Saturday, August 15, 2015

Out of Reach

Long Dawes Frameset
So this is what happens when you spend time on twitter kids, let this be a warning! A fellow bicycle obsessionist posts a link to this tiny-looking 1970s Dawes frame for sale, suggesting I might find it "lovely." I glance at it, smile, and forget all about it. Minutes later I get a private message. "Get it! That's a good frame!"

Really? Aside from being sold cheaply, what exactly is so good about it? Is it the unremarkable construction? Or the peeling aftermarket spray job? Or the fact that it is missing every single friggin component and will be a pain to build up considering how many non-standard parts it will need?

"Seriously, get it before someone else does. If you don't get it, I will."

"Sounds good - enjoy!"

Later that day the Dawes set sail from the Green and Pleasant land to the even greener and pleasanter one across the waters.

Long Dawes Frameset
It was meant as a sort of collective buy. "If So-and-so doesn't like it, then So-and-so will. Maybe even yourself!" (Oh sure. As long as I don't have to build it up.)

But here is the best part of this story. The frame was described as 53cm. This meant that it would fit "everyone" as that happens to be a popular size around here. However, in reality it fits no one: An in-person toptube measurement produced a figure of no less than 56cm. At the same time, the seat tube is a mere 51cm at best, and the head tube a teeny stump of a thing. Talk about "long and low?"

Long Dawes Frameset
With the chain stays approaching 430cm and the healthy headtube upstand, the rather Rivendellian geometry suggests a touring machine or (less likely due to the narrow-ish tyre clearance and fairly light weight) an upright city bike. But could a 51cm x 56cm frame have been standard production, or did Dawes offer made to measure frames?

Long Dawes Frameset
The frameset is "lugless" (fillet brazed), with decorative collars around the head tube joints and a brazed fork crown. No markings to identify what model it is, so if a Dawes enthusiast cares to shed some light that would be splendid.

Long Dawes Frameset
The frame looks to originally have been a bright kelly green, but at some point was partially - and rather haphazardly! - repainted a darker and duller pea green. All things considered, I actually rather like the paint job!

Long Dawes Frameset
And of course the awesome headlight mount!

Long Dawes Frameset
So what is to become of this frameset? Well, the price at which it was purchased vs return postage mean it's a keeper! And besides: "Even the bad Dawes models of this era were good," one friend assures, "so really you can't go wrong!" A solid argument if ever there was one.

A decision was therefore made to build the bike up and see how it rides. The reach will be difficult to get right for ...well, pretty much anyone, unless it's set up with upright handlebars. But clearly fate has brought the fella here for a reason. So 27" wheels and a medley of old components shall be fished out from hither and thither, and next time you see this beauty it will be built up in all of its 50-shades-of-green glory. Perhaps even test-ridden by your truly.

A lovely bicycle? I think so. Strange proportions, peeling paint job and all!

37 comments:

  1. Well that's a perfectly lovely beginning to a tale I will most definitely follow.

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  2. "Or the fact that it is missing every single friggin component"

    Um hello! It is not missing the headset.

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  3. That's potentially quite lovely! If details and information of the kind you crave is not otherwise forthcoming, you might try Ken Wallace at the Bisbee Bicycle Brothel, he knows. https://www.facebook.com/BisbeeBicycleBrothel

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  4. I have shortish legs and a longish torso. And green is my favorite color. And those collars ... Mmmm. Too bad I'm all the way down in Florida ...

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    1. Well if you come here to visit, bring a bike bag : )

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  5. It seems like a lot of sellers have no idea how to measure a bike. You need good pictures when buying sight unseen.
    I have four road bikes but for my short commute I was thinking I would like to sit more upright.
    With the proper bars that Dawes would be perfect for me.

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    1. To be fair, the seller had good pictures. And the 53cm sizing looked very plausible based on them, because the head tube was so tiny. You just never know until you have a thing in your hands.

      But yes, for an upright bike with nice swept-back bars the true dimensions are pretty much ideal. If you (or anyone else reading this) are local and might want it, drop me a line.

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    2. I`m in Canada and i`m trying to control my bike projects. (Unsuccessfully)

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  6. I'm not sure the "long and low" dimensions were all that unusual, at least here in the UK. I recall seeing many such bikes. It's just the way they built small frames (56cm seems to be the standard size for top tube).

    I built up a 1970s Dawes Lightning for my young teenage son a couple of years ago that had similar dimensions. With the long arms of a typical gangly 13 year-old it fitted him perfectly!

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    1. Interesting. I have seen so many 60+cm x 56cm frames from UK manufacturers of this era, that my impression was rather the opposite: that "high and short" was their MO. Was it the case then that top tube length simply did not vary at all with frame size? Sheldon Brown has written about how some UK manufacturers would just stretch the bikes upward to increase size, but I assumed there would still be *some* variation between a 51cm seat tube frame and a 60cm seat tube frame!

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    2. I can’t profess to be an expert but taking a tape measure to the seven British 531 frames in my collection (two Raleighs, Dawes, Carlton, Thorn, Claud Butler and Revell) reveals that they all have 56cm top tubes! Seat tube heights vary from 55cm to 64cm. I haven’t got any really short frames at the moment (my son has grown up) but as I said earlier seeing the “long and low” look from a 19in frame is not uncommon. Whether it was just a shortcut by the builders or a deliberate design choice I’m not sure.

      It's a lovely frame by the way. There's that fine line between lived-in retro chic and just plain tatty and this one falls on the right side!

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    3. I think so too (apropos the right side of the line). Plus - when I bike is this well-used, I take it as a good sign. The previous owner(s) must have liked it quite a lot to put all those miles on it!

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  7. Is it Reynolds 531 tubing? And a much more pressing question: How's the running coming along?

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    1. No decals to indicate tubing.

      Last run was sometime in May. I managed to hurt myself by running up a steep hill too fast and in the process doing something horrible to my lungs, to the point I was coughing blood and in pain for days.
      Decided to take a break after that :(

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  8. I think this will make a lovely bike - looking forward to seeing whether you go upright or low again (please let it be upright!).

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  9. Oooh! So nifty!

    If you hadn't emigrated to the other side of the freaking world I'd send you a set of 27" wheels that are trying to coerce me into looking for a good frame to put them on. Like new 32 spoke Wolber Super Champion rims laced to some mid 70s Sunshine hubs(3 cross rear, 2 cross front) that spin like the races were ground and polished by someone trying to prove a point. There's another unused set of rims and 3 new in the box 27"x1" Specialized Turbo S folding tires that need to go as well so I'm not tempted to do what you did and buy another old bike that is simply going to make me miserable.

    Put a tallish 60mm stem on it and a bar with just a bit of reach and see if you cant get comfy on it. It might be a bit twitchy on the tops but maybe on the hoods it will be merely "nimble". You should be able to ride it in Clown Shoes and not scrape your toe on the tire I reckon...

    Spindizzy

    P.S. I dig the "Retired Player out and about in his Barn Coat" paint scheme too.

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    1. Oh don't worry, the place is teeming with 27" wheels. It kills me that in Boston I still have boxes of old bike parts, from my hats-for-parts trading days, held hostage by the extortionate postage rates.

      There's a vintage ride coming up in September, and one of us shall be attending astride this bike. Already picking out the clown shoes (front-center a healthy 60cm).

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    2. So, uh, where are all these boxes of old bike parts? Just out of curiosity you know... close to a ground floor window on the back side of a house in a quiet leafy neighborhood perhaps?

      Oh, and those rims are Wolber "Gentleman", not Super Champion. Don't you hate getting caught with your pedants down?

      Spindizzy

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    3. In the basement of an undisclosed bicycle shop. No windows. Laser grid security system. You would have to do that whole digging a tunnel thing.

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  10. I am very interested to set how it turns out. I am almost finished with the restoration of a 1971 Dawes Galaxy.

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  11. I'd get it repainted before putting it together. At least it will be easier to resell, should you need to do that.

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    1. The cost of a paintjob would exceed any potential resale value I'm afraid! But I don't think it will be a problem to find someone who wants this bike as-is.

      And I prefer to think of the current paint job as a "feature" : ))

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  12. I think it's a Dawes Star Celeste, very similar to one I rescued recently. Pretty much bottom of the Dawes range at the time I think. MIne is 56cm seat tube, 57cm top tube. The frame's in poorer condition than yours but has original tatty paint (red), and original stem and bars, saddle, wheels and brakes (Weinmann 610 centre pulls). I had to sling the derailleur and bottom bracket and crank which were completey shot. I like mine, only partly because it was free!

    Richard

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    1. Thanks Richard. Somebody else has just sent me a catalogue suggesting this. There are some differences in this frame's construction to what is picture in the illustration. Also, the frameset in my hands feels suspiciously lightweight. Still, it is possible!

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  13. I "heart" the chrome "lug collars" great touch for a entry level bike. As someone whose legs are too short for his height, at least according to standard bike sizing, I'm sure there is someone out there who this frame will fit very nicely -look for the long in the torso folks.

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  14. I could ride It, I ride a 1999 Lemond Zurich that is 53 seat tube almost 55 top tube. I also have a ladies Dawes that is a sloping top tube of 50 and a top tube of again almost 55. I have never looked at a bike as ladies or men's style, they are just bikes to me. I can take three measurements and know if it will work for me. It is all about fit. I also have at least two build kits, so I could build it up in about two hours. I am a bicycle parts hoarder so having worked at various bike shops for 10 years after I retired I would be privy to many really good used and new parts. That is a really nice looking frame set. Have fun building it up.....

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  15. The long top tube should eliminate toe overlap, right?

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    1. That's one way to do it, yes!

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    2. The semi-horizontal drop outs make it a good candidate for a fixed gear build. I would also consider going with 700c wheels. I found it easier to find good used 700c wheels with aluminum rims than 27 inch, also I like the tire options for 700c, the 27 inch can be pretty limited.

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  16. Porteur bars could be a fine setup to help with reach. Though I'm not sure that'd be ideal given the gearing you might want in that terrain.

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  17. This frame is asking to be built up with a fixed gear, as it has neither cable guides nor a braze-on for a rear derailleur. Maybe you could put some fat tires on your Mercian’s fixed gear wheelset and give it a try. Adding a long-reach front brake and swept-back handlebars might make the Dawes a nice “scorcher” bike for fixed gear offroad riding.

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  18. Veloria-

    Your comment on builders just scaling up frame sizes is correct. Dave Molten wrote an interesting 3 part series on post WW II frame design and notes that as a production economy, larger manufacturers just raised the top tube and extended everything else to match. The description is specifically in Part 2 here. http://davesbikeblog.squarespace.com/blog/2009/10/8/the-evolution-of-frame-design-part-ii-how-economics-changed.html

    Jim

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  19. That Dawes is definitely worth saving. I restored a 1971 Dawes Galaxy with only a the front gears and petal shafts more components than you have there, and it rides great.

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  20. Hi ,I actually had a Dawes Star celeste as a 15 year old and rode it for the next five years or so.
    I can definitely see that your frame is not the same as the celeste that I owned but it's possible that the spec was changed .
    Another possibility was that the recycled the name star celeste Either before or afterwards.
    Mine was purchased in 1977 and in a orangey red with bluemell mudguards .
    Hope this helps

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  21. I actually owned a Dawes Star celeste as a 15 year old and kept it for the next five years.
    The frame in the photos is not the same as mine was but it's possible that the spec was changed over the years.
    It's also possible that the name Star celeste was recycled with a suitable gap in between.
    Mine was in an orange red colour with bluemell mudguards .Weinman centre pull brakes and touring brake levers .

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