Saturday, 29 September 2012

I think I'll call it painted

I have been obsessing a bit about the paint job on this bike, and I don't know why. It's a rattle-can job, and so can only be so good and so durable. I want it to look nice, and I like the way the design has come out, but really, it's never going to be as durable as a professional baked-on job. I just don't want to spend £300 on a Mercian or Argos job at the moment. That being said, I like the way it has come out.

First, the overall scheme is nice. I didn't plan it quite this way, but the copper-over-pearlescent white works well, and the dark green pinstriping on the downtube paved the way for other bits.

The frame details themselves continue to delight me. The seat cluster is my favorite part, I think.

The head tube and fork intersection looks very nice, if I do say so:

I am especially pleased that the laser-printed decals came out so well. I realize I didn't go with the traditional 'Viking' script, which has always struck me as goofy. Since I've converted the 700c frame to 650B wheels, though, this is hardly a full restoration, so I feel some liberty with the graphics is in order. The more nordic-looking typeface I chose for the downtube ('Viking medium') is really great, though, and in dark green with a copper outline picked up the stripes on the seat tube, which paved the way for further details (to be shown later):

I have obviously started to hang parts on the frame to see how things fit, and so far it's all buttah. The sole cause for concern was the fit of the Gilles Berthoud stainless steel front mudguard (50mm), but after actually sliding it in there, I found that by simply squeezing it just a wee bit, I could set it in the fork just above the tyre without any trouble at all. The trick will be mounting it to the fork: the little dongly thing that bolts into the steerer tube via the brake bolt is too short for the job, so I have to create some sort of extension to reach down to the mudguard. A tube threaded on the inside should do the trick; I think I have the tap to do it as well, so this week's project is booked.

Thursday, 23 August 2012

Gifts the Postman Brought me

Behold, Gilles Berthoud stainless-steel mudguards, 50mm wide and perfectly formed to sit over the 42mm Grand Bois Hetres! After considering the Velo Orange Zeppelins, and measuring frame clearance front and rear, I realized that anything over 50mm was going to really challenge my metal-forming skills. As they are, the GB fenders will require a small tapering to get inside the front forklegs, but the rear looks like it was made for the frame.

Anybody worrying about the weight of stainless steel in this application should take a pill; I have plastic mudguards sitting around that weigh more than these. The lovely polished finish and little roll on the front and rear lips of the guards are really great. To integrate them with the bike overall I'm going to lay some pinstripes on them to match the copper and dark green trim on the seat tube.

Monday, 13 August 2012

So after many delays and intrusions of other, uh, matters,

I finally decided to just get some paint onto the Severn Valley and get the project bolted together. If I love the bike after it's all up and running, I can consider letting a better painter to a better job. In the mean time, I've thrown Fiat Pearlescent White on the frame and fork, and with contrasting copper metallic head tube and seat tube bands.

Love the Nervex Pro lugs, especially knowing that they were 'scientfically modified' at the shop.

I don't know if I'm going to line the lugs or not. The original plan was to paint the lugs all in a contrasting colour, but that looked like a masking job too far. The bottom bracket and seat cluster are really nice, and I'm thinking since the head lugs pop so well, you'll go looking for the rest of the detail at the two big joints. Funny how it's the junctions of a frame that are always most important?

I had always intended these cutouts in the fork crown would be filled, and they compliment the triangular areas on the top of the crown nicely

So, to line or not to line. Right now I'm feeling like lining will be fussy, but I also feel like the seat cluster--especially those delish fluted seat stays--need a little louder statement. Maybe I'll just line the tops of the flutes. The seat tube bands need confining with a contrasting line; red would be an obvious choice, but the head badge I have has an interesting light blue in it:

I've got to let this much cure on the frame before moving to that detail, so later this week I'll decide. Then wet sand, line, transfers, clear coat. I'm shooting for the end of August as a build date. All the parts are sitting there--well, almost all: mudguards need to be ordered. Zeppelins, then highlighted with a copper stripe to carry the theme along. More next week!

Monday, 2 April 2012

That Old-Time Religion

If it was good enough to win the Tour of Britain, it's good enough for me!  Looking at the lugwork at Bespoked Bristol, it just made me happy about the Viking.  The Severn Valley was a top frame for them in the 1950s, and Viking was at one point a huge producer.  Some useful history about the brand has been put together at the Classic Viking Cycles web site, if you're interested.  Looking at the site is one of the little joys of playing with old bikes.  The serial number on my frame is AW241.  Now, the 'A' prefix was included on a few bikes built circa 1958-1959, although no other bike with 'AW' appears in the registry.  There is no information as to what the prefix indicated, and the prefix system stopped right about then as well.  There is another Severn Valley very close to mine in details (carved Nervex Pro lugs, fluted seat stays, Campagnolo ends) that has a totally different series number on it.  and Severn Valley frames built ostensibly before and after mine used all sorts of different numbering systems.

So when and where was mine built?  Tough call.  1958 most likely, probably in Wolverhampton.  In any event, looking at the frame as I have been removing paint (my lord, this enamel had to have been put on with a trowel), the work on the joints of the frame seems pretty remarkable:

Top headtube lug detail.  Nice clean edges, not a splash of bronze to be seen.

More of the same at the other end.

My favorite part on the frame, the fluted stay ends.  

And a top view.

The brake bridge, nicely molded into the frame

Long slot Campagnolo ends.

Has anybody seen this style of pump peg before?  The little squared-off pillow ends are 
quite lovely.  Finding a pump to fit them is going to be a grind, but I may have one . . .

A Month On

Wow, how time flies.  I can see how posting something every day about this project would require more time than I have; sorry for the delay.  In the last month, I've been able to get some things done on the bike, and also had a great weekend last week attending the Bespoked Bristol , the UK hand-built bicycle show. What a fine event!  You get off the train at Bristol Temple Meads, walk 100 yards to the cafe, grab a beverage, wait for the doors to open, and walk upstairs in the station to Brunel's Old Station auditorium!  I dropped in for the Friday night opening and judging of awards, and then went back the next day for a closer look at everything and some great chats with British bike enthusiasts.

As this was the second year of the show, I was interested in hearing about how the show had grown in just that short time.  Most felt that it was at least twice as large, and the number of frame builders has more than that.  The show exhibited some really top-notch work, needless to say, led by local Bristol builders Robin Mather (Best in Show) and Ricky Feather (Best Road).  Demon showed up with their big winner from the North American Handbuilt Bicycle Show in California last month (co-Best Road Bike!), and artists like Paul Villiers and the boys from Paulus-Quiros made you know that British bicycle building skills are ascendant.  I mean, check it out:

The seat stay detail from a Paulus Quiros roadster.


Manic lugwork from Paul Villiers on his randonneur frame. 

Mercian bottom bracket detail.  Buttah.

Yet, in talking to folks in various booths, this is something of a new deal; old school builders like Mercian (wonderfully representing) agreed that between the hayday 50s and 60s, British bike building had gone into a slump during which only the heartiest builders kept on with it.  Unlike the U.S., perhaps, there was no great apprentice class learning from the masters, and so the 70s and 80s were rather quiet for British bikes.  The new builders are changing that, and nobody was happier about it than the boys from Reynolds tubing!  While the NAHBS show offered a flood of action in Reynolds' stainless steel tubing, there were just a coupe of examples on show in Bristol.  Reynolds says that this is in part due to the difficulty in working with the material, which may be resolved with the introduction of new 931 stainless; builders at the show were anxiously standing in line for its issue.

There was a retro presence at the show as well, with refinishers like Argos holding a booth, etc., but as Reynolds doesn't sell any new tubes (okay, a couple now and then) to people who buy old bike frames, they're not as enthusiastic about that market.  Who can blame them?  And a new custom frame is a thing of beauty, but seriously, the biggest difference between new and old world craftsmanship is price:  you can buy a new frame from Mercian or the guys above and it will run you many times what an old frame may cost you.  They're worth every penny, but if you're in recession mode with a lot of us, or one of those suspects who need many bicycles (oops, that would be me), a garage full of customs is just not an option.

Which brings us back to the Viking Severn Valley.

Tuesday, 31 January 2012


Well it sort of feels that way.  The frame came back last week, modified by Paul Villiers of Villiers-Velo cycles, who undertook the work for me and it came out great.  First, I had him remove the old shifter lugs from the downtube and fill a small dent or two there with brass.  The shifter lugs that came on the frame looked like a clamp-on shifter set, but welded to the frame.  Paul installed discreet bosses for the downtube shifters, which will be home to Dura-Ace adjustable cable guides; cables from the bar cons will route through nicely.

Paul then added cantilever brake studs front and rear at the correct level for 650B wheels.  I sent along the Shimano BR-R550 brakes, which I think are so nice and simple, so that the fit would be sure for them.  The studs are great, smooth and nicely mounted on the frame, no big cludgy connections.  We had considered moving the pump pegs from the downtube to behind the seat tube, but the pegs themselves are quite interesting:  little cubes set on one point atop small stems, with another corner of the cube set to hold the pump.  For such a small detail, I really like them.  So we left them in place; good call Paul!

So here are some initial mock-up pictures:

 A Profile of the wheels, one crankset option (TA Pro Bis 5), a random seat and post.  

This TA crankset, with a criterium chainring set on it, is one option for the build.  The other is a Stronglight 49D, but that will also have TA rings on it as well. 

The downtube gear shifter bosses with Dura-Ace cable guides and adjusters. 

Tange Falcon alloy needle-bearing headset, bottom race.

Front cantilever bosses.  Nice clean, minimal attachment for the brakes.  Plenty strong, not making your eyes hurt.  Great job, Paul.

Maxi-Car Hubs, Super Champion rims, double-butted stainless spokes, just as God intended.

The top race and nut on the Tange headset.  It's really so elegant, the only headset I think rivals it is the radical, yet again elegant Stronglight Delta, which is very cool but not really right for this build.

The rear cantilever bosses.

The Viking Severn Valley

The 650B conversion story started two years ago when I acquired a circa 1958 Viking Severn Valley.  It's a lovely thing, all 531DB with custom carved Nervex Pro lugs (I originally got the frame for the lugs; they remind me of my first serious bicycle, a Schwinn Paramount in the early 1970s).  It had an ugly paint job, but the lightness of the frame, the fluted seat stays, all said 'special' and I started thinking about how to set it up.

During its time in my closet, I started reading the hype on 650B conversions and thought that would be a lovely way to show off the Viking's details.  A set of ex-Rene Herse Maxi-Car wheels with Super Champion rims floated down from the Ebay heavens, and the conversion was on.  I identified a builder whose work seemed, well, old school, and he agreed to modify the frame by cleaning up some things and adding studs for cantilever brakes at each end.  I could have gone with long-reach centerpulls, but most of them look rather ungainly, to be honest, and the old French-style randonneur with cantis seemed to be the inspiration, so that's what we did.

This is what the frame looked like when I bought it (set on the 650B wheels with 42mm Hetres on them, so I could do some measuring).  The bottom bracket dropped a tad, but seems it should be right at 265mm, about standard for a road frame these days.  With a 170mm crankset on it clearance seemed fine:

Good clearance for mudguards.  I think the Gilles Berthoud 50mm bits will fit perfectly.

The lovely head tube lugs, just that much bit different from Nervex Pro standard cuts.

The even lovelier seat cluster, complete with fluted stays.  Seat binder takes a Campy bolt.

Tomorrow, I'll post pics of the frame now that it's back from the builder.