Friday, November 18, 2016

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!


25 comments:

  1. nice kitty cat - mas

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    1. There are 2 of them - you can see in the last picture one is chasing the other : )

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  2. As cool as that fork is(and it's WAY cool), the rear brakes on that tourer are even more bitchin'. I keep running across Argos when thinking about another Trad Brit Bike. A nice light lugged Road/Path bike I can run CX tubulars and Fenders on with a choice of Fixed/Free or 3gear Sturmy. I've added them to the short list of Woodrup, Ellis Briggs, and Mercian web-sites I go stare at once in a rainy while...

    Spindizzy

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    1. That rig has full trad 40/32 spoking. They live.

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  3. The flat fork blade is interesting. I just assumed that it was CF, before reading the post.
    I remember the lower-end Schwinn bikes had flat fork blades when I was a kid. This explains why I was so super fast on a 45 pound bike. I shoulda' been time-trialing!


    That touring bike is a classy looking build.

    Wolf.

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  4. Actually those forks could be a lifesaver (literally speaking) for those who own a bike fitted with a carbon fibre fork.

    http://bikeretrogrouch.blogspot.dk/2013/10/carbon-forks-no-way.html

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    1. Aching to get on the ranty bandwagon here, but I lack data, so I'll just say this. On an aluminum bike with carbon fork once, I was on a club ride with a group that was going faster than I usually go. We were taking a bumpy descent at a pretty good clip when I felt a dead, thudding kind of feeling in my front end. Thinking I had a flat, I peeled off and stopped. No flat or any other apparent problem. So I continued down the hill, the pavement smoothed out, and nothing was wrong. A thousand to one it's all in my head, but I haven't felt right about that fork since, even though the problem never recurred. I added more bad stuff to my head, including that post by retrogrouch, by investigating on the internet.

      I realize there's a theme here with the scared-of-scary-possibilities thing. But I really want to put a steel fork on that bike. Next project, maybe. Headset problems likely to arise.

      Walter

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    2. That happens with carbon forks. It is unnerving to say the least. And it is probably nothing to be afraid of. You will feel better about the episode if you take the fork out of the frame and have a good look at the steerer column.

      Headset problems are very likely to arise. Minor imperfections and quirks in head bearings cause all kinds of odd sensations. It was much easier to sort these problems when all head bearings were pretty much the same basic cup and cone design. If you have an 'innovative' head bearing it will also be harder to come up with a custom steel fork.

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    3. Bicycle frames and forks and other parts can flex, vibrate, twist, distort, even break, in a variety of ways, regardless of material.

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  5. Feels to me like other craft from when aluminium was cutting edge,such as the HP-18 or the Marsden Sigma.

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  6. That touring bike looks pretty much exactly like my dream custom frame. Thank you for continuing to feature independent builders.

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  7. See also Grant Peterson's discussion of carbon forks on the page for Rivendell's Cabonnomas replacement for carbon forks. (https://www.rivbike.com/products/carbonomas-steel-fork-1-1-8-threadless-curved).

    He also references the bustedcarbon.com website. I'm impressed by the number of carbon bikes that are smashed to bits during an accident (where most steel bikes would be severely bent), and the number of frames, forks, and components that simply fail under routine to strenuous riding.

    I also remember back to Viscount Bicycle's (in)famous all-aluminum "death fork". The hot new light-weight fork that would would break without apparent warning at the steerer-crown connection. The frequency was so great that this, as I recall, lead to the failure of the brand.

    Call me another retro-grouch (my wife calls me the old coot) but I want steel for the frame and forks.
    Cheers,
    GAJett

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  8. With Mercian's wait list being now what, over a year? Argos Cycles are looking good. What about bike builders in Ireland?

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    1. Something like that, last time I checked (re Mercian).

      There are a few builders in Ireland now, most having popped up over the last few years. The ones I know of include:
      Arcane Custom Cycles
      Fifty One Bikes
      Woodelo (possibly no longer in business)
      Coast Road Cycles
      Donard Cycles

      They are all pretty far away from me, Donard being the closest hence the shop visit.

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  9. Well not to make this a debate of carbon or not, but DEDA stated in their reply to Lennard Zinn that "Carbon lasts longer than metal. Only love is stronger than carbon. Bonding is a different story.I believe that a good glue (epoxy) can last for 2000 hours of work, or about 800 days, not in continuous daylight, and below 35 Celsius.Whenever a carbon “part” has crashed, even if you cannot see a failure, if there is any reasonable doubt about having surpassed the elongation limit, the part must be replaced."

    800 DAYS????

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    1. 35 Celsius? Some of us do ride at that temp. As most carbon bikes seem to be black what then happens when they are parked in the sun? Or parked in a shed that gets hot in the afternoon sun? This is the best a vendor of CF parts can do?

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    2. I think not, ladies and gentlemen. Carbon fibre frames and forks are ridden in hot temperatures for years nd the riders typically survive.

      It is fine to prefer one material over another. But to instill panic in others about a material that has at this point stood the test of time, is unnecessary. The CF death-fork debate has rather played itself out at this stage; there is no need to resurrect it here. Merci.

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    3. Bike parts don't break in LB Land. When you have broken a stem, a few handlebars, a quick release, a seatpost, a fork, and lived to tell about it the discussion will be different. The problem is not materials so much as quality control. The bike industry does not have that.

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    4. I have either broken, or seen someone else break, each of those things. None of them were made of carbon fibre. And I agree with your last 2 sentences.

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  10. Argos is a fascinating place to visit. Rows of classic and modern frames, going back to the '30, of all builders, in for resprays and refurbs. Mostly steel but some aluminium too. And yes, you can chat to them as they go about their work. A bit, at least. Haven't seen their framebuilding workshop, I guess that's out the back.

    Thank you for supporting the local economy – even if it's my local economy, not yours! :)

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    1. Cool, glad to know you have visited them!

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  11. Ha, as someone with two cats and too many bicycles...I LOVE the last photo. Awesome.

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  12. I didn't know they built frames. I knew they did resprays. I had my 1992 Reynolds 653 Ribble frame redone by them a couple of years ago. It has still not been reassembled back into a bicycle yet, much to my shame. They did a lovely job and added period 653 decals.

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    1. Yes, they started out as a racing frame builder back in... a long, long time ago, but most of their work nowadays seems to be resprays and refurbs. They do still build frames and I know a couple of people with Argoses, but ironically the most common custom built frames here seem to be Roberts (from London).

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