[CR] Mid 70s Component Choices in the UK - differences of culture

Date: Fri, 20 Jan 2006 09:56:39 -0500
Subject: [CR] Mid 70s Component Choices in the UK - differences of culture
From: Doug Fattic <fatticbicycles@qtm.net>
To: <classicrendezvous@bikelist.org>
In-Reply-To: <MONKEYFOODdlZoaYsR100005689@monkeyfood.nt.phred.org>

Peter Kohler wrote:

OK, a general question for our British members...

Suppose it's mid 1970s and you have a top o' the heap British frameset like a Harry Quinn. You want to spec the components. Pure racing stuff, no touring or puttering about. So fast and light. What was the prevailing stuff in the clubs back then? In the USA it was of course the usual Campy/Cinelli mix. But what if you want something different? I was thinking it would be nice to have a Huret Jubilee/TA chainset/Maillard 700 hubs/Weinmann or Mavac brakes set up. Of course it's "MY" choice. But did the lads do this back then in the UK i.e. French components or Zeus or did they, like us over here, go the Campy route if money was no object. I want to be different but I don't want to be laughed out of the club.

And Peter Brown answered:

"You are correct Peter in assuming that Campagnolo was beginning to dominate the market by then, but there were other choices. Last year I sold most of Nephew's equipment for him, and he was racing throughout the mid 70s to early 80s. Transmission was a mixture of Stronglight/TA, with Simplex LJ mechs (though Huret Challenger would also have been a nice choice), coupled with Marcel Berthet pedals. Most of the Super Champion rims were popular then, but he did use Campagnolo hubs (some racing men were still relying on their old Airlites etc.). Brakes were Universal 68s, and bars and stem were Fiamme, although some were still using GB. His saddle was what I thought was a dreadful cheap Unicantor - if he'd had any sense he would have stuck with Brooks."

Peter & Peter,

I'm not British so I'm not qualified to answer with authority but I did spend my summers in the 70's over there and visited lots of framebuilders and bicycle shops. Jack Briggs son Paul was a racer and keep me informed as to what was going on. The differences in American and British biking values made a real impression. What struck me was that their was a British culture against equipping with Campagnolo. In the states, it was almost automatic, a nice frame would be hung with Campy but not in the British Isles. I saw more of it in bike shops than on bike frames. I heard this all the time everywhere "Campy cranks break". This opinion was so generally shared that I remember a Campy ad in "Cycling" (or some other British magazine) that quoted Eddy Merkex are saying "a Campy crank has never broken on me". That ad would have never been put in an American magazine. But I don't think that was the total explanation. I think it represented a value in the biking culture that might be described as "there is no point in buying the most expensive if something else will work fine". This value principle was further enhanced because, in my opinion, it was the the working class in Britain that bought custom made bicycles as compared to the more upper middle class in the states. That is an overgeneralization for sure but I think an observer of those cultures at that time might agree that the values of those different social classes permeated the cycling culture of each country. Custom frames were cheap then, 40 or 50 pounds. Part of the reason American frames were an improvement over the much more established British was we were willing to pay more (sometimes a lot more). That thought thread would need another post to establish so I'll let it drop here.

One more thing was in the early to mid 70's I didn't see much of the Japanese components being ridden in England. I was particularly aware of this because I had lived a year in Sapporo, Japan teaching conversational English and made a point of looking for Japanese stuff. At some point the value of their equipment ruled and I don't know when it happened but it wasn't by 1975.

The last time I visited Ellis Briggs was in 2000 on the way back from Ukraine and I took my daughter Christy to see where I learned to make frames. Andrew (their framebuilder I had worked with in 1975) was still there but without any frame orders. I asked why and they said everyone wants to buy the cheap aluminum frames from Asia. I thought, man, I'd sure rather pay some more for Andrew to make me a custom frame than buy some import. That reminded again of our cultural differences.

Some observations from the resident alien in the 70's,
Doug Fattic
Niles, Michigan