Designing and Building Your Own Frameset, Richard P Talbot (1979)

A thorough technical guide to building a steel bicycle frame, including the design, cutting, brazing and finishing of the frame. There are many step-by-step photographs and tables of technical information

The Manet Guild 0 9602418 1 7 161 pp

At the time this book appeared, little had changed in the fabrication of bicycle frames for a good 50 years. Reynolds tubing was the preferred raw material; the merits of dfferent tube angles were hotly debated; and, braze-on fittings were added to suit the use to which a frame would be put.

The book gives every impression of being comprehensive and easy-to-follow, with a strong section on design, as well as guidance on how a technically proficient person, with access to the right tools, can create a bicycle frame that is the equal of that offered by a specialist builder. Fashions in frame design have moved on a good deal in the 30 years since this book was written – but the types of frame on whose construction Talbot advises are every bit as good now as they have ever been.

This I can assert for sure, because I am still riding a bike built a quarter of a century ago by following the advice of this volume.

My brother, Adam Dawson, bought the book in the mid-1980s, when in his late teens. Having already befriended Johnny Mapplebeck and Geoff Whitaker the owners of Bradford’s Pennine Cycles, he persuaded them to let him use their frame-building workshop to undertake the work.

Its design is, to say the least, idiosyncratic. My brother was a very enthusiastic cycle tourist. He rode a good 150 miles a week to work and back and did double that most weekends, mainly with other cyclists from Bradford. Although he had commissioned a touring bicycle from Pennine some years earlier, the more immersed he became in cycle culture, the more he developed his own ideas about what would make the ideal touring cycle.

First off, it is build for a fixed wheel, with rear-facing drop outs. Fixies at this time were the preserve of hardened road racers who used them for winter training. In a hilly city like Bradford they made for a punishing ride indeed – but their lightness, simplicity, and possibly their eccentricity appealed to Adam.

It also has a built in rack. This was designed to support a custom-made saddle bag, created by my other brother Ben, who manufactured tents and bags for a living. The design of the saddle bag was such that it could be used either as a saddle bag, or as a rucksack and sat perfectly on the mini-rack – there is a picture of it below.

A committed user of Sturmey Archer Dynohubs, Adam also specced the bike for the lighting system that he had in mind. To the front fork, he brazed a light bracket, and along the length of the frame, he created a series of nicked out loops to carry the wires necessitated by a dynamo – up the front fork and to the rear of the bike.

He added a unique set of pre-threaded water-bottle nuts. Two were in the conventional position to carry a water bottle carrier. A further two were in the inside angle of the top tube and the down tube. These were to attach a strap that made the bike more comfortable to carry over the shoulder – a significant feature of the rough-stuff riding that Adam enjoyed.

Finally he brazed on a raised impression of his initials – realised as a swirling logo. Beneath the enamel it has the role of the frame’s crest. Pennine were kind enough to add their badging to the frame – although it has little in common with the fine racing bikes on which their reputation is based. It also bears its own name – Adamant.

Adam completed thousands of miles on the bike – the length and breadth of the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland, many times over. And, unusually for a bike built before the invention of ‘mountain bikes’, it also went up some pretty considerable mountains, most notably in the Cairngorms. He cetainly completed the Lairig Ghru, rode up Glen Feshie to Braemar in mid-winter, an account of which appears in the Rough Stuff Journal’s yearbook.

Its most noteworthy journey came when Adam and a friend rode from Bradford to London (approximately 200 miles) in a single day. Shortly after they got to London, Adam climbed back on his bike. “Where are you going now”, asked his friend, who had a train ticket for his return journey.. “Home”, replied Adam. And without further ado, he was off – scarcely stopping until he was back in West Yorkshire. The photograph of him with the bike (also below) was taken by the local newspaper to accompany a story about his epic journey.

The bike came into my possession after Adam’s unexpected, and substantially unexplained death shortly after his 40th birthday. By that time he was an infrequent cyclist and Adamant fulfilled the role of a trusty, but little-cared-for hack. Happily, however, Pennine Cycles took the frame under their wing, and brushed it up pretty well. It is still set up as a ‘fixed’, and provide a light responsive ride. I go out on it a couple of times a week as an honour to my brother’s memory.

Is this a recommendation for the book? I think so. Of course, I would much sooner have my brother still with us, than have his bike. But with this bike he tried to give shape to his dreams and then fashioned something with his own hands. That I can use to this day is an enormously potent act of remembrance. If a few more of us followed Talbot’s advice and tried to distil our ideas about bicycles into brazed steel tubing, we would surely develop a deeper, more profound relationship with our mounts and their underlying materials. Cycling is its own reward – but that is no reason not to try and make it more rewarding.

Tim Dawson 29 November 2008

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