Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The Golden Age of Handbuilt Bicycles / Review

Hello and Welcome,
This book is a "must have" for anyone who loves old custom road bikes and learning about the master craftsmen who built them.

Left: This book was a gift from my wife Carolyn. It was a totally unexpected and wonderful surprise. This book features some of the finest handmade bikes that you will ever see anywhere. The photography is fantastic and the writing is very informative and  enjoyable.

Here is a 1985 Alex Singer "Campeur". I have always been a big fan of the GT triple triangle frame. Which has been described as virtually indestructible. I "thought" I had an original idea recently. When I pondered the idea of adding a top tube to a Mixte frame to form a quad triangle frame. Looks like someone has already thought of it. And before you e-mail, Yes I am aware those are not all triangles. I think the front two areas are quadrilateral(s) I know Steve will let me know if I got that wrong. At least I hope so.

Above: The start of a Porteur Race in Paris (1958). Each rider carried 33lbs for 23.75 miles. In about 1968 myself and a few friends took Schwinn Stingrays and removed the banana seats and replaced them with a racing saddles. Then we added front (and sometimes rear) racks. Then we would would mount the fattest knobby tire we could fit on the rims. These made great little newspaper haulers and were also great fun on the "vacant-lot trails" after the papers were delivered. There were no actual bicycle paths or trails in those days. At least not in our little neighborhood. I don`t think they even have news-boys in the old neighborhood anymore. Those were great days(:

Here is another bike from the book that was way ahead of it`s time. I am of course referring to the "Bio-Pace like" crank.

This is one of my favorites from the book. A two speed bike that to change gears you just reversed your pedaling direction. I have a feeling that one of these in working condition would fetch a pretty penny.

A beautiful 1949 Rene Herse. This bike had a rear drum brake for reliable braking on long descents. I love the hammered fenders. A very classy looking ride.

Many of the innovations these custom bike builders developed are still in use today. Example: Check-out that front brake, Amazing!

My wife tells me you can find this book on amazon.com much cheaper than the 50.00 US or 57.50 Canadian shown on the back cover.

Till next time RIDE SAFE and Remember to always RESCUE, RESTORE & RECYCLE
Cheers, Hugh


  1. I think you got it right. In fact, the Singer appears to have trapezoids up front (quadrilaterals with one pair of opposite sides parallel).

    I shall have to see if I can get it via interlibrary loan. It looks as WONDERFUL as you describe it.

  2. Certainly seems like an interesting read.

  3. Wow, that's a cool book. I'm going to see if our library has a copy or can get a copy.

  4. Hey Steve,
    Thanks "trapezoids" that`s the word I was searching my memory banks for. (un-successfully) I should have gotten that one too. Years ago I was called-in to finish a brick job. The brick-mason had finished everything except the trapezoid window. It was located near the top of a two and 1/2 story wall. The wall was inset and was an odd width. I had to purchase special cross braces to make my scaffolding work. The angle part of the trapezoid was at the top of the window. I ended-up cutting an angle-iron the exact width of the top of the window frame. I then drilled-it and lag bolted it to the wall (into the header). Then I picture-framed the window with a brick projection.(rowlock or bat)
    I had to angle cut some of the brick when I bricked it all in. I used plenty of wall ties as well. (screwed not nailed) Once it was all cured it had plenty of "bridge strength". It was by no means the toughest thing I ever did. But at the time I was young and fresh out of my apprenticeship. I think I was up half the night
    thinking about it... lol.... Those were the days!

  5. Hey Trevor,
    Indeed it is.Maybe not as good as the story of Eugene Christophe. How during the 1913 Tour de France He carried his broken bike halfway down a mountain to a small town. Once there someone let him use their blacksmith foundry so he could fabricate a new fork for his bike. Because in those days you had to to all repairs yourself. He then managed somehow to finish that leg of the race within the time limit.
    Before watching "The Tour" on the TV I had no idea who Christophe was. To me it was just a name I had seen on countless toe straps ever since I could remember. Here is a URL to a brief story about him. http://hardmenwithsoftbellies.wordpress.com/2009/07/12/heroes-of-cyclings-past-eugene-christophe/

  6. Hey Bill,
    Sorry I missed you there. Good luck finding the book. I have not enjoyed a book this much since my wife gifted me a copy of "The Art of the Motorcycle" Before I got back into cycling or bicycle restoring. I was very much into riding and detailing motorcycles. I might do a post about some of my other favorite two wheeled vehicles someday.

  7. Hugh great review, I spent time with this book at the bookstore and its on the wish list. I live in Seattle (home of Author Jan Heine) and was fortunate to attend a small bike showing he had at an LBS here with a number of the Herse and Singer bicycles featured in the book - they were gorgeous!


  8. Thanks Ryan,
    Wow! That sounds fantastic. I wish I could have been there for both those events. You are very lucky my friend. I hope Jan Heine sees my review one day. I am a huge fan of the book and those beautiful bikes. Thanks for sharing your story.


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