Alex Singer Sportif – Chrome c.1980


Constructed around 1980 by Ernest Csuka in Reynolds 531 tubing, this is a fairly minimal sporting machine for fast riding. It is light, and equipped with the finest French components of the period. The Tevano triple chainset, made by TA, is basically a copy of its Campagnolo contemporary, with some arguing that it is even nicer than the Italian piece of kit! Gearing is the excellent Simplex SLJ5500 group which functions smoothly and quietly. Braking is via Mafac Competition calipers fitted with new Koolstop blocks which are indistinguishable from the original rubbers in all but their considerably improved braking efficiency. Rims are Super Champion laced to Maillard hubs. The fittings are completed by Philippe bars and stem and a Brooks Professional saddle. There are the usual Singer refinements such as the custom made front brake cable hanger, chainstay protector loop, and brazed on rear cable hanger. Although the machine was filthy when I bought it, the chrome has cleaned up largely like new. 0000 steel wool was used to remove the worst grime and finally the frame was polished with Solvol Autosol. The bike had clearly seen little use.

Last week it was well tested on a ride in the Surrey Hills, including an ascent of Box Hill, as well as some steep and fast descending. The great thing about this machine is that it does everything well. The bike steers, brakes and changes gear without drama, and it inspires confidence. It compares very favourably with the very best Italian lightweights of the period, and the top of the range French components also match their Campagnolo cousins in pretty much every respect.

Click on photo for large scale image








Hillman, Herbert and Cooper ‘Kangaroo’ No.1 Roadster c.1885/6 – Part 3 – Complete and ready to ride!

The Kangaroo is now finished and has completed its shake-down ride. New grey tyres were fitted and some small engineering jobs were necessary, including making a new foot rest where the original had been broken off. A couple of incorrect nuts were re-made to correct pattern. Quite a lot of work was required in carefully straightening the chain guards, and the trouser guard. All ball bearings were replaced, and reproduction pedal rubbers fitted. I have kept the original saddle as it is, to be retained with the machine, whilst for riding I have fitted a new pan saddle almost identical in design to the Brooks original. The pan was beautifully made by Tony Huntington. The white painted section on the backbone of the frame was retained. This was clearly added during the last War, suggesting that rather amusingly the bike was used on occasions during that period! (A white painted section was required by law on the rear of bicycles used during war-time blackouts in the UK)

The Kangaroo was an attempt to make the Ordinary bicycle safer, but it was a flawed design. Although you sit lower than on an Ordinary, it’s still possible to do a ‘header’ and the additional weight of the chainwheels and chains are noticeable. Worst of all is the vertical drive train. As Archibald Sharp noted in ‘Bicycles and Tricycles’ (1896) ‘In pressing the pedals downwards the front side of the chain is tight, but when the pedal is ascending, since it cannot be lifted direct by the rider, it is pulled up by the chain, the rear side of which gets tightened. This reversal, taking place twice every revolution throws a serious jar on the gear. This defect cannot, overcome by skilful pedalling.’ The chains are poorly designed, having solid sections in contact with the chainwheels, instead of rollers, and when this is combined with the design defect it leads to premature wear and stretching of the chains. Slack in the chains makes the ‘jar’ worse, of course. The chains can only be adjusted by the same amount each side, otherwise the wheel would be thrown out of line in the fork.

Of course the advent of the rear-drive Safety Bicycle in 1885, caused the Kangaroo to decline in popularity, having enjoyed a brief success.

Despite the shortcomings of the design it is a fun machine to ride. It may not be much safer, but it feels like it is. It is stable, with the relatively large rear wheel, and it bowls along very nicely. The beautifully made saddle spring gives good comfort, and I was surprised to find that it climbed hills well, despite the jarring of the chains being more pronounced under load. It’s interesting to compare it to the Rover which rendered it obsolete. The Rover is undoubtedly a finer riding machine, but the Kangaroo has a quirky charm about it.


George Moore’s drawing above, from ‘Cycling’ magazine of 1885, shows a race between the Kangaroo and the Rover. In September 1884 George Smith broke the 100 mile record on a Kangaroo, taking 7 hours 11 minutes and 10 seconds to cover the distance. Almost exactly a year later he broke the same record on a Rover Safety Bicycle by just over 6 minutes. The drawing in fact represents an imaginary race between the machines, since the rider of both is the same man, George Smith. Being lucky enough to own examples of both machines, I intend to re-create this drawing in a photograph. First I need to find another rider that looks like me…. Watch this space!

Click on photo for large scale image









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.




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:


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.


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!



The rear step is a beautiful thing!


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




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


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












Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 466 other followers