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.