Category Archives: Ellis-Briggs

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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CR Cloisonné Pins – April 1st version

Received the v. nice cloisonné pins last week and already had a lot of fun with them. First, I thought it might help streamlining my ca. 1937 Ellis Briggs.

Next, I thought one might improve the riding comfort of a Brooks Narrow with it – didn´t do any harm.

What does it take…

A word of warning before I start: I need to be careful what I write now, because my son reads this blog, and this post is about him, or his bike, rather.

Let´s start at the beginning. About five and a half years ago I cycled to the next town, can´t remember for what, and there was a cycle race going on, a criterium by the looks of it, and I somehow got infected again. I had been an avid cyclist until we started our family, started with jobs, and so on.

But here it was, the cyclerace, and I approached someone who turned out to be a friend of the local cycle club president. My son (11) and I went to a training ride, he loved it, and became a club member months before I did.

The good thing about your offspring being a cyclist is that you can tag along, get some miles under your belt, and there´s no need for weekends spent watching Physical Exercise atrocities like soccer, or judo, while every fortnight a van load full of smelly team jerseys needs to be washed.

The shortcoming is that your son needs a bike, which can become rather an expensive affair when he´s a) growing fast and b) cycling fast. Luckily I have a hoard of bits, so when we were given a nice 1970s Alan, we were settled for a year.

The frame had belonged to Rüdiger Rabenstein´s son, and Johannes loved the bike. He grew out of it quickly, though. When on a sportive we stopped at a cycle shop which had a used Trek OCLV for sale, small frame, 9sp. Veloce, so after a quick family talk Johannes was the proud owner of a US Superbike.

Alas not for long. A nasty training exercise due to lack of communication in the pack led to a fractured arm and a fractured frame. The groupset was salvaged and put on a Gazelle I had scored some months before. I had bought it for the price of the Mavic wheels (501 hubs, MA40 rims, I think) and was very pleased I had it.

It was a very pretty and capable bike, but there was no room for mudguards. We had stopped training for races after the accident and concentrated fully on sportives/century rides/RTF/velorandonees, whatever you want to call it. We enjoy these greatly, and my son is very successful at it; he had been North Western German champion three years running and came second (by 30km…) last season.

After the Gazelle had been outgrown (it now hangs in my son´s room over the shelf with all his many cups) there was the brief intermezzo of a Czech Fort frame with the same hardwearing Veloce groupset but braze ons for mudguards and a rack. That was much better.

When I got my big blue Ellis-Briggs I also ordered a stock frame for my son. Stock is a word which doesn´t describe reality with Ellis-Briggs – still there were numerous e-mails exchanged and many changes possible. I planned on building my son his first real randonneur, albeit at first with a racing geartrain for lack of a triple. That changed when some time after we had built up the bike I was able to buy a Rickert racer my size off which came a Campag Racing Triple geartrain. (The Rickert will be posted soon.)

Here´s some snaps of what my son´s bike looked like until last year:

The black Bluemels Club Specials came out of my boxes and the Tubus rack was given me free by our LBS because it had a small dent and some scratches. The following Christmas yielded a Son 28, an LED front light and a great rear light, too, in a combined effort by parents, aunt and grandparents, especially the latter. As my son was 14 then Father Christmas had no part in the matter.

Next there was a bad case of chainsuck which damaged the chainstay that badly that neither me nor our LBS could decide if it wouldn´t have to be replaced. So off the frame went again to Shipley, and it turned out that the stay could be saved. Not only that, but now the frame was in for repairs I was able to order a decent front derailleur braze on and chrome on the chainstay. Also I had the lugs lined in black, which has the bike look very nice now.

When I first ordered the frame I chose a slightly taller size than might have been necessary because my son had grown a lot all the time, but as it goes he chose to take a break as soon as the bike was ready. Now it is really great, something to be proud of, growth has re-started with a vengeance. There´s still some centimeters frame height left, luckily.

Black Beauty

The internet does have its advantages. There are websites which deal with old bikes exclusively, and if there´s an Ellis-Briggs for sale, my appetite is whetted instantly.

Knowing that Ellis-Briggs have all their frames on record since after WWII, I find it irresistible to get one which is not on the register. I love riddles. In the case of an E-B it is easy: Find one of the handful of surviving 1930s frames, and, hey presto, Paul will be out of his depth. Ha. Here is one, in seemingly original livery, and with a lot of parts that might well have been hung on the frame 75 years ago:

BTW, a thing I just found out: Click on a picture, any picture, for a bigger one. Very helpful.

Anyway, back to the bike. Hilary Stone says that he thinks E-B don´t have any records of very early bikes because they probably didn´t make the frames in house. The old frames certainly don´t have the typical four digit frame number.

The bits on this bike are quite worn, the mudguards are repaired in a rather rough and ready way, but the bike spells patina and has a very genuine feel to it, save perhaps the handlebars and extension. These however are counterbalanced by the typical 30s Resilion Cantilever brake.

No brake in the rear – you find this often in old catalogues on cheap to medium priced bikes with a fixed wheel, so that is ok.

And don´t I just love those old transfers.

Here´s just a few more detail pics with not much comment necessary.

EBbb EBbell EBbluemels EBchainwhl EBearthscewfrontfork EBframeno EBftdohub EBfull EBhbarext EBheadcliptopheadlug EBheadclipvonvorn EBheadluforkcr EBheadtransf EBmudgstayeye EBpumppeg EBreardo EBrearhub EBresilion EBrim EBseatcl EBseatcltop

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.