Appearances

Where do you look first if you meet a bike for the first time? What´s its face?

I know some people who look at the crankset, the rear derailleur, the saddle, even the fork crown. What I look at are the headlugs. Here´s why.

I don´t see anything personal in a bike which is welded, bilaminated or has no lugs for some other reason. Next come bikes with modern spearpoint lugs, nicely curved, possibly filed paper thin, but still – not much personality. The next rung up on the ladder to a fully personal bike is a nice ready made scrolly headlug, like a Nervex Professionnel.

Lastly for the uninitiated there is only little discernible difference, but in reality there is a huge step in craftsmanship to the pinnacle of lugged bikes: The ones that have handmade lugs, possibly made to order of the first owner. A good example of this are my two Thanet Silverlights, both already posted, showcasing an “S” and a “T” in the headlugs.

Great thing, such a fully personalized set of lugs, but expensive and not unproblematic from the outset. Blunders can even happen to such masters of the craft as Fritz Köthke´s staff:

After the lug cutter finished the first half of the work, a wonderful track bike crown met this fate:

Someone worked away only a little to ferociously, and the thing was spoilt: Sawed too far.

Also oldfashioned cast lugs always had to be filed, ridges had to be ground off and other calamities that had happened during the one off casting process had to be put right:

Even these seemingly perfect handlebar extension lugs have to be filed extensively before they are crisp:

All of these parts were salvaged from Köthke´s Cologne workshop when it was closed down. They are pre-WWII and survived the bomb raids of the 1940s. It´s a quirk of fate that old Köthke made bike frames from British bits in his Niederichstraße workshop during the day, and must have spent many nights in the shelter while British bombs rained down on Cologne.

Many framebuilders were overjoyed when shortly after the war French firm Francolam came up with a wide choice of ready made lugs that looked handmade and were available in a number of designs.

This is the page in their 1958 catalogue presenting the top-of-the-line Professionnel series, their cheaper line being called Série Légère.

The catalogue is a reprint bought at velo-retro from Chuck Schmidt who has a marvellous choice of old bicycle related catalogues. I didn´t want to damage my copy, so scans are somewhat incomplete.

Nervex offered a choice of what they called feature cuts which were the faces of the lugs, and nozzle cuts which were at the rear. These cuts were freely combinable, excepting the Professionnel. Here are a few of the available feature cuts and some nozzle cuts, too:

The feature cuts on Série Légère lugs might ring a few bells with someone. Here´s a small selection from Francolam´s huge choice.

Their brand logo for many stamped and pressed parts, from pram to moped, many catalogue pages full, was

, and this was what a frame builder held in his hands when he set out to build a frame:

“Série pour cadre” means (lug) set for frame, BTW.

Opening the flap, a neat little transfer was what first met the eye.

Stapled to a side flap, it was well out of harm´s way. Francolam packers had devised a nice way to pack the lugs set in the smallest available space:

Bingo.

Sure, the lugs were not free from burrs and needed some time spending on them, but the frame builders I asked said they loved them.

There were some lugs that could not be saved by any amount of time spent on them, though. The first model Professionnel had a different feature cut from the second one; they used thin upwards sweeping half crescents. In the left hand lug you can see that the right hand side crescent is too thin – the stamping machine that made this lug was not operated skillfully enough.

The ridges that Professionnel headlugs had round the bottom and top parts where the headtube ended or begun, depending on the way you look at it, were often ground off because they frequently were not executed symmetrically. An example on an Ellis-Briggs frame dating from the eighties:

On my own frame I made a point of keeping the ridges. They were, after all, there for a purpose, to be guessed at here, but possibly having to do with the force the headset races were held in the frame. Anyway, they are pretty unique, so Andrew at E-B put in a special effort at my request:

Something else E-B have been doing for ages is that they take off the original cheapish looking seatlug eyes that accomodate the binder bolt and replace them with threaded eyes of their own production, brazing them on in a breathtakingly clean line. The original Nervex eyes will only last forever (unless they are misused), but that isn´t enough for E-B. Their eyes last forever and a day, and look beautiful too.

Here´s the other side on the 1980s frame.

Lastly, here´s a seriously beautiful idea: The fastback seatstays receive a lug that imitates Nervex design. Who´s it by? Have a guess. The name starts with an Ellis and ends in a Briggs.

Unluckily, this 1978 frame is not in its original livery, but the original champagne colour isn´t exactly my favourite one.

Horrible thought – if the headlugs are the face of a frame, these seatlugs must be…

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2 Comments

  1. charles lewis
    Posted July 20, 2013 at 4:48 pm | Permalink | Reply

    Nice to see your posts. I have a 1974 Ellis Briggs I bought new (the frame anyway), probably one of the few in the USA (San Francisco). It’s in near-mint condition. Nobody here knows what EB is. Cheers, Charles Lewis

    • Posted July 22, 2013 at 4:27 pm | Permalink | Reply

      Hi Charles,
      there is a number of Americans who know what EB is. There is Doug Fattic in Michigan who learned frame building in Shipley, and you see Craigslist and other offerings of EB frames or bikes quite regularly. True, Hetchins is better known, but contrary to me here in the Continent of Europe, as the British say, you are not alone. Perhaps you would care to furnish a photograph or two for me to include in an EB post.
      Thanks for your comment, and it´s good to know that you like my posts.

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