Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Cyclo-cross bikes

After writing the last post about cyclo-cross I got thinking about the number of cyclo-cross bikes that I have owned in the last fifty years. I have had just three.

The first was a secondhand Carpenter that I had originally built up as a winter hack bike with single gear and mudguards. Soon after buying it I was on a long early season training ride down to the coast from my home in London, England. About sixty miles (100km) from home the top tube broke just behind the head lug. What to do? There was no calling home for a lift in those days and I certainly didn’t have the train fare. I went into a garage and scrounged a good length of rope which I tied around the seat tube and head tubes. Then a piece of wood was inserted into the loop of rope and used to twist the rope forming a tourniquet pulling the two tubes together. This got me home. Carpenter wouldn’t replace the tube under warranty so I had it replaced elsewhere for the princely sum of thirty shillings. (About $2.50 in today’s money but a bit more back then).

Once repaired the Carpenter became my cyclo-cross bike and general winter hack. A single freewheel was fitted to give a gear of 58”. A length of an old tubular tire was fastened to top and seat tube to provide a comfortable shoulder sling for carrying the bike. Double sided Lyotard pedals were recognized as the best cross pedals and they were used without toe clips .No cantilever brakes, just a pair of Weinmann sidepulls.

I managed a couple of seasons on this bike and it served me well even though at the end of the first season a crack appeared in the lower head lug. This I was able to fix by holding it altogether with a modified hose clamp. This set up survived the second season after which I moved most of the parts onto a secondhand H.E. Green frame.

I was able to have cantilever brake bosses brazed onto the Green and I fitted a used Campag Gran Sport derailleur with a bar-end control. With the addition of toe clips and straps I now had just about the state of the art cross bike for the period.

This bike served me well for many years and was pressed into use as a touring bike and cross bike after I came to Canada.

I rode a few cross seasons on it in Ontario and then loaned it to one of the juniors on our Bicyclesport Team. He managed to ride it into a ditch and buckle the top and down tubes. No apologies, just a complaint that it couldn’t have been a very good frame. Thirty years later the frame is still hanging in the workshop waiting to be repaired. Maybe I will get around to it before long.

The H.E. Green was then replaced with an Italian Alan cyclo-cross frame. Alans were, for many years, considered to be the finest of cross bikes. All the top events were won on Alans often rebadged with other sponser’s names. They were aluminum with tubes screwed and glued into aluminum lugs. The early Alans did not have cantilever brake bosses. They were normally fitted with Campagnolo side-pulls, after all what self respecting Italian bike manufacturer would use anything other than Campag brakes. I fitted Mafac Racers to mine.

And that is the cross bike that I have today. In the thirty years that I have had it it has had a few different groups of components fitted. It started off with Simplex SLJ derailleurs and Mafac brakes but then when combined brake/gear levers came along I fitted a Sachs New Success Group. The Bicyclesport/Mariposa Team was sponsored by Sachs at the time. I still have those Sachs levers (which were made by Campagnolo) but now have Campag derailleurs as well. The Sachs derailleurs eventually wore out after many seasons of mud and sand.

I haven’t raced cyclo-cross for quite a few years now. I guess I’m a bit long in the tooth for it now but the cross bike still gets a lot of use for my grass rides in the Park. (See earlier post “riding the grass”)

The frame has stood up pretty well for the last thirty years. I cannot say that it has been flawless-- the steerer came loose in the crown at one point but Alan supplied a new fork. And then, one of the screws attaching the seat stays to the seat lug snapped but that was easily replaced.

One summer, some years ago, I decided that it would make a very nice commuter. I fitted a pair of wood rimmed tubular wheels with Campag track hubs and 32 mm section Continental tubulars. It had a single freewheel. A pair of light alloy fenders were fitted and a pair of Cinelli ‘bars covered in tan leather. The whole bike was plain aluminum, wood and leather, no decals or paint, and quite spectacular. However the cross season came around again and it went back to it’s original role.

For years I have talked about building myself a Mariposa cross bike but haven’t got around to it. I somehow doubt that I ever will. The Alan will probably see me out to the end of my days.

So I have had three cyclo-cross bikes in fifty four years, the last one for thirty years. It is amazing how well bikes last. A cyclo-cross bike takes probably the worst beating of any but they keep going on.


Carpenter and H.E.Green were both excellent South London builders in the fifties and sixties. Both are no longer in business but their frames are now fetching good prices from the collectors.

Alan is still making bikes but now they are all welded aluminum and carbon. You can see their range at: www.alanbike.net


Anonymous said...

Great article; an interesting comparison to the superbikes that cross riders cannot do without today. Best wishes for the holidays and the new year.

Anonymous said...

This is great news that cross bikes last this long. My Fango seems to be of the same breed having survived a hit from a Nissan and several years of commuting.
I always look forward to reading your Blog!

Anonymous said...

Hi Mike enjoyed your latest blog. I am down East in Nova Scotia with Danny and Laura. It is as you might expect cold and wet, Danny said thanks for the card.He is just going for a ride. Merry Christmas to everyone

OAP said...

My cross bike is a 50's frame modified for CX by Mr. Barry's shop. Talk about durability! I use it as a commuter but the previous owner did abuse it racing cross...

Idiopolis said...

Great readinng your post