Original Message: ----------------- From: M4Campy@aol.com Date: Tue, 24 Feb 2004 12:50:45 EST To: Classicrendezvous@bikelist.org Subject: [CR]The Apprentice...
". Can someone please give me a lay- mans artistic critque of what makes something "Italian, French, or British"?
Is there an American style? What makes a frame a certain style? Lug work is one sure sign to me. What about finish? Design? etc..."
Hmm... well I know an British bicycle when I see it and speaking only of what I would call the "Golden Age" c. 1946-1966, British lightweights reflected more than anything the fact that leisure cycling (not professional racing) was far bigger than on the Continent. To my knowledge, the kind of sport and "club" riding, time trailing etc. that were (and are) a fixture in Britain was not really known in Europe at the time. Cycling in Europe was either granny going for the daily loaf or ultra sport of the highest order. In England, it was the pursuit of the great middle class and incredably broad-based.
Hence a truly British lightweight bike would have generally more versitile design: the classic 71/73 deg combination head and seat angles, clincher tyres on very lightweight steel rims or alloy, mudguards, lighting equipment (dynamo or dynohub) and an a wide range of gears or indeed the classic fixed and free. The British tended to like braze-on fittings for pumps, mudguards, saddle supports, cable stops etc. Everything neat and tidy, Bristol fashion. And of course the mandatory large saddle bag since Brits didn't use jerseys with pockets as a rule on club rides.
The British climate and the strength of the Raleigh empire (which of course included Sturmey Archer) ensured that hub gears remained a factor in cycle compontry well into the 1950s. The British were pioneers in producing popularly priced alloy components but resisted alloy cranks and chainwheels and, to a certain degree, rims. But forged steel componentry knew no equal from that produced in England. Unless you owned an RRA of course!
Another hallmark of a British bike of the period is the enormous range of components and the practice of buying a frame only and then adding your choice of fitments. This was a result of Messrs. Atlee and his Labour Party "tax 'til they bleed" credo which saw taxes on a complete bicycle come in a something like 33-25 per cent (!) after the war. If you bought it as a frame and separate components, it was taxed at the normal VAT of.. I guess what, 17 per cent?? This meant that you could have an entirely British bike with components, among the best in the world, but from a dozen of more makers. OR you could just as readily fit your machine with the pick of Italian or French components. I am pretty sure this was unknown in Italy or France at the time... their bikes were far more "nationalistic". Were there any Italian or French makers using British parts other than Reynolds tubing during this era?
Finally, British bikes had wonderful finish. Here I will assert that British chromium plating of the era, using that matchless blue-tinged Rhodesian chrome, was simply the finest ever. Far superior to anything on the Continent. Ditto paint work. British rustproofing, enamelling, lining and transfer work was the standard of the world. British bikes tended to come in far more of a choice of colour and finish compared to continental makes. The custom-built British frames of the era were famous for their ornate lugwork of course.
Anyway that's what comes off the top of my head. And again for the period up to around 1966. Afterwards, the British went "Italianissimo". Whether or not that's a good thing, is another question...
Peter Kohler Washington DC USA
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