The Falcon rises, reForged…

A few weeks ago I blogged about my acquisition of a nice, 1980s Falcon touring bike. A garage find, it polished up nice, needed no new parts, just TLC. So I went about the application of said TLC and got it to a reasonable level. But I knew I could take it a step further.

Late night perursal of RAL colour charts and researching local powdercoaters quickly ensued. I would transform the Falcon and it would rise, like a, erm, falcon from the ashes of it’s grey charcoal paint, to become the first bike from my new quasi-business venture/labour of love, ‘Mill and Forge’ – rejuvinating old bikes and forging them anew, like Aragorn’s sword, only a lot more useful.

So without further ado, I give you Mill and Forge #1, the Falcon Westminster.

The Falcon, after a lot of reconstructive and cosmetic surgery.
The Falcon, after a lot of reconstructive and cosmetic surgery.
This blue-green beauty started life as a charcoal grey Falcon Westminster women’s touring bike, built in the early to mid-1980s; at its heart lies a hand-built, lugged Reynolds 531 frame and a lugged cromo Tange fork.

The beautiful, slender chromed steel rack responded well to the caress of wire wool.
The beautiful, slender chromed steel rack responded well to the caress of wire wool.
When we first saw her in a garage in deepest Cheshire, we knew she had been loved and deserved a second life. The bike oozed quality – the components, the frame, though definitely old-skool, have an elegance and quality that you just don’t get any more.

Shimano's Altus LT derailleur - early eighties vintage. A sight more elegant than Shimano's current Altus offering.
Shimano’s Altus LT derailleur – early eighties vintage. A sight more elegant than Shimano’s current Altus offering.
So we brought it back to the Mill and Forge workshop and began to strip away a few decades of dust and dirt, to reveal a bike in fine mechanical fettle, apart from the paintwork, which had definitely seen better days.

The Weinmann 730 sidepulls after some attention with the metal polish. Teamed with alloy rims and new cables, stopping is up to modern expectations.
So it was off to the power-coaters for a media-blast and a nice durable coat of ‘Bianchi celeste’ – a lustrous pastel bluey-green, or greeny-blue , if you will.

Is it blue? Is it green? I dunno…
Back from the painter a few days later and the bike was lovingly put back together. Every component has been cleaned and polished for that ‘better than new’ look.

High quality and utterly elegant SR bars and stem.
We also supplied brand new Michelin World Tour tyres and tubes and new cables throughout. The headset and bottom bracket have been re-greased and all bearings have been adjusted to perfection.

Comfortable, classic Selle San Marco saddle.
The results are, as we’re sure you’ll agree, pretty special.

We offer this stunning, ‘fully-reForged’, ready to ride bike for just £170, local pickup only from Liverpool or Manchester. She’s too lovely to post, we’re afraid.

Look for a comparable new bike (e.g. the Cooper Aintree) and you’ll be parting with around £900, for a bike with none of this old girl’s charm.

Full specification

  • Frame: Reynolds 531 lugged and handbuilt in Britain – fully media blasted and powder-coated
  • Fork: Tange chromoly lugged crown with double eyelets
  • Size: 21inch (54cm) – would suit rider from 5ft 5in to 5ft 8ins approx
  • Colour: blue/green powder-coat
  • Headset: Tange threaded chrome plated.
  • Stem: SR Sakae quill type – hand polished
  • Bars: SR Sakae Road champion vintage with original bar foam
  • Brake levers: Weinmann short reach (good for smaller hands) with extension levers. Black hoods.
  • Brakes: Weinmann 730 sidepull – hand polished
  • Crankset: original SR Sakae Custom 52/42 teeth with built-in chainguard – hand polished
  • Pedals: Lyotard alloy rat-trap style
  • Bottom Bracket: Original Tange full adjustable cup and cone – rebuilt and re-greased
  • Chain – Sedis 5 speed
  • Freewheel – 5 Speed
  • Gear levers – Shimano Altus LT in polished aluminium (old skool friction shift – very low maintenance)
  • Front derailleur – Shimano Altus LT original spec
  • Rear derailleur – Shimano Altus LT original spec – polished aluminium
  • Hubs – Maillard of France, nutted axles front and rear
  • Spokes – rustless
  • Rims: Rigida polished aluminium (better braking than cheaper chrome steel rims and lighter too)
  • Tyres: Michelin World Tour 27 x 1 ¼ brand new with new tubes
  • Seat pin: Fluted aluminium
  • Saddle: Original Selle San Marco Anatomica in suede/split leather
  • Mudguards: Bluemels style chromoplastic in chrome/black with front flap and rear reflector
  • Rear rack: Chrome steel vintage ‘randonneur’ style
  • Price: £170
  • Buy now

Swedish Army Rucksack

Is this not the Brooks B17 of rucksacks?

Lately I’ve been enjoying riding the bike in its unladen state, as I’ve referenced in recent blog posts. A good portion of my commuting and recreational riding takes place off road, either on canal towpaths or woodland trails and the sprightly feel of an unladen bike on rough ground is hard to beat.

Previously I’ve been a champion of the ‘let the bike carry the weight’ philosophy and a daily saddlebag user to boot. But lately I’ve hankered after something different. The trouble is, I carry a laptop and video camera on my daily commute, so some sort of capacious bag is essential. The problem is most backpacks are high-tech, nylon items which don’t really sit well with Resurrectio’s staunchly traditional looks. Thus my search began for a ‘country bag’ to match my country bike.

I’ve always liked the looks and rugged utilitarianism of military gear, so I began my search on army surplus websites. Pretty soon I stumbled across a rucksack that blended perfectly with my country bike’s honey leather and green colour scheme.

The bag in question is an M39 Swedish Army rucksack, produced, as its name suggests, from 1939 until around 1960 . It’s a 35 litre canvas bag with one main compartment, closed with a leather drawstring and a storm flap. The bag features a lightweight metal support frame, painted in olive drab and a wonderful honey-coloured harness system made from saddle leather.

Rear view of the bag showing the beautiful and elaborate back system

The bag is supremely comfortable to wear; the broad, flat leather straps and lumbar support taking the weight, while the frame keeps the bag away from the back, making for a largely sweat free experience. The bag’s main compartment will swallow my laptop and camera with room to spare, while the smaller internal pocket is the perfect size for my bike tool kit.

It’s great to find a vintage item like this which is just as functional now as it was when it was made, way back in 1942. I’m lucky to have found an example in pretty much unused condition – I suspect that my bag has never seen service and must have been stored well to be in such remarkable condition after 69 years.

And the price for this wonderful, evokate ‘Brooks B17 of rucksacks’? £5.99 plus postage, from a popular auction site.

Back on board, shellac, twine and Carradice Camper Usefulness

Bike? Check. Beautiful evening? Check. Happy Rider? O yes...
Bike? Check. Beautiful evening? Check. Happy Rider? O yes...

It was with unbridled joy that I climbed back on board Resurrectio for a dreamy ride down into town and along the waterfront yesterday evening. You know, one of those rides were the wind always seems to be behind you and you just want to keep on rolling. I left the house with the intention of maybe riding down to the Pier Head to take in the sights; the Three Graces glowing in the evening sun, the sleek Isle of Man-bound catamaran, rolling gently on the current, the photographers setting up long exposure shots as the sun set. But I just had the urge to carry on, brisk but never hurried. I cycled through Albert Dock and along Otterspool promenade, blissfully traffic-free, all the way to Aigburth before cutting home through Wavertree; all in all, a ride of about 15 miles, by my crude reckoning.

The ride also gave me a chance to take some snaps of my convalescence handicrafts.

Here’s my twined and shellacked bar-tape trim – hemp twine and two coats of amber shellac.

Here’s my twined kickstand – looks nice, in a rustic sort of way, and protects my cranks from knocks.

How about my gear-cable keepers? Much nicer that wrapping the cable inside the tape for a few turns, to my eye.

And here’s my twined aluminium water bottle. This took a lot of hemp twine and a fair old amount of shellac. Grips nicely in the bottle cage and turns an overtly sporty looking item into something altogether more nostalgic.

Here’s a picture of the whole ensemble, glowing in the evening sun (that dipped below the Welsh hills across the Mersey just a few moments later).

And finally, here’s a picture that follow up on my recent Carradice Camper Longflap review, to illustrate its usefulness and load carrying ability. Today I was faced with the prospect of carrying laptop, charger, two video cameras, digital SLR, lunch, commuting gear/tools and a large heavy duty tripod back into work. The quitter in me was reluctantly saying ‘take the car’ but then I thought “Wait a minute…”

So it was; camera bag on back, laptop, lunch and commuting gear in the Carradice, tripod trapped and strapped under the generous lid. All this and there was no need to deploy the Longflap. Once underway I didn’t notice it was there (just had to remember not to squeeze between tight gaps on the way to the station!

Feels good to be back on the (newly beautified) bike.

Bring Back the Humble 10-Speed

Our friend above is right to look proud of his Schwinn 10 speed - it's probably still knocking around today.

Some might say that the mountain bike revitalised the bike industry when it arrived in the late eighties. And if you look at the sales figures, it’s probably true. The MTB was a huge shot in the arm for an ailing bike industry. However, at the same time as stimulating bike sales, it put the final nail in the coffin of a bike style that dominated for over a decade – in the US, it was termed the Ten Speed – in the UK is was just called a Racer.

The genus of bike we’re talking about here is the lugged steel, drop handlebar bike, with clearance for reasonable tyres (28-32mm) and provision for mudguards and a rack. It wasn’t made of exotic materials (usually hi-ten steel) and basic models came with steel wheels and low end components – however, the bikes themselves were robust, cheap, and unlike the entry level MTB and hybrid of today – efficient, fast and fun to ride. Tour de France winners they weren’t, but as everyday bikes, they excelled. So much so that many survive to this day – hand-me-down machines serving out life sentences in the hands of students looking for a cheap and funky way of getting around.

Since the death of the ten speed, a process of velo-diversification as occurred – the MTB arrived in the bicycle-gene pool and eventually mutated into various different sub-species – cross country, downhill, freeride to name but three. The hybrid bike was a further mutation of the MTB and a nod back to the big-wheeled efficiency of the ten speed – but the ‘beige slacks and sensible shoes’ image of the hybrid has been hard to shake. Road racing bikes have undergone a renaissance since the MTB era but the template of the rugged 10 speed racer has been lost and forgotten.

However, a few manufacturers remembered the 10 speed/Racer with fondness and have recreated neo-ten speeds, or at least something close. Minneapolis based Surly Bikes have created a range of rugged steel road bikes, the Pacer, Cross-Check and Long-Haul-Trucker, ranging from lightweight road bike thru to expedition tourer. But these bikes aren’t cheap. Sure they’re great value, quality cromo-framed machines, but they’re not the cheap-as-chips, lock-and-leave everyday bikes that the old ten speeds were. Similarly, Rivendell Cycles’ range of practical road bikes, the Sam Hillbourne, A Homer Hilsen, Ramboiullet and the Bleriot have all rekindled the spirit of the ten speed, but in a boutique, high-end format. What we need is a rugged, no-nonesense ten speed for a new generation.

Modern day fixed wheel bikes are perhaps the closest modern day approximation of the 10 speed ideal – tough, low key steel frames, yet light and nimble enough to be a fun ride in the city. I wish that just one of the multitude of fixed gear producers would just slap a derailleur hanger and some gears on one of their low end steel fixie frames and reinvent the ten speed – I’m convinced they’d sell in container loads, to a huge swathe of riders, from baby boomers to jaded fixie riders whose knees are crying out for some lower gears for the hills.

Ideal Spec: Neo-Ten Speed

So what’s the blueprint for a modern day ten speed? Here’s my stab at an ideal spec:

Frame – lugged steel (and I mean plain old hi-tensile steel) – skinny, round tubes, horizontal top tube, clearance for 32 mm tyres, braze ons for rack, guards and brake bridges positioned for deep drop brakes calliper brakes.

Fork – lugged crown steel with a classic curve

Wheels – tough 36 hole rims (wide enough for 32mm tyres) on sealed freehubs – nothing fancy.

Brakes: Tektro deep drop callipers with separate (i.e. no STIs) brake levers

Gears: Bar end/down tube shifters (with friction option)

Bars: Traditional round bend (i.e. not anatomic)

Stem: traditional quill

Tyres: 32mm Panacer Pasela or similar

Saddle: Brooks B17

The whole bike would weigh in at around 30 lbs and combine ruggedness and speed in a way that modern bikes just can’t match.

Examples of the breed:

Raleigh Winner: early 1980s

Image by rodcorp on Flickr:

Object of desire for 70s kids like me – available everywhere from bike shops to mail order catalogues – remember putting an ambitious felt-tip ‘x’ by it in the leadup to Christmas. Steel frame, steel wheels, Weinmann brakes, Simplex gears – drop bars, suicide levers and a bottle and cage thrown in. A winner in every sense

Falcon ‘Team Banana’

image at

Lugged steel bike in the classic ‘team replica mode’. Fast, fun and hugely robust for a bike with skinny tyres. Got me to and from my first job twice as fast as an MTB – cruelly stolen from me one summer day…

Falcon Eddy Merckx – 1970s

Inspired by the great Belgian Cannibal, made in Brigg, Lincolnshire - image from here:

Lugged steel, Rigida Supercromix rims, Simplex gears, Weinmann Brakes – orange and blue team replica colours – tough as nails, my first ‘racer’ – ignited a lifelong love affair with the bike.

But enough from me – let us know your ten-speed memories. Would you like to bring back the ten speed? Share your dream ten speed spec (remember, nothing expensive or exotic).