Wednesday, May 14, 2008

The Torpado Project.

I’m notoriously bad at not throwing anything away. Mostly that isn’t a good trait to have but occasionally it pays off. The Campag. Gran Sport derailleur described in the previous post is a good example of an item that I am pleased that I kept around for the last fifty odd years. There is also another derailleur that I have had that long. It is a Lucchini, which I had been given in the fifties. The Lucchini derailleur

It is interesting in that it is rod operated from a shifter on the seat stay. I had the derailleur but had never even seen the shifter until friend Steve Maasland turned up at the Cirque du Cyclisme with an old Italian bike with a complete Lucchini fitted. Now at least I knew what the shifter looked like and as it was virtually impossible to find one I decided to make a replica, which turned out reasonably well.

Left: Original Lucchini shifter on Steven Maasland's Soncini.
Right: The Barry version.

The Italians did have some funny ideas.

Good friend John Palmer has also been known to hoard a few treasures from the past. He had one item that I had lusted after for quite some time. It was a pair of Palladini hubs. These are unusual in that when the rear wheel is removed the sprockets remain in the frame. John’s father had owned a bike shop south of London which was bombed in the Blitz. One of the very few items to be rescued from the rubble was the pair of Paladini hubs. John kept these for the next sixty years despite moving to Canada, the US, Holland, back to the UK and finally to Manitoba. Those hubs always stayed with him. Then a year or so ago he asked if I would like them. I jumped at the offer and was determined to put them to use.
That was the start of the Torpado Project. I had the derailleur and the hubs and had a suitable old Torpado frame, which although not as old as the hubs and derailleur wasn’t too far out of keeping. The frame was repainted by Noah Rosen ( and the hubs were built into a pair of old wood rims. Friend and vintage bike enthusiast Peter Cridland has refinished the rims. He’d spent hours sanding them down and applying coat after coat of varnish. I found an old Italian “Invincibile” saddle, which was brought back to life with a bit of TLC. A pair of Cinelli steel ‘bars were fitted to an English lugged stem. I know it isn’t correct to fit an English stem to an Italian bike but it’s lugged construction when painted to match the frame, seemed to be just right. A Torpado crankset and Italian “Super Rapid” brakes completed the project.
I intend to make a rod operated front derailleur for the bike and I have some nice Italian stainless fenders which will be fitted but it is almost complete and has been greatly admired by all those that have seen it.

The almost complete bike, it just needs a front derailleur and fenders.

Noah Rosen did a good job with the paint.

John Palmer’s story of the Palladini hubs.

My great grandfather started a bicycle business in Bromley, Kent in 1888 and the shop was in the original location until one evening in November 1940 when a Luftwaffe bomber decided to jettison its bombs over Bromley rather than continue to the original target of the London Docks. My grandfather George had been working late in the workshop that night, and had just left for home on his bicycle when the bomb exploded on the shop.
The next day George, my father, and some of the neighbours started to clear out and salvage what they could from the bombed building. On the opposite side of the road was a derelict pub, scheduled for demolition as part of a road widening scheme which the War had postponed. My father contacted the owners and made arrangements to store all the bits and pieces in the old building for a few weeks.
Fourteen years later the shop, was still in the old pub, not exactly luxury accommodation, but it worked and the public was buying bicycles to get to work or school, and business was good. I left school and started to work in the workshop with George, while Dad had a small office upstairs. One day I was rummaging around upstairs and found a broken wicker basket originally from a butcher’s bike, covered with dusty cardboard.Inside was a collection of bicycle parts which had been rescued from the old shop, a few steel cranks and rusty BSA inch pitch chainrings, a pair of Stronglight 49D cranks, some Osgear parts, and in a battered dark red cardboard box with embossed gold writing, a pair of Palladini hubs. The Stronglight cranks went onto my racing bike and saw many years of service, the Palladini hubs stood on the shelf and I thought that one day I might build them up into a bicycle just for fun.
In 1968 I moved to Canada, bringing with me two racing bikes and the toolbox which I had used as a mechanic in the 1958 Tour of Britain. In the bottom of the toolbox I had put the Palladini hubs. Mike and I met up again in Toronto; we had raced together as juniors in England in the 1950's. We were both very much into bikes, and we started building Mariposa frames together in a friends basement in 1969, we have been the best of friends ever since.
The hubs accompanied me through my wandering working life in England, Canada, USA and The Netherlands, like some kind of talisman, connecting me to my roots,....and one day they would be built into a bicycle. In 2006 Mike was restoring a 1950's racing frame for me and it was then that I realized that the hubs should go to Mike, as he was the one person who might actually use them on one of his restorations. They were too interesting for me to keep in the bottom of my toolbox any longer.
The Palladini front hub.

When the rear wheel is removed the sprockets remain in the frame.

The "QR" skewer is unscrewed and withdrawn releasing the wheel.

The 'Invincibile' saddle was in pretty rough shape when I got it but it is amazing what a bucket of water and some Proofide will do.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

A Teenage Dream Machine and a Stolen Bike.

My first cycling hero was Reg Harris, the World Sprint Champion who was a household name in Britain in the early fifties. In 1952 I went to the London Cycle Show where Dunlop were showing a movie of the ’52 cycling season. Harris was strongly represented in the movie but the rider that impressed me most was the winner of that year’s Tour de France, the great Italian Fausto Coppi. I went back about six times to see that movie and each time marveled at the power and style of Coppi in the Alps as he, it seemed, pedaled effortlessly away from his rivals. It wasn’t only Coppi that impressed me but also his wonderful, classy looking Bianchi bike equipped with the new Campagnolo Gran Sport derailleurs. I was determined that I was going to have a bike like Coppi’s. However Bianchis were unavailable in Britain as far as I knew and so I would have to settle for a locally made bike built in the style of the Bianchi.

Fausto Coppi on his Bianchi during the 1952 Tour de France

In 1953 at the age of fifteen I saved all my paper route money to buy a new bike. I had a custom frame built by local South London builder Stuart Purves and had it finished in Bianchi celeste with chrome lugs. I started to equip it with the best equipment that I could afford. Campagnolo had recently introduced their revolutionary Gran Sport derailleur and I was determined to set up my dream bike with one. The regular price on this derailleur was 3 pounds 12 shillings, which was about three times the price of the very popular Simplex Tour de France. However I managed to get a deal at Claud Butler’s shop. They had one that had the fancy drilled out pulleys removed and replaced with Simplex pulleys and sold it to me for two pounds. This new Campag derailleur was without doubt one of the finest pieces of bike equipment ever made and when I had fitted it to my celeste Purves I was the envy of all my club mates.
I used that derailleur on a succession of different frames over the next few years and eventually, when it got rather worn, replaced it with a later model Gran Sport. However, I kept that original one. It would now fetch quite a good price on ebay.
My fascination with Fausto Coppi never waned. I bought a Bianchi very similar to the one Fausto won the 1950 Paris-Roubaix on and always wanted to put together a replica of his 1952 Tour de France bike.

Fausto Coppi winning the 1950 Paris-Roubaix with Campag Paris-Roubaix equipped Bianchi

Many years later in the nineties I found an advertisement for the correct 1952 Bianchi frame in the British magazine Cycling, and had a good friend in England pick it up for me and bring it to Toronto on his next trip. I had the derailleurs and slowly managed to piece together all the other parts.
Eventually the bike was complete and I proudly displayed it in our Toronto store.
Then one night, I was woken by the alarm company. Someone had broken in. When I got to the shop the front window was smashed and two bikes were missing. One was the Bianchi. Whoever stole it probably had no idea what they had stolen as it was just one of the two bikes closest to the window. I let the other shops around town know about it and asked them to keep their eyes open.
About a month later a friend and mechanic at a downtown store called to say that he had what seemed to be the rear wheel of the Bianchi. I rushed to his shop and there was no doubt that it was the wheel. Someone had brought it in to have a new tubular fitted.
At that point I made the first of three mistakes in the stolen Bianchi saga. I called the police. Two very polite and pleasant constables arrived and waited around until the fellow that had brought the wheel in returned to pick it up. He was arrested and charged with steeling a bicycle wheel. They made no effort to see if he had the bike. If I had waited for the guy and offered him a few hundred bucks I’m sure that I would have had the bike back.
We all went to court and he gave a sob story that he had needed the wheel to get his bike going as he was out of work and had no other way to get to job interviews. He said that he paid fifty dollars for it to a guy on the street. Case dismissed.
Then I made the second mistake. I should have gone up to him outside the court and offered the few hundred bucks but I was so mad that I didn’t. I am sure that he had the complete bike.
That was all about ten years ago and I had given up all hope of ever seeing the Bianchi again. Then about two years ago a customer named Will came to our shop asking for celeste cable casing. He explained that his girl friend’s uncle had given him an old Bianchi that he had found by the side of the road in Oshawa. That is about fifty kms from where the bike was stolen. He described it and it sounded very much like my Bianchi.
That is when I made the third mistake. Instead of asking to buy it from him and driving to his house there and then I persuaded him that he should bring it to the shop and we would see if we could help him restore it. He agreed to this and for the next few weeks I anxiously awaited his arrival. He never came and I again gave up hope of ever seeing the Bianchi again.
Then a few days ago I got an e-mail from a fellow named Josh. He had just bought a fifties Bianchi from Craig’s list. He said that the serial number had been filed off so he felt sure it was a stolen bike. As our shop was the most likely in the Toronto area to have restored or dealt in such a bike he contacted me. He described the bike and immediately it became apparent that it was mine. He had paid four hundred dollars for it and refused my offer to pay him twice that to get it back. He insisted that I pay him only the four hundred dollars even though he knew that the rear derailleur alone was worth much more than that.

The Bianchi as I received it back from Josh.

And so I have the Bianchi back. It is almost complete except that the Campag. ‘bar end levers had been removed and replaced by a fine pair of Shimano SIS stem shifters.

I'm not sure what Fausto would have thought of these.

It came back with a rather nasty rear wheel but I have the original which was returned to me by the police after the court case.
That may have been the end of the story but the day after I got the bike back I got a call from Will, the guy that had been in the shop two years ago. It was he that had sold the bike on Craig’s list. He heard from Josh that it was a stolen bike and that it belonged to me. He insisted that he return to me the four hundred dollars that he had received for it. He said that he didn't want to make money from stolen property.
What a couple of great guys these two turned out to be. Josh knew that he had a valuable bike and that he could easily have sold all of its components for a substantial profit on e-bay. Will didn’t realize the bikes value but was certainly under no obligation to return the money he had received for it. The 1952 Campag Gran Sport Extra derailleur. The missing bits came back in a plastic bag.

For me the bike is irreplaceable as I put it together with a childhood vision, dream, and hard work. Like an old song that reminds you of your teenage years the bike brings back emotion and a million memories for me. It is not only a bike but also a piece of my youth.
Now that bike will be restored again. It has suffered a bit over the years but there is nothing that a little TLC will not fix.

It does need a bit of sprucing up but overall it is in pretty good shape.

It would be nice if the bike could talk and could fill in the missing gaps in the last ten years.