trails for pleasant recreation.
The Avenue Verte in France where at its northern end a bit of track has been preserved as a record of its origins.
The Tissington Trail - featuring my brother on tour.

The famous Monsal Viaduct over which my brother and I cycled.

My brother passing through a former station in Derbyshire.

Me on a former railway track near my home in Nottingham.

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Mercian of Derby

Let me start with a 2014 project.

I received these details from an enthusiastic owner of various vintage bicycles. Early in 2014, he acquired a 1981 Mercian Vincitore frame, complete with a 'Renovated by Mercian' sticker. Then he set about collecting components, putting the bicycle together just as he wanted (for example, with bar-end levers):
He obtained the parts from various sources, including a cycle jumble sale. The bottom bracket proved to have an Italian thread and all he could find to fit it was a Campagnolo double chainset, larger than ideal (52/42), and he therefore had to match it with a huge 34-cog in the 6-speed block.
The bicycle now has lovely Campagnolo Record/Mavic wheels, wide Cinelli bars, Suntour bar-end levers, a Huret rear mechanism to cope with the big cog, a 1980s Campagnolo front mechanism, a B17 saddle, Campagnolo brake levers, and new (old stock) Alisa brakes.
What a beauty! The Mercian will be used for some serious touring.

Here's another fine Mercian, belonging to the same owner.

There are very few companies left in England where craftsmen hand-build bicycles to order, one at a time, from the finest materials.

Seventy years ago, there were plenty of them.

Mercian (in Derby) has been building lovely bicycles since 1946 and is remarkable in that it is still doing to today. If you are interested, have a look at its website. The company's traditions have been very closely maintained over the decades.

I find it interesting to look at back catalogues. Here, from Mercian's 1958 catalogue is how it advertised its Vigorelli of that year:

The steep-angled frame, using the best Reynolds, Stronglight, Bayliss Wiley and Campagnolo components, weighed less than 17lbs and - coincidentally - also at the time cost less that £17 sterling.

Here's what the brochure told us about the lugs:
Rigidity, lightness and prettiness were all to be admired.

Here's a complete bicycle from the same year - the 'Campionissimo' - intended for club riding.
You could buy the bicycle, with 10-speed, for about £30. It's interesting to note the prevalence at the time of John Bull tyres, Simplex or Benelux gears, and Apex mudguards.

Roy, leader of the Keyworth U3A Cycling Group, came across these price lists while rummaging through his old papers. He bought a Mercian bicycle long ago and no doubt these lists related to some work he had done.

They offer an interesting little insight into cycling history.

The Frame Repair Price List (above) is dated June 1975. Amazing to think that 39 years ago you could have a new down tube fitted for just £6! The same job today is about £70.

And here is Mercian's 1975 Renovation Price List.

A complete frame and forks would be stove enamelled for £6. Today the job costs about £70.

Also surprising, though, is how little the services offered have changed. You can find most of them in modern Mercian price lists, still in much the same order. This company respects tradition!

Yes, I'm pleased to say Mercian Cycles (founded in 1946) still exists - these days with its showroom in Alvaston on the south-eastern edge of Derby. As I said, the company is one of the few still building in England lovely hand-made frames and complete bikes to order. It offers, I believe, 631 or 725 or 853 tubing.

Here's the shop - inside and out.