Read our blog and avoid buying some piece of mass produced rubbish and learn how to spot a quality bike frame of any make.
Its our main objective to help you restore your classic road bike of any make, but our main focus is on the small shop framebuilders who are often overlooked. It’s these frames that often offer the best in terms of workmanship and value for money.
Every town once had its local framebuilders, but of course most have all but disappeared now.
As I’ve mentioned previously quality of bicycle frames varies massively from make to make. Often the price a of a second hand frame doesn’t reflect its quality but rather its collect-ability. This is especially the case when you talk about Tour De France winning bikes, and manufactures which supplied bikes for pro teams.
There a world of difference between a factory built frame such as a Colnago, Peugeot or Raleigh and a handbuilt frame such as Ellis Briggs or Woodrup etc. So how do you spot the difference if the manufacturer is unknown to you?
How To Spot The Difference?
It was often the case that they would bling them up with Campagnolo dropouts, good quality tubing and fancy paint jobs, chrome and transfers and then they would make savings on the amount of time and labour that went into the building of the frame.
There are lots of ways that manufacturers used to save time and money when building a traditional lugged frame.
Here are a few of the more obvious things to look for when looking at a frame.
Always look at the seat binder bolt. Most manufacturers used pressed lugs, but they always look cheap and unfinished where the seat bolt fastens.
Most handbuilt frames from the mid 60s onwards will have a allen key seat bolt, which involves modifying the lug and brazing an allen key boss on instead.
Another well known place to look is inside the bottom bracket shell at the quality of the mitres. Factory frames are usually very rudimentary and often not even mitred at all. Where as a high quality frame will have nicely mitred tubes.
While this shouldn’t be the only part of the frame you are looking at, it does give a good indication. If you look in the bottom bracket of a cheap Raleigh or Dawes, you’ll see the lack of workmanship involved.
Another little detail that goes unnoticed on a lot of frames, mainly because they are usually sold with a headset fitted.
If you’ve ever taken a threaded headset apart, you’ll have noticed there is a special washer which has a little notch in it. The idea is that it helps stop your headset from coming loose. The fork column needs a slot filing into the threads which needs to be a good fit with the washer.
Often this little detail is down to the mechanic that is fitting your headset and not always the frame builder, but on complete bikes it is of course the manufacturer.
Lugwork and Brazing
Finally look for tidy brazing around the lugs and braze-ons. Lugs should be crisp and clean looking, shouldn’t have file marks or gouges. Also you shouldn’t be able to get a fingernail under the edge of the lug!
Well that’s all for this week folks. Stay tuned for more info.
So your after a nice retro bike, you know you want one.
…but it is truly a minefield if you don’t know what your looking for. Not only does quality vary massively but also bikes over 20 years+ often have a dubious and unknown history. With a few pointers from this guide you should be able to find yourself a nice frame.
This week I’m going to cover the differences between modern frames and frames of 20+ years old.
The first thing to remember when buying any old frame is that although bikes essentially look the same, things have changed quite a bit in the last 20 years. If your planning on fitting period equipment, then its no big deal. On the other hand if your wanting a retro bike with modern equipment then you need to be careful what frames you look at.
The first thing to bear in mind is what wheels the frame was originally built for. Depending on the age and the purpose of the frame it may have been built for 27 x 1 1/4 wheels. Unlike the 700c wheel that your probably used to on your modern bike, 27″ wheels are basically an obsolete size. 27″ rims are also slightly bigger diameter than 700c rims which means it will be hard to find modern brakes which are deep enough. Finding a frame that was made for 700c wheels doesn’t always get you out of trouble either.
The best rule of thumb is to measure from the brake mounting hole to the center of the axle, and it should be around 365mm or less. The forks are most important, because if the measurement on the forks is too high then there is nothing you can do really and you will struggle to get brakes that are deep enough to work.
Frames have been built with diferent axle spacings over the years to fit anything from track hubs, to 5 speed screw on hubs and right up to current 10 and 11 speed hubs. Modern road wheels need 130mm between the rear dropouts. If the frame has anything less than 130, it will need to be opened up if you intend fitting a modern wheel.
Another little, often forgotten detail is fork column length. Generally if your talking about older frames, they will have been designed for a threaded headset and quill stem. Now, all headsets are not the same. The amount of space the headset needs above and below the head tube is called stack. Modern headsets tend to need more than older ones, so you can end up with a for column that isn’t long enough to fit a modern headset. Again it’s not the end of the world but having a new fork column fitted is another cost to add to your build.
Aside from the wheel size problems that I mentioned earlier, modern caliper brakes all fit with a hidden allen key nut, where as older brakes fitted with a normal nut. Now it doesn’t sound like much of difference but the frames brake bridge and fork crown are slightly different.
Due to a family illness i haven’t had any time to put into updating this site. Now things have calmed down again, I’m going to be able to update a little more regular!
Steel framed bikes and their history is a hobby of mine, rather than a business. Unfortunately I have to do a real job to pay the bills.
On another note there has been a fantastic article on one of Yorkshire’s unsung cycling heroes, Ken Russell. Ken Russell rode for Ellis-Briggs in the 1952 Tour of Britain with no other team support. You can read about him and his solo Tour of Britain win here.
Another Yorkshire builder but with a questionable reputation and plenty of poorly built frame to his name. But some still survive, although this one needs a new seat tube. Probably due to someone stuffing a ball of paper down the seat tube to stop water collecting in the bottom bracket. It stops water getting into the bottom bracket but it ends up causing rust inside the seat tube and eventually failiure.
You only have to look at the lugs on this frame to see that it was a rushed build. This frame however is probably one of the better ones, as the brake bridge seems pretty straight. Macklam was famous for fitting 2 left or 2 right front dropouts. With the Brev. Campagnolo engraving facing inwards on one of the dropouts.
Macklam was famous for building a frame in a day! A feat which can only be done by cutting corners. Be careful of his other name “Sergio” which he also went under. This features “Sergio” top eyes but with the “S” not even visible as its been filed away.
Ellis Briggs used to do his enamelling though, so at least the finish was good! Ellis Briggs framebuilder also used to pull tubes out of lugs for Macklam when he had frames in for repair(frames that need new top or down tubes etc.), as he was unable to do it himself. A further example of his framebuilding prowess.
A couple of months ago I posted some pics of a Favori frame which was in the process of being built up into a bike. Well things have progressed rather a lot since then. The bike is now almost built, just waiting for a couple more components.
This model was the San Remo Super, which was just a step down from Ellis Briggs top frame at the time. Its built with 531 Pro but doesn’t have the fancy cut out lugs of the model above. It was originally built in 1984 but whover had it before had modernised the frame to take an 8 speed rear wheel. So that why its not been built up with early 80s Campagnolo Super Record, which it probably had originally.
The wheels it currently has are Capag Chorus hubs with Mavic CXP33 rims but there are some tubular wheels sat on one side for this bike.
Saddle is a modern Selle Italia Turbo, which looks the part on a bike like this.
Another Ellis Briggs which will soon be added to my growing collection. This is a Gran Premo model and was built in 1966. This frame has had a respray during its life and probably a couple of rebuilds as most of the equipment doesn’t look original. In fact some has been swapped for nasty modern items.
It does have some rather nice Campag Record high flange hubs though and is built for 700 wheels with wide tyres.
A full restoration is on the cards for this one, which will have to include rechroming. And being only a 21 1/2″ frame I think I already have a plan for this bike.
I really like these frames with the fastback stays and nervex lugs. It was a very popular Ellis Briggs model during the 60s. In fact I have another one in 23″ which I use reguarly. This frame is nicer though.
I’m not talking about a fixie or classic bike complete with Campagnolo C-Record… What I’m talking about is finding a decent steel frame and building a bike up with sympathetic components which won’t break the bank.
You might say it can’t be done! But it can I’ll show you how.
Frame and Fork (budget £200)
First of all you need a frame and fork. Now in order to save on our budget, we are ideally looking for something which has paintwork in a decent condition, will take allen key brakes and an 8 speed wheel. Forget Italian frames as these nearly always go for extortionate amounts of money. Mass produced frames such as Dawes, Raleigh, Falcon etc. are not worth chasing either as they are generally of poor build quality and the better models tend fetch high prices with collectors. So I would suggest you look for something made by a small British framebuilder such as Ellis-Briggs, Woodrup, Mercian, Argos or Roberts.
If you struggle to find something late 80s or newer, it is possible to renovate an older frame but your budget for a frame should include framebuilding work to modernise it as well as a respray.
Now your wondering where to start looking? Well the obvious is Ebay, but make sure you know what your looking for. The other place to have a look is Hilary Stone, he often has some bargains within our budget. Plus he gives you all the info you need to know, such as dropout spacing. Also Chris Marshall in Keighley usually has a few for sale hung up in his workshop, but you’ll probably pay more than £200 as they have usually been renovated. If you do go down the ebay route, be careful to avoid a frame with a stuck seatpost, stem or bottom bracket. My previous article will help retro rides finding a good un part 1. You may also find what your looking for in our For Sale section.
Wheels (budget £230)
To stay within budget I’ve looked through a number of options with wheels. Since we are going to go with a Campagnolo Veloce groupset (more on that later), the best wheels I can find are Ambrosio Evolution rims built onto Zenith hubs. These will take a Campag 10 speed cassette no problem. The hubs look very similar to Campag hubs and come in polished silver. The rims are good quality light rims. £190
Within our budget we can only afford basic tyres. I’ve chosen some Vittoria Rubinos at £14.50 each. 2 tubes and a couple of cloth rim tapes will set you back about £12. £41.00
As I mentioned before, we’ll be looking for a Campagnolo Veloce groupset in polished silver to stay with our retro theme. Although it will continue our retro theme it is a modern groupset with 10 speeds and dual pivot brakes. A full groupset will set you back £450, and will include, brakes, ergos, front and rear gears, chain, chainset, cassette and cables. Its a shame but Campag no longer do hubs, except for Record, and they only come in black.
If your frame is mudguard clearance and you need a deeper brake, then you’ll have to forget Campag. But both Ambrosio and Tektro do deep brakes in polished silver which will keep us on budget.
Finishing Kit (£120)
That just leaves the finishing kit. Bars, stem and seat post can be bought from System EX in matching polished silver for £50. I’ve chosen the Bucket saddle from Charge, which is similar to a Selle Italia Turbo, only a lot cheaper at £25. That just leaves headset and bar tape. For the headset, I suggest a Tange Levin Alloy at £30 and for bar tape I like Fizik at £11.99 but you could chose whatever you prefer. The only problem with the System EX stems is they only come in 2 lengths, 80mm or 100mm. So if you need something longer you’ll have to look at Cinelli or Nitto but of course that will add to your budget. All that lot comes in at just under £120.
Summary (Total £1000)
So there you have it! A complete bike for nearly grand to wow your mates. I’ve deliberately left everything at full RRP because although you’ll be able to get it cheaper on the internet, your local shop may offer to build the complete bike if everything is at full RRP.
Mounting the pulley is the next problem. Mafac used to make a pulley which attached to the seat bolt, similar to the one in this picture. Unfortunately I don’t think it will fit the seat bolt on the paragon, as it is made to fit cheaper mass produced frames.
So the next alternative would be to fit a brazed on pulley. I’ve spent some time looking for a picture of a braze on for a pulley. It took me a while but I eventually found a modern Rene Herse with one. Its very simple, which is what attracted me to it in the first place.
So now all I need is a pair of Mafac Dural Forge centre pull brakes. Well at least to sort the brakes out…
Its taken me a while to figure out what to do with this frame. I really wanted to build a practical bike which my wife can use but the original GB sidepull brakes are just not powerful enough. So I’ve been trying to figure out how best to fit some centre-pull brakes.
I also want to keep this bike period, so the brakes in question are Mafac Dural Forge. The problem however is where to fit it. The orignal set up on this bike was a sidepull brake, mounted in the usual place on the seatstay bridge. That setup does not give me any way of routing the cables for a centre pull brake.
So my choice were either to mount it on the extra stays like on many other mixte frames, but this would involve brazed on mafac bosses as their is very little clearance and no room to fit a bridge. This aproach is used on this gorgeous Weigle mixte.
Or my prefered aproach would be to fit a pully to the rear of the seat cluster and mount the brake in the usual place on the seatstay bridge, like on this 50s Claud Butler.
I think I would prefer the setup on the claud butler as it really simplifies the work required and I don’t have to find a supplier of braze-on mafac brake bosses.