Hillman, Herbert and Cooper ‘Kangaroo’ No.1 Roadster c.1885/6 – Part 2 – Preservation process

The first step in the preservation process was to photograph the bicycle many times in great detail from all angles. This was to ensure everything was replaced in the correct position. The bike was then very carefully disassembled and all the parts placed in plastic bags, labelled as to their location, left or right side etc.. I also use a notebook to record details of each part, which way round bolts were fitted, assembly order, washer locations etc.., making drawings where necessary.

As with most top quality machines, such as my Rover, virtually all the parts were stamped with the frame number (23467) Even the chains had the frame number stamped on the ends of the rivets! Presumably each machine was assembled and components adjusted for best fit, before the stamping. The various parts then went for nickel plating and enameling, and were then re-united for final assembly.

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The corrosion on the parts of the machine was not at all bad, so I decided to make the cleaning process quite minimal, removing dirt and loose surface rust, whilst retaining patina by light cleaning only. The bearings were soaked in cellulose thinners overnight to remove the encrusted hard grease. The parts cleaning was largely done manually using paraffin, brass brushes, and three grades of steel wool, finishing by polishing with 0000 grade. Doing this by hand takes a long time, and results in blisters, but it is the only way of carefully controlling the amount of surface removal, to retain the patina.

Turning to the enameled parts, I masked the area of the transfer then cleaned the frame with paraffin. 0000 steel wool was used on stubborn dirt, as this does not scratch the enamel. Following cleaning, the enamel was then polished with Renaissance Pre-Lim to remove any remaining surface grime and to lightly revive the enamel. This was also used in the area around the transfer, very carefully and lightly! Finally all parts of the machine were polished with Renaissance Wax. Several coats were applied to protect the surfaces.

Here are some ‘before and after’ photographs:

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The ball bearings in the main bearings are in two rows, fitted in brass cages. All ball bearings were replaced. As you can see, bearing adjustment is a bit primitive simply relying on the movement of the lower section of the bearing housing, locked in place by a set-screw.

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The Singer pedals had just two original rubbers remaining. Reproduction rubbers are available for these pedals, from Doug Pinkerton, although they are not quite accurate and are very difficult to fit!

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The rear step is a beautiful thing!

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The beautiful etched Hillman, Herbert and Cooper name and ‘Kangaroo Patent’ was revealed on the seat spring. This was completely invisible before cleaning.

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Remains of the maker’s transfer on the backbone, before and after cleaning and waxing. A very rare survivor.

I didn’t want to radically alter the appearance of the bike, as it was so original, and I was very satisfied with the result of the cleaning and preservation. The Kangaroo will look better once it has been used a bit, but is now properly protected as it embarks on the next 130 years of its life!

The next post will be of the machine in its completed state.

Hillman, Herbert and Cooper ‘Kangaroo’ No.1 Roadster c.1885/6 – Part 1

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The Coventry based firm of Hillman, Herbert and Cooper introduced the ‘Kangaroo’ patent bicycle in 1884. Although chain drive had been experimented with before on bicycles and tricycles, this was the first bicycle of this pattern, with a much smaller front wheel than the ordinary bicycle, at just 36 inches, geared up to 54 inches by way of the chains and chainwheels on each side of the machine. The rider was thus considerably closer to the ground, the centre of gravity was lower and biased a little towards the rear, and therefore the machine was (theoretically) safer. The Kangaroo was one of the first bicycles referred to as a ‘safety bicycle’, and was also known as a dwarf safety due to its diminutive size.

The design was widely copied by other manufacturers such as Rudge and Coventry Machinists, but as Hillman, Herbert and Cooper had patented the chain adjustment method of sliding the upper chainwheel bracket up the fork, the others had to come up with different methods of taking up chain slack, with varying success. Other gear sizes were available to order, and the front wheel was also available in 34, 35 and 38 inch diameters. The wheel/gear size is stamped on top of the steering head… 36=54 in the case of this machine.

A lightweight machine was also available, the No.2 which the 1886 catalogue stated was suitable for ‘racing or Ordinary Riding on very good roads’. This version had no step, chain guards or footrests, and narrower tyres. The design of the Kangaroo was somewhat flawed (more of that later!) and the arrival of the Rover safety bicycle in 1885 led to an early demise, although it was still in the H.H. and C. catalogue in 1888. In the first year or two of production, however, bicycles of this type gained considerable popularity.

This particular machine was purchased in 1885/6 by the proprietor of a bicycle shop, G.F.Nash at 155 Goldhawk Road in West London, and has been in the same family from then until I acquired it recently. It is almost totally original, except for the tyres and the pedals, which are Singer items. It is perfectly possible that the owner, having a bike shop, decided to change the pedals in period to Singer ones, as they are very handsome and comfortable. Although the nickel plating to the bright parts has largely gone, the enamel is very well preserved and the backbone transfer is largely preserved.

In the next few posts I will look at the preservation of this remarkable bicycle, an investigation of some of the failings of the design, and some riding impressions.

There is a very comprehensive article about the the history of the Kangaroo here.

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Lea and Francis Light Roadster c.1903/4 – A study in rust

Sometimes a bicycle is useful for study purposes and little else, being so badly rusted as to be beyond use. This completely original Lea and Francis Light Roadster from 1903/4 is one such example. Despite being very distressed it still retains half of its chain case celluloid, and the puncture repair kit concealed in the handlebar grip. The illustrations below are from the 1904 catalogue, where it was priced at £25 10s. It was almost certainly the most expensive bicycle available at that time. For instance, a Centaur Featherweight was priced at under £20 that year, and a Dursley Pedersen about £17. Note the lovely scalloped cranks and the beautiful concealed roller brake levers. You can see my completely original but rather better preserved 1908 Lea and Francis here. Before you say that this this machine doesn’t look THAT bad, the rust around the bottom bracket is very serious indeed and would affect the structural integrity of the bike. Pity… but its still a thing of beauty!

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Season’s Greetings from Vintage Bicycle Blog

Wishing all readers of Vintage Bicycle Blog a great Christmas and a very happy and healthy New Year!

Thank you to all of you around the World…France, USA, Australia, Japan, Norway, Croatia, Chile, Indonesia, Thailand, Canada, Pakistan, Greece, Hungary, Italy, the Philippines (and that was just yesterday’s visitors!) etc… for reading during 2013. I look forward to meeting you again in 2014.

There is a clue in this picture regarding my latest acquisition……more on that later!

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Masi Prestige Cronometro 1981

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In the late 1960’s the Italian framebuilder Masi developed a slotted chainstay design with the purpose of stiffening the chain stays for track and time trial work. A great deal of time went into the making of these stays, each slot being cut and filed, and a sleeve brazed in…five slots per side, and each one is a different size. As a result this was a very expensive bicycle and only a handful were made. Faliero Masi, and his son Alberto, had their premises at the Vigorelli velodrome in Milan. From this workshop they produced ‘servizio corse’ frames for many of the top riders, many of which were badged under different names. For instance, they produced the Faema bikes that Eddy Merckx rode. Their workmanship was of the highest standard. The chainstay work on this frame is faultless, as is the very clean classic lugwork. A Campagnolo Super Record groupset completes this bike, with Masi pantographed stem and seat pin. The frame was refinished some time in the last 10 years and the transfers are reproduction ones. Alberto, nearing 70 years old, continues to make beautiful frames at the Vigorelli workshop.

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H.R.Morris Special Model 1963 – An Engligh Lightweight Masterwork

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I recently carried out some work on this frame which in my opinion is one of the great masterworks of English lightweight frame building. It was built by H.R.Morris of Walthamstow, East London, in 1963. Morris owned the bicycle shop that I used to frequent when I was in my late teens, and I was very fond of him. He was a big man with hands like bunches of bananas, but his work could be incredibly detailed and delicate. The lug cutting on this bicycle, all done with a tiny fret-saw and files, is second to none. His initials ‘HRM’ are cut into all the lugs, even at the bottom bracket, where the cutting is at its smallest and most difficult. These lugs took approximately two weeks to cut. It is rumoured that there are thirteen such bicycles built by Morris, but this is highly unlikely. I have seen only three similar frames, and all are different.

The collector that owns the bike wanted me to clean and conserve the frame, chrome and transfers. The frame is in its original finish, with some later touch-ins. After assessment, the frame was very carefully cleaned using Vulpex liquid soap mixed with water. This dissolves the grease and other grime very gently. A hog bristle brush was used to clean out the lug cutouts. After that, some over-spray was removed using Renaissance Pre-Lim. Chrome was cleaned using 0000 steel wool. Some new off-white lines were painted to replace the lost lining marking the border between paint and chrome, which gave the frame a ‘lift’. Finally the frame was protected with four or five thin coats of Renaissance Wax.

It was a pleasure to handle this wonderful frame… a Rembrandt of the bicycle World.

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Visit to Japan – Part 2 – Toei

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It’s been some time now since our last visit to Japan and its time to catch up a bit with unwritten experiences. One of the most enjoyable and enlightening was a visit to frame builders Toei.

Tucked away down a back street in a suburb of Tokyo is a very unprepossessing metal framed building clad largely in corrugated iron. We arrived while the three gentlemen who work there were taking a break, two of them snoozing gently, which probably accounted for a slight frostiness in the welcome. My Wife Tomoko is Japanese and she is well acquainted with bicycle terminology, so she was a wonderful translator. After a while they seemed to warm to us, perhaps when they realised that we did know our chain stays from our down tubes, and a healthy discussion ensued. Founded in the 1950’s Toei were clearly influenced by the recently imported designs of René Herse and Alex Singer, and soon they were building beautiful machines with fully integrated components. But Toei have not stood still, and have come up with their own design improvements, for instance their front derailleur, and subtle and intelligent refinements of the constructeurs specialities such as the gear changer and brakes.

We soon realised that we had arrived at a unique point, as they were in the process of making THREE tandem frames, something which had not happened for a number of years. They don’t often get orders for tandems and one of the customers had been waiting for 8 years! Obviously it is easier to work on a group of similar machines, although as you can see from the pictures, the specification, lug work etc.. differs between the three. Tandems cost over double the price of a bicycle frame as the lugs have to be fabricated specially, since there are no suitable tandem lug blanks available. You can see this in the detailed photographs below. All their frames are built to order and their highly detailed order sheet requires every component to be specified, down to the last screw and nut. Many Japanese customers like to use vintage components ( very often NOS ) on their bicycles, so Toei are equally at home building a touring bike with a Cyclo gear and Stronglight 49D cranks as they are incorporating a new Shimano group set. Kaisei tubing is used largely but some customers provide Reynolds 531 tubesets for their build.

Above all we were struck by the quality and precision of their workmanship. These three great craftsmen are continuing the tradition of the constructeur to the very highest standard, producing machines of beauty, functionality, sophistication and taste.

For further information on Toei see the book here.

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