Wednesday, August 5, 2015

The Shattered Record

"Distressed" Record Ladies
It began because I wanted a so-called "beater bike" - for leaving at bus stations for days at a time and such. This was a role hitherto filled by an old Viking mixte I'd found discarded last summer. But in my eyes the Viking was actually too good for the job and indeed I had other plans for it. Was there not something even more nondescript and decrepit I could get my hands on? I presented this challenge to my friend Bryan (aka "Elton John," of the hub/derailleur dumpster Kalkhoff fame) and he did not let me down. "I have just the bike for you," he said reassuringly, "...though I doubt you will want to feature it on your blog!" It sounded perfect.

"Distressed" Record Ladies
The machine he had in mind was a long-suffering ladies Record, circa the 1970s. It had all the functional features I like in a transport bike -  low stepover, fat tires, mudguards, chain guard, rear rack, even bottle dynamo lighting - but with the added bonus of resembling a half-heartedly thrown together heap of scrap metal. I regret deeply now not taking photographs of the bike in its full glory when it was first handed over to me. Closest I have is this one, but it hardly does it justice. When I first saw the machine I may have actually gasped.

"Still want it?"

"Well, as long as the thing rolls, it should do."

"Actually it rides rather well," said Bryan, almost apologetically. "I'd be interested to know what you think of the ride quality."

The ride quality! Surely he was joking. And as I set off for home, I giggled at the idea of evaluating the Record's performance.

"Distressed" Record Ladies
Little did I know, the joke was on me. By the time I arrived home I was in love. The rusty 40lb monster handled with the sort of nimbleness, speed, responsiveness and downright panache one might expect of a fine custom-built machine. Even the springs sticking out of its collapsed mattress saddle and the orange stains all over my sleeves from its corroded handlebars could not diminish the beauty of its performance.

"Distressed" Record Ladies
By the end of the day, I had switched the handlebars to some Bella Ciao Porteurs and the saddle to a Rivet (my only spares), and the unfortunate looking steed, rust and all, was unexpectedly transformed into a thing of elegance and comfort. As I scaled a 14% incline in its single 60" gear jauntily the next morning, there were practically tears of joy in my eyes. Dare I even say it, dear readers? Yes. This bicycle planed.

"Distressed" Record Ladies
But what exactly had made this bike so remarkable? For even in their heyday Record bicycles were nothing special - and that is putting it charitably. An extensive search yields little about their history. And the "Surrey, England" headtube decal notwithstanding, the Union hubs, Weinmann brakes, and other clues in the components and frameset tell a different story - suggesting that the bike was in fact produced in continental Europe (we think Germany), then rebranded for Record, which appears to have been a low tier catalogue brand.

"Distressed" Record Ladies
But this rather lackluster pedigree is only the beginning of this bicycle's story. Originally owned by a family in Derry, the Record later made its way over the border to Donegal, where Bryan's sister rode it as a teenager. In the course of its decades-long service, the bike suffered several serious wrecks that left it perceptibly altered.

"Distressed" Record Ladies
The frame as a whole is subtly, but noticeably misaligned. And by the time the bike made it into Bryan's stable, the seat cluster (which had come apart during one of the crashes) has been re-brazed using conspicuous DIY methodology ("Jayzus, that looks like it was welded by a farmer!" one friend exclaimed. "Um, that's probably because it was!").

"Distressed" Record Ladies
More interestingly still, the fork juts out at an unnatural angle, suggesting it has been bent forward quite a bit at the crown. Both Bryan and I found this fascinating, as we'd only seen forks bent the other way around before - usually as a result of crashing head-on into an object or barrier. What sort of crash could bend the fork forward? My best guess would be something like hopping curbs - a theory now supported by a commentator on flickr, who reports a similar bend caused by a "heavy landing."

"Distressed" Record Ladies
So what we have here is a bicycle that began its life as a generic, mediocre machine, "customised" by a hard knock life. The "re-raked" fork has given it low trail handling and has shortened its headtube, allowing for a more active riding position. And who knows what effect that re-brazing of the rear triangle has had, not to mention all the more subtle dents and bends in the frameset. Thus hammered into an exquisite state of comfort and responsiveness, my guess is, this bicycle handles nothing like it did when it rolled off the factory floor.

"Distressed" Record Ladies
Aside from the body modifications, the ladies Record has many other features to recommend it - such as the gorgeously mismatched mudguards (notice the rear one is white and the front red),

"Distressed" Record Ladies
complete with bespoke mud flap,

"Distressed" Record Ladies
the Union bottle dynamo, which works perfectly when I can manage to wrangle it close enough to the tyre (the pivoting mechanism is stuck).

"Distressed" Record Ladies
The handsomely boxy Sturmey Archer headlight

"Distressed" Record Ladies
is bested only by the sexy round tail light.

"Distressed" Record Ladies
And the classic continental European rear rack is one I had dreamt of owning for some time- rusty rat trap and all.

"Distressed" Record Ladies
Having promptly named this bicycle Katy (it reminds me of a girl I knew in school - long story), I have been using it for transport almost exclusively since picking it up from Bryan and can't get over how much I like it. So it looks like my "beater bike" mission has not gone according to plan exactly. But I can hardly complain, cruising along on a Record that has been shattered with such unexpected, exquisite consequences.

39 comments:

  1. Quite a lovely homage in the telling of the tale of this storied bike. Thanks! Jim Duncan

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  2. Beautiful V - not bangs/scratches/rust but 'patina' - that bike has lived ;D

    Re the fork, my friends heavy landing was a jump on a BMX track. His halfords mtb wasn't designed with that in mind as he discovered - I'd keep a check on yours but at least it's steel & not aluminium!

    Kudos to whoever made the mud flap. Washing up liquid bottles are ideal too :)

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    1. Perhaps a mudflap making tutorial is in order!

      And I love the idea of this bike having been jumped on a BMX track. Who knows, it could have been.

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    2. I was trying to imagine how the fork ended up being splayed so far forward. My first mental image was that the bike got bent after being ridden in a circus by a 1,000-pound grizzly bear. But Ian's BMX jump theory seems like a good explanation. That may explain the busted seat cluster, as well.
      My dad was a farmer, and I remember watching him braze steel with his acetylene torch. Those brass beads weren't exactly a work of art. They were functional. At one point he also bought an arc welder. Its fierce glow was a bit frightening, even though he let me watch after handing me an extra mask. Because farm machinery breaks so frequently, he became a pretty decent self-taught welder. I wish I had asked him to teach me more. By now I'd be cranking out framesets in my sleep.

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    3. Yup, most farmers here can weld and braze to some extent. But working on farm machinery doesn't always translate well to bicycle frames! I have seen some true DIY-repaired "beauties" around here.

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  3. just speculating here, but I would guess the photography has a lot to do with making this bicycle "beautiful" !!! well I am glad you are enjoying it anyway and I look forward to more "lovely" dumpster finds.... speaking of, when will the viking make an appearance?

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    1. As much as I'd like to take credit... I think it's not so much the photography, as that some bikes are strangely "photogenic" and others the opposite. Case in point with this Record vs the Kalkhoff Bryan was riding in an earlier post. The latter bike is actually in better condition than this one, but it didn't photograph particularly well, poor thing.

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  4. Gulp. This is really, really lovely V.

    Would your Triumph make a good beater bike?

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    1. Eh. The Triumph needs one, possibly 2 new wheels, new tyres, and new rod brakes. Can't afford to buy all that right now. Plus being pre-Raleigh I am thinking it has too much historical value to be a beater bike. Also, did I mention the rod brakes? So... the Triumph might actually end up going to Bryan, or somebody else who will want to restore and appreciate her.

      But I think "Katy" will actually make a fine beater bike once the honeymoon is over (and I change the saddle!). Wonderful as she is, I suspect she will be left well alone if I leave her locked up in the city!

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  5. Um I think having rusty handlebars and a beat up saddle would be a plus for a "leave at the station for days" beater ;-) and how do think Katy would feel about being named for a beater bike with "farmer" welds and a wonky fork? LOL Great to see a old steel not perfect bike serving a useful service.

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    1. A beat up saddle would be great. It's just that the original one had collapsed, with sharp rusty springs literally sticking out of the padding. I gave a crappy old spring saddle to a neighbour and she is not using it, so I'll probably ask for it back and fit that on the bike. The Rivet is lovely but it does look a teeny bit out of place : )

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  6. Is there TCO on this build? It's a lugged frame, that makes it good, right? Maybe this shouldn't be a beater bike.

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    1. There are a good few yards of toe clearance. And as nice as the legwork is, it's the artisanal seat cluster treatment that truly makes it exquisite.

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  7. Sometimes an unlikely bike can really make an impression and cement it's place in your fleet.

    Several years ago, I picked up an old rigid mtn bike at a yard sale for a whopping $15. It was dirty as could be, rotted tires, rusted drivetrain. The wheels were pretty good, though, and I figured I'd just keep the wheels and scrap the rest. After an afternoon of beers, cussing at frozen bolts, and scrubbing and oiling, it turned out that it was (aside from the rusted crankset and chain) in pretty decent shape, after all. I put some fat slick tires on it, a new chain, and a Velo Orange saddle that had been intended for another project. 3+ years later, and it has become a favored bike that I cannot foresee ever getting rid of. On fun "tootling" rides, it has a magical quality that I just can't explain. It was going to be a "beater" bike, but now I would be utterly heartbroken if I left it locked someplace and it got taken.


    Wolf.

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  8. Those of us of a certain age (ahem) will remember the "bike jumping" fad back in the '60s (we were all Evel Knievel, see). My old bike got longer of wheelbase and lower of bottom bracket until, finally, the end of the fork fractured and that was the end of it.

    Interesting that this one doesn't have the tell-tale kink in the seat tube where the top tube meets it...

    I have a soft spot for ratty old bikes that ride well, though. My main ride these days is what I refer to as my "rat-rod" bike, which looks like hell and rides great.

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  9. This bike looks nearly identical to virtually half the bikes in Berlin (both in design and condition). I suspect you are correct about the German/continental origins. The only thing you need to complete the look is a basket of fresh berries on the rack and to ride it around at night without the lights on and with an open bottle of beer in one hand.

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    1. Exactly why I suspect it is German-made. Funny how certain looks are associated with certain cities. In my memories Vienna is all about '70s "swoopy mixtes" in pastel colours...

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  10. While I was reading your lovely post, the Blues Brothers version of this song popped into my head. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hVOdrL5_B_0
    "She caught the Katy and left me a mule to ride..." I don't think the entirety of the lyrics pertain, but you will never get the chorus out of your head as long as you ride that bike.

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    1. Ey! I thought I was the only one! Glad to see another Blues Brothers fan here. Like you, I could not get the song out of my head.

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  11. I do really like the look of this bike. The raked out fork reminds me of a modification my brothers and I did to our Schwinn Stingrays when we were kids. To make our bikes look like choppers we cut off the fork blades from an old bike and stuck them on the ends of the fork to extend the front wheel. Talk about low trail. Looked very Easy Rider-esque. The mod didn't work so well for our neighbor who popped a wheelie only to have the wheel and extra fork blades pop off and fly away while he crashed down on the original fork. Good times.

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  12. 3 years ago I have bought an old MONDIA racing bike for € 80.- My idea was to ride from Geneva-Nizza and then fly back with Easyjet for € 30.- and to leave the bike at the airport... Before starting my trip I did 2-3 testrides and began to love this bike and did some invests, too. I really found my idea of leaving a bike in Nizza interesting (no worries and extra costs), but no more this bike. So I changed my plans, rode from Passau to Budapest. In Budapest the bike got new colour and new components, now its one of my favourite bike!

    OT: maybe I have missed it, but will you start PBP 2015?? Hope yes and all the best! (hope to be parto of it in 4 years)

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  13. I'm guessing the "planing" you are experiencing has something to do with the step-through design and its inherent flex characteristics. The several stepthroughs (and also mixtes) that I have ridden have all had a similar and remarkable ability to get in sync with my pedaling, even if made with heavy gas-pipe tubing.

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    1. Ooh I don't know. I have ridden many, many step-throughs and most of them - even if they feel nice - don't exactly "plane" for me, regardless of whether they are stiff or flexible. But the ones that do have definitely stuck in my mind. For instance the very heavy and stiff-feeling "swan frame" Waffenrad bicycle I rode in Vienna. And at the other end of the spectrum, the lighter, more flexible proto-mixte I designed and still have sitting in Boston...

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    2. Could it be those flexible farmer welds that are contributing to the planing?

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  14. FINALLY a red bike!
    No wonder it goes fast.

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    1. Heh. Red is my least favourite colour, so I would never deliberately choose a red bike. But hey, these things happen! (Remember also the Francesco Moser.)

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    2. Colour is a personal preference certainly - I do like red bikes, particularly red and black - and in mtbs - they just look sharp and strong - however in a typical ladies bike I would probably choose another colour. I have been riding mtbs for many years and always choose 'strong' colours for these bikes.

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    3. What about those shiny red shoes??

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  15. Very much reminds me of the first "NEW" bike I ever got! A Girls Royce Union in about 1970-71? All my friends had Stingrays So it was sort of embarrassing to be riding that old 3 speed girls bike, BUT I could whup any of them in a race and think fondly of that bike now, it rode great!
    -masmojo

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  16. 40 spoke rear wheel?

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  17. About five years ago I briefly had a made in West Germany Mira Mart three speed that I bought just for the Wrights saddle.
    It was built as cheap as you could get but the ride was great.
    It needed some work and at the time I didn`t have a supply of parts so I passed it on.

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  18. That bike's been jumped.

    It's disheartening to think about and we like to pretend that this sort of thing doesn't happen to nice bicycles in our day, but the fact remains that there is abuse in all levels of society. It's even more horrifying when you find out that statistics indicate that she wasn't just snatched out of a bike rack but probably knew her abuser. Maybe the son or grandson of her owner or perhaps the nice middle aged woman who bought her new had a problem with alcohol or drugs and a violent temper. I'm just glad she had the strength to survive and come through as a beautiful, interesting bicycle with a ready attitude and a willing heart.

    Treat her well, she's a keeper.

    Spindizzy

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  19. Regarding the obstinate Union dynamo, pop off the black plastic piece that says "Union," put a few drops of oil on the spring hidden beneath and then replace the plastic cover. Presuming that whatever re-raked the fork didn't also affect the "genny," that should do the trick.

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  20. This is a great post. Loved reading this one. Love the photos, too.

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  21. It is very similar to Rog Turist (made in Ljubljana, Slovenia in 70-80's).
    http://www.bolha.com/rekreacija-sport/kolesarstvo/kolesa/mestna-kolesa/mestno-kolo-rog-turist-1299829493.html

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    1. Woah, yeah, I agree. It looks exactly the same, save for the chainguard sheet metal. I wonder what that linkage near the handlbars is for.

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  22. Your new bike is just oozing with history, haha. Nice. Did you purposely align most of the photos so that the handlebars appeared as one single, straight line? I just found that intriguing.

    Also, whether this is good or bad we will find out, but this article has made me rethink putting my '62 Rollfast up for sale. It used to be a 3-speed (long story) looks like a Raleigh frame like many Rollfasts but might not be due to the location of the rear fender eyelets. It has really nice patina but I didn't really want to risk "adding" too much more. Seeing that my primary beater is a '79 Ross Gran Tour frankenbike and I have several very nice Raleigh 3-speeds, I couldn't justify keeping the Rollfast since it was a single speed coaster. I did really enjoy it though for some reason, despite my hilly location. Anyway, I took it back off ebay, threw on a tough steel rack I had lying around, and I'll enjoy it for a while more. Maybe it'll go up for sale in the future, maybe not. Anyway, have fun with the new ride!

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  23. Tail lamp is a Soubitez - quite a decent piece of kit in it's time.

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  24. Good assumption on the rebranding. it's a rebadged ROG, made in Ljubljana, and which was in turn basically a Puch.
    My bike recycling scheme, BikeRescue, in York, refubished two of the Puch models, and since going to Ljubljana I've seen lots of the ROG version.

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