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.

18 Responses to Could U be the most beautiful bike in the world?

  1. Richard August 18, 2010 at 3:59 pm #

    You’re right, that’s lovely! I love the Brooks saddle. It’s funny how steel is rapidly becoming the new steel ;-)

  2. Graham Ashton August 18, 2010 at 7:10 pm #

    That’s a very tasteful rebuild! You’ve inspired me to both respray my old workhorse (a Harry Hall that I’ve had since I was 15) and to put a hub gear in the old Claud frame that I bought for the purpose.

    What you have there is the best example of a London commuter that I’ve ever seen. Nippy, yet comfortable and practical with it. I suspect there’s a wide market for them.

    Do you have any more details of the chain guard?

  3. Mark August 20, 2010 at 2:24 pm #

    Very nice indeed Jack, and I really like the story behind it – rebuilds mean so much more if the bike meant something to you in the first place. Very phoenix-from-the-ashes.

    Looking forward to seeing you out and about on it.

  4. ian... August 21, 2010 at 4:44 pm #

    Really nice Jack, and inspiring in a way. I’ve got an old 10 speed racer gathering dust that has a pretty sturdy frame. It might get saved now :>)

    The mudguards look like those on my wifes Pashley. Did you buy those new, or were they a lucky find?

  5. David Evans August 22, 2010 at 12:28 pm #

    Jack, a truly beautiful bike, and a beautifully written post as well. Love the kickstand too, a much under rated and oft-scorned upgrade.

  6. marc August 26, 2010 at 8:56 am #

    That does look special. Very nice bike indeed. Keep an eye on it or you’ll have Pee Wee Herman after it. I hope you get many more happy miles out of it. Thank you for posting the story.

  7. Tom the Canadian August 26, 2010 at 12:59 pm #

    I’m envious. I beats my old 74′ Raleigh hands down. It’s much too pretty to ride in the salt and grime of an Edmonton winter. However, it heartens me to continue to refurbish my old Magneet and make it respectable again. 2010 high tensile steel has a lot to be said for itself. Love your program.

  8. Andy Welch August 27, 2010 at 6:40 pm #

    That is indeed beautiful! What a transformation.

  9. Ray September 4, 2010 at 4:27 pm #

    A lovely bike. I love my lightweight with a S-A three-speed hub. It needs the mudguards mounted again. Your bike looks to be a wonderful and practical bike.

    I’m soon to have a custom built bike with Reynolds ST tubes and with racks which will have either a 5-speed hub gear, fixed, or single coaster brake as I wear out wheels or change my moods.

    I’m not sure those bars are a North Road bend, see:
    Handlebars

  10. Ray September 4, 2010 at 6:58 pm #

    Jack,
    I’m also a fan of the Conquest saddle, and for brake pads in future consider the Kool Stop “Continental” pads.

    Don’t forget a mudflap as the front fender is sort of short.

  11. BikeLove September 6, 2010 at 1:54 am #

    Very handsome Jack!

  12. Roofrack September 8, 2010 at 7:47 am #

    That is beautiful – I love an old Dawes – I’ve owned five or so in the last few years. Fast and comfortable. I’ve also got Conquest saddles, North Road bars and hub gears on pretty much all my bikes now (1,3 and 7 Speed Raleigh Twentys and a Raleigh Special Products 853 Road Frame). The large bike has Marathon Plus 25 x 700s on which are as indestructible as a larger tyre and pretty comfortable although not particularly fast.

  13. Caldini September 14, 2010 at 8:54 pm #

    That’s a beautiful looking bike Jack. Very tasteful.

  14. Jack Thurston April 16, 2011 at 9:09 am #

    @Graham – the chainguard is by Hebie. £20.

  15. Tony June 9, 2013 at 6:07 am #

    Hope it’s not too late to comment on this!

    Your bike brings back memories for me, especially the Londoner logo!

    My first real touring bike was a Dawes Londoner Grosvenor model from Convent Garden Cycles in 1986. Clearly, it was a rebadged Galaxy frameset ‘cos it had braze-ons for low riders – still a novelty in the mid ’80s. Components were cheap though: 27″ Weinmann rims, Maillard hubs and a no-name chainset that I upgraded at time of purchase to a Stronglight.

    I was living in Sussex at the time and my first tour was in Normandy on that bike. Lovely to ride and although I parted with it many years ago. I still have great memories of pedalling Sussex lanes and Northern France!

  16. Gary Holmes April 22, 2014 at 1:08 pm #

    Nice… I’ve still got mine. I bought it in 1981 in Covent Garden when the shop was in Floral Street, where Paul Smith now resides. It’s still a conversation piece and other cyclists stop me when they see it. Mine is red with drop handlebars. It’s stood the test of time and is still going strong. It now lives with me in Molde, Norway.

  17. Sara Jane March 25, 2015 at 1:11 pm #

    Thanks for this article. You have inspired me to re-vamp at 1980′s Londonder I was given some time back.. i am cylcling the length of France in May but can’t afford a new bike so am planning to try and revamp this and try it out on the Massive Central! Massive effort due..

    • Admin March 25, 2015 at 1:26 pm #

      Hi Sara Jane,
      A Londoner is more than capable of taking you across France. Sounds like a great trip. Just make sure you get nice low gears (a triple chainring and a 32 cog at the back) to winch up those long, steep hills. I can definitely recommend the London Bicycle Repair Shop in Waterloo if you need advice or want the work done by a professional mechanic. Or – even better – drop in to Ninon at Bicycle Workshop near Notting Hill. She’s the best mechanic in London and sadly will be shutting up shop fairly soon, so get in quick.
      Since I wrote this post the bike has transformed again. The 3 speed hub gear died sadly and so it’s back to a fixed/singlespeed with drop handlebars and a dynohub. Took it out for a 40 mile maiden voyage down the Usk valley last night. As lovely a ride as ever, now more than 20 years on.
      Jack

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