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Monday, January 28

D. W. Lindsay

And now for something completely different - meet D. W. Lindsay. You might think from reading this blog that all I do is take photographs in my spare time. Not quite right. For many years I was completely engrossed in collecting vintage racing bicycles - vintage being anywhere between 1930 and 1970. About eight years ago, though, my interest waned but it's lately been rekindled and I've decided to actually restore a few of the bikes I have and, as I'm doing with my surplus camera equipment, sell off the rest.

What's let of the head tube transfer...
I've got around 20 frames, loads of wheels and parts and other essentials such as saddles and handlebars some of which I bought from old guys who were ex-racers and some I picked up through a couple of contacts at local municipal dumps. It's a dump find I'm working on at the moment. A worker there used to fish out likely candidates from the rubbish and put them aside for me. I remember popping in to see him one lunchtime and being told that he had "an old bike" in a shed. A tenner changed hands and I left with what is a very rare - if not particularly valuable - machine indeed. Dundee is my home city and this bike was built there by Dave Lindsay whose bike shop, D.W. Lindsay, was, I believe, the biggest in town. The bike is definitely pre-WWII and is probably from 1937 going by the date code on the Williams chain ring. There's every chance it's the oldest Lindsay around having come into existence a year before the Anschluss. I love the history associated with old bikes and the fact they were handmade by guys in workshops and not the product of an Asian sweat shop surrounded by suicide nets to catch those poor workers who are sometimes pushed to the brink by the awful conditions they have to face day after day.

...and what it was once like.
Although I've always concentrated on lightweight racing bikes, the type that were state of the art at the time, the Lindsay is more of a "light tourer", a bike that wasn't heavy like the roadsters that people used as daily transport but wasn't designed for racing either. It's a little sturdier and would have been ideal for cycle-touring around Youth Hostels or camping. The bike was completely original when I picked it up with nothing at all replaced over its 70 year history apart from a rear tyre. That's quite rare as often something would wear out and be swapped for a new part possibly decades later. This isn't limited to parts such as tyres and brake blocks which are bound to wear out after years of use. Sometimes a new set of alloy cranks, for example, would come out that the bike owner fancied instead of the heavier chromed steel ones on his bike.

From a collectors point of view, this isn't good as the goal is to get the bike back to the way it would have been when it was new ("period correct") - not necessarily in terms of everything being pristine but more from an originality point of view. With the Lindsay, it's quite possible to get it running smoothly again exactly as it would have been when it left Dave Lindsay's shop in the mid-to-late 1930s - apart, that is, from the Brooks B32 "racing model" saddle that had rotted away. That will be replaced with a 1950s B17 Champion Narrow, a successor to the B32.

A "clip" style headset that will clean up nicely.
I've actually ridden this bike a fair bit and it's wonderful. It worked more or less straight from the dump and I used to use it for cycling around the neighbourhood with my daughter when she was about five. The B32 saddle was in one piece at that time but after just a few rides it started to split until one day the front parted company with the steel frame and it was toast. With the replacement B17 the Lindsay will look almost exactly the same.

So, embarking on the long process of bringing this bike back to full utility is how I spent part of my weekend. I tackled the "L" shaped seat pin first of all, using the trick of crumpled aluminium cooking foil and water for getting rid of rust from chrome (there's a chemical explanation for the way this works but I won't bore you with it beyond saying that it's very effective).

Other components were tackled much the same way although a close inspection of the wheel rims revealed that they're too corroded to be of much use. They are round and functional but the chrome is so badly rusted that there's barely any left. If I kept these rims they would require regular attention and the bike would always look pretty scruffy. One of the good things about having lots of bike parts, however, is that I have a pair of period correct alloy rims. I'll salvage the hubs from the original wheels and have a replacement set of wheels built up.

Cyclo gear changer

Cyclo Standard rear derailleur - state-of-the-art in the 1930s
There's chrome in varying amounts missing from many of the components and it's tempting to have them replated. However, I believe the best practice is to restore everything as far as possible short of such pretty drastic action otherwise you end up with a bike that looks brand new rather than 70 years old. It's only original once!

Paint flaking from the seat lug
I have to admit, though, that the paintwork on the frame is ropey in places and it might yet be necessary to have it repainted just to preserve the steel and stop rust getting a stronger hold. The aim may be to keep everything the way it was when it left Dave's shop but there's little point in slavishly following that approach if the frame, for example, is left vulnerable and at risk of serious corrosion. You have to be on guard against possible "over refurbishment", though, particularly when it comes to components.

The hubs, for instance, are Radnall Sportex models, a reasonable but lowish-end choice. I have lovely, top-end alloy hubs - Duralite - that would be a much better match for the alloy rims. They were made by the Birmingham firm of T.F. Blumfield, a name possibly familiar to some photographers for the enlargers they also manufactured and which I used for quite a few years. The enlargers were beautifully made with a stainless steel column and a fine alloy lamp housing and, like the hubs, were the equal of anything else on the market.

So there you have it. A great way to waste spend some time on dark winter nights!


Herman Sheephouse said...

Lovely stuff Bruce!
Your passion for these mechanical wonders is very obvious . . good luck with further restorations and well done for saving a bit of Dundee's history.


Thanks Phil. I'll give you a laugh. In a move on par with shooting a roll of film in a Leica with the lens cap on or not having any film in the camera at all, I got my bolt cutters out and cut the spokes on the rear wheel - before removing the four-speed freewheel first. What that means is that it's going to be very difficult to remove the freewheel because there's no way of holding the hub in place whist trying to get purchase on the freewheel which has been in place for 76 years and will no doubt need a lot of persuasion.

This is a complete beginners cock-up. I realised what I'd done the instant I cut the last spoke. It was because I'd been away from bike maintenance for so long that it happened. Removing the freewheel is possible if I'm prepared to trash the hub. Trashing the freewheel to save the hub is also possible. Saving both is very difficult indeed. Ah well. Maybe God's telling me to use the Duralite hubs instead!

Frank M. said...

That's the problem with analog bikes... If only there were digital models, I'm sure they would be much easier to maintain.

morris 1800 said...

I am no biker these days Bruce but as a kid used to ride my dads raleigh bike he purchased in the 1930's . The gear change lever on the crossbar brings back painful memories as you shifted from 1st to 3rd into went into freewheel(middle position) with disasterous results for a kid whose legs were not long enough to use the saddle and peddle. I used to slide across that crossbar with the gear lever being the buffer. I had no sympathy from my peers who would chant " Ride a raleigh ride a wreck , ride a raleigh break your neck . I must say though my first bike sits alongside fond memories of my first camera.

Nick Marshall, Shrewsbury said...

My wife and I are cyclists; many of the people we ride with are photographers... We like berets. The man we bought our berets from, in Seattle, is also a photographer... and a cyclist. Strange how the camera and bicycle seem to go hand in hand so often.

If you haven't come across it, Bruce, you may find this blog interesting:

It's written by a friend of mine. He likes berets (inspired my liking for them, in fact). I'll have to ask him how he feels about cameras!

Stefan Jozef Czemerys said...

I'm inspired by your efforts Bruce. I have a collection of bikes, mostly fixed. Indeed recently (the past 10 years) I have restored a couple of Raleighs and a Viner. I last used the Viner (fixed) 5 years ago in Scottish time trails. The Raleighs (both fixed) are used regularly. As a cycling historian I am currently researching West Fife cycling clubs re 1890-1914. I love your square format photographs.



Thanks for the link. Very interesting site your friend has and I'm definitely on his side when it comes to not over-restoring a bike. Don't know about berets though :-)


Thanks, Stefan. If you hear of any Fife frame builders please let me know. I'm not aware that there were any at all.

Anonymous said...

And what's wrong with berets?

Anonymous said...

Berets aside, your post brings back memories. Being a Midlander (English Midlands, that is) by origin, I rode local bikes in my teens. My no. 1 road bike was made by hand by Fred Atterbury, and the only departure from his standard set up was to specify Sturmey Archer gears instead of the usual Campagnolo derailleurs. But I built my track bike from unidentifiable parts scavenged from the dump. The Fred won me some good TT times, but I loved the salvaged mongrel far more, probably because it was my own product.

And weren't those Brooks B17s ball-breakers!


Frank Spencer?

Nick Marshall, Shrewsbury said...

Che Guevara!


No need to lower the tone, Nick. :-)