Wednesday, March 30, 2016

The Mysterious Swiss Miss

SKS Swiss Mystery Bicycle
I suspect it was my exposure to Lindt Easter eggs over the weekend, with their shimmery red foil wrappers, that reminded me of her just now. But I don't believe I have ever told you about the Swiss Miss. A most beautiful - and, of course, most unusual - bicycle from the collection of Nick at Curious Velo.

Even beyond the Swiss connection, the Lindt comparison seems apt: When I first saw this bicycle it had the look, I thought, of an oversized confectionary product freshly plucked from within some giant gilded gift box, where perhaps several of such things had lain side by side in transparent tissue paper. It wasn't just red, but candy wrapper-red, with golden lettering and fanciful flourishes. And it looked utterly delicious.

SKS Swiss Mystery Bicycle
"What is it?" I immediately asked, from a distance unable even to guess its provenance. Despite the vaguely-Italian frame construction, the bike had an otherwise German look to it and the combination confused me.

"I don't know!" replied Nick, infusing that statement with the sort of urgent meaningfulness only he is capable of expressing. "But have a closer look..."

SKS Swiss Mystery Bicycle
The first thing I noticed was the incredibly elaborate lugwork, of the sort not usually "wasted" on step-through frames in the mid-20th century era I had guessed this bicycle to be from. I then noticed the SKS headbadge. A German manufacturer of bicycle accessories best known for their pumps and mudguards (in the '80s they took over the British brand Bluemels), I was not aware SKS had ever made complete bikes. Most likely this was a one-off - a handmade display model made to exhibit their components?

SKS Swiss Mystery Bicycle
However, on closer inspection I began to notice a different theme. Many of the components - in fact nearly all of them - seemed to be Swiss. From the Weinmann rims, brakes and mudguards,

SKS Swiss Mystery Bicycle
to the Pletscher rack and kickstand, and the Lucifer dynamo lighting, it seemed that Swiss parts dominated the build.

SKS Swiss Mystery Bicycle
The un-branded bell was embellished with a Swiss flag. In fact, I realised, even the bicycle's coulour scheme - the red frame, the white tyres, and the red grips - reflected the Swiss national colours.

"And the hub," Nick whispered, having noticed my awareness of this, "Even the hub, I think, is Swiss! Scintilla - a Sturney Archer clone."

SKS Swiss Mystery Bicycle
So what exactly was this bicycle and why was it so elabrately made? The Reynolds tubing, the Nervex lugs, the double-butted seat stays and the intricate paint job were above and beyond what one would normally see on a machine of this type.

SKS Swiss Mystery Bicycle
The only clue I could personally find was in a small seat tube decal:

SKS
Fahrradhaus
F. Küng
Luzern

I am deducing that Fahrradhaus (bicycle house) F. Küng was a bike shop, or importer, in Lucerne Switzerland, which must had been the Swiss rep for SKS components. This bicycle might have been made to celebrate either the start of this relationship or its anniversary. It could also have been given to F. Küng by SKS as a reward for excellence in sales performance. I am going to make the sexist, but historically probable, assumption that the owner of the Swiss enterprise was male, but that perhaps his wife or daughter loved beautiful bicycles and that knowing this SKS created this as a gift for her.

SKS Swiss Mystery Bicycle
It's a plausible story I think. But unfortunately, the real story we simply do not know. There is no mention of SKS-branded bikes or of a Swiss "Fahrradhaus F. Küng" online. Neither is it clear how the bike made its way from Europe to Paramount Bicycle in Somerville, Massachusetts, from whence Nick eventually acquired it.

Based on the style of the hub (like all of the other components, it's undated, so precise production year is unknown) we can say the bicycle is of 1950's vintage. But that is pretty much it.

SKS Swiss Mystery Bicycle
Why such excitement about a "mystery" that lacks significance, one might ask? After all, this bicycle has not won any races. It was likely not owned by a famous person. Its construction, while lovely, is not an example of anything that had been either novel or innovative in its time.

True enough. But for me it is about the lost dynamic of whatever had brought about this unusual "collabo." Clearly this bicycle had been an important gesture for whoever made it. There is such an optimistic and celebratory look to it, such an energy, I could almost feel the buzz that had gone into its creation through the fabric of time. I regret to think that whatever was being celebrated in the act of making it, has now been lost.

SKS Swiss Mystery Bicycle
I have nearly forgotten to mention, that I've ridden the Swiss Miss. It was over a year ago now. We pedaled along the scenic, leafy cycle path around Fresh Pond and it handled beautifully. It is the kind of bicycle that passers-by point at, compliment, ask questions about - even if they aren't into bikes at all. And as we rolled along, I was reminded that this too has value. The value of making people curious, of making them fall in love with the idea of cycling even if they don't understand what exactly they are falling in love with. Whatever the notion, event or occasion that led to the making of the Swiss Miss, perhaps this was its true purpose.

If you are in the Boston area, the "Swiss Miss" is available to test ride at no cost (or to rent, for longer-term use) from the bicycle library at Curious Velo. With thanks to Nick once again for his endless supply of fascinating machines, the complete photo set can be viewed here.


24 comments:

  1. Wow, what a neat bike, so many neat details. I love that red, I bet it has a beautiful glow out in the sun. The bend of the top tube seems unusually "swoopy" (sorry for the overly technical jargon). All the lug-lining/ double box pinstriping seems to be in really great shape. And most of all, that chaincase really catches my eye for some reason. It's just really the perfect touch on the bike.

    It may just be my monitor, but are the down and top tubes shaped? In a couple of the pics, I can't tell if it's a shadow or if they have some sort of unusual profile to the tubes.


    Wolf.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Now that is a lovely bicycle!
    It does look Italian. Any idea of the geometry? That head tube looks steep!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It does and it doesn't look Italian. The "Frascona curve" is a little off. And overall, the proportions and the way the build comes together just doesn't have quite the look of Italian bikes of that era. But the mix of German and Italian references is very appropriate for a Swiss bike. Trying to figure out whether there are any French elements there as well.

      No idea on the geometry of this one. Perhaps Nick will chime in if he's measured it.

      Delete
    2. It is lovely! quite appropriate I guess! - Mas

      Delete
  3. I think you have a set of Swissmade Oscar Egg lugs there. Some of the old Nevex Legere are so similar it would take a little research to be sure. In any case the lug that joins the toptube to seattube is a treat I've not seen before.

    In about one minute of search this morning I found two cycles available for purchase that would bear comparison to the top post bike. The first is on page one of damenfahrrad at eBay.de: http://www.ebay.de/itm/OLDTIMER-PAGELLI-DAMENRAD-SPORTRAD-LADIES-BIKE-50er-60er-AS-NEW-53-54-REYNOLDS-/321974833398?hash=item4af73210f6:g:4UQAAOSwFqJWlf5L
    It's a little pricey but still below most entry level new bikes. The hand fabricated fork crown is worthy of any of the grand constructeurs.

    Having a spot of bother loading two links into a comment. Over at eBay.fr on page one of velos is an entierement restaure 1950 Peugeot ladies for a mere 170 euro. That's the price of a tune-up. I recognize that bike because the seller has been listing and re-listing for months. Bikes like this are very very hard to sell.

    Anyone contemplating this style of bike should know that they are serviceable. Most of them are more serviceable than new bikes. Any new bike at a low price will have little plastic gobs that break and can't be serviced except by replacing complete systems. Old bikes were made of metal, intended to be serviced, and the parts all interchanged. Parts are available still. You won't find things like linen-wrapped cable housing anymore. You won't find silk handlebar tape anymore. Your bike will operate just fine with modern cable housing. If you absolutely must grip silk on your bars you find silk ribbon and glue it. Mechanical parts are not a problem at all.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oh wow. Swissmade Oscar Egg lugs would of course make sense.

      Bikes might be hard to sell from France, because they are hard to buy - even from IRL/UK. I have tried to purchase seemingly bargain priced constructeur "ladies bikes" from France twice over the past 2 years and failed. Very frustrating.

      Delete
    2. Sorry you had those experiences. It happens. It's not so much about France as it is about people. People are emotional about bikes. People are emotional about money. Put the two together and anything might happen. Myself I've largely stopped selling bikes, it's just too much work. When I'm given nice bikes, or when they just fall into my hands I try to find homes for them. The last resort when I can't continue storing what I'm not using is to take those bikes to a man who already has 10,000. He always buys. And he does not resell. You only get to have 10,000 collector bikes if you buy a lot and don't much sell. My buyer does not do vapor sales anymore but he has.

      One summer when I worked at the bike shop, early 70s, someone was promoting the Original Plastic Bicycle. The OPB did not exist. The shop had no connection whatever with OPB. I fielded at least one phone call an hour all summer from persons wanting to buy OPBs. In the front of the store we had Galmozzis for sale. Not stories of Galmozzis or rumoured availability of Galmozzis but physical bikes. No one would have them. They went at cost or less than cost to racers and friends of the store. Now more valued than early Colnagos or Cinellis. Selling bikes is weird.

      The Italian/German bike above is being sold by a German shop. A German business. 30% price drop since yesterday.

      Delete
    3. Looking at some of those bikes I am reminded of the images of crane's pulling bikes from the canals after they've been drained. Some of those bikes on Ebay look like they came out of a canal! LOL! - Mas

      Delete
    4. I just bought a 51' Claude Butler with Nervex Legere lugs on E-bay and hope when it arrives the lugs are as well done as on this bike, but I think these are something other than Legere's. I'm no expert and just go by the pictures I see on Classic Lightweights and (repeat the opinions of those who seem to know more than me) but Oscar Egg seems like a good candidate to me too.

      I didn't know Scintilla made 3spd hubs but now I think the Sun will be dark in my eyes until I acquire one of my own. They used to make Magneto's for racing cars from at least the 20s to the 50s, an old Grump I know in Ind. who messes around with old Model T Fords, was forced to build a replica Model T Board Track Racer at great expense to his wallet and temper simply because he found a Scintilla Magneto and felt compelled to build a proper car around it to the level of quality and workmanship of the Mag'. If the hubs are as well made, than it's probably better than the Sturmey it's cloned from. If I find one I'll have to build something as special as Art's "T" Racer around it.

      Spindizzy

      Delete
  4. Hi, Great piece, thank you. It looks amazing in the photographs. It is such a sleeper or as I like to think of it, a Sleeping Beauty. I have to point it out to almost everyone. It is such a finely built bicycle and as you said "beautiful". It is only when you get close that you start to see the details. If you look closely at the picture with the dynamo you can see the end of the brake cable, though not in focus. Anyway, instead of a crimped tip on cable end it has a small brass closed ended tube with a set screw to hold it in place. I can only imagine that the cables have never been replaced as they would have been lost or thrown away. I have never measured the geometry, I'll try and do that at some point soon. I only just found out that there is a Swiss Consulate in Cambridge, MA. I might have to see if anyone there fancies helping me on a wild goose chase for more information.

    As for the shop, Curious Velo, it remains open by appointment but I will unlikely be opening proper this season and many of the Library Herd will or have been sold. My intent is still to search out the Curious as finding such treasures is what I enjoy the most. Now that has been said, I'd better update the site at some point to reflect that.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Kicking myself I did not get any shots of those brass cable-ends!

      Delete
  5. Oh my goodness, I do love a red bike. I once posted a picture on a social media site of my own red loop framed bike against a forested backdrop. A friend responded "It's like a picture you show a child and ask them to make up a story about it." That came to mind when I saw the very first picture on this post.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I remember reading somewhere that red bikes tend to get the best reactions. Purple bikes the worst. Alas, I seem to be the exception to this rule!

      Delete
    2. I would not wish to have a red bike, though I think the colour looks fine on 'other people's bikes' - as for purple, my trail bike is a very deep matt purple - looks good on such a tough looking bike - the same model was available in a bright, shiny purple - might be fine on a 4 year old girl's first bike.

      Delete
    3. I got a purple Fat City Monster fat - Love it! - Mas

      Delete
  6. Lucifer, Scintilla ... trilingual Swiss have impeccable taste in names.

    ReplyDelete
  7. I can attest to the fact that all Swiss bikes up to the 1980s - even those of the 'everyday variety' - were made to very high standards, definitely much higher than most of the bicycles sold in Germany at the same time, and are a pleasure to look at and ride (although they tend to be build very sturdy, alas heavy).
    I used to own a ladies touring bike that looked 'very italian' overall (the friend who owns it now found out that it in fact may be a rebadged Umberto Dei 'Imperiale') that has been retrofitted with a Scintilla 'X'-hub at some point of time in the past (obviously reusing the old spokes for the standard freewheel hub), and the aluminium shell of this hub is stamped with the number '58' on the outer side of the left hand spoke flange (in line with the oiler) - I think this should be the year of production. Maybe Nick Benett will find a similar number on the hub of this beautiful bike here.

    ReplyDelete
  8. SKS fahrradwerke,Schwanden, Glarus

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. There you go, Velouria – Anon has solved the ‘mystery’ – well done that person!!! :) If you Google SKS Fahrradwerke, Schwanden, Glarus (without inverted commas), then click on Images, you’ll find a fair few photos of well used and ridden vintage SKS bicycles.

      Most of the photos are linked to the velochic.ch photo blog – photos by Daniel Bernet. Here’s the site’s ‘about’ page, with an email contact address:
      http://www.velochic.ch/about/
      Posts tagged SKS:
      http://www.velochic.ch/bern/2012-04-08-4/
      http://www.velochic.ch/zurich/2011-06-11-6/
      http://www.velochic.ch/bern/2010-10-15-7/
      http://www.velochic.ch/bern/2010-05-28-3/

      And here’s the SKS (Schellenberg, Kundert, Schwanden; evidently no connection with the pump/mudguard manufacturer) company history/timeline:
      http://www.sks-rehab.com/home/uber-uns/
      Formed in 1932, it seems they ceased bicycle production in 1960; you’ll see they now manufacture motorized wheelchairs, but they certainly did make elegant, lovely bicycles.

      Delete
    2. INTERESTING!
      {sorry for the caps, but I think they are warranted here}

      And, yes, well done Anon - fantastic! I had attempted to search in German earlier and did not manage to find this. Neither had anyone else involved in trying to solve this bicycle's mystery.

      Imagine, a completely differnt SKS.

      Nick, are you reading this?

      Delete
    3. Wow, Brilliant!! Many thanks to all. I've got some reading and research ahead of me :-)

      Delete
  9. My absolute favorite bike is one I bought for $20 on Ebay from a person in Missouri. It had one tiny bad picture of the bike with full chromed mudguard, it sort of appeared to be about my size.

    I was the lone bidder and won.

    I turned out to be a fully Swiss bike from approximately 1967, ever so slightly ahead of the bike boom. It was all Weinmann (Switzerland) and Pletcher. No other bike fits me quite as perfectly as this. Clearly if I bought a fully custom built, mildly fast day tour bike, it would have the exact same dimensions and tubing as this 1960s swiss bike.

    The lugs are blunt and definitely middle of the pack. The paint scheme is a sort of muted brown with weird black 'antiquing' fade around the lugs.

    It has a some championship rainbow stickers on it, and the marque is

    Jean Brun
    Place Du Cirque 3
    1204 Geneva

    Turns out Jean Brun's son still runs the shop at the same address.

    The Pletcher brake bridge/rack mounts are awesome. The front "chrome" fork has a brazon for the bottle dynamo and light. Which powers the rear light too. Full chrome weinmann mudguards. It has 1x5 gearing with a single downtube shifter, "dur-a-lum" chainguard. I just love that bike. Lastly and most importantly, though technically inferior all the way around, the axles have wingnut. I love those wingnuts.

    $20 buck gamble on ebay.

    My fantasy story is that some GI bought it and brought it back home to rural Missouri and fifty years later relative just threw it on Ebay to get rid of it.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Concerning the 1973 Witcomb on Nick’s site, you inevitably wonder if any of the American builders who apprenticed there – Richard Sachs, Peter Weigle, Chris Chance or Ben Serotta – were responsible. It’s a long shot, of course, but check out the hand-painted motif on the seatstay end caps – now, come on, whose logo does it remind you of? ;)

    Nah, surely not. I think ’73 was the year before RS was there anyway, and I reckon if you asked if there was a connection, the answer would most likely just be “None whatsoever atmo”... :)

    ReplyDelete
  11. First of thanks for the digging on the SKS, I've only glanced at the links but will spend time this weekend reading more and doing some follow up. As for the Witcomb, unfortunately no connection. It was after Peter Weigle's time there. I have showed Peter the bike and he kindly identified it as a 1973 Team bike for me. In fact the musette was actually a gift from Peter. I had let Peter know that I was selling the Witcomb after I decided to start thinning the herd and would he like the musette back but he graciously said it should go with it.

    ReplyDelete