The story of the restoration of a 1950s classic bicycle for a Land's End – John O'Groats charity ride in aid of Alzheimer's Society
The wheels are a worry – if one breaks catastrophically on a fast descent, I’ll be in deep trouble. The problem is that 65 year-old rims and hubs were poorly designed by today’s standards and the materials they’re constructed from (especially aluminium alloy) has deteriorated over time. Safety is so important that I decided to ask for professional help from Harry Rowland – one of the best-known and respected wheel builders in the country. I also wanted to learn something about the craft of wheelbuilding and have some small role in building the wheels.
While the Airlite hubs are not too bad, Harry was very concerned about the state of the spoke holes in the Constrictor rims that I wanted to use, which show signs of wear.
So, my plan now is to have two pairs of wheels – one built from the Airlite/Constrictor combination, to be used for light rides where “period correctness” is needed. The second wheelset is built with modern rims laced to a pair of 1950s Bayliss-Wiley hubs which I found. Bayliss-Wiley was a famous name in the British cycle industry in the 1950s, but the company is now long gone. Apart from some deterioration of the chrome plating on the barrels, the hubs are in excellent condition and should stand up to the rigours of LEJoG.
The problem was finding silver wheel rims drilled with 32 holes front and 40 rear. In the end, I had to import some US-made Velocity Dyad rims all the way from Utah! They’re not very beautiful, but they should do the job.
I spent five or six hours with Harry Rowland in his workshop in Ramsgate, building up the wheels. It’s always good to see a craftsman at work, and Harry is an interesting man – he started out as a track cyclist and he’s a fount of knowledge and experience about all things cycling. He was very generous with his time.
It was really enjoyable learning some of the basics of the job. Harry was very kind and didn’t laugh at my faltering efforts at lacing and truing-up a wheel. I feel quite proud of those wheels now, and much better equipped to deal with the broken spokes and other minor disasters that might happen en route.