“Ok, gang. This is the interactive portion of our show, where folks chime in to share their knowledge on a specific topic.
Today, our discussion focuses on Sovereign bicycles of England. We’ll be discussing their history, their legacy and anything else we can glean from the you, the general public.”
So, seriously if you know anything about the brand please chime in. I’ll post updates as info comes in.
In the meantime, here a Sovereign. It looks to be a mid-1970’s bike and is sitting with its original Shimano components and a mix of other period-correct bits. It was built with Reynolds 531 tubing so I’m fairly confident it wasn’t just some production job that some company slapped their name on. Hell, it says “hand made” on the head tube decal so there’s more to this story than I can currently find.
I received the bike from a gentleman named John Peterson here in Reno. It was hanging in his garage above a Citroen 2CV, which I didn’t get. At the time I didn’t take any notes or even ask any questions because A: As per usual, I was excited about the score, B: The 2CV had me all discombobulated with its beautiful 2CV-ness, and C: I honestly thought I’d be able to come home and read all about Sovereign bikes on the intergalacticweb. Uhh, wrong. (bad bicycle collector,,, baaadd!)
There is info about the Sovereign model made by Free Spirit (blecch!) and more than a few hits for a more modern edition made by Pashley. No Sovereign as a brand or manufacturer, though. Not that I could find.
I’m pretty darned good at online research which likely means I’m experiencing the Dunning-Kruger effect and that I’m simply awful at it so, again, I’m reaching out to you, my loyal readers. If either of you knows anything, here’s your chance to shine.
And now, without further ado, the Sovereign.
Spring has sprung here, nestled against the Eastern Sierra, and with its return out come the winter projects to show their lovely selves.
To be fair, this Colnago “Export” wasn’t much of a project as Mike, its previous owner, did a magnificent job caring for it. All I had to do was hunt down the correct pedals and seatpost and it was off and running.
Speaking of component bits, the Export has a mix of Campy Nuovo Record and Gran Sport which I believe is how it was spec’ed originally. …And though it’s a step down from the Colnago “Super” it still has that stunning Colnago candy red paint which simply lights up in the sun.
I’d once heard that the majority of Italian racing bikes made during this period were sold in America. If that’s true, weren’t most Colnagos exports? Just wondering.
One last note: As I was perusing the intergalaticweb I ran across this website.
That Colnago sure looks a lot like this Colnago, like as in, the same one.
<Queue music from Disney’s “It’s a Small World” ride. >
A huge and grateful thank you to Mike Savage for giving (yes, giving!) me this wonderful ride.
While we’re on the topic of bicycles from the East, here’s an interesting example of a vintage Japanese-made commuter. At first glance I thought it was Chinese-made based on the rod brakes, enclosed chaincase, hairpin saddle and black paint, all standard issue for bikes in China. Upon closer inspection it is indeed Japanese, with plenty of badges indicating its origin. It even has old Araya rims, something that many more modern Japanese road bikes used. An internet search produced nothing on Undes, Hayashiya or Best bicycles, all names that are present on it. I know that bicycles from the orient often have multiple names on them, any of which can refer to the manufacturer, distributor, model etc., but was hoping one of them would provide a starting point for research. Alas, nothing. So, if you know something about these please share. Also, if you know how to read Japanese and can decipher any of the markings I’d be very appreciate.
I’d known about this bicycle since 1988 (or so) after seeing it hung in the corner of my friend Leo’s garage. Leo was a horder extrordinaire, meaning the garage was packed to the rafters with all manner of stuff. The bicycle was of course stowed in the very back corner of the garage, effectively walled in by a mountain of old toasters, boxes of newspapers, vintage toys, broken light fixtures, tin cans full of straight nails, old car parts and pretty much anything else you could think of (and some you’d could never imagine). I didn’t know until many years later than under all that junk there were actually three cars, a 1927 Buick, a Maxwell (I forget which year), and a 1909 Sears. All runners, all beautiful, but all filled, then stacked on until you couldn’t see so much as a headlight, a tire tread, anything.
Leo passed away in 2012 and the family began the monumental task of de-hoarding, no small feat, even for the five siblings. By July of 2019 there was some semblance of a goat trail towards the back of the garage. Not all the way, mind you, but for a bicycle junkie, it was enough.
It took some low-level mountaineering skills to reach the bikes, and then 4 people and a bucket-brigade effort to cut the twine holding them to their nails and finally shine some daylight on them. I don’t think the family was thrilled that I had to stand in the Maxwell, and at one point, on the Sears, but again, bike junkie.
I can see where Leo would have acquired the other two bikes, a balloon-tire Schwinn and an old Brit racing bike; those probably turned up in town, at a yard sale perhaps. But the Undes? I’m pretty sure the brand was only sold in Japan, never meant for the American market. We already had tons of bicycles that more than filled the market niche that the Undes would have served. With one gear and weighing nearly 50 pounds it certainly didn’t surpass the standard American iron of the period. Maybe a serviceman brought it back, or it could have possibly been shipped here as a novelty after someone visited Japan. It’s all guessing at this point. For the sake of the bicycle’s history, or at least to quell my curiosity, hopefully someone out there will be able to offer some insight. Fire away with your thoughts, opinions or whatever.
The sum total of knowledge I possess of pedicabs could easily fit on the head of a pin. I’ve ridden in a couple, mainly along the waterfront in San Francisco. I’ve never pedals one, and being more than a little agoraphobic, have never laid eyes on one outside the U.S.
It looks like I’ll be getting a crash course in them, as 4 are now here. Three are marked “White Horse” and are supposedly from Thailand. The last is a Neelam made in India. None are assembled so that’s where my education will begin. Along with the larger frame pieces are buckets and boxes and plastic tubs of smaller bits, many of which little resemble bike parts. Who knows, maybe I got the makings of some pedicabs filled in with old swing set parts. Side note: When I was in my twenties I actually harbored visions of collecting swing sets.
Obviously this will be continuing story so check back if you’d like to see how this all goes.
Thanks to Robbie (shown) for hooking me up with his fine pedicabs. I’ll post the story of how he ended up with them in one of my updates.
Here are a few of my Top-Ten favorite bike models that College Cyclery carried during my 11-year tenure there. The mink blue Raleigh Professional- the first bike I ever pined for at the shop; Fuji Touring III’s, IV’s, V’s- those bikes were beautifully made and very well equipped. ..And then there were the 1985-1987 Fisher Montares. They were just, well, pretty.
Of course they were also nicely made and were sturdy, durable and dependable beyond all measure, but I was sold before I ever even rode one. Unfortunately, I could afford a $750 mt. bike about as much as I could swing a Porsche 911 back then so I was left selling them to other lucky people. Scott Clarke, one of the mechanics, had a green one, the lucky dog. The red Montares were ok, but I was over the moon for the green ones.
While pile hunting at the Reno Bike Project recently I ran across this 1986 Montare, the ultra-neato version with the rear cam brake. It was in rough shape, enough so that it had been donated, but of course I couldn’t see that at the time. All I saw was GREEN Montare. Needless to say, when it comes to old bikes I tend to miss the forest for the trees.
Back at home I discovered what I’d really gotten myself into; beyond regular wear and tear the bike had significant rust, mainly on the components, but pretty much everywhere. Even the sealed b.b bearings were rusted to the point where the cranks were frozen. The seat tube had a Pinole, Ca. shop sticker, so my detective brain told me the bike had indeed lived near (possibly in) the Pacific ocean.
Knowing when to quit is a sign of intelligence, but I convinced myself that knowing when to quit and then pushing forward is the truest form of dedication. More likely, it’s a sign of a obsessive-compulsive disorder, but that ship sailed many years ago. Far, far away.
So, here it is, rust be damned. It actually does ride really well and those new bottom bracket bearings are butter. Butter, I tell you!
Yeah, I don’t know what it is, but it’s big. At 65cm, it fits someone that has to be at least 6’2″ or 6’3″. At 5’10” I can’t begin to get a leg over it.
At first glance it looks European, possibly a Raleigh. It has a British-type fork with the little bowls on the ends of the crown. The seat stays also clamp at the seat binder, so overall, Raleigh looking.
Many bikes made in the Orient have some of the same characteristics of English-made ones though, so it could also be Chinese made. I don’t see any marking on the hubs, nor any Chinese lettering anywhere, but I’m not ruling anything out.
Things gets more confusing as it has some American parts, as well. There’s a Wilburn decal on the seat tube, but that looks to be the name of the shop where it was either sold or serviced. The bike has 28″ rims with Wards Riverside single-tube tires, Torrington pedals, and a Delta Rolite generator and light, all American made. The pedals and the light could have been added, but those 28″ wheels and Monkey Wards tires look original to the bike. They befuddle me. I’m perfectly befuddled.
The bike previously belonged to Robert Edwin Worley, physics professor emeritus at UNR. “Sammy Schwinn”, as it was named, was the mate to “Suzy Schwinn”, Ed’s wife’s bike. Though Suzy may indeed have been a Schwinn, it’s pretty clear Sammy isn’t. Nevertheless, the erroneous surname can be forgiven since the word “Schwinn” was pretty much synonymous with “bicycle” back in the day.
Ed’s son David and daughter Kathleen generously donated the bike to our little museum in December. While getting some background on the bike and Ed himself, I mentioned that he must have been a rather tall man, but David noted that his father was only 5’8″. Amazingly, he regularly commuted on “Sammy”. If not a tall man, Ed was certainly a brave one.
Here’s a new arrival, a one-owner bicycle purchased by the widow’s husband in the late 1960’s. “My husband rode it maybe three times before he decided he was over it,” she stated, “over it” likely meaning the Gitane specifically, since the couple had a pair of Schauff folding bikes that looked well used.
The Gitane, on the other hand, was fresh as a proverbial daisy. That is, except the foil seat tube decal, which had been squashed in a repair stand at some point. When I asked how the decal could have been mauled she said, “He used to have it tuned every so often, just in case.”
A fairly comprehensive search turned up zero decal replacements; no originals, no remakes. …And then the other night I was sitting, watching the scrub jays badger Marmalade, our large tabby when it occurred to me that I might have a few lying around myself. A concerted hunt in the official repair area/cramped half basement and lo and behold, I discovered not only a few various Gitane decals, but indeed a whole shoebox full (I need to get better organized). In the mass was a shiny new seat tube decal, all sassy and red.
So, you might be thinking I titled this write-up because the bike is now so fresh it looks like it came out of a time machine. A little perhaps, but the real impetus was the decal I noticed on its drive-side chainstay, “email luxe polymerise”. Email? Really?
A quick translation turned up “polymerized luxury email” which is obvious nonsense. A little further down the rabbit hole I found a bicycle forum that stated the term referred to the type of paint used. There were also other funny posts about similar Gitanes having the same strange decal.
In the end, I guess I’ll have to believe the paint story for many obvious reasons, not the least of which is, if these bikes had traveled to the future you’d think they would have benefited from it somehow. If anything, 1960’s/70’s French bikes with their heavy tubing, cottered cranks and onerous components were a step backward.
I’m usually not very excited when the average 1970’s French bike rolls in the door. Plastic Simplex components, heavy frames, hard plastic saddles, narrow steel bars… And French threading. Yechh.
This Mercier caught my attention though, not because it was any great shakes quality-wise, but Lord, those decals. It was also pretty much new and very intact, but that alone wouldn’t have been enough. A couple of pretty Peugeots and a fine little Gitane Tourister came in about the same time and none of them joined the ranks of the Buzz Bomb collection. Lord, those decals.
Fellow Reno Rambler Jake Barrett had this frame hanging around his garage/shop for years. At one point he’d updated it, making it a townie bike of sorts. When I first saw it the bike was back to a frameset, more or less. Thankfully, Jake knew to keep the original parts around. After hinting and making pleading faces for half a year he graciously agreed to part with it.
One of my favorite parts of the bike (besides the paint color and the aluminum seat bag, of course) is the drivetrain. I can’t recall seeing very many early 60’s road bikes with triple chainrings. Rear derailleurs had a hard time managing 10 speed back then, so 15 was quite a stretch for short-cage derailleurs. Nevertheless, count ’em up and you’ll notice the Frejus has three steel rings up front. It must be pointed out that the Campagnolo Sportsman rear derailleur tries valiantly, but even so, it can barely throw around all that chain. At best I’d consider this bike a 13 speed, as the small-to-small and large-to-large ring/cog combinations are pretty much out of the question.
This early DS was built in 1976, the first “official” year of Roland’s business. He notes that he’d built a few framesets as early as 1971, but considers 1976 the year he took on framebuilding as an occupation.
The thick “disco” decals were only used for only a few years before Roland switched over to the design which he uses to this day. There aren’t very made of these early frames out there so we’re honored to be able to have one in the collection.
Thank you to Jeff Ross for graciously selling us the bicycle.