It's Easter Bank Holiday and I've just been for a ride on the oldest and newest bicycle in my collection! A Claud Butler Super Velo frame, made in September 1935. I've seen some old'uns out there but I wonder if this is the earliest?
I owe it all to C&V members. Just before Christmas, "Bikingbritinmex" sent me an ebay link to a frame for sale. One look and I recognised it from the Forum as "Viscount's" damaged 1935 Claud. I'd been lusting after it for months, since he first posted his photos. a quick PM and he very kindly withdrew it from the auction and sent it to me - what a gent! He even sent me the head crest later.
Given that it was 74 years old, it looked quite good. Some dents in the top tube (wish I'd read the posts about the Bike Research blocks before I repaired it!) but also a nasty split in the right seat stay that extended halfway round the stay as a hairline crack. I tried four major UK framebuilders. One said for the price of the repair I could buy a new frame (missing the point!), one offered to take a £400 deposit and start in 2011, one explained that it was impossible to get genuine Reynolds High Managanese (HM - the forerunner to 531) butted tubing - fair comment and the last didn't reply. At which point I took the decision to try to repair it myself. A couple of weeks scouring the internet for information, then I bought a gas torch and some silver rods. The original plan had been to braze a lamp bracket over the split to bridge it but I decided to fit an internal patch (very fiddly) and braze it in place so I can monitor the repair in use by looking at the outside. Did this during the Christmas holiday and then brazed a cable stop on the chainstay as at that time I couldn't get a clamp on one.
Sadly the silver paint was seriously charred and had to come off. Not a disaster as it was a respray done I would estimate in the 1970's and the decals were not the right ones. Down to bare metal, rust proofed and primed, ready for the colour coat. Viscount kindly sent me a scan of the 1935 catalogue and I chose Lawn Green - a very dark "British Racing Green" with white highlights. I used 'Old fashoined' enamel and 'stoved' it by standing the frame on a very hot radiator between coats over a period of weeks, then months as the lacquer coats went on. Result is an incredibly glossy tough finish - and cheap too! Materials £20, labour - no idea! Nick Tithecott of H. Lloyd Cycles in Cumbria supplied all of the authentic water slide decals, including the Reynolds HM tubing label. I'd acquired a 1953 Claud Butler as well by now, apparently one of only 25 "Silver Jubilee" models made - and Nick even supplied the decals for that! Not super cheap but perfect quality and so great value.
Looking at the frame, it has incredibly relaxed angles and a colossal fork offset. I wanted it to ride, so the build had to be practical rather than a strict period museum rebuild. I therefore decided to build in the style of a British clubman's sports bike - popular from the 1940's to the late 1960's - and a massive nostalgia trip for me! It also had to be cheap, using as many parts from my stock as possible.
The wheels look identical but are mismatched. The rear rim is by Rigida and the front by Weinmann, but are identical. So are the hubs - a Pelissier rear with a Normandy front. Tyres are modern Vee Rubber touring cheapos in 27 X 1 1/4" that I had spare. Saddle is a lovely Wright's W3N I picked up on ebay as my 1940's Brooks has a split in it. Seat post was to be a modern one but then I found a 1950's Italia copy of the 1930's Brooks chromed unitary post and just had to use it. OK it's .4mm too narrow, but nothing that couldn't be shimmed out with a coke can. Bars and stem are by ITM late 50's early 60's I guess. I did consider shallow drops but my back condition won't stand it. Brake levers are NOS quick release generic type as I can't get on with the old GB's I have as I ride on the hoods a lot. I managed to squeeze a 5 speed freewheel in, so a 3 speed Benelux changer was out of the question. I put a Nuovo Record on, but then acquired the Nuovo Gran Sport which is more in keeping with the style. Levers are Campag built onto a spare chromed band-on fitting, chainset is Shimano - because that's what I had left over. I bid for several Stronglight and TA sets, but they were too high a price for me. The front mech is a Campag Mirage - again, what I had in my box at the time. I can change these later. Initially I wanted to fit Mafac Racer centre pulls but the head tube is so short there's no room for the straddle wire to operate. Then I tried 1952 GB Coureur sidepulls but the drom was too deep. The Weinmann 500's aren't period correct but they fit and work well. Polished the rear with a buffing wheel, must do the front one. Bar tape id Benotto - for the colour - also Claud Butler used to offer cellophame wrapped bars back in the 1930's and this is similar. I will fit the silver plastic mudguards off another Claud Butler as the round section forks are too narrow to take the 1950's Dover No.4 celluloid ones that came with the Siver Jubilee, or the shiny 1970's alloy ones that I bought for another Claud Butler I have yet to refurbish - a very tired 1966 Olympic Road model.
It took me four months to build - was it worth it? From my first ride, the answer's YES! The ride is just SO SMOOTH and the bike has a solid feel to it. It rolls really well and although not super lightweight by today's standards, it's not heavy and just seems to want to roll forwards all day, perfect for club runs! I learnt a lot during the process - about frame repairs, polishing parts, wheel truing and dishing, the history of Claud Butler, enamel painting and lacquering and so on. Also made a lot of friends - thanks everyone, especially John, David and Nick.
If you're still reading this, thanks for your patience - now here are the photos!
If you're still reading this