- Trading Post
Wednesday, August 5, 2015
The Shattered Record
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!").
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."
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.
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),
complete with bespoke mud flap,
the Union bottle dynamo, which works perfectly when I can manage to wrangle it close enough to the tyre (the pivoting mechanism is stuck).
The handsomely boxy Sturmey Archer headlight
is bested only by the sexy round tail light.
And the classic continental European rear rack is one I had dreamt of owning for some time- rusty rat trap and all.
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.