A Cutting-Edge Classic
There are times when you see a bicycle, and you know straight away it has nothing to do with you; you know that it is wholly inappropriate for your style of riding. And yet... And yet, there is something about it that grabs you, that engages your imagination.
It was this very thing that I felt, when I saw Raymond's Argos racing bike.
"Wait... What is that? Why is that?" I wanted to ask. I could not stop running my hand along its unusual knife-thin fork blades.
Not to be confused with Argos the catalog retailer, the tiny Bristol operation that is Argos Racing Cycles has been in the business of making custom steel bicycle frames and forks since 1973.
Raymond is a fan, and owns two Argos bicycles: a classically lugged touring steed, and this sleek lugless racing beast with aero tubes and fork.
The frame and fork, Raymond explained, were optimised for racing time trials. However, even though he no longer races, he finds the bike - and in particular the fork - quite comfortable for road use.
"Really? That is comfortable?" It was not exactly what came to mind, looking at those massive, flat blades.
It's strange that this piece of equipment fascinated me so. But long after my visit with the bicycle's owner, I kept thinking about the Argos fork blades - especially since the topic of aerodynamics seems to come up as of late in my household. Finally, on a whim, I gave the builder a call.
The son of the original Argos founder, Garry Needham was friendly and casual, and kind enough to tell me all about the fork.
They designed the Argos aero-bladed fork in 1995 to create a competitive advantage in time-trials, and have been making them ever since. The forks are made to measure and built to order - either with Argos frames, or to fit an existing frame from another manufacturer, at a cost of £250.
The forks have been made in the same manner and from the same materials for the last 20 years: with Reynolds 853 blades, Reynolds steerer, cast crown, and stainless dropouts.
But despite its now-classic status, the Argos aero fork actually offers an advantage over contemporary carbon fibre rivals: Because the fork blades are steel, they can be made thinner than carbon fibre blades. And therefore more aerodynamic.
"And what about cross-winds?" I ask suspiciously. Mr. Needham tells me it's fine.
At 750 grams, the Argos aero fork is heavier than a typical steel road-racing fork, and of course heavier still than a typical carbon fork. But in a time trial context, on a flat course, aerodynamics matters more than weight. And possibly the Argos bladed fork is the most aero fork available on the market today.
I do not know why I felt the need to learn all this about a fork I will never have occasion to use. Nevertheless, I found the information to be immensely satisfying, and feel as if a mental itch has been scratched. Even just the idea that someone is sitting there, in a small workshop in Bristol and brazing up a piece of classic, cutting-edge technology, makes me smile.
If you're in the market for a custom frame from a small UK builder, consider Argos Cycles. With over 40 years of experience, they can do the whole range from classic to modern, from racing to touring, and lovely custom paint, with a reasonable price list and waiting list. They also specialise in repairs and restorations.
With thanks to Raymond Kennedy for access to his collection, and to Garry Needham for the talk, I wish everyone a Happy Weekend!