Could U be the most beautiful bike in the world?

When Prince sings about the most beautiful girl in the world, we know he’s not telling us she’s the most beautiful girl in the world, rather that she’s the most beautiful girl in the world to him.

In 1994 or thereabouts, when I moved back to London after university, I bought a bike from a second-hand bike stall in Camden Lock. It was a Dawes Londoner, ten speed, in blue. I think I paid around £100 for it and thought I’d got myself a pretty sweet machine at a good price. The Londoner model was made by Dawes especially for Covent Garden Cycles, a shop with an excellent reputation for touring and utility bikes that, sadly, closed down years ago. But you still see plenty of Londoners on city streets.

“Handmade in England”, from a Reynolds 531ST (super-tourer) tubeset, it had 27 inch wheels, TA chainset, drop bars and a rack. That’s about all I remember. Until 2001 it was the only bike I owned and remained my main bike until a couple of years ago. It has been on a few camping tours of the West Country but mostly it’s been a bike for riding around London, as befits its name. Here’s a picture of me and the bike, taken in 2005 when the London Cycling Campaign asked for a photograph of me for its magazine because The Bike Show had just been awarded the Campaign’s prize for ‘Best Media’.

Before (mildly odd publicity shot for The Bike Show)

I probably rode the majority of The Bike Show’s rolling interviews on this bike. Over the years bits and pieces changed. It lost its lovely TA chainset and became a single speed, then a fixed wheel. It got several sets of new wheels, a Brooks saddle, a Schmidt SON hub dynamo and moustache bars. Here’s a picture touring in Devon over the Winter Solstice in 2007:

Fixed wheel touring in Devon, December 2007

In 2008 I decided the paint had become so chipped it risked rusting away. So I took it apart and it stayed in the cellar for over a year and various components were accumulated from shops, markets and cycle jumbles for a rebuild. In the past six weeks I put my mind to getting it back on the road. The first task was repainting in a new colour: ruby red. Armourtex in Hackney, thanks in large part to the perfectionists at the London Fixed Gear and Single Speed Forum are now experts in repainting bicycles. They did a wonderful job of powder coating the frame, fork and a pair of steel mudguards I thought would look good.

I decided I wanted more than one gear and found an NOS Shimano Nexus 3-speed hub with coaster brake including an 18T sprocket, brake levers, cables etc for £15. I matched that with a Sturmey Archer 44T crankset with integrated chainguard from a little bike shop in Berlin (€25). This gives me gears of 49, 67 (direct drive) and 91. 67 gear inches is about perfect for everyday riding on the flat in London.

I decided to go for 700c rims which would give me a wider selection of tyres and more clearance on a frame built for the slightly larger 27 inch wheels. I had a pair of unused Vittoria Randonneur Pro tyres lying around that are 37mm and have quite a deep tread so should last a while and give grip and comfort on bumpy roads. However, the tyre clearance on the chain stays is barely a few millimeters and will need watching. The wheels are super-sturdy Mavic A719 touring rims and the front hub is a Shimano Dura Ace, salvaged from a pair of track wheels I found in a flea market in Belgium. The seat pillar is also Dura Ace and the saddle is a sprung Brooks ‘Conquest All Terrain’ model. The handlebars are basic North Road alloys, matched with a no-name quill stem. With a coaster brake there’s only one brake lever, combined with a twist-grip gear shifter. The rack is a cheap and cheerful Pletscher, made in Switzerland and the best-selling rack of all time, according to Rivendell Bicycles. The pedals are MKS Sylvan Tourers and there’s a kickstand from Decathlon.

Pavel at my local bike shop (the excellent London Bicycle Repair Shop) built the wheels and Wes put the bike together and did lots of small but clever things that really make it work. He made a set of mudguard stays from two lengths of 3mm stainless steel (the stays that came with the mudguards were too short), cleverly securing the to the braze-ons by reusing some V-brake washers. and routed the gear cable up the seat stay and along the top tube, rather than along the down tube. He suggested the addition of a lightweight chromed chain guard that runs the length of the chain and the wonderful Dia Compe Mod 750 centre pull front brake (based on the old Weinmann design). The brake not only looks outstanding but is a lot more effective than a side pull. The shop gave me golden ping bell that matches the Dawes decals.

And now, what you’ve all been waiting for, the result. As far as I’m concerned, the most beautiful bike in the world.

Dawes Reborn

Hand made in England. Dia Compe centre pull brakes

Brooks Conquest All Terrain saddle, fluted Dura Ace seat pillar, Pletscher rack

More pictures at Flickr.

Ron Cooper on Ron Cooper


Ron Cooper is a legend in frame-building. He started as a fifteen-year-old apprentice with A.S. Gillott, and his frames have come to define the very best of the British lightweight style. He talks about the early days learning from master frame-builders like Jim Collier and Bill Philbrook, his own racing career and his commercial success in the US in the 1970s. Along the way he explains the technique and motivation needed to hand build more than 7,000 racing frames. Having turned 79 in June this year, Ron Cooper is still building three mornings a week.

Look out for the cover story in Rouleur 19 on Ron Cooper, with photos (including the above) by Nadav Kander.