Friday, February 26, 2016

Restoring to What Never Was


It seems that whether I live in the densest of towns or in the remotest parts of the countryside, I am fortunate to have neighbours who are bicycle-mad. So much so that, wandering past their houses of an evening, I might spot them in the act of polishing a set of wheels, or perhaps restoring a frame in their shed.

"When did you get that one?" I asked Owen, peering over his fence. He was holding up a vintage Raleigh frameset, waving to me with it as I made my way through the field behind his garden.

"Don't you recognise it?"

I did not recognise it in fact.

The frame was silver with a sort of dark maroon headtube. A model I had seen, no doubt, before, just not in Owen's collection. My gaze traveled along the tubes for clues to something out of the ordinary, but I could spot nothing - until my eye was drawn to the seat cluster. Those seat stay endcaps, they reminded me of something...

And then all at once it hit me what this bicycle was.

"You didn't!"

"I did."

"Oh wow."

Over the summer I wrote about a rather unusual bicycle (here) that had made its way into Owen's stable. At first glance an iconic celeste Bianchi, it was actually a Team Raleigh 753 in disguise. To recap the history of this bike, it was initially owned by a local cyclist who had raced for the Belgian team Maestro in the '90s, which was sponsored by Bianchi and required its riders to ride Bianchi-branded bikes (apparently what lay beneath the paint did not matter, as long at the bike appeared thus branded!).

Having acquired this local legend of a machine, Owen decided to re-build it with newer components. And, while he was at it, to de-Bianchify it. Why? Because the falseness of it felt wrong I suppose. The bike even "looked wrong" to the eye somehow, its proportions and details un-Italian even if the decals said otherwise.

Interestingly, Owen decided not to chase whatever look the machine originally had as a Raleigh Team 753, but to go with his own colourscheme. After stripping and sandblasting the frame, he treated it with a rust-proofing agent and then simply clear-lacquered. And indeed on closer inspection I saw that the tubes were "raw" rather than silver. The headtube he painted maroon for a pop of colour, then sourced the relevant decals, and hand-lacquered clear again over the entire frame - employing a technique not dissimilar to the one he uses when repainting vintage aircraft.

As darkness fell upon the small back garden strewn with tools and components, I decided to postpone a photoshoot until the frameset was fully finished and the bicycle assembled. And I could not help but feel a tinge of regret that the "Ralianchi" was no more. Granted it had been an "incorrect" bicycle. But it had also served as evidence of the much-mythologised practice of re-branding bicycles for promotional purposes in racing. This, I thought had made it a historically interesting specimen.

The repainted frame looked friendlier, less aggressive, more homey. It was not so much a restoration as yet another re-invention of a frame that had already lived two lives and had many adventures.


Meanwhile, no sooner was the celestial glow scrubbed off the Ralianchi, another creature, similarly hued, appeared in our 'hood.

A Bianchi? Nope. It's a Raleigh. And not a repainted one either, but an all-original 1980s Raleigh Rapide Handbuilt, with Reynolds 531 tubing and rather attractive art-deco style lugwork. But that is a story for another time.


41 comments:

  1. Raleigh must have made several versions of the Rapide. The ones I remember from the 80's were low end and I believe Taiwan made. I could be wrong, though.

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    1. I thought so too. But this one has a 531 frame, "handbuilt in England" all over it, and some (though not all) Campagnolo components, so go figure. I believe the "Rapide Handbuilt" may have been a separate model from the ordinary Rapid, possibly a special edition. Not my bike but certainly very good looking.

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    2. Yes, a quick google search shows a bike or two just like this one. The low end ones were terrible, this one looks okay and I wonder where it stood in Raleigh's line-up.

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    3. I had one of those terrible US-market Rapides in my teenage years. When I bought my first bike as an adult (a late 1980's Shogun Katana, with chromoly tubes and a mix of 6-spd indexed 105 and Exage Sport bits) it was a revelation, by comparison.

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  2. I too did a search and discovered that 531-tubing Rapides were made at both Worksop and Ilkeston. Not much other info, though. I wonder if they were akin to the Super Course.

    Owen did a great job on that frame. I hope he can keep it bright.
    I love Celeste and yet the earlier finish didn't fit the bike somehow.

    I think you live in the Vale of Bicycles.

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  3. I am envious of your good fortune of neighbors. Most of my neighbors aren't "bike mad" as much as they're "mad at bikes". Oh well.

    I cannot wait to see the Ralianchi wearing its new outfit.



    Wolf.

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  4. Hopefully, the bike can now be ridden. That's when they're best. Does the restored version also have that straight fork? Was that original?

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  5. That maroon colour and the headbadge remind me so much of the vintage ladies Raleigh Cameo my local bike shop is fixing up for me. Can't wait to collect her when she's road ready, just a few more weeks. So nice to see all these vintage bikes being put back into use!

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    1. I am sure I've seen that colourscheme in a few Raleigh roadbike models in Boston; looks very "Raleighesque"

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  6. If Owen is thinking about riding not displaying a few words of caution about 753 tubing are in order. 753 was brittle. Reynolds always insisted that 753 could not safely be coldset. When first displayed on these pages the frame in question had mashed seat lug ears and a bulge in the seat tube just below the lug. In other words it had been coldset, under adverse circumstances.

    Reynolds also,insisted that 753 was for racing, period. Race frames are expendable. No one expects them to last. Compared to other late 70s exotics as Teledyne Titan or Exxon Graftek the 753 frames were rugged and dependable. Keeping them alive and in use for decades was never contemplated.

    There were frames with 753 stickers that were just for show. Reynolds had other light tube sets. It's just possible the frame is still serviceable. But it is doubtful. I wouldn't ride that thing around the block without getting it magnafluxed first. My #1 bike is 66 years old, Reynolds, and I beat it up over cobblestones. No worries. That 753 is scary.

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    1. Funny. Among locals who used to race in the 1980s, the 753 frames are remembered as the be all and end all. I have zero experience with them myself and know only as much as I've read online. The owner certainly plans to ride this bicycle, so I suppose we shall see!

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    2. Reynolds endlessly repeated red-bordered warning (physical red ink in original) that 753 may not be coldset is still readily found online. Failure mode is best described as shattering. The shards of metal do not even look like steel.

      Many pro teams entirely declined to use 753, and so did many star riders offered special TT and climbing bikes. Many mechanics handle any pro bike and there was never any way to assure that an eager but uninformed mechanic had not so much as applied the H-tool. Steel is an enormously forgiving material. People who handle it all day year after year learn to trust it. Teaching mechanics that 753 is utterly different never worked.

      I do have experience. I have a positive moral duty to warn. If the warning falls on deaf ears that's beyond me.

      By the 90's, when the frame in question was built many things might live beneath a 753 sticker. If the metal is ductile rather than brittle when handled the frame is OK. When the supply of old bespoke frames is enormous and very very cheap there's not a good reason to chance riding 753.

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    3. I remember a bunch of 753 bikes from back then and everyone who had one thought they were rockets. I rode one for awhile that belonged to the guy who owned the shop I worked at and it was as lively and willing as anything I'd even ridden. All you had to do to know it wasn't a regular 531 warhorse was to flick the toptube with a fingernail and listen to the "PING". Not alot of extra anything on that bike. It too had been painted a few times but not as a team bike, just cheap rattle-can blowovers to keep the rust at bay. We thought it was a Condor but who knows.

      That bike did eventually fail, the chainstays cracked behind the BB or maybe separated at the drops, whatever, NOBODY was willing to repair it so it got hung on a nail from a ceiling joist in the service area with the other retired warriors. In any case, any elderly bike made from 753 probably ought to be treated with some caution. But, if it fails, the failure mode isn't going to be a big bang with shrapnel flying everywhere. It's going to be cracks that open up and travel around the circumference of the tube til it comes apart. If you keep your eyes peeled and don't ignore any creaks and groans it's not likely to cause a crash before you can leap off and get 2 feet safely on the ground(probably, I think...). I'd be a lot more concerned if it was a bulge under the downtube or a big dent in the toptube but I think anon 4:34 is justified to be cautious, 753 bikes were never built for maximum strength and longevity.

      Your friend should go ahead and send it to me just to be safe...

      Spindizzy

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    4. It was the same with Porsche spaceframe racecars in the late ’60s and early ’70s, especially since Porsche went from steel to aluminium. They were raced by the works in one or two races, put into storage and then sold on to customers to be raced privately for another season or so, after which time they would no longer be competitive anyway. Those that were raced extensively inevitably broke or wore out their frames. That’s aluminium, of course, but it was the same principle with 753, I think. I hope the ‘restored’ Ralianchi goes ok, but it might not be forever. Still, a craftsman like Owen must be a fascinating person to know.

      Concerning the ‘altogether alarming seatstay endcaps’ on the Ralianchi, they were pretty crude, right enough, but I have two Raleigh Pioneers from the same period with the same ‘style’ (!) of endcaps, except the caps/plates were embossed with ‘RALEIGH’, which gave them a certain je ne sais quoi. A race bike, being purely functional, wouldn’t be fussed with such frivolity, and of course if the Ralianchi’s seatstay caps were embossed they would have had to have been filled in, although it’s unlikely that they were in the first place. More likely they would have been filed down (saves weight, see?!) but it would be interesting to find out if the embossing (if there was any, of course) reappeared after the media blasting.

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    5. Reading anon 9:46's comment makes me think maybe I don't know as much as I think... Wouldn't surprise me.

      Spin

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    6. Hi Spin

      My memories line up with yours pretty good. Batch of super frames comes to town, the fast guys zip around talking about rocket ships and then - Poof - where'd the rockets go? Doncha like rockets? Where they went was hooks in the back of bike shops.

      The legendary 753 certification test was simple. It was a straightforward 'reads and follows directions' test. Reynolds told the builders as plain as they could no coldsetting. They magnafluxed the sample frames. If microcracks showed in the 'flux they knew it had been coldset. Half the builders who tested failed. Mechanics and owners would be much less reliable than builders.

      The failure of the frame you knew was typical. Exactly what to expect when the stays get jacked and the dropouts set. That type of alignment/tuneup is so normal most will never think about it. I've found my bike in the mechanics area, getting aligned, just because I walked in the shop with a nice bike. Free service I didn't ask for. The only 753 frame you would want would be a virgin. You know how likely it is to find a virgin.

      Ordinary steel tubes can remain in service a very long time with live cracks. Most riders get the warning, if they do, very late in the process. And then they decide to maybe visit the bike shop, maybe next week. They do not dismount. In private correspondence we were talking about an illustrious rider, deep in the category of should've could've must know better, who passed up his opportunity to dismount and was lucky to remain alive. You and I are trained to get off the bike when the time comes, me and you ain't normal.

      753 does not do the bulge under the downtube. Malleable metal does that. 753 is brittle, it microcracks. When the microcracks meet each other it could be slow and it could be fast. Downtube cracks give quicker failure than chainstay cracks. And more dramatic failure.

      I have a friend who has owned a Teledyne Titan since new. He still rides it frequently. He never has had more than two bikes, the Titan gets used. He's a gentle rider. If anyone ever buys his bike from him I suggest they put it on the wall.

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  7. Being 80's does it have modern rear spacing making upgrade easy...? Shame about the straight forks, to me they never look right.

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    1. The rebranded bike is early '90s, so modern rear spacing. (That said, on an older bike you could carefully spread the chainstays to make it compatible with modern wheels.)

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  8. A great story, and I somewhat share your feeling of regret to see that lost forever is a re-branded bicycle with such an interesting story behind it. I had no idea that kind of re-branding took place. Well, the slate is now wiped clean, and it looks like he's done a fantastic job with the new paint work. Looking forward to seeing more pictures of it. Thanks for sharing.

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  9. I love the cliffhanger ending. :)

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  10. Great story!
    The Raleighs that were built in Ilkeston were the best things Raleigh ever created and probably the best things to come from any large bicycle manufacturer. I've got a TI-Raleigh Team bike from Ilkeston, and the quality and craftsmanship is as good as a custom bike.
    Congrats for giving the Raliachi another life!

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  11. I have recently aquired an Italian Somec made in 1978 that was rebranded as a Swedish Crescent for the precise same reasons as the pseudo-Bianchi. It was the bike of a rider who competed in Nordic road racing in the 80's, and I bought it from him himself. It is something of a trophy as it was under him when he finished 3rd in the '84 Nordic road championships. I have decided to not touch it and let the story of the bike, as it were, written on it, show through. But, I might add, the bike is in pristine condition and has the original paint job, just decals, stickers, and a new head badge have been added.

    Leo

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  12. You mention "hand lacquering". I would love to know more about this restoration technique. It may be as easy as it sounds, but I was always told to be careful of putting lacquer over enamels. I believe this is what is being done in this video from Monttaninai Cycles https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=pmrevVS317c. Do know of any good sources of information on this process. Thanks for another great read.

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    1. Have you seen this article on Classic Lightweights?
      http://www.classiclightweights.co.uk/painting-frames-restoration.html

      The closest I have come to any of this myself, was hand-painting part of an old bicycle frame with enamel *over* the existing paint. The bike was in cosmetically poor condition and I did not like the colour scheme, so I figured it couldn't really look worse than it already did. Happily I was right and it came out pretty spiffy. If you didn't look too closely of course (https://www.flickr.com/photos/lovely_bicycle/4546333274 ).

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    2. Thank you for the link. Very useful. It just occurred to me to actually try (experiment) with lacquer over enamel on a old frames where the results don't matter. Nice work on the Mercier.

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    3. If you live in the United States, Bradley at Capricorn Workshop has been experimenting with this and similar techniques on some of his builds.

      (http://www.capricornworkshop.com)

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  13. A lot of photos and stories of old men bringing old bikes back to life. Any stories of older women doing the same?

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    1. Are younger women acceptable?

      http://lovelybike.blogspot.ie/2015/11/we-are-everywhere.html

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  14. Owen looks to be under 40, from the pics I've seen. (That, and his kids are quite young.)

    Anonymous 9:16PM, Is 40 old to you?

    The gadzooks my step-kids are all over 30,

    CK

    P.S. Velouria, I noticed AJ had made it to the Flann O'Brian ride. Her Raleigh looked great out in the landscape among all those subtle colors.

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    1. I hope I will not offend Owen by revealing he is in his mid-40s.

      The gender and age thing though, what does it matter. I don't really think in those terms when I write about people's bikes.

      AJ's bicycle was not only lovely to behold, but did quite well up the hills of Donegal despite its limited gearing range!

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    2. I brought it up because it hit me in the middle of the night and I was wondering about this gender and age thing with regard to bringing new life to old bikes. I'm sixty and have been around bikes for awhile, so have a history and appreciation for the subject. Stripped and rebuilt many bikes just for the joy of it….There was a time when women were doing the same, when I was young, but now not so much. I've noticed my sons getting into the idea of a bike as a living thing and teaching themselves how to keep it alive and vibrant. I've also noticed a couple of their female friends doing the same thing, but this is in bike centric places like Portland, Oregon. Mostly, I've yet to meet anyone my age on the female side who finds this interesting. Of course the internet connects many but I've yet to bump into females who enjoy this sort of thing. Just thought it was interesting.

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    3. I suspect that if someone did a statistical study on this sort of thing, they would find both overall gender differences and regional differences.

      Around here I actually know lots of women who cycle. But most of them are into the racing aspect of it exclusively, with zero interest in vintage bicycle history or restoration, and zero interest in using the bicycle for travel or utility. Which is completely fine of course. But it means I have no real reason to feature them here, except to say "Look! She's a woman and she cycles!" which is not really my thing.

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    4. Well, I'll keep looking! Maybe there are a few female Spindizzys out there. Strangely I know many my age who are into cars and motorcycles and grease and tools and such but not so much bicycles. Lot's of younger ones who stick with it for a few years then drift away.

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    5. {laughs hysterically while visualising a "female Spindizzy"}

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  15. Rivendell used 753 for its original lineup of bicycles, made by Waterford. I owned one, a custom from 1995, which I used for years first as a "gofast," then as a commuter/errand getter on often less than perfect asphalt (was going to say "pavement" but remembered in time that in Britain that word refers to what yanks call "sidewalks"). (Whoops! "Tarmac." Sheesh!) No problems at all with a 170 lb rider and rear loads up to 35-40 lb. Given Grant P's conservatism about frame strength, I wonder how fragile 753 is when brazed by competent brazers? Of course, professionals will pu much more stress on a frame even than heavy grocery loads.

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    1. Rivendell had a special run of heavier 753 made to Grant's specification. You'd have to ask Grant why he thought the exercise was worth the trouble.

      Carrying heavy loads at the end of lever arms is hard on a bike. You couldn't punish a bike that severely just by pedalling it. Racing punishment is more about crashes and the bikes being constantly tossed in and out of cars/trucks, handled by lots of people in a hurry.

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  16. Hi there
    I'm the owner of the Raleigh in question and I plan to do a lot of riding on it this year I'm entering a duathlon on 3rd April and plan to ride at least 4 duathlons with it,on the strength front,I thoroughly checked the frame out after soda blasting and it's as strong as when it was built,I have got ultegra 11spd groupset and new 11spd wheels and they fit the farm without modification,I have a original quill stem with cinelli 42 bars with cinelli tribars(the small bars the pros used for a while in the early 90,s)for the bike section of the duathlon,when the bike is ready in a week or so I will post pics.
    Best regards,
    Owen.

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  17. Is this a dead thread? I hope so. This is the Internet and ofttimes saying anything at all slides into stirring up shit.
    I don't know the future. No one does. I don't know this frame will break if used. If it does it won't prove I was right. If it survives a while and rolls around that will not prove anything either.
    This is a race frame. It's been raced. A lot. Cursory examination of photos not meant to reveal or highlight problems show that it has had a very hard life. This bike is not good as new.
    753 began as light gauge 531 with an extreme heat treatment. Heat treating has changed a lot since the 70s. It's easier, better, and better understood now. By the mid-80s the 753 heat treatment was utterly obsolete. Reynolds should have dropped the sticker from the lineup. But they had an investment in marketing and they kept it. Did they continue performing a difficult and obsolete heat treatment? I don't think they did, but Reynolds is mum. And if they did switch to something more reasonable, how would anyone know which production run they had? Right now you can buy complete original certification kits from the 1970s for less than the value of the included silver solder. Provenance of old stuff is usually unknowable.
    Reynolds insisted that 753 was for top level competition only. I know a couple of builders who've told me that at times in the 80s half of the inquiries they received were for 753. They would reply "You're not top level competition." It was a good way to say no. It was the right thing to do. It was the responsible thing to do.
    Same builders have told me about their experience when they made an exception and attempted to accommodate repairs on the 753 frames. Basically there was no,way to know what to expect. Different frames were different. Some repaired completely normally and some were unique and strange.
    I keep seeing that enthusiasts unerringly choose the vintage bikes that are the least likely candidates for riding. When that predictably does not work out then all vintage bikes get slammed. And it has always been the case that tubing stickers are drastically overvalued. Two anecdote about stickers. Aermet 100 was around 15 years before it became Reynolds 953. As Aermet 100 it was an unsaleable novelty. As 953 it is the Holy Grail. One of the last frames I salvaged and sold was an 80s Toyo-built Raleigh. Less than 100 miles of use. Near perfect paint. Heavy chrome absolutely perfect. Anyone who knew what they were looking at could see this one was far better built than anything Toyo supplied to Rivendell. I sold that frame with fork, BB and headset for $75. It had the wrong tubing sticker on it. At that point I gave up on the 'market'. Goofy marketing for a 1970s project that never went past beta still sells, craftsmanship and value do not sell.
    Safety doesn't sell either. Being responsible doesn't sell at all.

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    1. Noted. And the owner has been informed and replied (see above).

      I do find the whole thing historically interesting. And of course I hope that no one who owns and chooses to ride these frames comes to any harm.

      Beyond that, let's indeed not stir things up. And so, respectfully, I bring this debate to a close.

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  18. After over 20 years of riding bikes and following bike tech and with an interest in steel frames, particularly Raleigh frames, I can honestly say that I have never heard of a particular 753 frame problem. OK, it was special and there were restrictions on who could build with it, but I have never read of there being a large amount of failed frames. Raleigh Dynatechs were perhaps to be checked due to the glued nature of tube joining, but standard construction has never thrown up this issue - at least for 753 compared to other Reynolds tubes. The only negative I have heard is that they were somehow not as comfy as 531 or 853 were. Having said that, it is of course, better to be safe than sorry, so check that frame!

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