[CR] Show me the Dawes....

Example: Racing:Jean Robic

Date: Wed, 10 Feb 2010 11:28:37 +0000
From: Norris Lockley <nlockley73@googlemail.com>
To: <classicrendezvous@bikelist.org>
Subject: [CR] Show me the Dawes....

Show me a Dawes...and I will show you a well constructed, fit-for-purpose, quality product built in a cycle factory. What more do you want for your money, Barrie?

To misquote Hamlet's mother Gertrude " Barrie doth protest too much, methinks." From what I can understand of your logic , only bikes that are built up and assembled by individual cyclists themselves, starting from the frame upwards, can truly be described as being quality bikes. If you follow that logic through that would mean that all those Peugeot PX10s, those Gitanes, Merciers, Lapierres, Motobecanes - all factory assembled bikes, -that I see in their thousands being ridden by some pretty serious French amateur racing and Club cyclists, are crap..or rubbish.

I started cycling in 1945 and frame-building in 1953..having joined my first cycling club in 1951..so, Barrie, just like you, I have been around the club and racing scene for quite awhile...and since those early days I have visited an awful lot of workshops and premises and observed a tremendous number of frames being built. From my observations I would suggest that you may not have seen the inside of too many cycle factories or framebuilders' workshops.

First of all the vast majority of those "rubbish" mass-produced bikes, those Raleighs and Hercules and their like, would never have been brazed up by frame-builders working on piece-work rates, instead they would have been either furnace or induction-brazed...whole cartloads of frames on special racks all brazed at the same time...not an oxy-acetylene torch to be seen. On the other hand I have seen top-end frames being hand-brazed in the SSC workshops within the factories of Peugeot, Mercier and Motobecane..not by Pierre, Jacques, or Jean-Marie down in their back-street workshops in Paris or St Etienne.

The top-flight Raleighs, the Special Products Division ones, were hand-built in a small factory in Ilkeston. When I asked Gerald O'Donovan, the manager of that Division, why they used oxy-acetylene torches to silver-solder the 753 frames instead of using oxy-propane or gas-compressed air, he replied, " because we work on a production line basis, and oxy-acetylene torches are faster".Production line or not, those frame-builders produced frames as excellent as any produced by an artisan self-employed frame-builder and, it has to be admitted, better than many.
>From what I have seen of the factory-produced top-of-the-range Armstrongs, Suns, Carltons, Wearwells, Falcons..and Dawes, these are not the products of piece-work framebuilders, but of conscientious ,skilled and probably time-served ie fully apprenticed, tradesmen. On the other hand, how many artisan frame-builders were there, who were simply excellent racing cyclists who decided to become frame-builders..dozens of them..who often learned from their mistakes, often sold on to customers , rather than taking an engineering/ welding course before starting out. I certainly know of two very highly North of England esteemed firms of frame-makers who did not have a single qualified welder /brazer on their staff when they launched out into the lightweight market. Some of their early frames were renowned for self-detaching chain-stays, and bottom bracket shells. and fork columns I know of others who did not even know how to bend fork-rakes..so that when Columbus supplied all their blades straight instead of pre-raked, the firm encounhered real problems as you might imagine. Currently I have, in my workshop an elegant lightweight frame.,the finishing of whose lugwork is par excellence..the builder is very highly respected... and appears on the UK-listing in Classicrendezvous. The problem with the frame is that the top and down tubes are very crunched up, following a serious crash provoked by the forks holding the front wheel in place, detaching themselves from the steering column. The fault was not metal fatigue, but just the fact that the frame-builder had failed to ensure that the fork crown and steering column had enough braze material in the joint to hold the two parts together. The owner of the frame, as he hurtled , face-forwards towards the tarmac road surface, must have comforted himself with the thought that even if the brazing wasn't up to much, the lugs were at least beautifully feathered.

But any way, Barrie, what have you got about piece-workers, as you seem to be branding them all as being incompetent unskilled feckless workers? My father was a piece-worker all of his working life, but at the same time he was a highly skilled production engineer working mainly as a precision grinder producing rotating components for aeroplane engines and helicopters. If his work had not been up to the stringent standards required, he would have been shown the door. Similarly my mother-in-law , a piece-worker, was a weaver in a worsted mill at the time when the mills of Huddersfield produced the finest worsted cloth in the world.

Other than the piece-workers that you claim heavily populated the cycle factories of the UK, there were piece-workers employed in the lightweight trade as well. Probably the most famous of these is a builder whose frames we now acknowledge to be some of the finest to be produced by any UK lightweight workshop...ever. His name is Bill Hurlow, whose elegant frames with their incredibly beautifully sculpted lugs you must have heard about. Bill was self-employed throughout his working life..but he was never unemployed or short of work. Incredibly Bill had the skill and motivation to produce two frames in the time that most builders produced one..and without any deterioration in the quality of the finished product.

I am pleased to see that the vastly experienced Colin Laing has added the weight of that experience to this debate, and although that I must admit, there was always an ambition for every club cyclist to visit his neighbourhood frame-builder to be measured up for his bespoke frame, the pelotons of most clubs in the north of England where both Colin and I learned our sport and trade,had more than their fair share of ABC bikes as we called them...*A*ll *B*its *C*ombined...where we tended to buy any frame we could afford and then gradually add the best lightweight accessories we could afford to buy..until the last ultimate accessory we needed was a lightweight frame on which to hang our lightweight accessoiries....not the other way around. Eventually, but not always..we bought a frame from our local builder...most of whom were piece-workers..the more they produced the more money they earned...but not many actually earned very much money..sadly.

And I have the feeling that that last statement could open the doors to a very interesting debate..

Norris Lockley

Settle UK