Another One

Sometimes you get lucky outside the internet – a small add in the News and Views can provide enough excitement to last for weeks even at this day and age. That´s what happened about four years ago when Thanet Silverlight SL1408 was offered for sale. It was not as special as my other SL (see post below), its frame number pointing to 1949 as its year of construction, but I was tempted.

Did I need another SL? But then, does one need Thanets at all, with their weird construction and soft ride? People at the time said that it worked despite its design, not because of it, and its nickname “Bristol Plough” was derived from its place of origin, and its habit of breaking its frame below the bottom bracket shell which would then send the cradle tip ploughing into the ground. But: Perhaps SLs are like emus, those supremely ugly flightless birds which may only be kept in captivity in pairs? This thought decided the matter.

Also, the opportunity of getting an SL does not come often, and so I struck a deal, sight more or less unseen, as the snaps I received where not overly informative. OK, I knew the frame had been extensively modernized, had received the wrong replating and many incorrect parts, and been ridden a lot afterwards, but the price reflected this. Or should I say, the fact that the bike had not been swapped or traded below the radar of any outside buyer reflected this?

The seller, who had inherited the bike from a recently deceased relative, lived in Switzerland and would travel through Holland on his way from Scotland to his home on the very same day that the second issue of Stalen Ros would be staged, so after our visit to Neerkant we continued on to the Hook to meet the seller when/if he arrived on the boat. We had been told to look out for a brown 1970s VW van.

And soon enough there was one of these vehicles (dare I compare it to an emu?) rolling off the ferry, to divulge my Thanet, and to disappear into the middle distance afterwards.

There was a lot of work to be carried out on the Thanet; the wheels could be kept, there was a super nice Thanet handlebar extension, a modern curved seatpin, but that was about it. I had to take some interesting decisions – the frame had been modernized to take Campag Record, so would I go along with that, would I try to fit older parts to make it look its age, or would I go the whole hog, have it re-re-built, the chrome redone properly? I decided to go the middle way, if not for ease of working on it, then for the cost and the uncertain outcome of having paint – and chrome schemes restored.

Besides, the paint scheme as it was did have its advantages. Here´s a view of the headtube treatment with the Thanet star brazed onto the tube as a head transfer replacement and the “S”-shaped lugs. Hilary Stone´s book on Thanet (“Ease with Elegance”; wonder if it is still in print) says Les Cassell, the founder of Thanet, was an avowed socialist so he chose the star for his bike´s logo.

The Cyclo rear derailleur was one thing I still had in my box, and the rare Allez! alloy cranks, chainring and pedals came from Hilary Stone – on two different occasions. One more happy coincidence. He did say he´d never seen them on a Thanet, but then they were about the lightest ones around at the time, and the Thanet as it is now weighs in at about 11.2 kilos, not bad for a bike its age. In Britain, SLs were considered to be the lightest frames of their age (don´t know what some French builders would say to that, though), and the weight of mine certainly does not counter the claim.

The wheels that came with the bike had these wonderful Haden hubs of fragile annular bearing fame, laced into 27″ Conloy rims. The rear hub even is a free/fixed version.

The problem that remains to be solved is the headbearings – they are 1980s Campag, not easily replaced with period correct items because of the press fit diameter.


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