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 for Ray Bennis by H.R.Morris of Walthamstow, East London, in October 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 four similar frames, and all are quite 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, and tests on the underside of a tube, 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 (fragments of which were visible under ugly vinyl tape) marking the border between paint and chrome, which gave the frame a ‘lift’. Finally it 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
I didn’t have any great desire to acquire a Hetchins but this particular machine interested me. First of all it has, in my opinion, the nicest Hetchins lug design – Experto Crede… very elegant, not too showy, and with the lovely plain double plate fork crown, and ridged top-eyes. The previous owner of the bike was a very fine engineer and what really interested me was that he made several parts for the bike, most notably the hubs! They were turned from a solid alloy billet to a similar pattern to Harden hubs, but with thicker flanges. They run like silk. He also made the beautifully knurled end caps for the Campagnolo pedals, attractive tapered end ferrules for the mudguard stays, and rear dropout spacers. For me this set the bike apart from the norm as he had very much personalised it. This Hetchins was his ‘Sunday best’ bike and has had very little use. It has been ‘modernised’ by him a little, with a 1980’s Campagnolo chainset and rear derailleur. The bike was apparently re-finished by Bob Jackson in the late 80’s in Bianchi green colour, although the chrome is original. Other nice parts include AVA stem and bars, Mafac Dural Forge brakes with drilled levers, Campagnolo bar-end changers and beautiful as new polished Constrictor Conloy rims. Unusually it also has Lefol Le Paon mudguards. Unfortunately the forward extension of the front mudguard was broken off at some stage, and an mis-matched replacement piece attached. If anyone out there has a spare front Le Paon mudguard for 700c/27inch wheels, I would be very pleased to buy it.
Click on photo for large scale image
Generally I try to avoid ‘restoring’ bicycles. I much prefer to find original examples and then set about conserving their features. I will never re-paint a bike which has original transfers and most of its original enamel. I believe these should be preserved at all costs. Modern transfers rarely look like like the original ones and bikes that have been refinished usually shout ‘look at me I’m nice and shiny!!’, which personally I don’t want. This frame was painted in a modern hideous shade of lilac metallic, and had a mixture of Bates transfers, some saying ‘Bates of London’, and others ‘Bates of Westcliff on Sea’! In 1949 Bates were situated in London, before their move to Westcliff, and the company was run by Horace Bates. They were famous for their distinctive frames and unusual fork design. The main tubes were of Cantiflex tubing made for them by Reynolds, being standard diameter at the ends but 5-6mm bulged in the middle… leading to their nickname of ‘pregnant’ tubes. The fork had the unique Diadrant double bend, making the bikes easily recognizable during racing in an era where for some years advertising bike names on the machines was banned.
Currently in the process of restoration, here are some details of the lugwork on a c.1949 Volante road/track frame. The lugwork is nicely presented and you can see the evidence of extensive filing and finishing. It can be noted that there are imperfections, but these are filled by the enamel finish. This bike, being a road path machine, has mudguard clearance, Chater Lea track ends, and twin plate fork crown with round fork blades. The chrome to head, forks and rear ends is original. I’ll be distressing the new paintwork so that it doesn’t look too loud… Watch this space for further progress.
Click on pictures for large scale images
I bought this beautiful Mercian frame on Ebay and wanted to make it into a go-anywhere road bike. I wanted it to look a bit ‘retro’, but not overly so, using carefully chosen nicely designed parts. I sourced the older Ultegra 6600 parts which are beautifully finished in polished alloy, since the new Ultegra is so hideous. With later designs for Ultegra and Dura Ace, Shimano seem to have gone down a road similar to that of car design, where macho, angular, aggressive looks are key – fine for teenage roadies but repellent to those with more sensitive taste. I decided on a triple chainset so the bike can be used for touring. The frame is in Reynolds 653 and was renovated by Mercian a few years back to their usual high standard of finish. Other parts include the very nicely shaped Nitto Noodle handlebars and Nitto Pearl stem, Hudz gum coloured brake hood, and Ambrosio Excellight wheels hand built by the very fine wheel-builder Harry Rowland. Handlebar tape is shellac finished with Gilles Berthoud leather end plugs. The bike rides great and has the potential to be a light tourer with rack mounts and mudguard clearance. All in all a classic looking build which performs. I did an edition of the Tour of Flanders sportive on it and it performed just as well, if not better than my Colnago C50, which I used the year before. Also managed to get up the Koppenberg, thanks to the triple chainset!
Click on pictures for large scale detailed images
An H.R.Morris touring bicycle, from around 1965. Built in Orford Road, Wathamstow, London, E17. It has finely filed pleasing lugwork, with nice wrapover seat stays…. Not sure which lugs these are? Nervex – standard or reworked? There are numerous cable guide braze-ons, as well as front and rear lamp bracket, rear rack and bottle cage braze-ons. Frame number is H422.
H.R.Morris was the bicycle shop that I went to regularly when I was in my teens, and I always wanted one of his frames, but couldn’t afford it. Memories of Dick Morris are very pleasant for me…. He always had time to offer advice, imparting his extensive knowledge in the high pitched sqeaky voice that I didn’t realise until much later was a result of throat cancer when he was a younger man. The shop was a bit spartan, but in the cramped workshop out the back he produced some of the finest English lightweight frames ever made. His lug cutting was without equal, in my opinion, so finely done particularly bearing in mind that he was a big man and had hands like bunches of bananas! See an excellent article about Morris here.
When I bought the machine it had been built up with modern bits now consigned to the bin, and is now finished with more period correct parts. Chainset is Stronglight 49D, pedals Lyotard, Campagnolo Record rear derailleur and Campagnolo ‘matchbox’ type front changer, Renold chain, Campag bar-end changers. Handlebars GB Randonneur on GB stem. Wheels are Record rims on Maxi hubs. Mafac cantilever brakes and levers. Birmalite seat pin with Ideale alloy saddle. Purists will be pleased to hear that the front mudguard forward extension has been reduced since the photo’s were taken!
I agonised a bit about how to route the gear cables under the bar tape, and decided on this arrangement because it works best from a mechanical point of view, without tight cable turns, and I have another Morris bike which had the original bar tape with routing the same as this. Aesthetically its not so nice though! I prefer routing up to the levers and thence to the downtube.
Click on photo’s for large scale detailed images
A superb example of a Hobbs of Barbican top of the range Blue Riband Track machine, with the fanciest and crispest lugwork and beautiful twin plate fork crown. 23 inch frame in excellent condition, refinished and lug-lined to the highest standard. Rare original Blue Riband enamel head badge. Fitted with correct period parts including inch pitch transmission with block chain, and rare Brooks Champion Sprinter saddle. Very light and very fast.
||Fiamme sprint rims on Harden large-flange, double fixed hubs
||Chater-Lea two-arm cranks with inch-pitch chainwheel
||Chater-Lea Sprint with Christophe toe clips and straps
||Cinelli chromed steel track bars on steel track stem
||Brooks B17 Champion Sprinter