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