I acquired this late 80’s Georgena Terry Gambit a number of years ago. I don’t remember whether I purchased it just as a frame, or as a full bike. I was attracted to it at the time because I imagined the long head tube and small front wheel (a 24 incher) might make an interesting reinterpretation as a cycle truck of sorts.
At the time, I hadn’t paid much attention to the provenance of the frame, nor to its geometry. Recently needing to clear some space from my shop area, I brought the bike out and started to think about its purpose in life. With its Made in Japan brazing, using Cro-Mo lugged steel tubes, the bike would definitely not be considered a low end offering. So, I thought I would add a few components to make it ride-able, and then donate the end result to to Community Cycling Center so that the right cyclist can enjoy this interesting bicycle.
Original to the bike was the front Araya 24 inch rim laced to a sealed bearing Suzue hub. A nice and competent front wheel. The geometry of the bike is not ideal by my standards, with more wheel flop than I prefer. However, its short 51 cm top tube, made possible by the small front wheel, allows this bike to be a comfortable ride for those of shorter stature. The easy reach to the front of the bike, even with traditional road handlebars, is the whole idea behind this frame style.
For the front end, I threw on a salvaged Claud Butler road bar set mounted with Shimano non-aero brake levers. The road-ish style and leather bar tape seemed about right for this bike. Plus, I enjoy setting up the brake housing on non-aero style hoods, for that nice vintage look.
I used Shimano down tube shifters, but set the drive train up for a single chain ring up front. A Sakae crankset completes the build, and works amazingly well. A funky Pletscher rear rack adds utility.
This bike is an interesting example of the quality of steel frames which can be found in the 1980’s. While not technically vintage by my standards, this frame is an excellent example of the cycling industry’s offering of this era, with Georgena Terry being one of its most important innovators.
I recently purchased this Mercian on eBay. The seller described it as a 1960’s model, but with its Shimano dropouts, I suspected it was actually made a bit later.
The bottom bracket shell seems to indicate this is a 1972 model. A name appears to be etched above the serial number, but I can’t quite make it out. Perhaps this was the owner’s name. Having looked through the available Mercian catalogs on-line, and after taking frame measurements, I still don’t quite know what model this is.
However, given that it has decent length chain stays (44mm), and single eyelets front and rear, it is possible that this is the Campionissimo or Olympic model, off the shelf frames designed for light touring and randonneuring, but with no customizing available except choosing the color.
The lugs are ornate, and unusually shaped, although not a great deal of time was spent filing them. The frame is equipped with pump pegs and a full set of cable stops. The pump pegs are mounted slightly off center below the top tube, to prevent interference with the cable stops also mounted slightly off center on the opposite side.
I measured the frame and took some preliminary angle readings. It is a 49 cm x 51 cm frame (or, speaking British, a 20 inch frame – which the company measures center to top). The angles appear fairly steep, at about 74 degrees for both the head tube and seat tube. Of course, there is a margin of error using this method, and once the bike is built I will re-measure the angles using a level to correct for errors. I also checked brake reach using 700c wheels (I think the frame was built for 27 inch wheels). It looks like I will need about 65 mm of brake reach to use 700c wheels with this frame – that is definitely doable.
However, the biggest challenge will be determining whether the paint damage and oxidation to the top tube will mean having to re-paint the frame, something I am loathe to do. If the paint damage is just at the surface level, and there’s no rust underneath, I’d like to preserve the beautiful patina of this nice Reynolds 531 hand built frame.
Thankfully, it was a rainy, stormy day today, not suited for riding. A perfect shop day. I got out my various cleaning products and began to experiment on the back side of the fork legs, so that if I did something irretrievably bad, it would not be so visible. As it turned out, the most effective product was an automotive paint cleaning compound. Applied vigorously, and polished vigorously afterwards, this product was best at removing the years of neglect. I was worried about taking off too much paint however, and I only gently cleaned the Mercian logos. I definitely did not want to damage these as they were all in great condition. The photos above show the frame after several hours of cleaning and polishing – there is a definite improvement! That gave me the impetus to start working on the top tube. I figured that no matter how hard I rubbed, I couldn’t make it worse than it already was. I really wanted to see what the damage looked like underneath the oxidized paint.
The good news is that underneath the oxidation was nice silver-colored steel, with no rust visible at all. The bad news is that the top tube looks pretty funky, still. I will probably clean it up a bit more and then apply some clear paint to protect the exposed areas. After more cleaning, I will also apply many coats of wax to the entire frame, just to make sure that it remains protected in the elements. You’ll note from the above photo that I also removed the California bike license tag. While I usually keep these kinds of artifacts intact, this one really detracted from its appearance. Underneath was the original frame color – a very vibrant red. Well, now the bike is a very cool orange color!
It’s now time to start thinking about the components. Since the frame has such a vintage look, I think it would be best to build it up with period components. Fortunately, the old Mercian catalogs will provide a lot of information about how these machines were typically configured. I have these GB 88 brakes which would be from the period, and which have just the right amount of brake reach. My crankset collection includes two Stronglight candidates. The crankset at the left is a Spidel/Stronglight set from the 80’s – meant to be a copy of a Campy Super Record Crankset, and the one at the right is a 1970’s model with the star shaped spider that I love. I will probably go with the more vintage look. The frameset came shipped with a TDC headset, probably orginal, and a Sugino bottom bracket, which may or may not be original. By this time, Shimano and other Japanese components were beginning to be considered on par with the best French, British and Italian component makers of the time.
I have been wanting to find the right home for this beautiful Dura Ace high flange front hub with its smooth as butter cups and cones. It is laced to a 700c Araya rim. I might decide to use an unusual rear hub, such as a 2 x 6 Sachs-Fitchel hub, or even a Sturmey Archer, in keeping with its British heritage. That is part of the fun – envisioning the many interesting ways this frame can be configured. I look forward to riding it and getting this great old frame back out on the road.
I have recently been considering getting some brazing equipment so that I could make repairs to frames that have minor failures, rather than sending out to a frame builder for this service. Having taken UBI’s lugged frame building class a few years back, I had a general idea of what I might need, but didn’t want to go any further until I re-familiarized myself with the topic of brazing.
I found Marc-Andre Chimonas’ book, Lugged Bicycle Frame Construction, on the evil empire (Amazon) website, with what appeared to be some favorable and thoughtful reviews by actual readers. When the book arrived, I immediately delved into it and have now read if not studied much of the book.
It is written with a dry, understated wit, with an emphasis on the science of frame building. There are numerous zingers in the text, hidden amongst the tables and formulas. Consequently, I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. The author is a physician (which he describes as his “day job”), a writer (of both technical manuals and fiction), and a frame builder.
After reading just the first few chapters, I began to seriously question the idea that anyone can take a frame building class that lasts only two weeks, and from which an actual frame is produced. Whether that frame is safe to ride may be another thing altogether. My own frame has several flaws that can probably be corrected, but more on that later.
The book is logically organized and takes the reader through introductory concepts such as nomenclature, frame geometry, measurement and sizing protocols and includes helpful tables for determining angles and lengths for different sized riders. He naturally recommends smaller wheels for smaller frames, and there is a good discussion of toe overlap and bottom bracket height. He states his opinions about frame geometry as if they were facts, and that may irritate some readers, but I found it refreshing. For instance, recommended BB height is 25 cm for pretty much all types of normal road riding. This is a lot lower than you will find in production bikes.
Another interesting concept that I found both helpful and puzzling was the idea of controlling the variables in frame building. He differentiates between “operator controlled” variables and “outcome” variables. Outcome variables are the result of the frame builders operator controlled variables. But, he describes outcome variables to include BB drop and toe overlap, which in my mind are operator controlled. At any rate, what is clear is that frame design is a highly complex undertaking, and one that is aided by software. He recommends using excel and offers a link to a useful frame design spreadsheet, which is available on the author’s website.
There is a quick trigonometry and metallurgy review (which the author calls optional), and then the theory turns into fabrication as the author goes through chapters on frame parts, tools, mitering, torches, brazing technique, and lug modification. Again, the author doesn’t hesitate to state his recommendations, even down to a specific brand or manufacturer of a particular tool. For me, someone who didn’t take shop class in high school, the specific advice is extremely helpful.
After digesting many of the chapters, I decided to drag out the frame I completed 2 years ago but never finished filing or painting.
My frame with front-center at 59 cm – a little shorter than I wanted.
I built this frame for myself, designed around a 650b wheel size. I wanted enough front-center distance to allow for fenders and decent sized tires. The book uses a formula to determine an ideal length. I plugged my numbers into his formula and found that I won’t have toe overlap with this frame, so that is a relief. I did have to use a longer than usual (for me) top tube length to get this much front center distance (combined of course with all the other measurements). That means I’ll use a short reach stem when I eventually build the bike up.
One of the things that troubles me about my frame is that it was built so hastily and with so little actual knowledge. Well, after reading the brazing chapter I think I have reason to be concerned. I remember having a lot of trouble sanding enough material off the top of my fork blades, and off the inside of the fork crown so that the legs could be inserted without a lot of force. After hours of filing, I still wasn’t happy, but ran out of time so just brazed the fork legs into the crown even though the fit was tight. This is definitely a no-n0 – there needs to be enough room for the silver to flow into the joint.
Here are some other details of the frame I built. Using this book as a resource, I will be able to correct the other two (known) mistakes on the frame. I may decide, however to build a new fork. And, I now know what kind of equipment to purchase and how to use it safely, so I am looking forward to being able to do my own small repairs.
Nice looking BB
Mistake on the seat stays – they are out of alignment
Drive size DO not yet cleaned up and filed – you can see I got the tubes a bit hot.
Aaack! Seriously out of whack shifter bosses – the jig probably got bumped when I turned away to get more silver.