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Seeking Witcomb knowledge

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Seeking Witcomb knowledge

Old 03-22-24, 03:16 PM
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Seeking Witcomb knowledge

I happened upon this frame (no fork) which just arrived and I'm trying to do some bike pathology.
You can see an album of the frame details here: Witcomb bicycle
If you have difficulty loading the link, remove the 's' from https in the URL.

The frame has the drive side of a fluted 116 BCD cottered crank attached to an English (non-Raleigh) diameter spindle. In two of the images you'll see the non-drive side dropout with a stamped W and four digit number, which looks like 9021 but could possibly be 9621? The lugs on this frame look a lot like those of my 1951 Rudge Aero Clubman. There are no stamps on the bottom bracket shell, which is where I was expecting to find the serial number, not on the NDS dropout. So, my question, is this actually a Witcomb? The paint and rust suggest it's either original paint or pretty dang old. I'm not sure when the "world champion" stripes above the seat tube decal, began being applied to Witcomb frames. Any help on the actual ID and provenance of the frame and if it's genuine Witcomb would be great. The serial # on the dropout gives me some doubt. That said, this is a very lightweight frame but doesn't sound butted. No evidence of a 531 decal but these are all surface-applied, so being chucked into a bike stand clamp could have easily rubbed any tubing decal off.
Any help in my quest is appreciated!
Thanks all.

Phil
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Old 03-22-24, 03:50 PM
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Originally Posted by PhilFo
I happened upon this frame (no fork) which just arrived and I'm trying to do some bike pathology.
You can see an album of the frame details here: Witcomb bicycle
If you have difficulty loading the link, remove the 's' from https in the URL.

The frame has the drive side of a fluted 116 BCD cottered crank attached to an English (non-Raleigh) diameter spindle. In two of the images you'll see the non-drive side dropout with a stamped W and four digit number, which looks like 9021 but could possibly be 9621? The lugs on this frame look a lot like those of my 1951 Rudge Aero Clubman. There are no stamps on the bottom bracket shell, which is where I was expecting to find the serial number, not on the NDS dropout. So, my question, is this actually a Witcomb? The paint and rust suggest it's either original paint or pretty dang old. I'm not sure when the "world champion" stripes above the seat tube decal, began being applied to Witcomb frames. Any help on the actual ID and provenance of the frame and if it's genuine Witcomb would be great. The serial # on the dropout gives me some doubt. That said, this is a very lightweight frame but doesn't sound butted. No evidence of a 531 decal but these are all surface-applied, so being chucked into a bike stand clamp could have easily rubbed any tubing decal off.
Any help in my quest is appreciated!
Thanks all.

Phil
Dunno if it's what you have there, but there were some Witcombs that were made in another shop (factory?), in Wales I think, with untrained workers who weren't cyclists, had little idea what they were doing or what a bike frame should look like. I've never seen one in person but from some reports I've read here and elsewhere they were pretty terrible. Things like one seatstay longer than the other so that the rear wheel can't be centered under the brake. Gaps in brazing, all kinds of horrors. I hope someone here will remember the details, like what years. I think it was a short-lived experiment, once the owners saw how badly they were coming out. Some were imported to the US though — I had correspondence with a guy asking for advice on how to fix his. I think it was decided it was too far gone, not practical to repair it. Oh and I remember hearing that Richard Sachs and Peter Weigle both got started in framebuilding to try to salvage the situation with the unrideable Welsh Witcombs. After Witcomb USA went out of business, they started building under their own names. They of course will remember the true story and correct whatever I've gotten wrong here.

"Real" Witcombs made in the Witcomb England shop were quite nice by comparison. Maybe they had a lower-cost model like many English builders did BITD — cheaper but still decent, still a "real" Witcomb. For example Holdsworth, Jack Taylor and Mercian among others made nice frames with stamped dropouts and plain-gauge 531. Hopefully that's what you have, not a Welsh one.

Mark B
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Old 03-22-24, 04:22 PM
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This is my Witcomb, made in London.





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Old 03-22-24, 04:44 PM
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Originally Posted by bwilli88
This is my Witcomb, made in London.
I've heard it said, supposedly direct from Barry Witcomb, that the last two digits are the year, so if true yours is a '72.

Here's a youtube about Witcomb, worth a look
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Old 03-22-24, 06:03 PM
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Aside from the mudguard eyelets on the rear dropouts, this looks like an early 60s Raleigh Lenton Grand Prix in early postwar orange livery. The head tube lugs look possibly modified from available Lenton lugs? Could very well be a Welsh Witcomb. This is still a mystery to me but finding out will prove to be interesting.
Phil

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Old 03-22-24, 06:22 PM
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Originally Posted by bulgie
I've heard it said, supposedly direct from Barry Witcomb, that the last two digits are the year, so if true yours is a '72.

Here's a youtube about Witcomb, worth a look
https://youtu.be/E3did2RUTBc?si=BtpZBJFpaOVzGi6w
I have seen that vid and yes, I know mine is a 72, I got it from nlerner
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Old 03-22-24, 06:54 PM
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More obsessive internet sleuthing has me wondering if this is an early Witcomb from the end of the E.A. Boult era.
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Old 03-25-24, 07:21 PM
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While I can't figure out the provenance of the frame, I'm still impressed by it. It's a good size for my next build, it's light, and it's bright turmeric, my favorite color. I have some rust to take care of and paint repair to do but otherwise it is looking really good. It is one of the straightest, well aligned frames I've seen, especially one that has traveled via UPS. The crankarm had to be cut unfortunately. Bottom bracket spindle is a TDC which may or may not get reused. Bearing races actually looked pretty good though I was planning on putting in a different bottom bracket. Still on the fence about cottered vs square taper, partially because of not knowing what this is. I think I'm probably just going to ride it though, which means it's getting a triple ring up front (either a set of Sugino Super Maxy rings on my 5 pin Williams, or a Super Maxy crankset.) If it turns out to be older or nicer, I may have to Campy it up with Gran Sport, but probably not. I just want to ride a bright orange bike.
Thanks all for the input so far.
Phil
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Old 04-08-24, 11:39 AM
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I've scoured the Internet and the best rabbit-hole seems to be to start at the Classic Lightweights' site then go from there.
The serial number on the NDS rear dropout points to Carlton and Viking among others. The Witcomb page mentions the acquisition of Rotrax and those frames being offered in "tangerine" which I'd describe my Witcomb as. I'm certainly not saying it's a Rotrax, but it could possibly have been a Viking (I've seen photos of Vikings with the same lugs and the same seat stay caps) painted in an available color. The crankset was a good quality fluted one and unfortunately the drive side needed to be cut in order to remove it. No label but it was a 116 BCD unit with a quite slender, beveled arm. I'm gonna kick myself if I cut off a Chater Lea. Bottom bracket axle was a TDC and is very nicely finished, not like some late TDC axles I've seen which look far more crude with rough and uneven stamping.
The remnants of the headset were just the top and bottom races in the head tube, which were quite nice, but have no markings so that's another mystery.
As it stands right now the bike is going to get a 2x5 or possibly 2x6 drivetrain; not quite contemporary, but something which could have certainly found it's way onto the bike. While it would be nice to have this all refurbished with period correct components, I still don't know what period that is, aside from probably early '60s. That said, it's getting a Stronglight TS crankset with Suntour Cyclone front and rear derailleurs, and Suntour retro friction downtube shifters.
I have a few donor forks but none are really correct. One is a Carlton with 531 legs and a nice crown but the steerer tube is too short. A second is a Raleigh Rampar fork which has a steerer tube that is way too long but has the same nice crown as the Carlton. The third is a Fuji fork with a perfect size steerer tube but has a "FUJI" panto on both sides of the cheome crown so it's also not quite right. I may use it to get the bike on the road then find the really correct crown over time. One BF member offered a lugged 27" fork from a Cannondale which may work as well, and might also be the ticket.
Phil
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Old 04-08-24, 03:06 PM
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A number of Witcomb owners are in the Facebook group Witcomb Cycles.
Might be worth joining and then asking there.
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Old 04-08-24, 03:27 PM
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Originally Posted by PhilFo
I've scoured the Internet and the best rabbit-hole seems to be to start at the Classic Lightweights' site then go from there.
The serial number on the NDS rear dropout points to Carlton and Viking among others. The Witcomb page mentions the acquisition of Rotrax and those frames being offered in "tangerine" which I'd describe my Witcomb as. I'm certainly not saying it's a Rotrax, but it could possibly have been a Viking (I've seen photos of Vikings with the same lugs and the same seat stay caps) painted in an available color. The crankset was a good quality fluted one and unfortunately the drive side needed to be cut in order to remove it. No label but it was a 116 BCD unit with a quite slender, beveled arm. I'm gonna kick myself if I cut off a Chater Lea. Bottom bracket axle was a TDC and is very nicely finished, not like some late TDC axles I've seen which look far more crude with rough and uneven stamping.
The remnants of the headset were just the top and bottom races in the head tube, which were quite nice, but have no markings so that's another mystery.
As it stands right now the bike is going to get a 2x5 or possibly 2x6 drivetrain; not quite contemporary, but something which could have certainly found it's way onto the bike. While it would be nice to have this all refurbished with period correct components, I still don't know what period that is, aside from probably early '60s. That said, it's getting a Stronglight TS crankset with Suntour Cyclone front and rear derailleurs, and Suntour retro friction downtube shifters.
I have a few donor forks but none are really correct. One is a Carlton with 531 legs and a nice crown but the steerer tube is too short. A second is a Raleigh Rampar fork which has a steerer tube that is way too long but has the same nice crown as the Carlton. The third is a Fuji fork with a perfect size steerer tube but has a "FUJI" panto on both sides of the cheome crown so it's also not quite right. I may use it to get the bike on the road then find the really correct crown over time. One BF member offered a lugged 27" fork from a Cannondale which may work as well, and might also be the ticket.
Phil
Hope this helps, Phil, first likely too short.

https://www.ebay.com/itm/303822369612
https://www.ebay.com/itm/156154127424
https://www.ebay.com/itm/235491682892
https://www.ebay.com/itm/154731046084
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Old 04-08-24, 03:58 PM
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Thanks for the links!
The first listing is too short.
I also have a Raleigh Competition fork like one ad but it doesn't allow for mudguards as it's a true 700c fork.
The seller with the 4 chrome forks listed doesn't have the longest one left and the rest are too short.
That leaves the Raleigh Professional fork which I sent a message about.
Many thanks!
Regarding Facebook, I think I'll have a friend of mine inquire for me about the Witcomb. I try to keep my online presence limited to a couple forums.
Thanks all!
Phil
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Old 04-11-24, 05:26 AM
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The verdict is in.
A friend checked the Witcomb group for me and Richard Sachs had confirmed last year that an exact duplicate of my "Witcomb" was one of the Welsh frames.
So, I have a bit of cycling history here, not the best history, but certainly a story. Now, what to do with this frame? Complete the build and ride it as I had intended? Send it along to someone who wants a bit of raised eyebrow bike history? It may make a fine city bike, but I will always know in the back of my head that it's the red-headed stepchild of the better built frames.
Thanks all!
Phil
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Old 04-11-24, 07:01 AM
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Originally Posted by PhilFo
The verdict is in.
A friend checked the Witcomb group for me and Richard Sachs had confirmed last year that an exact duplicate of my "Witcomb" was one of the Welsh frames.
So, I have a bit of cycling history here, not the best history, but certainly a story. Now, what to do with this frame? Complete the build and ride it as I had intended? Send it along to someone who wants a bit of raised eyebrow bike history? It may make a fine city bike, but I will always know in the back of my head that it's the red-headed stepchild of the better built frames.
Thanks all!
Phil
My vote is build it up as if it is the most rare and beautiful bike you’ve ever seen and enjoy the ride. I am betting this would be a great ride.

Red headed step children are underdogs. Support the underdogs!
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Old 04-17-24, 05:43 PM
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About a year or more ago I took in a pair of Witcombs belonging to some good friends from Back East. His and hers pair, blue paint, from a small shop in Connecticut, and the name Peter Weigle was familiar to them. I'm not a pro with an established shop, but these were good friends, and I told them I could disassemble and reassemble (they wanted them painted), and make sure all is working as it should. My friends only knew "these are our bikes and we love them!!" I spoke to Peter, then to Richard Sachs, then to Jack at Franklin, who had time to take on the frame inspection and advice on alignment. Both frames had some damage due to poor (no, terrible) brazing at build, Jack thought he could rebraze the points in question to a sound condition, but seems to have missed that the one pair of chainstays were offset, as Bulgie recalls. I am thankful to him as well for being a valued consultant, as well as some others on the Site here.

We judged one of the rebuilds infeasible, because of the misaligned rear wheel. It would have been impossible to make a bike that could coast, and for that one nowhere near aligned. I was arguing that both bikes should be tossed and both friends buy new bikes. But the gent was too enamored of his old bike (can't actually blame him), and it was alignable with care, some local shop attention to the fork, and some cold-setting. The hers bike had the rear triangles problem and I was fearful of sending it back to Franklin's and I didn't know of a more local resource whom I thought would accept responsibility. She bought a Trek for herself and is happily pedaling.

For his, he REELY REELY wanted me to do MY best and see where we end up. I hava a few Park frame assessment tools, and we were able to deermine that the rear triengles were vertically aligned and needed lateral matching. The main triangle seemed to be in-plane and the BB axis seemed to be perpendicular so we could get the wheel, BB, and front wheel axes parallel, so we had the makings of a correctly aligned frame. I checked true on all four wheels and trued and retensioned the best ones for his bike, checked the OLNs and found the rear wheels do not match the dropouts. More focus showed me we had to use the "oddball" 124 oln because there was not much clearance for a freewheel and chain. All my other 120mm frames had significant clearance fabricated into the drive side dropout. So again with the ***-1 to re-set the rear triangles to clear friction-5 speed, dropout alighnment with the H-tools, and we had wheels and mounting. We had the rear end aligned, true, dished, and tensioned at least by ear. Same for the front wheel and its spokes. I could even even out the tensions while maintaining true, afterwards restoring dish. The wheels seemed not too bad as far as internal stresses. So we built up the drivetrain using decent quality friction shifting parts, I gave him an aged Selle Anatomica, we fit him using my self-fitting bag of tricks. I took a ride to make sure the bike tracked and did what a decent bike should, and it ended up being a decent rider. The gent is a few years older than me and I'm 70, and he promises he does not ride it hard. If he can keep his pedaling gentle, which says makes him happy, then I am happy. He got some work done at his LBS, and had no problems with them telling him he should replace that death trap.

So a poorly made bike can be a good rider under low-stress conditions. This Witcomb looks good with paint, and with good used wheels and other components maintained and fault-free, it rolls and runs well. The tubing is straight 531 full-set, dropouts and fork-ends are flat-stamped steel. BB, seatpost, and H/S are standard, so no major issues with them. If it holds together, what's not to like. And I repeat my cautions to my friend and his wife (his best advisor) about every two weeks. I should train her in inspecting lug brazing for cracks.

I've had some similar good results in reassembling and "blueprinting" a beat up old UO-8 frame - lovely green, rusty finish, old wheels tuned up basically, and a set of cheaper SunTour steel mechs, rebuilt HS and BB - It ride very nicely! I keep it to make a good "true beater." Frame material does not necessarily dictate ride quality. I'd say good frame design, alignment, and well-installed parts are the keys to a nice ride.
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