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


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.






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!

click on photo for large scale image


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!


Masi Prestige Cronometro 1981


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.

click on photo for large scale image











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


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.

Click on photo for large scale image













Visit to Japan – Part 2 – Toei


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.









Vintage Bicycle Restoration 3 – René Herse Tandem – Work in progress



Recently I’ve been working on this Herse tandem number 109 99. It probably dates from the early 1940’s and was most likely upgraded and re-painted by Herse around 1947/8. It has posed a number of questions in how to deal with certain condition problems. In particular, the front derailleur has been cut off and the question is how to replace it without causing damage to the original finish of the bike. The front and rear racks are very rusty and pitted and are not suitable for re-chroming, and the rear drum brake is in a poor state.


The front hub is an FB – ITALIAN no less! Herse turned the flanges off and riveted on his own very large duralumin flanges. There are 18 rivets each side, corresponding to the spoke holes of the original 36 hole hub, but the new flanges were provided with 40 holes to make for a stronger wheel for the tandem. The spokes are Trois Étoiles non-butted tandem spokes and the rims Mavic. The papillons are Bell bronze, a stronger option for the tandem than the usual alloy version. Spokes and the steel centre part of the hub were cleaned with a brass brush and then various grades of wire wool. The aluminium parts were polished by hand using 00 wire wool, followed by 0000 wire wool and polish together – either Solvol Autosol or Simichrome. I prefer not to disassemble where possible, and this makes for a lengthy and sometimes awkward process, but with results that respect the originality of the bike. I also dislike using a polishing wheel because I prefer a slightly satin-like finish, rather than highly polished. Also, the wheel can destroy detail and leave an uneven surface. Final polishing is done with Solvol Autosol.


Similarly the chainsets were all polished by hand using the same 2 grades of wire wool, and polish, after initial cleaning and de-greasing with cellulose thinners. I always use thinners outside, and take the usual precautions considering its volatility and other dangers.



The same techniques of hand polishing were used for the Lefol brake levers and Cyclo 5 speed Derailleur. Note the Herse modifications of the right hand brake lever, beautifully crafted, to apply both front and rear rim brakes together, whilst the left lever operates the rear drum brake. The Derailleur has also been modified by drilling the shafts and providing oilers to properly lubricate the moving parts.




As far as the frame was concerned, it was quite a challenge due to the presence of many scratches and small rusty areas. The frame is never going to look immaculate, the aim being simply to make it presentable. I chose to do a minimal amount of touching in of paintwork. After initial cleaning of the oily bits with paraffin, I rubbed the rusty areas lightly with 0000 wire wool, treated the rust with a neutraliser, then cleaned the rest of the paintwork with Renaissance Pre-Lim, a very lightly abrasive compound. This removes any remaining dirt and grime, preparing the surface for the final polish. It is very important to keep away from the lining and lettering, which can be done by carefully working up to the lines with a single finger inside the cleaning rag. Pre-Lim can leave a white residue in the rusty bits, so I clean this off with car brake cleaner, a quickly evaporating solvent. Some touching in was done, but I tend to wipe off much of the paint before it dries, only leaving small amounts in the scratches or damaged areas. This darkens the area without leaving a too obvious patch of new paint. After that the final finish is two or three coats of Renaissance Wax, which brings back the shine very much to its original look. The original finish is nowhere near as glossy as modern finishes, which is why refinishing never looks quite right.



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