Monthly Archives: January 2012

Plumber´s nightmare, planned economy version

Imagine this: A bicycle factory in a country which is bankrupt, but doesn´t care to admit it. The only aim is to save more and more metal, to produce cheaper and cheaper, (cf. the official history of the Kharkov Bicycle Works: Kanevski, Privalov, A Pioneer of Soviet Bicycle Construction, Kharkov 1990), because customers have to buy what you build, whatever the quality – there are no imports and there is also no competition inside the country, at least on the level of the citizen without access to special services and shops.

What will happen? Quality will drop into a bottomless abyss, no modern components will be used, manuals and official publications will keep a certain oldworldly charm, like the manual for my 1979 KhVZ Start-Chaussee.

If you look at what pros or people with money/good relations rode, you´ll find info right on the cover of 1930s stalwart Aleksey Kupriyanov´s autobiography, Cyclesport, My Life:

Italian bikes.

Your wo/man in the street would cart his/her family about on what was called the fatherland´s quality (“otechestvennoye kachestvo”), meant completely non-ironic. (Arkhipov/Sedov, Cycle Sport)

Indeed, people who wrote/censored books seemed to think one might actually enjoy riding the fatherland´s products (Polishchuk, A little walk – on the bike).

In November 1994 I found this bike, complete with everything, Soviet sew-ups included, even a little pot of shellac came with it. All the components bear the brand XB3, which is short for Kharkov Bicycle Factory, Kharkovskiy Velosipedniy Zavod. Kharkov is a major city in the Ukraine. On the seattube you find a large 1980 Olympics logo. It says “1979g” on one rear dropout, meaning “1979 y(ear)”, so that´s one thing not to be disputed.

What can you say? Looking at this bike you´re just overpowered by the sheer lack of sophistication, by the complete absence of any refinement, by everything, really. You will find that the bottom bracket axle is about one half of a millimeter less in outer dia than the cranks´ inner, for instance. You will find that it is not possible to true the wheels because the rims are just too horrible. See for yourself:

The phrase “time capsule” can sound like a threat, can´t it?

At the beginning

In my family back in the sixties and seventies bikes just didn´t figure. We lived rurally, it was more than 10 miles/15km one way to my school, and you either had a car or waited to get one. A moped was the first step into motorization, and I had a candy apple red Puch Maxi as soon as I was 15.


In the mid-eighties I worked in the UK. I had attended university in a town where people used cycles a lot, so had become acquainted with utility cycling, and had been struck by the simplicitiy and effectivity of self propelled transport. Now in the UK I saw the tradition and culture of club cycling on made to measure machines. At 6`6″ it is not easy to find a suitable bicycle off the peg, so learning about those was a real eye opener experience. Problem was the money, but I had set my mind on a handmade British tourer ever since I had nicked this

from the common room of a Lakes Youth Hostel. I was impressed to say the least.

Back in Germany the first thing I did was buy an off the peg, 531 touring bike, the 1985 Revell Romany (pic in the Work in Progress post) I still have. It has since served as the apple of my eye, a town bike, a randonneur and a spare bike and has always given stalwart service.

After two years I thought it would be a good idea to have a real made to measure loaded tourer. I got a job and saved up for one, buying parts whenever I could afford them or when used ones would be available. The front light for example came off a fleamarket and cost 50 Pfennigs. Then I started to shopp around with several British framebuilders – there weren´t any in Germany that were suitable; Rickert in Dortmund made racing frames, Mittendorf charged US prices.

I received leaflets from all sorts of people, among them Jack Taylor, who sent one printed on very thin paper showing line drawings of bikes kitted out with fifties equipment. I thought someone was pulling my leg. I was not very experienced then and had failed to look deep enough into things. Little did I know about open hearth brazing and glitzy leaflets vs. the experience of a lifetime. OTOH, I was 25 then and had grown up in an environment about as bike friendly as the Sahara.

I settled for a Mercian Vincitore Special at 66cm frame height. I ordered it by letter, real snailmail, Dear Sir or Madam, written on a typewriter, and received it in a huge package (the first of many to come in later years) for which I had to pay import duty, unimaginable today with both the UK and Germany being parts of the EU.

I was smitten with the quality of the paintwork, the well prepared threads, the fact that the Blackburn Low Rider fitted perfectly onto the front fork, no bending or filing as had been the case on so many lesser bikes I had started to earn some money with by repairing.

In a vintage cycle post it might be interesting to know that bits like tires, rims, brake blocks and so on have been changed, but that the rest is still original excepting the crankset which has only been on the bike for about 15 years replacing a cheap Shimano mountain bike set.

Where did I go on the Mercian? England, of course, Hungary, Austria, Holland, Belgium and France come to mind instantly. I kept it in my small room in a students´ hall of residence and in my first flat. My then girlfriend must have been very tolerant, or in love, or both, as the flat was very small. The bike made me feel great until the year before last when I rode it in a vintage bike event – I suddenly felt rather old, but have forgiven the Mercian since.

Xbb Xcrank Xcrown Xdyn Xdynbracket

The dynmo bracket specially made to order.Xfrontbk Xfronthub Xftcarrier Xheadsetnut

Tange made a special series of headsets for Mercian. This is the headset nut taken from above.Xheadtransf Xlwrheadlug Xrearbkbridge Xreardo Xreynfork XReynseatt Xrim Xseatcl Xseatpin Xshiftlev XyellowheadlampA yellow bulb to go with the French parts.

Stolen Fame

Here´s another bike from Shipley, a nice 1958 Competition, frame # 3580, restored not by me but bought off Ebay from Crispin Jones of Mr Jones watches. I´m not a member of Ebay myself, but a friend told me about it and helped me secure this marvellous machine.

What I instantly liked about it was the high quality equipment, and that Crispin, a designer, had gone to great lengths to recreate and reprint the original transfers which are now available from Nick Tythecott at Lloyd´s Cycles. I like the result very much. The respray is by Argos and replaces an unoriginal one done by the first owner. This colour scheme is not original either as per Ellis-Briggs´ documents, because the first owner wanted to impress his mates and had it sprayed Bianchi Celeste.

I only needed to change some bits and pieces on the bike, i.e. the saddle which is a narrow B17 restored by Tony Colegrave. Crispin had replaced a rotted out Brooks with a modern B17, which in its turn now serves faithfully on another bike of mine. All the other parts are original, the Chater Lea crankset, the Campag Gran Sport derailleurs, wonderful Conloy rims, handlebars, everything. After I took the photos I changed the tires for slightly fatter and less modern looking ones.

Here we have a look at the Chater pedals, too, and the bottom bracket shell. E-B had a machine which stamped shapes into blank lugs so they could easily make different shapes.

The fifities were the decade when Ellis-Briggs bicycles were ridden in great races, the Tour of Britain amongst others. Ken Russell won the 1952 edition on an E-B. To have owned one of their machines then must have meant something as their fame went beyond the usual local builder´s who catered for his hometown´s club riders.

Looking at these features one gets an idea why this was the case.

Here´s another great part – a GB “map of Britain” handlebar.

And, of course, the sure sign of a quality bike, a Campag Gran Sport rear derailleur.

A nice touch relating to the history of the bike is that Crispin bought it from the first owner who had lived in Altrincham, quite close to a place I lived in the eighties.

So here´s a bike with a less well known name, but still of superbe quality.

Work in Progress

I spent all my roughly 50 sportives in 2007 thinking about my dream Randonneur. I had a piece of paper on my desk at home and would note down any changes I would like to make with regards to the 1986 Revell Romany I was riding then. Towards the end of the season I had assembled quite a wish list.

My trusty 1985 (frame) Revell Romany, in use for about 20 years of its life

It was clear from the outset that I would not be willing to spend extraordinary amounts of money on this dream bike as I have other hobbies too and as I´m a rider who is  – at best – described as weak, so capital outlay on a super rando bike would just not reflect any practical use. Any Singer or Herse or other marque in this league would be out.

Or so I thought. During the winter of 2007/8 when I started planning in earnest I contacted several people I know who are deep in randonneuring and/or framebuilding, and it was Doug Fattic who gave the decisive hint: Ask Ellis-Briggs, the people Doug had learned framebuilding with.

It became clear very quickly that I would be able to afford a custom randonneur frame built by E-B, and as we had planned an English holiday anyway, I made an appointment and went to Shipley. There I was helped by Paul in the shop and with finances, and Andrew, the framebuilder. Wishes included all sorts of useful and weird things, my list had grown to 14 extras, and nothing seemed to be a problem really.

I found that I could have a frame to rival the best French ones, save constructeur parts like Herse cranks and perhaps the top 10 per cent refinement in angles and dimensions, and still not pay more than I could see myself paying with regards to my cycling abilities. Short: Have a frame with PBP qualities and a sportive price tag.

Up came Feb 12, 2009. The postman had dumped a huge parcel quite unceremoniously in our neighbour´s hall, and after lugging it up to my study I started to unpack. In the meantime I had also ordered an off the peg frame for my son, and it too was in the parcel. This will be dealt with in a later post. (This is MY blog, after all.)

The first glimpse

I had already amassed a great deal of parts, some of them custom made to achieve some sort of integrated bike. There were a SON 28 hub, some Mafac Racers, a Brooks, a 9sp. Veloce geartrain and rear hub, the one with annular bearings, and so on. Most of it I got used to keep the price down. Building the bike up could have started right away, but as I was fascinated by the build quality of the frame I hung it on my study wall for a few days to gloat over it. I hope to be able to reproduce some of the gloating in a number of breathless, uncommented photos.

The Mafac studs and brass bushings had been machined by a friend of mine, the Nervex lugs came from my stash. When Andrew showed me his choice of lugs, plain, modern ones, I couldn´t see much difference, and asked him which ones he preferred. His answer was that he´d just love to work with Nervex lugs once again, but that he was out of them. So after a while a parcel with a set of lugs winged its way to Shipley, making both of us happy bunnies; me anyway, as for Andrew I sincerely hope so.

Also in this parcel was the seat tube. Paul was unable to source a quality lightweight seat tube with a length of 72 cm – my 67 cm frame height plus a reserve needed when building. For a while I thought this would be it, but then Tobit Linke, who has worked in many places, told me about a shop in the south of Germany, Walther, who build bike polo bikes and who make everything on their own, including the tubing which they get in a raw state by the lorry length – length, not load, and then process it in house. People there were friendly enough to let me have the length I needed. Phew.

Andrew cut the Mafac studs and brazed them onto standard cantilever braze ons for the rear. What wonders he worked with the bog standard Nervex lugs you can see in the pics. Look into the bottom bracket – can you see where the chainstay begins and the b/b shell ends? Neither can I, and one can´t feel it, either.

After a while…

First try. It rode well, but there were changes to come.

The first was the saddle. Tony Colegrave made this Swallow on the slightly wider B17 rails. I still had nice chromed ones. The idea was that a Swallow uses the narrow width, but at 6´6″ your bum also is a bit wider than usual, and if you want a wide saddle, but still a Swallow, you´ll have to have one made. It has been great all the time.

Next was this carrier. I rode a sportive with Marten Gerritsen of M-Gineering, and he said he could make one to measure. I revamped a standard bag so that it would have tapes that go over the decaleur of sorts, the inverted U sticking up. It also has worked great.

Then there was this brake cable hanger. The same lathe wizard friend who made the Mafac studs made this hanger. It, too, has worked great.

Now it seems the lathe wizard is also a wizard at the bending machine – he´s made the second carrier from stainless tubing. OK, I´m now stuck with one white and one silver coloured carrier, but I just don´t care. Both are wonderful.

So here we are, end of story for now. I was lucky enough to be able to buy four racing bikes in three years kitted out with good used Veloce 9sp. parts but rotted out frames (light alloy – small wonder) so that I now have a nice comfy stash. One of the parts bikes also rendered the silver mudguards which replaced the red Bluemels set.

The bike as is rides great. Hardly any shimmy, which at this frame height is super. It climbs well, despite its weight, but at 103 kilos for me, the bike, a full bottle or two and the rest, what use is there in saving a kilo or two on Record Carbon bits, or whatever comes to mind. I rather have a p.. before I start the ride.

The brakes were worth all the effort three people put into them. They are two finger operable, even on the steepest decents. The 9sp. chain keeps for nearly one season, gear change is OK. There is not a single adjustable ball bearing on the whole bike as far as I´m aware, so bad weather (which we get a fair share of) is not a mechanical problem.

This is the bike as it presents itself in the summer of 2012 during a tour of the Cotswolds in England.

I think I´ll pass the 15,000 km mark this season, and hope for many more.

What else can I wish for?

Cream Puff

So it has taken about three years to finish, but what at bike.

White, Blue, Silver, and too much chain

About three years ago I advertised on CR to find out about any stray Ellis Briggs frames I might be able to purchase. There actually was someone from Germany who answered that he had one. He was a bike shop owner, and the bike was described as quite OK, four digit frame # (5105) which made it an original EB, so I had it sent.

Even if its a bit anachronistic, I couldn´t resist adding yet another shade of blue

I was shocked when 5105 arrived, it was a wreck with possibly lethal details and certainly not worth the money I had paid. The worst was that someone had inserted a Mavic unit bottom bracket bearing which was too small for the b/b shell inner diameter, then the bike had been ridden, and the b/b shell had been ovalised, quite literally, and visibly. Play was galactic, and how anyone could have missed it remains one of the great unsolved riddles of the cycle trade.

And They Spin Like Mad

On the other hand the frame had once been nice, very nice even, exactly what I had been looking for: Rather tall, braze ons for mudguards, Nervex Pro lugs, chrome. So instead of kicking up a fuss I put Andrew, Ellis-Briggs´ frame builder, to the test. I had been quite smitten with his work since having my Randonneur bike custom made by Ellis-Briggs, and the service was just great. I had gotten 5105  because I wanted a glimpse into E-B history, and now I could combine that with modern E-B work.

Calipers were a gift from a friend, and just in time, too

So off the frame went, denuded of all the scrap that had been hung on it (although some nicer bits were there too, admittedly), and Andrew took his large (I imagine) angle grinder to it, cut open the bottom bracket shell, pushed it together, welded it shut, re-cut the thread, cleaned everything up, and even re-did the frame number which had also been cut in two.

On the chain it says “Union Made in W. Germany”

Then the frame was refinished, chrome saved, NOS original transfers applied, and when it came back it was as good as new. From the outside there was no visible trace of the open heart surgery performed on the b/b shell, and when I fitted the Campag b/b cups they were the best fit I had ever experienced.

All the while Paul had kept contact, answering all my questions, being very patient, and all in all the whole thing was less expensive than I had thought.

Built by me, actually, but I just couldn´t take it off

It was quite exactly two years ago that the frame arrived back, and I must say I´m quite embarrassed that it took such a long time to finish the bike, but I wanted it to be special, and I just couldn´t find the time to look after it properly. Nearly all the bits came from my boxes; the crankset I had gotten in a French flea market in about 2003, the Huret parts I had had for about twenty years waiting for a bike, the saddle, a 1973 NOS Professional, I had bought years ago for 2.50 Euro in a Dutch shop which was de-stocking before closure, and so on.

Strange angle, sorry

The weirdest thing was that Ellis-Briggs had the name of the first owner on file, and he still lived in the same house where he had lived in 1976 when the bike was new, and I actually rang him. He said that he had never aimed to have a groupset on the frame, but used whatever nice parts he came across, often changing them around, so I felt free to go down the same alley.

Great stuff, oozes quality, and cost a couple of Euros

Now the bike needs some finishing touches, and then I hope to take it for a spin or two this summer.

Disclaimer: Although I´d like them to, Ellis-Briggs are not sponsoring my blog.

The Trainees´ Favourite

This is a bike I got several years ago from a LBS. People had used it for training purposes – not what one might think, but they had trainee mechanics assemble and disassemble it, especially the latter. Took me a whole afternoon to put it all right again. I like its looks – lots of chrome, nice groupset. Although the Campag Record was second tier at the time, the frame certainly is not.

Great Seatstay Cap Treatment

The Funkmeister´s Favourite

This is a bike which I like very much. I have not had it for very long, maybe three months, but I have ridden it a lot, 35 or 40 miles today alone, and it is nice and agile around town, for which purpose I built it. I don´t like saying it´s rusty, has worn or abused parts, I rather prefer thinking it has an anti-theft coating. The white top tube has some house paint on it, the part where´s there no paint at all is where the wood block method was used to repair a dent. So here´s a bike which looks as if it came right off the scrap heap, but it is well kept inside.

My EG Bates Rat Bike

The EG Bates frame is what people would call a Road-Path setup; track angles, track rear dropouts, track widths, but added are braze ons for mudguards and a rear bridge for a brake as well as a drilled fork crown. The frame number, repeated on the fork column, is 2728 – nice and easy to remember. The frame is a tad too small for me at 64.5 cms, but I won´t cover any long distances on it.

Potential For A Nice Restoration If It Survives Its Current Role

One more feature I like about the bike, actually the reason I built it, is the Sturmey SthreeX. While I refuse to spell the name the way it´s spelt on the hub (I think it´s just childish, no idea who thought that up), I just love the hub itself. Set up as it is with third/direct as the default setting it gives two nicely spaced lower gears for our somewhat hilly area as well as having very little friction losses in the gear I use most. Having a fixed hub with click pedals in town is a boon.

The Reason For This Bike

What else is there to write about? All the bits came from my boxes, so apart from the money I paid Hilary Stone for the frame there was no outlay, excepting of course the rear hub. That´s the reason I used three different sorts of spokes in the rear wheel. Most of the bits are pretty bad (cf. front mudguard), and many have only survived because bike parts wise I hate throwing anything out. The wonderful extension/handlebar combo was unearthed, literally, in a French scrapyard some years ago.

Watch The Front Mudguard – Someone Must Have Had Problems With His Dynamo Once

If You Were A Thief Would You Bother? – See.