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So What Really Killed the Viscount Aerospace?

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So What Really Killed the Viscount Aerospace?

Old 05-19-18, 08:08 AM
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uncle uncle
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So What Really Killed the Viscount Aerospace?

Yes, a polarizing title, but the headlines are what pull your eyes into the thread... I happened to be party to the conversation between some "non bicyclists" and one of them was recalling his owning a bike "... with a Death Fork". As far as I'm aware of, only the Viscount Aerospace model is remember with that distinct design element branded with the title of "Death Fork". I personally remember reading old bicycling magazines from the seventies, at the bike shop (in the eighties), and seeing the advertisements associated with the bicycle. I thought they were great; well thought out and enticing, especially to the engineering student that I was at the time. Sadly, no bike shop in the area sold them. The ads had a tie in to the aerospace industry, and it just so happens, the city I was living in was known as "The Air Capitol of the World" because of all of it's connections to the aeronautical industry. By the way, we never used any steel tubing for the structure of an aircraft at any time I was part of the industry. For hydraulic fluids... possibly, but not for the structures. Anyway, I'm curious as to any insights anyone might have into the "real" reasons that the specific Aerospace models might have failed. I know the forks had the recall, which certainly didn't help, but was it REALLY the reason that the models were dropped? I've heard that the cost of constructing their own parts (like derailleurs, brakes, bottom brackets, etc.) put a burden on the profit margins, and that could have contributed... And, basically all English built frames saw as shift away from what was perceived (and could have been) higher construction labor costs. I just wanted to hear from anyone who might have sold the brand and had a direct seat at the front of the show. Or, if you just have your own opinion and insights, I would love to hear them. Thanks in advance to any responses.

Last edited by uncle uncle; 05-19-18 at 08:12 AM.
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Old 05-19-18, 08:56 AM
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The fork issue was a big problem.
lugless construction was a hurdle
​the early adverts had a pretty young lass on a gold plated framed bike- customers wanted that. ( your pick the lass or the gold )
the derailleurs were meh.
and the big one- short supply when demand was big and thin profit margins even for the bike biz.
Yamaha got the distribution rights in the USA at the time of the recall. Lots of advert $ spent to announce the recall. The replacement fork did not have the visual cachet of the original. Too bad- some good ideas, an attempt to have a full branded bike, frame and parts.
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Old 05-19-18, 09:07 AM
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Man, where is that 'this thread is worthless without pics' emoji?

I'm interested to hear too.
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Old 05-19-18, 03:23 PM
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Lambert had the death fork too, before it became Viscount. Also the Lambert-branded running gear, which was kinda cool but definitely not cutting edge in terms of performance. Also unconventional bottom brackets which many considered problematic. I think Lambert/Viscount/Viking's real problem was simply not selling enough bikes at a high enough price to stay solvent.

Trek also had a 'death fork' in the early 80's. Not an aluminum one, but supposedly enough examples of that particular model failed to get a bad rep.
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Old 05-19-18, 03:55 PM
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I've owned both a Lambert and a Viscount Aerospace Pro

My Lambert was my first "real" bike and purchased in the early 70's. Loved that bike, but it did not return my affection. It pretty much fell apart and finally the frame broke.

The Lambert branded components were of poor quality, in spite of being innovative. Sealed bearing bottom brackets and hubs, cast one piece pedals w/ needle bearings and of course the solid aluminum "death fork"'

Viscounts used many of the Lambert component designs and seemed to improve some of the quality control issues, including a re-design of the fork.

Lots of interesting info here: Viscount & Lambert

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Old 05-19-18, 04:21 PM
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Huffman/Huffy had all of you beat with a death BIKE in like 1936.
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Old 05-19-18, 04:44 PM
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My Aerospace Pro came with a combo of Lambert and Shimano components. I replaced the aluminum Death Fork with a Cromoly steel fork. I really should ride it more often than I do.


Aerospace Pro 004 by cb400bill, on Flickr
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Old 05-19-18, 05:21 PM
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The ads made them seem like they were super advanced. They weren't. The only edge they had was that the frame was light for its price. All of the components were meh. But I coveted those bikes anyway. The geometry is normal-ish sport-touring, like a Raleigh Grand Prix, with the exception being that the clearance in the chainstays is a bit tight. I finally got ahold of one a few years ago. I had a 32mm tire on it, and it was tight. I converted mine to a fixed gear, so it's a nice light bike, but it doesn't have the tight handling of a track bike or even a road racing bike.
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Old 05-19-18, 05:33 PM
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The marketplace killed it just like most other brands that no longer exist. Even used ones go for relatively little money. A friend had his listed on CL for $30 for months before he finally found a willing buyer.
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Old 05-19-18, 05:39 PM
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Old 05-19-18, 05:40 PM
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Old 05-19-18, 05:58 PM
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I owned a Viscount Aerospace a few years back. It was one of the top 1 or 2 worst bikes I have owned. You had to work twice as hard to go half as fast of my other bikes.
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Old 05-19-18, 06:42 PM
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Originally Posted by noglider View Post
The ads made them seem like they were super advanced. They weren't. The only edge they had was that the frame was light for its price. All of the components were meh. But I coveted those bikes anyway.
I guess some of the ads did push the "advanced design" aspect as well as the weight/price point aspect. I think the take on using an "aerospace" material does set it apart, maybe in material, or maybe just in how it was presented to the public. It could be debated if the lugless brazed frame was advanced for it's day, or just a not-as-often seen method, again, presented to the public as if was ground breaking. I like to think that the frame was ahead of it's time because of it's construction method using that material, but I also understand that that point is debatable. Today, we have super light, lugless, steel bicycle frames that compete with aluminum and composite frames. The pressed in sealed bearings for the bottom bracket seems, to me, closer to what new bicycles use now, when compared to the convention of the day (aka the cups and ball bearings setup). One can see the origins of the "threadless" bottom bracket units, if one squints pretty hard at the Viscount setup.
One groups attempt to advance designs, and falling short, then having some other group, at a later date, use some aspects of the prior design, blended with better technology, design methods, materials, tolerances, or whatever... can in retrospect make it appear that the original effort was somehow "ahead of it's time". Maybe the Viscount Aerospace was advanced, or maybe it wasn't. It's just enjoyable debating such things.
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Old 05-19-18, 06:46 PM
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Originally Posted by rjhammett View Post
I owned a Viscount Aerospace a few years back. It was one of the top 1 or 2 worst bikes I have owned. You had to work twice as hard to go half as fast of my other bikes.
My '72 Lambert isn't all that bad, but it's notably whippy compared to a more modern steel frame of similar weight. So yeah, that extra flexiness has its price.
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Old 05-19-18, 08:19 PM
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My understanding from what was written by a former Lambert/Viscount employee on the Classic Rendezvous list is that Lambert was far over its head in debt when Yamaha purchased its assets and changed the name to Viscount. Yamaha kept the operation in England going until all the old stock in England was depleted, then moved production to Japan, and then lost interest and let the brand die.
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Old 05-20-18, 06:40 AM
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Originally Posted by JohnDThompson View Post
My understanding from what was written by a former Lambert/Viscount employee on the Classic Rendezvous list is that Lambert was far over its head in debt when Yamaha purchased its assets and changed the name to Viscount. Yamaha kept the operation in England going until all the old stock in England was depleted, then moved production to Japan, and then lost interest and let the brand die.
What does that mean, over its head? Doing stuff they didn't understand? Like what? Or do you mean couldn't keep production volume up?
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Old 05-20-18, 07:07 AM
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Originally Posted by noglider View Post
What does that mean, over its head? Doing stuff they didn't understand? Like what? Or do you mean couldn't keep production volume up?
The impression I got was that they were unrealistic in presenting their prospects for long term profitability to lenders and took on far more debt than they could sustain.
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Old 05-20-18, 07:40 AM
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Originally Posted by noglider View Post
What does that mean, over its head? Doing stuff they didn't understand? Like what? Or do you mean couldn't keep production volume up?
Lambert borrowed money to develop proprietary components that, while innovative, did not perform well and often failed. For a summary, read Dale Brown's essay on the CR site Lambert bikes . Lambert was unable to repay the loans because the profits were being eaten up by warranty claims, sinking the company progressively deeper into debt, to the point were bankruptcy was imminent.

Bad news travels fast and by the time that Trusty/Yamaha took over, the bicycle's reputation was already tarnished. BICYCLING! magazine's review of the revised model certainly didn't help. The review mentioned past problems and a gave a less than glowing review, citing a flexy fork and pedal issues. Basically, it raised a red flag to everyone who might not already have been aware of the bicycle's history. Then Yamaha/Trusty issued the fork recall, which was the last straw in the public's mind. Under such circumstances, it's not surprising that sales were poor and the plug was pulled.

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Old 05-21-18, 10:52 AM
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Thank you, @T-Mar and @JohnDThompson. Those are answers to the original question.

The pedals were crappy. The brakes were crudely made but work just fine. I kept the front brake on my fixie conversion. I had a pair of the hubs long ago. They were not so well machined, but they worked fine. I'm still using the original headset and bottom bracket on my bike.

But I don't feel it's a totally crappy bike. You got your money's worth.

It's interesting but I guess not surprising that some find the frame to be whippy. I'm pretty lightweight and not terribly powerful, so I can't notice it.
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Old 05-21-18, 11:30 AM
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Here's the advertisement from the issue of BICYCLING! that featured the Viscount Aerospace road test. Two page, full colour advertising was very expensive at the time, so it indicates how hard (desperate?) they were trying to push the bicycle.

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Old 05-21-18, 03:21 PM
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Originally Posted by JohnDThompson View Post
My understanding from what was written by a former Lambert/Viscount employee on the Classic Rendezvous list is that Lambert was far over its head in debt when Yamaha purchased its assets and changed the name to Viscount. Yamaha kept the operation in England going until all the old stock in England was depleted, then moved production to Japan, and then lost interest and let the brand die.
Actually, Yamaha never purchased Viscount, but rather became their U.S. distributor. Primarily a motorcycle company, they wanted to be part of the "bike boom".
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Old 05-21-18, 03:32 PM
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Originally Posted by rjhammett View Post
I owned a Viscount Aerospace a few years back. It was one of the top 1 or 2 worst bikes I have owned. You had to work twice as hard to go half as fast of my other bikes.
I agree. After spending considerable time and cash to restore mine, I found the ride to be disappointing, to say the least.

I don't regret buying and restoring it.... it was great fun, I learned a lot and it kept me occupied during a long winter.

Interestingly, the aluminum fork was very heavy. More than 531 and other cro-mo I compared it to. Weighed as much as your entry level Hi-Ten fork. Switching out to the replacement steel forks provided by Yamaha actually saved a few ounces.
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Old 05-21-18, 03:56 PM
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Originally Posted by noglider View Post
Thank you, @T-Mar and @JohnDThompson. Those are answers to the original question.

The pedals were crappy. The brakes were crudely made but work just fine. I kept the front brake on my fixie conversion. I had a pair of the hubs long ago. They were not so well machined, but they worked fine. I'm still using the original headset and bottom bracket on my bike.

But I don't feel it's a totally crappy bike. You got your money's worth.

It's interesting but I guess not surprising that some find the frame to be whippy. I'm pretty lightweight and not terribly powerful, so I can't notice it.
I didn't. My '73 Lambert (lugged so it might have been made earlier) cost me thousands and years of my life. Fork broke and left me in a 5 day coma. It did provide me with a raceable bike and opened that door for me. (And racing ultimately saved my life. Only because I raced was I wearing the goofy original Bell Biker helmet and therefore, lived.

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Old 05-21-18, 04:45 PM
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Never rode one, but I briefly owned one. The chainring was cool (about all I was even marginally impressed by).
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Old 05-21-18, 05:31 PM
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Viscount/Lambert killed it. How? By making some odd/dumb choices on the build. Square taper crankset I understand, square with no taper I don't. Aluminum fork? OK. Aluminum fork with a pinned steer tube attachment? Nope. And so it went. And see above on fork weight. They could have just bought a decent cromoly fork from Asia, lighter weight, no design compromises, and ultimately, no costly recall.

All in all, I would say they made some really questionable decisions, and in business, it doesn't take that many bad decisions to kill a company.

Really IMHO when the Japanese arrived in the early 1970s with some nice bikes, with standard part sizing, well built, at a low price, it spelled the end for many bike companies. That along with the end of the boom, where you could sell anything, even a POS BSO, ended it too. Don't get me started on Schwinn. They knew how to build something decent, but instead, they continued to pump out the same old heavy bikes. Profits hide problems, and just because you are sold out (the boom) doesn't mean it will last! And once the change comes, its hard for an organization to change fast enough to respond.

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