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The Best of British

Old 03-04-17, 11:06 PM
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Andiroo99
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The Best of British

Hi All

Which historic (vintage) maker of British bicycle parts do you consider the absolute top of the line manufacturer?

Best

Arb
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Old 03-05-17, 01:25 AM
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Chater Lea equipment is almost always excellent.

Harden, The British Hub Company and Blumfield made hubs which are good even by today's standards.

Lytaloy produced very good lightweight parts, especially their pedals.

Constrictor and Dunlop produced top-notch rims.

Birmingham Small Arms (BSA) made great cranksets and pedals.

But it's difficult to say which one was top: it depends on the particular part.
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Old 03-05-17, 01:43 AM
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Originally Posted by Andiroo99 View Post
Hi All

Which historic (vintage) maker of British bicycle parts do you consider the absolute top of the line manufacturer?

Best

Arb
I'd agree with the previous reply, up to a point. It also depends a great deal on the period: there's much on the web on this subject by well informed British enthusiasts on highly regarded British websites like Peter Underwood's Classic Lightweights.

Some examples -

1. Sturmey Archer. Innovator and a superb range of hub gears
2. Brookes. The classic hand made leather saddle for all types of bicycle
3. Bluemels. Wide range of accessories; e.g mudguards & pumps
4. GB. Brakes, levers, handlebars, stems & accessories
5. Cyclo. Gears & accessories
6. Accles & Pollock & Reynolds. Innovators - the highest quality bicycle tubesets.

Six more for you.

John.

Last edited by hobbs1951; 03-05-17 at 02:12 AM.
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Old 03-05-17, 05:10 AM
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I was really thinking about what I think is the true classic period which I think is probably 1900 -1950s which was the true heyday of the bicycle. After this period the great British public increasingly got off their bikes and into cars. I know others may disagree.
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Old 03-05-17, 05:41 AM
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Well obviously we're talking about the period when everything was made in England. In 1950 that would have been perfectly normal. By 1960 it was still possible to have an all-British bike, but already getting difficult; by 1970 that was no longer possible at all.

But even in the heyday of the British cycling industry, there was no Campagnolo-like manufacturer making a complete set of bicycle components (unless you count Raleigh). So there's no answer to the question, who made the best bicycle components; it has to be asked for each component. And even there, it has to be narrowed down to a specific date.

For example:
Who made the best brakes in the 1930's? Resilion.
Who made the best brakes in the 1950's? GB.

That said, there were a few components where one manufacturer stood out.
Brooks saddles.
Williams cranksets.
Sturmey Archer geared hubs.
And so on.
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Old 03-05-17, 06:08 AM
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Originally Posted by Andiroo View Post
I was really thinking about what I think is the true classic period which I think is probably 1900 -1950s which was the true heyday of the bicycle. After this period the great British public increasingly got off their bikes and into cars. I know others may disagree.
Mmmm, heyday ? For the majority*, the heyday was probably the immediate pre-WW2 period and then perhaps a golden age in the immediate WW2 period up to the introduction of inexpensive - relatively - motoring with the Mini(1959).

*Given that in the early 20th century cycling was an expensive leisure pursuit and perhaps only after the Great War did it become more accessible. You'll see I own a pre Great War bicycle, a Centaur Featherweight; when new it was very expensive now worth 4000.00 + (less in real money terms than it was then - example, 100.00 in 1913 ? 10600.00 today).

Even with car ownership becoming more accessible many still commuted to work by bicycle, my Wife's Grandfather was a locomotive driver (steam) on the Southern and latterly British Rail - he had a new car but cycled to Hither Green to drive his 2MT 2-6-2T for BR.

Research will give you the answer to what are socio-historical questions as much as they are about cycling per se.

John.

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Old 03-05-17, 06:47 AM
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I am no expert, but it seems that in their respective categories, some of the best reputations are had by Dunlop (Special Lightweight) rims, Chater Lea bottom brackets and Reynolds 531 stems (GB-brand).
British Hub Company (Airlite line) seems to be the equal of Harden, in that department.

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Old 03-05-17, 08:10 AM
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Yes the fact that there was no campag equivalent making a full gruppo has always puzzled me. I am sure there must be a historical reason why but never seen one...

Interesting you mention Williams Cranks. I have always admired those but felt like the Chater Lea chainrings and crank arms looked just that bit finer and higher end. I know I excluded the EU stuff but this era the Gnutti also seemed to make some fine cranks.

Originally Posted by rhm View Post
Well obviously we're talking about the period when everything was made in England. In 1950 that would have been perfectly normal. By 1960 it was still possible to have an all-British bike, but already getting difficult; by 1970 that was no longer possible at all.

But even in the heyday of the British cycling industry, there was no Campagnolo-like manufacturer making a complete set of bicycle components (unless you count Raleigh). So there's no answer to the question, who made the best bicycle components; it has to be asked for each component. And even there, it has to be narrowed down to a specific date.

For example:
Who made the best brakes in the 1930's? Resilion.
Who made the best brakes in the 1950's? GB.

That said, there were a few components where one manufacturer stood out.
Brooks saddles.
Williams cranksets.
Sturmey Archer geared hubs.
And so on.
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Old 03-05-17, 08:24 AM
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Originally Posted by rhm View Post
Well obviously we're talking about the period when everything was made in England. In 1950 that would have been perfectly normal. By 1960 it was still possible to have an all-British bike, but already getting difficult; by 1970 that was no longer possible at all.

But even in the heyday of the British cycling industry, there was no Campagnolo-like manufacturer making a complete set of bicycle components (unless you count Raleigh). So there's no answer to the question, who made the best bicycle components; it has to be asked for each component. And even there, it has to be narrowed down to a specific date.

For example:
Who made the best brakes in the 1930's? Resilion.
Who made the best brakes in the 1950's? GB.

That said, there were a few components where one manufacturer stood out.
Brooks saddles.
Williams cranksets.
Sturmey Archer geared hubs.
And so on.
So, basically...

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Old 03-05-17, 09:10 AM
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Originally Posted by Andiroo99 View Post
Yes the fact that there was no campag equivalent making a full gruppo has always puzzled me. I am sure there must be a historical reason why but never seen one...
Read:
"Framing Production: Technology, Culture and Change in the British Bicycle Industry" by Paul Rosen

"This Island Race: Inside 135 Years of British Bicycle Racing" by Les Woodland

No simple BF post will explain the interaction of complex issues over a long time period but both books have well researched insights from quite different perspectives on the culture, personalities and economics of British cycling and the bicycle industry.

-Bandera
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Old 03-05-17, 09:21 AM
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I'm trying to be helpful

I suggest you start here. Many British enthusiasts know a great deal more than you guys over there. Here's a link to an article by Steve Griffiths on Classic Lightweights. I know Steve and he is very knowledgeable - try and learn from a primary source as Steve is a highly regarded historian in the V-CC -

'The demise of British component manufacturers'?

No need for thanks.

John.
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Old 03-05-17, 09:29 AM
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Thanks for the book and website references. I am fasciated by this period and what occurred during this period. From literally thousands of manufacturers to basically zero. I remember reading that there were thousands of small producers in Coventry alone...

I just ordered the books and look forward to the read.

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Old 03-05-17, 09:30 AM
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Originally Posted by Bandera View Post
Read:
"Framing Production: Technology, Culture and Change in the British Bicycle Industry" by Paul Rosen

"This Island Race: Inside 135 Years of British Bicycle Racing" by Les Woodland

No simple BF post will explain the interaction of complex issues over a long time period but both books have well researched insights from quite different perspectives on the culture, personalities and economics of British cycling and the bicycle industry.

-Bandera
When I was in school I saw the book on the British cycling industry, just did not have the cash. I will have to search a copy out again.
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Old 03-05-17, 10:01 AM
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Bandera and Hobbs1951,

Thanks to you both for these excellent sources. They will certainly shed the light on my questions I have regarding this subject!
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Old 03-05-17, 10:35 AM
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I think BSA dominated their crankset market longer and more successfully than any other British components. From early Major Taylors wins, right through the 'Sixes', BSA was often the choice of professional steel cranksets.
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Old 03-05-17, 10:59 AM
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Originally Posted by Andiroo99 View Post
Yes the fact that there was no campag equivalent making a full gruppo has always puzzled me. I am sure there must be a historical reason why but never seen one...
It's hard to offer a historical explanation why an idea hadn't appeared yet, but there it is. In the period we're discussing, Campagnolo didn't make many components. Mainly derailleurs; they didn't start making a crankset until the end of the 50's, brakes ten years later. I'm not sure when they started making hubs; but at any rate the "component group" was an idea that just hadn't come up yet, unless you look at the higher end bikes by Raleigh, especially the post war RRA (with top quality parts made in-house).
The 1930's Cyclo catalog offers a full range of parts, but I don't think they were all top quality.

Originally Posted by Andiroo99 View Post
Interesting you mention Williams Cranks. I have always admired those but felt like the Chater Lea chainrings and crank arms looked just that bit finer and higher end....
I suspect Chater Lea stuff is more highly desired now, and I wouldn't be surprised if it was more expensive at the time. Williams made a wide range of cranks and chain rings. The low end was pretty low, but the high end was really nice. My impression is that the Williams C1200 was equal or superior to the Chater Lea in manufacturing and finish, while being lighter and, I think, a better design.
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Old 03-05-17, 11:09 AM
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Originally Posted by rhm View Post
It's hard to offer a historical explanation why an idea hadn't appeared yet, but there it is. In the period we're discussing, Campagnolo didn't make many components. Mainly derailleurs; they didn't start making a crankset until the end of the 50's, brakes ten years later. I'm not sure when they started making hubs; but at any rate the "component group" was an idea that just hadn't come up yet, unless you look at the higher end bikes by Raleigh, especially the post war RRA (with top quality parts made in-house).
The 1930's Cyclo catalog offers a full range of parts, but I don't think they were all top quality.



I suspect Chater Lea stuff is more highly desired now, and I wouldn't be surprised if it was more expensive at the time. Williams made a wide range of cranks and chain rings. The low end was pretty low, but the high end was really nice. My impression is that the Williams C1200 was equal or superior to the Chater Lea in manufacturing and finish, while being lighter and, I think, a better design.
I'm going to make a few non-subject matter expert guesses:

Less access to capital limited expansion. Relative higher start up costs as a market barrier. Less distribution chain, along with more parochial markets; you were selling parts regionally without the ability to sell, advertise, distribute, or source materials easily. With far greater costs in distribution.

I don't think it's a coincidence that market consolidation happened after the war with greater access to travel in a smaller world. Let's not forget how poor many of these countries were during, and after, two world wars...both in terms of currency and labor.

The good old days
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Old 03-05-17, 11:38 AM
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Over egging that pudding - the above.

John.

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Old 03-05-17, 12:16 PM
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I liked my Ciclo 3 cog cluster I got for my S-A AW3 I got in 1957.
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Old 03-05-17, 01:49 PM
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Originally Posted by rhm View Post
It's hard to offer a historical explanation why an idea hadn't appeared yet, but there it is. In the period we're discussing, Campagnolo didn't make many components. Mainly derailleurs; they didn't start making a crankset until the end of the 50's, brakes ten years later. I'm not sure when they started making hubs...
The Campagnolo timeline details the development of the product range
Velo-Retro: Campagnolo Timeline

Andiroo99, I suggest you also work through the Aids to Happy Cycling catalogues on the V-CC website.
Veteran-Cycle Club Online Library
You will see what was available through this supplier and the relative costs. For example the Campagnolo Gran Sport rear derailleur in 1954 was priced at 75/- when the Benelux could be purchased for 30/-, the Simplex TDF for 27/-
In post-war Britain few could have afforded the Campagnolo price.

The period 1946-52 is the one I have the interest in. It was a period of great experimentation by a wide range of manufacturers.
I have been collecting the Show editions of the Cycling magazine for this period. They are very helpful in understanding the development of lightweight cycling in Britain.
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Old 03-05-17, 02:02 PM
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Originally Posted by Big Block View Post
You will see what was available through this supplier and the relative costs. For example the Campagnolo Gran Sport rear derailleur in 1954 was priced at 75/- when the Benelux could be purchased for 30/-, the Simplex TDF for 27/-
In post-war Britain few could have afforded the Campagnolo price.
Few anywhere could have afforded the Gran Sport = 75 shillings in today's money is just over 100.00, and 30 bob for the Benelux is 38.00 today.

In the USA (using my exchange rate calculator) the Gran Sport would have cost $278.00 in 1954.

You also have to appreciate, in modern parlance, that the channels of distribution were very different in the UK in the 50's = Campagnolo would have had far fewer outlets than, for example, Benelux.

John.
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Old 03-05-17, 02:04 PM
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Old 03-05-17, 02:13 PM
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I always liked British bikes. My main roadbike in late 80's was a Woodrup.
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Old 03-05-17, 04:37 PM
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BigBlock - wow that V-CC website is AMAZING. I have not see that before and it is going to be incredibly useful. Thank you so much.

This has turned into a treasure trove of a thread.


Originally Posted by Big Block View Post
The Campagnolo timeline details the development of the product range
Velo-Retro: Campagnolo Timeline

Andiroo99, I suggest you also work through the Aids to Happy Cycling catalogues on the V-CC website.
Veteran-Cycle Club Online Library
You will see what was available through this supplier and the relative costs. For example the Campagnolo Gran Sport rear derailleur in 1954 was priced at 75/- when the Benelux could be purchased for 30/-, the Simplex TDF for 27/-
In post-war Britain few could have afforded the Campagnolo price.

The period 1946-52 is the one I have the interest in. It was a period of great experimentation by a wide range of manufacturers.
I have been collecting the Show editions of the Cycling magazine for this period. They are very helpful in understanding the development of lightweight cycling in Britain.
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Old 03-05-17, 07:44 PM
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