Thursday, October 9, 2014

The Allure, and Lure, of the Headbadge

New England Builders Ball 2014
So here's a question for you: Have you ever bought a bike, considered buying a bike, or wanted a bike solely because you loved the headbadge? Last week a guy I met confided that he was ordering a bicycle from a specific builder for this exact reason. And just as I opened my mouth to tell him I thought that was kind of nuts, I stopped myself - remembering that time when a friend sent me a link to an auction of a vintage bike - its frame decrepit and several sizes too big - sporting a headbadge with my name on it. Apparently, the obscure and long-defunct manufacturer briefly produced a model under this name, and for the 3-year duration of its unremarkable existence it got its own headbadge - all floral and Jugendstil-like brass; sadly, far more interesting than the machine itself. As a certain vintage bike collector I know would say: "How can you not?"


Well, thankfully I was sensible enough to resist. But I can't deny that, for a few misguided moments, my finger hovered over the "buy it now" button. So, who am I to say? Whether we're attracted to a headbadge because of some personal connection, or because we find its imagery or symbolism appealing, if it pleases us it might be as good of a reason as any to want a bicycle.

New England Builders Ball 2014
Among contemporary builders, the headbadge I am most attracted to is that of Chapman Cycles. Seeing it never fails to induce a sort of aesthetic salivation, and I can stare at it transfixed for hours. The large silver anchor appeals to my love of the sea and reminds me of state I grew up in. But I also like the way in which it is rendered - intricate, and with a deeply etched look to it, like an exuberant sailor's tattoo. Seeing it again at a bike show last weekend, I couldn't help but fall prey to its charms all anew, and for god knows how long I stood there tracing its outlines with my finger in appreciation of its glorious anchoriety. So maybe I wouldn't go quite as far as to order a bike from Chapman Cycles for the sake of the headbadge alone. But if I couldn't decide between two builders and one of them was Chapman? Yeah, I think the headbadge would win me over. 

Looking at the bare head tube of the bike I was riding today, a couple of people asked when it's getting a headbadge. "Come on, it needs an identity!" But I guess I don't really feel that's necessary. My bike's identity is contained within itself. A headbadge, however, could lend it allure. As a narrative tool, it could suggest a history, tell a story, invite the viewer to collaborate in an act of mythmaking. It could appear to either resolve or deepen the mystery of the bicycle's origin. All interesting stuff, but the question is do I want that?

I flip through folders of interesting headbadge photos I've taken over the years. There are ships and mermaids, flowers and snowflakes, letters and numbers, animals and insects, gods and deities, indecipherable symbols. I add the Eiffel Tower headbadge to this collection and wonder whether someone out there will buy a bicycle because of it. "Did you know they installed a glass floor there this year?" I'd heard a woman examining it say to the man beside her. "I did not know that, hon," he replied, "I did not know that."

38 comments:

  1. RBW's headbadges:
    https://www.flickr.com/photos/32306142@N07/6975354030

    I didn't pick my bikes because of the headbadges. However, they're a nice touch to have. Funny, though, I like many of the other bikes' headbadges better than my own, whereas I've heard others say that they preferred mine. Case in point, my Rambouillet... I could care less that it has a sheep on it. I can live w/ it, but it's not my favorite. I love my Bombadil's headbadge, but I think the Hunqapillar is my favorite (trilobites and a woolly mammoth?! How can a geologist not love it?!). I particularly dislike my Romulus' headbadge, tho'... awesome bike, great color, just not my favorite badge. Atlantis, Legolas, and the Hilsen, all great badges, tho'.

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    1. Rivendell headbadges are always nice. And it's interesting how some companies make them for every model, rather than using the same one for the entire brand.

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  2. I chose my bike builder for reasons other than the head badge, but will admit that there were a few I didn't consider precisely because of theirs. I'm mostly indifferent when looking at the badge but not so when riding the bike…It's my favorite partner in crime.

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  3. "a sort of aesthetic salivation"
    Now, that's an image! My wandering mind wants to read it as "aesthetic salvation" but is wet-towell snapped to Velouria's world:)!
    Thanks! Jim Duncan

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  4. This is a subject near and dear to my heart. I suspect there's some heraldry action going on here. In any case the headbadge is painted on my Soma Smoothie ES, and is one of the most glorious things about it. (They change the styles and do have some actual badgy badges, and while I like them too, I'm so glad I bought that bike when I did. I have the best one.)

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    1. Is it the one with red enamel and white clouds, or did they make others?

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  5. My first road bike, circa 1971 or so, was a bright yellow 10-speed department store special. Manufactured in Japan, the head badge proclaimed the brand to be "Paris", although it featured a much cheesier rendition of the tower than the one in your photo. That bike was also odd in that era of centre-/side-pull brakes and Simplex gears; I was the only kid on the block with cantilever stoppers and a Shimano group set.
    Haven't thought of that bike in years. Thanks for the memory jog!

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  6. It will surprise no one familiar with this blog that I share some of your fascination. My love is some for some of the pre-and post WW I era Jugendstil , French Nouveau, and later French Deco designs. Some of the older American marques are neat.
    There are some Italian Futurist headbadges that just grab my eye, too. And I do love the Raleigh Heron, and Bianchi's eagle, as they are both so iconic and long-used.

    I personally think Frame 00 ought to have a head badge.
    After all- are you going to be making many more road frames?

    (You could drill and tap for a couple of small screws, and change the badge as desired.)

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    1. I'd probably use a decal style badge. You know, for weight saving reasons.

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    2. heh. A while back, a tough hard fast old man on a gorgeous Rivendell Bleriot told me "a bike is the only vehicle weighed without it's motor."

      Decals. Hmmm.

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  7. I don't have many interesting badges- Peugeot, Raleigh, Schwinn (not even a sunburst design). My '58 Carlton track/path with the improper paint and decals has the neat badge with the rider on it. The rest are lightweights with decals or paint.

    One day I will get an old French constructeur or porteur worthy of some of the cool parts I have, and it will have a brass masterpiece on the head tube!

    Actually, scratch that. I came across an old Dick Power frame at a shop in Oyster Bay Long Island. Got it for the inch pitch goodies on it, Chater Lea crank, chain and cool old bars, steel seatpost and TDC headset. The twin plate crown fork's steerer was too short to use for one of my frames. The frame looks to be (polished) chrome under a rattle can grey coat of paint with brush painted red nervex lugs. The head tube lugs thinned and filed to the point of losing some of their 'points' which the painter painted on. One day I bring this thing to a Vintage Track Iron day at the Kissena Park Velodrome in Queens. I met Eddie Albert who, aside from being a strong rider and accomplished collector, wrote a book on Dick Power, a builder from Sunnyside Queens.
    He looks at it and studies it (47 cm seat tube) and says "I can tell you beyond a doubt that this is a Dick Power frame. Actually I can probably tell you which family this belonged to". He tells me the story of a national champion lady racer who was coming home from a race with her father and a few bikes in the back seat. The car they were in was rear ended by another car and the story is that the bikes in the back behaved as extra protection for the front seat occupants.
    The frame I have is a replacement frame that was made for her. Attached to the head tube per her family's instructions... a Saint Christoher medal.


    I have since built it up with BH Airlite hubs (tried to find red anodized ones, only have a front), 27" Weinmann rims (just barely fit the fork) and a narrow nos Mansfield Eclipse saddle, and an inch pitch chainest. Sadly, the downtube has some crumpling but it appears strong enough for a size appropriate light rider to knock around a track. I told the guys at Bike Works in NYC that I'll just put it out with Thursday's recycling ... to see their expressions!

    Victor K.
    vsk

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    1. I'd love to see a picture of that bike. And I like the idea of Saint Christoher medal as headbadge.

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    2. +1 on wanting to see that bike. Those 30s and 40s trackbikes have a aura all their own and Dick Power frames have even more than most (plus an interesting back story including National Championships, personal tragedy and lots of stories of his bikes turning up in odd places like this one).

      An early Bruce Gordon frame (50cm) turned up at my house last year with damaged top and down tubes, the guy wanted me to silver solder an extension to the fork so he could put it on his 58cm Fuji garage sale special. I sold him a used fork with enough steerer for $20 and connected him with someone who instantly gave him $150 for the frame and plans to see if Bruce will repair it for his sister in law, That frame had evidently made the rounds of several bikeshops without anyone ever thinking about having it repaired, this guy picked it up for nothing just to see if he could get a cheap fork for his Fuji with the suicide brakes and quilted vinyl saddle. The paint wasn't even that bad. I hope that bike lives...

      Spindizzy

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    3. Hmm Pictures pictures. I think I put some up on the Brooklyn Velodrome Vintage Wheelmen Facebook page. I'll try to send something to your filligree velo etc etc. I am not a flicker/picture/sharer subscriber.

      I forgot, fast forward a couple of weeks and Eddie e-mails me (with the subject of "Your DP Bike" so as not to freak out Big Brother at work!) a picture of Lynn Adams on "the" bike with her father holding the seatpost for support. She has leather hairnet and funky 50s (?) glasses on.
      Now I am not going to dispute him but I think there may have been a few bikes made for her with the St. Christopher medal affixed. I showed Brett Horton her picture at a B.V.V.W. meeting to see if he recognized her but no dice.

      While in Seattle, I have seen a few Dick Power bikes (over a bar and at Classic Cycle on Bainbridge Isl. to name a cupla occasions). Eddie had one or two on display at the Rapha store on Gansevoort Street in NYC and again at another in Queens.

      I forget the bike somethimes because it is not my size and don't really get to ride it. No brake as well. I am sure it was meant for tubulars and the 27" tires barely clear the fork crown. I think the drillings were 32/40 which narrowed my rim choices.

      I'll see if I can get a couple of pix of it to you.

      I hear you Spindizzy! I am kind of glad the bike is not my size as I'd be tempted to do something stupid like see what lurks beneath the paint or something. Or hack it up. I will keep it, as I read roughly translated on French eBay "preserved in its juices".

      I don't disparage the "safety levers" on bikes too much after learning that touring P-15 Paramounts with the Weinmann brakes came with them a lot. I always think I am going to find some rare rough diamond putzing around NYC and I'll offer the guy $100. You never know!
      I have seen a Robur full chaincase bike (without the chaincase) around here (Bryant Park and Grand Central Station) with the integrated 1 piece Cinelli upright handlebars and brake levers... I'll see him/her one day.

      vsk

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    4. I didn't see any Dick Power frames while snooping around Seattle this summer but I DID see a late 50s Mac-Lean in my size hanging up in Recycled-Cycles. Oh my, the palpitations and waves of lust that washed over me till I snapped out of it and got the hell out of there... I wouldn't have thought that would be a bike that could give me the vapors but there you have it.

      Spindizzy

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  8. So your custom head badge from the wonderfully talented lady at http://pathlesspedaled.com Just saying ;)

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    1. I don't think Laura does that anymore, at least not on a regular basis. She shut down Tangerine Treehouse a couple of years back. But there are several other great headbadge makers around, including a couple in the Boston area.

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  9. I was lucky enough to take a class from Jen Green so I could make my own head badges. It's a great way to personalize your bike.

    See: www.headbadges.com

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  10. i don't know if I would choose a bike based on it's headbadge, though there are some I might not want because of it's design, but I am reluctant to get a bike without a proper metal one.

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  11. Why would you tell him he was nuts when you were in the same shoes? I mean, untold random romantic purchases based upon aesthetics alone, knowing not how a bike should ride.

    Anyway, if you know how it rides fine. For the rest it's a learning process some are more open-eared about than others. Ahem.

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  12. One of my bicycles had an attractive headbadge when I bought it in 2004, although that was not the main reason for acquiring the machine. The badge fell off after a couple of weeks. I've ridden that bike almost daily for ten years without it.

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  13. I have a Devinci bike and it's a great bike, the logo is so boring. They make great bikes but really should work on the logo and maybe think of a "real" head badge that's riveted on and be something to show off.

    The Eiffel Tower badge is great! Makes you want to wear a beret while riding it to the patisserie to get a baguette.

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  14. I recently purchased a late '70s Emory frame, largely b/c of its exceedingly rad headbadge. The badge looks like most Emory badges, with the image of the Evil Galvanized Stallion, and the "Jacksonville, Florida '76" at the bottom BUT, in between, where it usually says "Hand Made", this one says "MADE BY ROBOT." Had to have it. I put an aftermarket fork on it, and I'm gonna get a Bender decal to put on the fork, to compliment the headbadge. I need to take a good pic of the headbadge, but here's a link to a picture of the frame: http://d36mgel2479174.cloudfront.net/2014/09/6156_3f84badbb1e29cd6fc0a764eddd7b297.jpg?Expires=1412918246&Signature=SJLz6bqtG1oKUGlyPmZ-JjPlJ7KMKMUvLJ5QoWd2uQDG0W-4zrhIKi4PLjbuKCnoWtFGdYj9CHtZzNAQiEiO6YnewULIHnEKzVCk7u0p7~ZlOfGJgoAOg~nf4wA1sQhM6uCDjQlvI0cEwFF48AJbz49H3KjKXxhe1WIC9eCkr50_&Key-Pair-Id=APKAJAEWQS67IP4XHE3A
    -Rob

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  15. The overheard dialog at the end makes me want more.

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  16. >>Is [the old Soma Smoothie ES headbadge] it the one with red enamel and white clouds, or did they make others?<<

    The one you're thinking of immediately followed mine, and it was lovely too. Now most of them seem to be a monotone steel or say aluminum-colored bas-relief of the sun-stream motif, though the funny thing is, it's really hard to tell what most of the headbadges look like now at their website, unless I'm missing something.

    Mine is painted on (or decal?) that I don't even know how to describe, so instead I'll just link it.

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  17. Guilty as charged when it comes to purchasing old bicycles for no other reason than to harvest the head badge. After culling my trophy I either build up the frame and donate to some deserving local or recycle if it cannot be salvaged. On bikes I donate I usually glue old Schwinn badges where the original set.

    Among current builders agree Chapman is very nice. Demon bicycles in the UK (know nothing about the frames but understand the builder is well regarded) and Winter Bicycles (just took possession of one, Eric Estlund is a master in the making) are also pretty well conceived.

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    1. A non-Schwinn bike with a Schwinn headbadge is never going to ride right. Just sayin...

      There are some really fine builders out there with really lame badges or no badge at all. I just had a fork made by Clockwork Bikes, his stuff is really fine and he's well regarded as a builder and as a person who is good to deal with. But his headtube logo is sort of underwhelming. If some well laundered money slipped into my possession I would TOTALLY have a frame from him tomorrow, but I'd have him leave the headtube bare and I'd snip out a little brass alarmclock and screw it on there myself...

      Spindizzy

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  18. I love headbadges, I have a small collection that gives me guilt and pleasure in equal measure. I don't buy old bikes and kill them just for the badge anymore and I don't buy enough new ones to make decisions based on the badge, but I would totally pay someone $100 or so for a nice custom pewter or sterling one for an especially nice bike I was in a relationship with. I'm getting a Seven and find their badge to be sort of Ho-Hum but it's big enough to re-shape a bit and paint a panel behind to give it a border and some contrast for the cut-out bits.

    When I was a kid I epoxied a badge onto the headtube of my BMX bike, it was a neat aluminum thingie with a Bull Elk head on it and the words Shenandoah National Park. It was intended to be nailed on to a hiking/walking stick as a souvenir (not sure why the Great Aunt who gave it to me bought it, the walk from the car to the gift shop was probably about as long a trek as she ever made and I suspect she just leaned on her sister the whole way, a stick would have just forced her to leave either her handbag or her Bible in the car and that was never going to happen ). It eventually fell off(should have drilled the headtube for screws) and I was bummed. 25 years later I bought an almost identical new one myself at Shenandoah National Park and it's glued to the headtube of my old Mongoose single-speed cruiser/MTB/townie-bike with some black silicon. I really should drill the headtube for screws before it falls off and I have to start over again.

    I know someone with a St. Christopher medal on the seat-tube of their CX bike, everytime someone tells her that St. Christopher isn't a real Saint anymore she tells them it's OK 'cuz she isn't a real bike racer anymore. I wish I had thought of that...

    Spindizzy

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    1. Saint Christopher
      Be My Guide


      vsk

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  19. Headbadges are great, but fender ornaments are the next step down that particular slippery slope: http://www.3gang.de/3-gang/bilderkiste/bikes3.html

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  20. would someone buy a painting because of the signature? i've seen a lot of crappy wannabes develop a flare for the market but fall flat with the work. the joy is in the experience..

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  21. For my birthday in second grade, my parents bought me a red Raleigh Mountie, a lugged frame bike with 20" wheels. I rode it until I was in 9th grade. The first bike I bought for myself was a Raleigh Technium.

    Most of their line today has a bland "RALEIGH" decal in place of the heron badge. To me, the badgeless bikes lack personality.

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  22. I've never bought a bike because of the badge, but I've lost interest in some because they lack them.

    For my birthday in second grade, I got a Raleigh Mountie, bright red lugged steel with chrome fenders. In 7th grade, I stripped off the fenders and chainguard, and rode it until high school. The first bike I bought myself was a Raleigh Technium road bike.

    From what I can tell, all their carbon and aluminum bikes just get a decal. To me, they lack personality. If I ever buy another, it will be one of their steel frames with the heron in its proper place.

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  23. I love looking at head badges, and must admit that my current bike is without one -- being I painted the frame. The Trek head badge that came with this bike had the word "Trek" spelled out, and it was anything but attractive. So I threw it away. Trek was kind enough to send a more attractive replacement, which is the company's shield logo. So that one will get called into action soon. Nice post. I believe they help give a bike an identity.

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  24. I'm lucky enough to own a Chapman. And yes... one of the first things that attracted me to the bike was the badge. It's beautiful. Cool trivia: the badge is made by a Rhode Island company called "Hookfast." In addition to making police and fire badges they also make all the badges for RBW.

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  25. I own a custom Ellis. No badge, just a decal. Although I can appreciate a nicely designed headbadge, it is not a deal breaker if a bike does not have one. What attracts me to a builder is attention to detail and artistry that goes into the frame itself. If you visit JP Weigle on Flickr, head tube shots are hard to find. I think he uses a decal also. These two builders have such a high degree of skill the frames they construct are so beautiful they are drool worthy without even noticing the lack of a headbadge.

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  26. I've never really been one for fancy, but there's just something incredibly alluring about Ahearne Cycle's head badge to me, perhaps it's the "made with love and fury". I am passionate, appreciate craftsmanship, and approach cycling with love and fury; it strikes a chord.
    Naomi

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  27. I love ANT Bikes for many reasons, but the headbadge is definitely one of them. It has an old world 'stamped with a chisel and hammer' look that I just love.

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