[CR]rediscovering the Dawes

Example: Framebuilding
Date: Wed, 8 Oct 2003 20:50:02 -0400
From: "Russ Fitzgerald" <velocio@earthlink.net>
To: classicrendezvous@bikelist.org
Subject: [CR]rediscovering the Dawes

When I bought my '62 Dawes Realmrider back from the estate of the esteemed and much-missed Chris Beyer, I found that he'd swapped a few bits about - which freed me to continue re-interpreting the bike. An email from the VCC's Dawes marque enthusiast, Reg Dennis, led to the realization that mine was far from standard catalog issue when I got it. Apparently, the majority of them came with dropped bars and 8 or 10-speed drivetrains, and not the flat bars, B66 and Sturmey FW mine sports. It also emerged that mine is probably built of Accles and Pollock steel - I'll know for sure whenever I get around to pulling the headset apart for servicing again.

The original B66 was gone, so I fitted a B17 I had lying around. Out of the parts stash came a set of old Weinmann drop bar brake levers, "hooded" but without the rubber covers. The original pedals were gone, so I mounted a set of Lyotard mod. 23 Marcel Berthet pedals. Not original or period, but available and reliable, are the Nitto bars and Technomic stem - maybe someday I'll fit the bike with some GBs, but not today. Finally, a handlebar mount bottle cage completed the machine.

The Greenwood Cycling Club had an exploratory ride going yesterday, puttering around on back streets as well as paved and unpaved rail-trail conversions. I wondered whether to take the Dawes or the Mercian fixed-gear. My wife said, "You'll take the Dawes because you've got it together and you haven't ridden it yet ..."

So I did. It was a mind-altering experience. This is a bike that I bought for next to nothing six years ago at a flea market, back when it was a total rustbucket. I'd commuted for a while on it with upright bars, and liked it some - but I'd never really ridden it with drops before yesterday.

The handling is simply dreamy. The bike is stable until you want to change direction, and shazam, it's right there. My position on it is well nigh identical to what I get on my Rivendell or my Mercian. The long wheelbase soaks up road shocks beautifully. There might be some big gaps between gears, but the FW covers most of what I would ever need in the way of range - it helps that I've ridden mostly fixed this year. I thought of James Arnold's "The Joyous Wheel" - "A range of gears, three, or better still, four."

On the unpaved bits, the bike felt stable - there's probably someone riding one just like it with the Rough Stuff Fellowship even now. On the asphalt, the Dawes felt nimble and speedy beneath me. It was simply a joy to ride.

Right before the ride, I let the manager of the LBS take it for a quick spin. He came back with a stunned expression on his face. "I know it's a 40-year-old bike," he said, "But it rides so WELL!" We weighed it - with the FW hub, steel Williams cranks, steel seatpost and 27-in rims and Pasela tires, it's a whisker under 27 pounds. Not too shabby at all ...

I've written about this bike before - it's special because it was the bike that lured me back into cycling, I bought it on one of my last road trips with a now-deceased mentor, and for a while it belonged to one of the lights of this list. Now I know it's special just as a bike, too.

Thanks to Joe B-Z for helping me back onto it; thanks to Mick Butler for his assistance in tracking down more information on vintage Dawes bikes; thanks to y'all for letting me ramble just a little bit.

best regards,
Russ Fitzgerald
Greenwood, SC