Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Humber Bicycles of Beeston, Nottingham

Mr. Thomas Humber (born in Sheffield) was a bicycle entrepreneur who in the 1880s had an imposing bicycle factory in Beeston, Nottingham, close to where I now live. He made a huge contribution to the early development of bicycles in England, as I have shown in several other posts. Here's the factory.

Of course, you won't find it today. There's a fast-food outlet occupying part of the site.

And here is one of the company's early products - a fine safety bicycle from the 1890s. I photographed it in the wonderful Industrial Museum at Wollaton Park, Nottingham.
Here is a poster issued by the Humber company. It is believed to date from about 1895.
It demonstrates that Humber was exporting to America. I am not clear whether this lady's bicycle still has the 'spoon brake': it is hard to tell from the picture.

The advertising poster is to be seen in the Coventry Transport Museum.

Thursday, 18 June 2015

Pashley Bicycles, including some from SIXTY-FIVE Years Ago

Here are two extracts from the Pashley bicycle catalogue of SIXTY-FIVE years ago!

These tradesmen's bicycles were toughened and robust. But they had comfortable Brooks saddles. And when you bought one of those above, you got a fair amount of change out of £20. Plenty of these machines are still around today.

This one (known as Model CT1) was a little over £50.
In the years since then, the company's philosophy has hardly changed at all. I'm pleased to say it is still prospering and producing lovely but robust machines.

Here is a Pashley billboard bicycle I saw in Birmingham.
It is a fine specimen, in good condition, immediately ride-able. It does not seem to have been overworked.

I guess it's about twenty-five years old and seems to be the antecedent of the Pashley Delibike that is still being produced. The machine has hub brakes and a three-speed.
William 'Rath' Pashley formed his company in 1926. He had been a dispatch rider in the First World War and an engineering apprentice with Austin cars. He turned out bikes of all kinds but became a specialist in carrier bicycles. He bought in tubing and lugs but made all other components himself.
He supplied Wall’s Ice Cream with sales tricycles that had two wheels at the front. These machines then became popular with delivery men of several trades.

The Pashley company has made the bikes for British postal deliveries for almost 50 years. Here's the state-of-the-art Mailstar postal bike, kindly modelled by my post-lady. It can carry a heavy load front and back, it allows convenient step-through for frequent dismounting, its hub-braking is good in all weathers, and its mudguards are tough.
And here's a Pashley postal bicycle from an earlier generation. I photographed this one in the Coventry Transport Museum. You will note that it did not yet have the benefit of the heavy-duty step-through frame, hub brakes, pannier capacity and gears.
It is said that in 2009 the Royal Mail had 16000 Pashley bicycles. But then came the alarming news that the Royal Mail was likely to phase out thousands of its bicycles and replace them with vans each carrying up to three postmen. The discarded bikes would be sent for further use to the Third World (which is where ageing models have traditionally ended up. The Royal Mail has donated more than 12,000 bikes to the charity Re-Cycle since 1997. Re-Cycle sends the bikes to Ghana, Liberia, Namibia and South Africa).

Environmentalists have complained that it is folly for the Royal Mail to replace a sustainable form of transport with one causing congestion and dependent on fossil fuels.

Fortunately for the company, they also produce their famous range of classic bicycles that have become very popular with private purchasers, partly because of their ‘retro’ appeal. Bicycle buyers are reacting against the mass-produced and often-disappointing mountain bike styles and looking instead for something elegant, durable and dependable, even if that means greater expense. The relaxed, upright riding position of the Pashley is considered attractive.

But the classic Pashley bikes are not intentionally nostalgic: they are simply continuing the Pashley tradition. The most elegant of them is the Pashley Princess, with its curvaceous frame, wicker basket, sturdy mudguards and chainguard and luxurious saddle.
The classic black Roadster with five-speed hub gears and its female equivalent the Princess have brakes and the dynamo for the front headlamp built into the hubs. Most Pashleys also have a built-in lever-push lock. A quarter of these Pashleys are sold overseas, with the current weakness of the pound giving sales a boost.

I have read that all the Pashley bicycles are still hand-built by fewer than 50 people in the small factory at Stratford. The current range of bicycles uses 6000 different parts.

Tuesday, 16 June 2015

Classic Bicycles of the 1950s

The building of bicycles started as a cottage industry. In the 1880s, wheelwrights, carriage-makers and sewing-machine makers experimented with building bicycles in their  sheds or workshops behind the house. In England, this happened especially in the cities of Coventry, Birmingham, Nottingham, Wolverhampton and London. Several were so successful that they began to sell bicycles very readily and had to expand their premises and take on employees. By the 1910s, there was a trend towards mass-production and also many of these companies started making motor cars.

But always there continued to be a few craftsmen frame-builders individually producing frames and bicycles from the best materials.

During my youth in London after the Second World War, there was a boom in bicycle sales. It lasted for about 15 years. Schoolboys wanted at least a decent Raleigh or Hercules sports bicycle. Those who could afford it preferred a racing bike supplied by Gillott or Claud Butler or Macleans and hand-built from Reynolds 531 double-butted tubing by one of the frame-builders who were to become legendary among serious cyclists.

That age passed, to be superseded by the age of mass-produced mountain bikes. But I am pleased to say that the Twenty-First Century has brought a revival of interest in bicycles individually made by craftsmen. This has happened in a big way in the USA. But even here in England there is a handful of companies (such as Mercian) employing craftsmen who produce top-quality bicycles individually to order.

I started thinking recently about the many shops of my youth in London that sold those classic hand-built frames and complete bicycles. The shops were the places where schoolboys and club riders would congregate, especially at weekends. I tried to remember which were the popular makes.

Hundreds of those classic bicycles are still being regularly ridden. When a good one comes up for sale, it can fetch a high price. A lovely Hetchins Experto Credo from the 1960s recently sold for over £900.

Already the history of many of those businesses has become obscure. The companies were too busy building the bicycles to write books about themselves. And now most of the great traders and makers have passed on. So there is much we may never know.

However, the good news is that you can use this wonderful resource – the Internet – and find that quite a few people all over the world have been researching to the best of their ability and can supply you with a remarkable amount of information.

Here in the U.K. specially to be recommended is the Veteran-Cycle Club:

This organisation publishes two magazines and is constantly unearthing fresh tidbits of information.

It also provides links to other informative websites. My favourite is:

Here you can look up a large number of classic frame builders and find an article summarising what is known about them. The world is indebted to Peter Underwood and Patricia Killiard for producing this excellent site; and other contributors are a band of expert researchers such as Hilary Stone, Bryan Clarke and Steve Griffith.

Meanwhile, here is an introductory (and certainly incomplete) list of the Classic Bicycle Builders whose work would (I think) have been available to a Londoner in the 1950s:

A S Gillott [Very popular at the time. Frame builders included Jim Collier, Bill Philbrook and Ron Cooper.]

Allin [Croydon. Many frames built by Peter Cobb.]

Baines [Based in Bradford. Best known for ‘Flying Gate’ frames.]

Bates [Horace Bates, whose brother also had the E G Bates cycle firm. Machines famous for their double-curve front forks.]

Bianchi [Continental make; but available.]

Carlton [Good frames hand-built for example by Bob Keeling, in addition to mass-produced machines.]

Carpenter [North London. Fine frames made by Frank Carpenter, Johhny Vaughan and Harry Grey.]

Cinelli [Continental make; but available.]

Claud Butler [A major company in London. Renowned for early lugless machines.]

Condor [London; and still in business today.]

Dave Davey [Percy ‘Dave’ Davey was a very popular bicycle dealer in North London. His beautiful frames were built by Bill Gray and Wally Green.]

Dawes [Established in Birmingham by Charles Dawes by the 1920s. Noted for good-quality hand-built touring bicycles.]

E G Bates [Brother of Horace – had his own bicycle-building business in East London from 1947.]

Ephgrave [Les Ephgrave worked for Paris and Claud Butler before making machines under his own name. They were noted for glorious lugwork.]

Ernie Clements [A successful  racing cyclist of the 1940s who later used his racing experience to build fine frames. He became a manager with Falcon Cycles]

F A Lipscombe [Frank Lipscombe was a successful pre-war racing cyclist who later personally built very fine frames.]

Flying Scott [David Rattray, Glasgow.]

Fred Dean [originally worked in a Claud Butler shop, but from 1958 had his own cycle shop in Wandsworth, London]

Freddie Grubb [Freddie Grubb had been a great time-trial rider at the beginning of the century. He died in 1949 but his company continued for a short while.]
Freddie Grubb in 1920
on a bicycle he built himself.
Frejus [Turin; but available.]

George Brooks [North London. His frames seem to have been built by some of the best craftsmen of the day.]

Granby [This company flourished in earlier decades but built its last few frames in the 1950s.]

Harry Quinn [Liverpool. Harry, who had inherited the family cycle shop business, was noted for his steep, sprint frames.]
GB Coureur brakes (very popular at the time) on a Harry Quinn.
I photographed this bicycle at the National Cycle Museum in Llandrindod Wells.

Hercules [The Birmingham company had been a massive producer for many years but its bicycles were fairly popular with schoolboy cyclists because it produced some machines for racing teams.]
The Hercules ridden in the 1950s by the great record-breaking cyclist Eileen Sheridan. I photographed this bicycle in the National Cycle Museum, Llandrindod Wells.

Hetchins [Founded by immigrant Hyman Hetchin in the 1920s, this company produced beautifully-lugged bicycles with ‘curly’ seat stays and chain stays.]

Higgins [also famous for tricycles.]

Hobbs of Barbican [Hobbs brothers produced some luxurious frames but their business ceased during the 1950s.]

Jack Taylor [Stockton-on-Tees. Jack and his brother Norman built frames. Also well known for various kinds of tricycles and tandems.]
A Jack Taylor track bicycle of the 1950s.
Johnny Berry [Johnny Berry of Manchester built 1370 frames over 40 years, ending in about 1972.] You can read my separate article about Johnny Berry by clicking here.

Ken Ryall [Former racing cyclist sold frames from his west London shop.]

Macleans [North London. Founded in the 1920s and lasted until the 1960s. Specialised in ‘lightweights’ and building to order.]

Major Nichols [West Bromwich and Smethwick.]

Mal Rees [Cycle shop in West London. Employed Bill Perkins, Bill Hurlow and Wally Green as frame builders.]

Mercian [This Derby company was founded in 1946 and is still hand-building beautiful frames today.]

Paris / Harry Rensch [of Stoke Newington, and closely connected to Condor. The Galibier model is much prized.]

Pashley [At the time in Birmingham. Like Mercian, Pashley are still hand-building beautiful frames today. A London schoolboy in the 1950s would have been very unlikely to crave for one, however, as they would have been producing mainly delivery and tradesmen’s bicycles.]

Pat Hanlon [Pat Hanlon was a lady who started out as a wheel-builder with Macleans. Later in North London she produced a wide range of fine bicycles. Among her frame builders were Tom Board and Fred Dean.]
Here's a classic Pat Hanlon,
photographed in June 2012 and still in near-perfect condition.

I photographed this Pat Hanlon frame in the National Cycle Museum, Llandrindod Wells.
Peugeot [Continental make; but available.]

R. O. Harrison [Peckham, South London. 1930s to 1950s. Wide range of sporting frames with fine lugwork.]
This R.O. Harrison is in the Coventry Transport Museum.
Raleigh [Raleigh hand-built a few specialist bicycles for racing teams but I am not sure whether hand-built Raleighs were available to the general public. The Trent Sports and Lenton Sports were popular for touring.]

Roberts [Charles Roberts built frames for Claud Butler, Holdsworth and Freddie Grubb. Then he started his own cycle-making company in South London. It is still in business today.]

Rory O’Brien [East London. His frames were probably built by Les Ephgrave and Vic Edwards.]

Rotrax [Southampton.]

Sid Mottram [A keen cyclist, Sid had a shop in Leicester. The bicycles were built by Wally Green and later by Mercian company.]

Stallard [Percy Stallard of Wolverhampton.]

Stephen's [of Southgate, London – traded until 1956.]

Triumph [You could get a decent ‘Sports Roadster’ from this company which, though long-established, was soon to merge into BSA and then Raleigh.]

Viking [The Wolverhampton company dates from the early Twentieth Century. By the 1950s there was large-scale production, but the top-end models were very good.]

W F Holdsworth [produced such beautiful machines as the Whirlwind. Bill Hurlow and Charles Roberts were among their builders.]

Wally Green [A popular but small-scale producer. Frames made by Wally Green and Harold Peters.]

Witcomb [Ernie Witcomb of South London.]
A frame builder in his workshop: Dick Morris
Who were the great builders of the frames for the companies above?

From what I have read, it is clear that several of the builders produced frames for more than one of the above, or moved from one company to another, or produced frames under their own name. Rarely did anybody bother to record the date on which such moves were made. So the best I can offer is as follows.

Bill Gray [worked for Claud Butler and Dave Davey.]
Master craftsman Bill Gray. I like to think he built
the frame of my 1966 Claud Butler Torino.
Bill Hurlow (a long career through the ‘classical’ period, working for F H Grubb and Holdsworth and being specially inventive for Condor.)

Bill Philbrook

Bill Rann

Charles Roberts

Fred Dean [Correspondent Terry Saxby kindly let me know that Fred Dean had a shop of his own for about a decade beginning in 1958. It was in York Road, Wandsworth. Not much is known about Fred. Although his shop sold beautiful 'Fred Dean' bicycles that Fred designed, it seems they may actually have been built by Bill Gray.]

Fred Tarsley [for Macleans.]

Harold Peters

H. R. 'Dick' Morris [Morris worked briefly for Bates in the 1930s, but mainly for other manufacturers and as self-employed]
Morris exhibiting some of his workmanship
Jim Collier

John Marriot [for Macleans.]

Les Ephgrave

Pat Skeates

Percy Stallard

Ron Cooper (worked mainly for Gillott but later had a bicycle shop of his own.) Ron Cooper died on 12 December 2012; and a substantial obituary appeared in The Times of 22 December 2012.

Tom Board

Vic Edwards

Wally Green
A typical craftsman-built bicycle of the 1950s.

Monday, 15 June 2015

Budget Bicycles

People sometimes ask me how much their bicycles are worth, or how much they should expect to pay for a particular used model.

The wisest reply I can give is that no bicycle (or any other artefact) is worth more than the most that someone, somewhere, is prepared to pay for it.

Often, that is a good deal less (or more) than you may expect.

I love and treasure my own 1966 Claud Butler Torino classic bicycle but I think I would be lucky to get more than £50 for it if I put it up for auction.
To give you some idea of how much it costs at present to obtain a second-hand bicycle, I have been analysing some sales.

An old Raleigh Estelle sold for just £7. All its parts were still present and functioning, though it needed replacement tyres. But what a bargain!

Also in the ‘amazing bargain’ category, a Raleigh Mustang mountain bike, in reasonable condition and with 18 Shimano gears and good tyres, went for just £6.

A lady's sporty 12-speed Claud Butler went for just £9. There was some wear and tear but it still looked a decent bike, with an elegant lugged frame.

An Apollo ‘Gradient’, with chunky tyres and including a combination lock, fetched £12. It was a little rusty in places.

One of those Raleigh shopper bikes, with 20-inch wheels, luggage rack, 3 gears and prop stand, went for just £16 (that’s 26 US dollars). It was built in 1980 but was still working well in all departments, though obviously there was a little rust beginning to appear. I thought that was a great purchase.

A well-used Saracen ‘Tufftrax’ mountain bike from the 1980s was sold for £20. It had 18 gears (Shimano Deore).

Also sold for £20 was a good-looking 3-speed Marlboro lady’s shopping bicycle with pannier rack and chainguard. The bicycle was basically shiny, though there were just a few hints of rust – mainly on the mudguards. It had been fitted recently with a new saddle and Schwalbe tyres. I would say that was a bargain.

A 1960s 10-speed Claud Butler – its condition a little worse than that of my own 1966 Claud Butler Torino – went for only £35.

Also sold for £35 was a 45-year-old BSA Wayfarer. It looked a sturdy machine, even if a little rusty, and – surprisingly – its hub-powered dynamo lights were still working.

Similarly in the category of upright shopping bicycles (mainly for ladies), there were some good bargains. One was a Raleigh Wayfarer (presumably the BSA above was virtually the same model) – possibly as much as 50 years old and showing a bit of rust. But, with a chainguard and everything in working order,  it was still a decent shopping bicycle for a lady. It attracted seven bids and sold for only £21.

An old, Curry’s upright town lady’s shopping bike, with chainguard and hub gears, went for £25.

A lady’s Raleigh Monterey (mountain-bike-style) was sold for just £30. It had 18 Shimano gears. There was some corrosion to the wheels.

An elderly Dawes Kingpin (small wheel shopping bike) went for £45. Though showing its age, it was still fully equipped, including luggage rack, and the 3-speed and brakes were working well.

Another lady’s town bicycle was also sold for £45. I thought this buyer did very well because this Hercules ‘Balmoral’ machine was in full working order and had Sturmey Archer gears, mudguards, chainguard, pannier rack and good tyres and saddle. Apart from a few scratches, it looked great for its age.

A more sporty-looking Raleigh lady’s bicycle (though with straight handlebars) went for £36 (that’s 58 US dollars or 43 euros). In good condition, it was mountain-bike influenced  in design, with five gears, no mudguards and chunky tyres.

A Hercules Hybrid / Tourer seemed a terrific bargain at £28. With 12 gears, upright handlebars and a chainguard, it looked clean and in good condition throughout.

A lady’s Claud Butler Legend, looking smart and with 21 Shimano gears, went for a mere £32.

A very sporty Eddy Merckx road bicycle, with ten gears and in good working order despite its thirty years of age, struck me as great value at £27. It had been kept clean and bright.

A Universal Sierra Nevada 'mountain bike', with 18 Shimano gears, went for just £42. It appeared to be fairly new and hardly used.

And a 10-speed Raleigh ‘Medale’ from 1984, complete with lock, mudguards, pannier rack and computer, fetched only £46.

A lovely 5-speed Raleigh Pioneer (a bicycle I like very much – it is fine for commuting or touring) was sold for £42.

All of this suggests that if you want to buy a cheap second-hand bicycle as a back-up machine for short local rides, such as shopping, or even perhaps for some light touring, you should be able to find a good, solid, working bicycle for under £50 (about 78 US dollars or 70 euros). You should be prepared to lay out a few more pounds after buying it – maybe for a new chain and tyres and a service.

Friday, 12 June 2015

Bicycle Touring In New Zealand

In 2012, I spent three weeks in New Zealand. Here are my impressions of how cycling is flourishing in that beautiful country. 

New Zealanders are rightly noted for their fitness and for their appreciation of the outdoor life. In the towns, hundreds of people regularly use bicycles for shopping or going to work or just for pleasure and exercise. They take their bicycles very seriously, tending to purchase expensive, well-equipped lightweight machines.

When it comes to touring, journeys are spectacular, amidst some of the most wonderful scenery anywhere on earth. But pedalling can be long and lonely over the relatively empty roads. In some areas - for example on the eastern side of the South Island - the terrain is fairly flat and many roads are straight. But elsewhere the going can be hard, especially in very hot weather.
So I did not see many long-distance cycling tourists. My estimate is that - on the open roads between towns - on average four touring cyclists appear per hour.
The touring bicycles are mostly equipped like this one that I spotted in Dunedin.

Some cycling groups use motorised assistance, as here.
I met these two gentlemen having their al fresco lunch beside the River Haast. Their exploits greatly impressed me.
They were from Poland and their bicycles, they said, were made in the Czech Republic. They were on a camping tour that would take ten days. At this moment, they had just crossed the bridge and still had 70 miles of undulating and winding road to go in order to reach Fox Glacier, their intended destination for that night.

As you can see, they were extremely well equipped.
Bridge over the River Haast.