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« The Invisible Cyclist | Main | Driving Around Cyclists for Dummies »


Someone asked me the other day, “Who built the bike from the 1950s with the double bend in the front fork blades?”

That was Bates an East London builder; it was called a Diadrant fork. (Left.)  It was introduced in the mid 1930s and remained popular into the 1950s.

The next question was. “What was the advantage?” None that I can see, although I’m sure Bates claimed there was. Designs like this were done for recognition.

“Cycling” was the main publication for the sport in the UK and a picture of a top rider in this weekly magazine on a certain bike was very good for business.

When you saw a picture of a bike with this distinctive front fork, or even when you saw one on the road, you instantly knew it was a Bates.

Hetchins, another London builder had their famous “Curly” stays (Picture right.) for the same reason; it was instantly recognizable.

An interesting story I first heard back in the 1950s.

It concerned an English rider competing in a road race in France, on his Curly Stay Hetchins.

He crashed and was rendered unconscious for a few minutes; when he came around, he found some local French farmworkers trying to straighten his bike.

I doubt this incident actually happened, the story became one of those urban legends and everyone claimed to know someone who it had actually happened to.

I do know this bike was a source of amusement for the French cycling establishment. I remember in the 1950s seeing a picture of a Curly Stay Hetchins in l’Equipe a famous French sports paper that always covered the Tour de France. I didn’t get the exact translation of the caption under the photo, but it mentioned something about “Queen Anne Legs.”

Another trend of that same era was the short wheelbase frame, or rather a short rear end with short chainstays. The idea was to make a stiff and more responsive ride, but if you overshorten the chainstays the rear wheel touches the seat tube.

To overcome this brought about some very interesting frame designs. Probably the most famous is the Bains “Flying Gate.” (Below.) Actually its official name at first was the ”Whirlwind,” but was nicknamed the Flying Gate by cyclists; the name stuck and later became the new official name.

First built in the 1930s, Bains ended production in 1953, but in the late 1970s the design was resurrected by Trevor Jarvis a Burton on Trent builder. The frame can still be ordered today from T.J. Cycles.

Another design was the Saxon Twin Tube. (Picture below.) That deraillier by the way is called an Osgear.

Jack Taylor Cycles achieved the same ends with a curved seat tube. (Picture left.)

One of my favorites was the Paris “Galibier,” an interesting cantilever design with a large main strut in the center of the frame and small diameter twin tubes at the top. (Picture below.)

The Galibier frame construction method is known as Bilaminated or Bilaminates. Steel sleeves cut in fancy shapes are brazed over the tubes, and the actual joint is then made by a fillet of brass (Fillet brazing.) It has the finished appearance of a lug but it is not really a lug. (Pictures below.)

Each of these frame designs were distinctive and all instantly recognizable; I'm not sure if every builder patented their design, but I'm sure each claimed a definite advantage over all others.

The shortened chainstays were popular in the 1930s and 1940s when most British club riders and time-trialists used a single fixed wheel. If derailleur’s were used all that was available was a single chainwheel and three or four sprockets on the rear.

By the 1950s gearing had advanced to double chainrings and five speed freewheels; this type of frame without the conventional seat tube made the fitting of a front derailleur difficult or impossible. The trend died a natural death.

Today these bikes are collectable and make interesting conversation pieces. They came from an era when there was much competition amongst the many framebuilders; each was clamoring for their own little piece of the market.  

One way to stand out in a crowd was to build something different and distinctive. Bike riders have always looked for an edge, and a different design could be claimed as beneficial to the rider. But recognition was the main objective; somthing that would be instantly identified as a particular brand.

I previously wrote about Paris Cycles here

I touched briefly on the various framebuilders here; you can read more and view pictures of these and other classics on ClassicLightweights.co.uk



Reader Comments (12)


As always, it's an interesting read. Your last comment sent my mind on a tangent, first remembering the advantage I had with disc wheels, followed by much older memories such as cards in the spokes, extensions on the forks for that chopper look, and streamlining by removing the fenders and pseudo gas tank/ headlight. I also cannot forget showing up for time trials in a one piece skinsuit. (Wish I still had the figure to pull that one off.) Advantages are more often psychological than actual, benefitting either the user or trumping the opponent without the whizbang thingamajig.

August 1, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJim

Damn those frames are "strange" to say the least! Part of the love of bikes I have stem from the comfort of most (if not all) frames looking the same - classic, if you will.

Didn't Colnago dabble in "split seat tube" frames back in the late 80's?

August 1, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAndy Katz

Brings back memories of my curley Hetchins I used for TT's in my schoolboy days. I also remember a fellow Fulham Wheeler who had a split ST bke he used to bring to club nights.

August 1, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJW

Condor Cycles of London offered a repro Galibier for a few seasons recently, but I have no idea who built the frames, not their usual suppliers in Italy I don't suppose.

I like the 'curvy-tube' Taylor best of the designs you feature here, mostly because I have one! I still ride it too, mostly for going out to lunch, but occasionally on a clubrun. According to the owners' register, mine was built in 1953. It is completely rebuilt with modern equipment and does not look at all as it did in the Taylor catalogue of the era. The modern brakes are the single biggest improvement -- Mafac center-pulls are hell to adjust and not up to riding in today's traffic. I would send a pic but can't figure out how to do that!

Nice story, Dave.

August 1, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMartin Hayman

I have owned and ridden most of the machines in this post,. I will state that in my humble (HUH!) view, about the only one with ANY merit IS the Bates BAR. This frame is very responsive,a joy to ride. The Hetchins is very twitchy and not suited for hill climbing,same to be said for the Flying gate and Paris, Clubmen of my long gone time, Prefered, mainy due to the costs, a straight 531 DB tubed, luged frame with the then conventional angles of around 73-71 or even 72- 72 with a square design. All the 'Gimicky' designs where made mainly as a marketing ploy.As has been stated before.

August 2, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJohn GRUMP

The other design feature of the Bates are the CantiFlex tubes,
oversized in the middle, regular size at the ends to fit the lugs.
And UltraVert geometry. Specialized had nothing on Bates for

August 2, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterScott G>

Great article on some interesting engineering choices. Being a younger cyclist, my thoughts drifted to more recent examples of creative construction methods. Does anyone remember "Slingshot" bicycles, that replaced the down tube with a tensioned cable? A quick websearch revealed they're still in business, although they appear to have abandoned the cable concept, except on their folding bikes.

August 2, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterB. Erath

I have always had a desire to own a Hetchins for those unique curly stays. The design is still being made here:


I'm not sure if I like it built into a "fixie". Perhaps when I hit it rich playing the state lottery. As for the Slingshot, I have managed to acquire two of those off of Evil Bay. They are still in business after all these years and have somehow managed to survive having pretty much just a cult following. They have gone conventional with their cyclocross frame but you can still get the spring loaded cable down tube MTB frame in the folding, 26 inch wheel size, and the latest 29 inch wheel size fad.

August 3, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterChris B.

Hetchins VODO! having owned a 1953 Hetchins Opus2 curly and ridden it for many miles. Let me state that they all glitz and glamour and NO merit as to the design. The ghastly inflated prices that they are getting is way out of line. BEFORE you even think of buying one RIDE it FIRST. If all you want is a wall hanger to look at and boast about, fine! BUT try riding it up a hill any bloody hill then you will see the curly stays are worthless. In the 50s clubmen only rode and use Hetchins for cyclo cross to try absord some of the ruts. Look for a Bates with Cantiflex and Diadrant this is a TRUE engineering marvel.MUCH better buy.

August 3, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJohn GRUMP

Great article. My personal cycling history started in the late 70's so I was not aware of these designs. Makes me think about the lineage in regards to the current Pinarello bikes.

August 5, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterBrian Dinkins

Slingshot frames have been around for a very long time:

I have no idea what model Gardin this is but I've never seen a downtube like this one:

Instead of a twin downtube, Moorson doubled all the others instead:

I enjoy looking at the unique frame designs and hope to some day ride some of them to see for myself but if they had any true merit they would've been copied by others and we'd be riding them instead of the good old diamond frame.

August 8, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterbbattle

Condor's repro Galibiers were built by Dave Yates. He had one in the workshop when I was there last year. He thinks they are pointless but the customer is always right etc ...

I suggested he built a Flying Gate with Diadrant forks and curly stays, just for the hell of it but he declined :-)

March 8, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterYoav

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