A very rare example of a Nicola Barra bicycle built for Garin cycles during the Second World War. From the frame number it can be dated to c.1941/2. It is built from plain aluminium tubing, beautifully gas welded. The fillet brazed steel stem is a Barra speciality, as is the combined seat post clamp and brake cable guide. The brakes are the rarely seen early cantilevers, marked ‘Savoie’, made by Barra. Other parts include some rare items….. Simplex Champion du Monde 3 speed gear, Super Champion Picardie sprint rims on aluminium Pelissier Plume hubs, Jeay brake levers and Philippe Professionel bars. Chainset is the early pattern Stronglight, Lyotard quill pedals and Duralinox alloy toeclips, and an AM aluminium saddle. Dynamo wiring is internally routed.
I can find little information on Garin cycles, and I thought at first that the ‘Garin’ was perhaps Maurice Garin, the first winner of the Tour de France in 1903. Maurice Garin ran a team in the Tour de France just after the War and his home was in Lens, to the North West of Paris. However, the Garin here is Charles, probably unrelated, who had a bicycle company in the Pantin district of Paris. Barra apparently worked there for a while as works manager (see Bicycle Quarterly Summer issue 2008 – Thanks Tom!) Another example of a Barra Garin frame is here.
The bicycle is in excellent condition with no damage to the frame, and the original transfers and head badge are in a remarkable state of preservation. It is incredibly light… I would guess at about 21lbs, fully equipped.
click on pictures for large scale detailed images
Humber first used aluminium tubing in cycle construction in 1898. Of course there was no means of welding the tubes at that time so it suited perfectly their ‘detachable joint’ method of construction which was patented in 1896. The frame is demountable, being held together with finned cotter pins through the steel lugs ( see 1898 Humber catalogue extracts below ) Humber’s claim that the detachable joint method of frame construction was ‘the most important development in cycle construction since the introduction of the Pneumatic Tyre in 1888′ was somewhat overstating the case ( to say the least! ), but it is nonetheless a very interesting novelty. When the machine was disassembled it could be stored in a tailor-made wicker basket for storage or travel purposes. Priced at £33, the aluminium version of this bicycle was probably the most expensive bicycle on the market at the time.
Made to special order with a double top tube 28 inch frame, my machine is largely original, and is fitted with the patent Humber adjustable length cranks facilitated by rotating the circular insert in the crank end on which the pedal axle is eccentrically located. Thus 5/8 inch of length adjustment can be obtained. Handlebars are incredibly narrow at 13 inches. The drive train is in 5/8 pitch, a Humber speciality. The wheels are 28 x 1 3/8 inches, a size for which tyres are now completely obsolete. NOS tyres are fitted but this is the only pair in this size I have been able to obtain in the last 10 years. The rare Brooks B28 saddle has a replacement cover made by me.
An intriguing feature of this machine is that there are quite a lot of traces of nickel plating on the steel parts of the frame and also on the aluminium tubes. Was it possible to nickel plate aluminium at that time? Can you imagine what this bicycle must have looked like if it was entirely nickel-plated?
Although a number of demountable Humber’s survive, only two other aluminium tubed machines are known of, one in the Coventry Museum of Transport, Bartleet Collection, and the other (from c.1908) in a private collection.
Click on photo’s to enlarge