As a faithful and trusted travelling companion, your beloved steel bicycle frame can get you across continents, commute all four seasons and even let you self-flagellate down the famous diagonals of France and Belgium.
A steel frame is often spoken about in terms of comfort and compliance. It’s something to be treasured and after 20 years of loyal service we often want to rejuvenate our trusted steeds with a respray. I shall offer some words of advice but let’s look at some recent examples…
Paul Fogg’s 1989 Flying Gate ‘Dovedale’
Paul Fogg acquired a Flying Gate frame through his family and felt strongly that a respray and modern groupset would not only honour the memory of his brother in law but get him out riding with a sense of history in every pedal stroke.
There were issues with the new cantilever brakes and the rim width but Paul and his mechanic (Colin Gardiner) managed to get round these with a little research. The chainstays were longer than usual as the original owner had three Gates and this was his longest wheelbase model for rough and winter riding with a Soubetez dyno and luggage. The aheadset stem is attached to a simple quill to ahead adapter. Very neat.
Jez’s 1982 Flying Gate ‘Dovedale’
This was the bike Jez rode through the eighties. This guy has some serious fast twitch muscle and even though the pressure of work and family commitments have meant he hasn’t been able to keep all of his earlier form, he was keen to give his trusted stead a revamp with new wheels, groupset and livery. What a transformation and worth every penny. The riding position has changed to accommodate Jez giving him a lot more comfort. Nitto do a range of quill stems to enable this via SJS Cycles online.
Mark Kelly’s 1983 Flying Gate ‘Dovedale’
Mark had always wanted a Flying Gate and bought this frame from Hilary Stone. It was originally white with chrome detailing and then it fell into the wrong hands. Mark told me that he didn’t even ask for red but that’s another story.
Oh dear oh dear oh dear. Can you believe it? One of the worst cases I’ve ever seen. Mark was all set to accept his lot but luckily, all Flying Gate decals come directly from us so I was able to throw him a life line. After lengthy correspondence to establish what Mark actually wanted, I advised him to send this poor old Flying Gate to Argos Racing Cycles for a full renovation. Major heartache avoided and Mark will one day ride again head held high.
Now here’s the detail – applicable to most steel frames circa 1980 - 1999:
Get this wrong and it’s expensive mistake. Get it right and you’ll have the Ready Brek glow of contented smugness to share with fellow riders.
1) Will you be refitting a metal headbadge? If so how? Rivets or 2.5mm screws? The head tube may need any drillings tapping or resized.
2) What size is the headset? What state was it in? Was it brinelled? Was it JIS? (30mm internal diameter and 27mm crown race) If so, hurrah as you could have the head tube reamed and faced and the fork crown milled to fit a quality 1” headset often referred to as Campag fit (30.2mm pressed cup and 26.4mm fork crown race) which is a significant upgrade. Check the stack height too as some old Shimano headsets were very shallow. Make sure you have enough steerer to fit a new headset. Yes, you can chase threads and tidy them up if they’ve become a bit damaged but as for cutting new thread – this is a non-starter in most situations.
3) Does your frame feature any chroming? Stripping this needs to be done professionally and all tubes will need internal inspection.
4) What will your new paint scheme be? Enamel? Flamboyant or metallic? Will you have lug-lining? Will you have panels? Will you have the frame internally treated against corrosion? Will you have a gloss lacquer? Will you have your name on the top tube? The history of panel size, the use of bands and even the positioning of decals on a panel is an art in itself. Get this wrong and your frame will just look naff (for want of a better word).
5) What size wheels do you want to fit? Don’t assume you can fit 650B wheels to a 700C frame as the bottom bracket will become significantly lower and the crank arm may catch the ground when cornering with potentially fatal results.
6) Did your original rear wheel have a 126mm over locknut dimension (OLND) and do you now want to fit 130mm? If so, have the rear end re-tracked (known as cold setting) by a framebuilder.
7) Are your old cable guides non-slotted and smaller for old school ferrules and old school brake and gear outer? If so, have these removed and replacement slotted guides fitted to take modern cable outer ferrules for the new dimensions of brake and gear outer ferrules.
8) Look at the gear bosses on the down tube. Were your old gear levers band-on with a pip brazed on to prevent the clamp slipping? Do you want to keep these or upgrade them and have the pip filed off?
9) How was your pannier rack fitted? P-clips? If so, consider having proper pannier eyes brazed on.
10) Are there any dints in the top tube or anywhere else for that matter? Get them filled.
11) Are your bottle cage, mudguard and pannier eye threads all ok? If stripped, have some new ones fitted.
12) Make sure your cable guides are ok where they intersect with the bottom bracket – do you want them routed underneath or are they still ok on top of the bottom bracket? If you want to lower your front mech because you’re fitting a smaller outer chainring, bear in mind the front mech may foul the gear cable if it runs above the chainstay.
13) Were your old brake calipers secured with a nut? Do you now want to fit allen key type calipers? If so, you’ll need to have your fork crown drilled out and countersunk and modifications to your rear brake bridge.
14) Don’t think you can upgrade to disc brakes just like that. Fork blades designed for use with rim brakes will not be strong enough. Disc brake fork blades are larger diameter with thicker walls and paired with thicker walled steerers and modern safety dropouts.
15) Never take your frame to anyone other than a reputable company specialising in BICYCLE finishes. Believe me, there are plenty of powder coat specialists who will take your money but have no idea about the level of knowledge required for a bicycle frame. If water gets under the powder coating, it can rot the frame ‘silently’ from within. Only a bicycle finish specialist knows the correct grade of grit needed to ‘shot’ blast a frame. Only a bicycle finish specialist can inspect the stripped frame and tell you if there’s an underlying problem.
16) Decals (also known as transfers). What do you want and where will they be positioned? There is a small British company that holds a library of historic marques on file and can even replicate originals so long as you have a good photographic record. Yes, they even have all the period Reynolds decals too.
Liz Colebrook BSc OT BA hons CyTech - August 2019.