“Never assume with the SBDU”. That is a phrase I say a lot. It is a mantra I repeat when I’m assessing SBDU frames and bikes. Winding the clock back to 1978 you would think it was safe to assume that the Reynolds 753 tubing type on your frame would be Metric diameter. But remember the mantra, “Never assume with the SBDU”, “Never assume with the SBDU”, “Never assume with the SBDU”.
Recollections are a funny thing. Could you remember details or be precise about a specific date from maybe only a month ago? Could you remember a detail from ten years ago? How about four decades ago? Memories become fuzzy with the passage of time. The brain forgets, and confusion prevails. So what can I figure out about this SBDU Reynolds 753 frame based on the slightly fuzzy information I have?
I’ve been collecting for years. I can go for what seems like a lifetime without a new addition while at other times I seem to have new frames coming through the door every week! But while I’ve been busily collecting, I’ve never actually done much with these beautiful bikes and frames to show them off.
I guess it’s a passion… it didn’t start out like this and I never intended it to be like this, the blog just grew quietly, and then it gathered pace, and then it snowballed and before I knew it I was helping people around the globe. I was learning stuff and then sharing everything I knew about TI-Raleigh’s Specialist Bicycle Development Unit and the frames they made. It’s taken over any spare time I have but it comes with it’s own problems.
When I add a traditional horizontal top tube SBDU bike to my collection it can sometimes take a few careful measurements and a little bit of knowledge of the bike’s history to figure out something as subtle as whether it was built for road racing or time trials. The obvious style of SB8790 leaves me with no doubt about it’s intended purpose – I’m still going to measure and document it because that’s my process, but the 24″ front wheel and the top tube that slopes dramatically to meet the fork tells me all I need to know!
I haven’t written many ‘New Arrival’ posts this year after slowing down my collecting habit and being a bit more picky, so it really is nice to get a new frame on the workbench. An astute eBay bid, a couple of messages followed by a few hours drive and SB8200 was in my hands. This new frame is from 1986, making it a late Ilkeston built frame that appears to follow the spec of the SBDU Randonneur.
Over the years since bike number one arrived (SB4059), I’ve continued to look at what I’m collecting and I’ve tried to add frames that plug any gaps that my collection has. It’s been nearly three years since I last wrote about my “wanted list”, so as 2018 is coming to a close, I thought I would spend a little time and look again at how my collection and the “wanted list” is doing.
I always find this topic a sad one to write about. I get sad when I know that someone is spending money on a bike that may not be what they think it is and I could have helped to provide some info if only I was asked. That sad feeling prompts me to write blog posts like this; seeing SBDU bikes mis-represented by sellers; unintentionally or not, isn’t good. Do the sellers really not know what they are selling, or do buyers really just not know what they are buying? I can’t stop some sellers writing what they write in their ads but I certainly can help buyers with some helpful advice, and help them to read the signs and to spot a potential dud. I never call out a seller directly, their business is their business, but I’m always available to help any potential buyer.
Emails dropping into my Inbox on a lazy Saturday afternoon are quickly becoming the best kind of email! The one I received last Saturday offered a mint condition frame together with it’s original Raleigh box and some documentation! Now that is an offer that needs serious consideration. The images came through a couple of days later and they displayed a frame that was every bit as described… built up but probably never ridden, maybe the closest I’ll ever get to a New SBDU frame.
I’m gradually working my way through the snagging list on SB4059, all those little jobs that I know about and that require attention are slowly getting done. Not so long ago I swapped the original Campagnolo grey outer brake cables for original Campagnolo black alternatives, and I also updated some of the frame transfers so that SB4059 correctly reflected the 1980 TI-Raleigh scheme. This time I’m repairing the threaded seat lug so that I can fit a correct and original SBDU threaded bolt.
When you have a get a good look at the paint on SB7393 you can see that it isn’t the best. Although it is all there and from a distance it looks ok, there are one or two areas of rust, the paint is dirty, flat and covered in previous brushed on rust treatments with other paint drips and garage related debris including several cobwebs. I was sure when I bought this bike that I could breathe some new life into it. This is the first step…
Now that Eroica Britannia is out of the way and work on SB4059 is complete (for now), I can turn my attention to looking at SB7393. This is a complete Reynolds 531 Professional SBDU bike that I bought a couple of weeks ago. Each part of this bike could cause problems, and now was the time to open the toolbox and see what was in store for me.
I’ve planned before and never got there, I’ve bought a ticket before and never got there, but this year I actually did get there. Karen and I booked up, bought tickets, sorted parking, arranged an Airbnb nearby in Buxton, packed the van and headed out on the three hour trip from Newcastle to Eroica Britannia.
It has been a long couple of days but I’ve finally completed this small and difficult project to bring SB4059 up to spec in terms of a 1980 period SBDU TI-Raleigh transfer scheme. Deciding to go for it and wreck the paint on a perfectly good frame meant that there was no going back. Thankfully my patience and care have paid off and SB4059 is done!
I think I must have been slightly bonkers to start this project but the desire to get SB4059 looking correct was too much! That morning when I took a knife to the clear coated transfers left me with a lot of work and once started, I had no option but to continue. And it is all because the person that renovated my frame all those years ago didn’t do their research. The moral of the story… if you are going to do something do it right and do it once.
I’ve recorded and blogged what seems like an amazing amount of detail relating to SBDU frames over the years and I’ve always strived to make everything I publish as accurate as I can. It has been a goal of mine to keep assumptions, unchecked facts and internet myths off the blog. What I’ve found is that my findings and posts are challenged on an almost daily basis when I’m contacted regarding frames, and so far, everything I’ve published has remained rock solid.
Sometimes when I see a bike that someone else owns I feel a little pang of jealousy, I can’t help it. And that is exactly how I felt nearly two years ago when I was first sent images of SB6827. The images were of a beautiful SB bike, it was original, the red paint was gleaming and all the Super Record parts were in perfect condition – I was then told that it had never been ridden and my jealousy feelings went off the scale.
I wasn’t planning to do this job today, it just happened. I’d been thinking for the past week about how to tackle the task of removing the transfers from SB4059… the problem is that they are sealed under a good layer of thick glossy clearcoat. While I was standing in the workshop, contemplating what to do, I decided to pick up a sharp blade and couldn’t resist having a sneaky pick at the corner of a transfer, just to see if I could break the seal of the clearcoat and get the blade under the vinyl… and that was it, once I had started I just couldn’t stop. And now there is no going back!
It’s just over six years since I fastened the first component to this frame and four or five years since I completed the first build on a long road to making this the best example of a restored TI-Raleigh Team Pro 753 that I could make, and now the time has come to take SB4059 apart. Yes, I am taking it apart to make it even better. Each step in building SB4059 has added a bit more accuracy and detail. Then a little while ago I blogged about fitting some NOS black Campagnolo brake cables, which meant that there were only two more items stopping this bike from being perfect, they were the top tube and Reynolds frame transfer, transfers that have really bugged me since day one of the journey.
SBDU frames and the TI colours have become hugely popular. More people are seeking to buy an SBDU frame and recreate the red black and yellow TI-Raleigh scheme. With this recent resurgence, sellers are looking to sell and buyers are readily buying. The demand for these frames is producing a seemingly never ending supply of TI painted frames. With so many looking to buy and then repaint, and so many looking to repaint and then sell, the amount of freshly painted frames I’ve seen recently by both buyers and sellers has spiralled. My concern based on what I’ve seen is that the detail of the SBDU TI scheme is in danger of being lost forever.
The year was 1984. I was only 14 and riding a beat up Raleigh Grifter around the estate. My parent’s shed was my workshop and I was kept busy fixing the bikes for all the local kids. My own bikes were fitted with names such as Sturmey Archer, Simplex, Huret and Weinmann. At the same time, unknown to me, two giants of the cycling world were about to go head to head for market supremacy. In the red corner, fighting out of Italy were Campagnolo, the makers of beautiful looking and precisely engineered components that graced the bikes of the professional peleton; they were up against Shimano in the blue corner, the Japanese corporation often only known for freewheels, hub gears and fishing reels.
It was just another night in front of the television when an email dropped into my Inbox regarding an SBDU frame, this is a situation I’ve been in a few times now. Another frame with a case of mistaken identity came up on my screen, actually, this time it was more a case of confused identity. A frame that looked like a Panasonic/Weinmann but with the name of Wes Mason emblazoned on the tubes. After a couple of emails a deal was done and the frame was with me two days later.
Following the change of cables on SB4059 there is now only one thing that I need to do, one more thing to sort out, one more thing that has bugged me the most about this build over the last couple of years. The one thing I’m talking about just happens to be SB4059 itself! Yes, the frame that all the bits hang from.
Every new addition gets a good clean and although it was already looking quite good, SH377T still needed a bit of work. Wet oil and grease on the surface of a tube will attract dirt and dust, and that is all that was covering this frame. When a frame is clean I can measure and document it. SH377T is a curious frame and I’ve looked forward to getting to this stage in my process.
It’s been a busy week! First came SB4933, an SBDU 531SL frame with beautiful chrome and exquisite new paint. Following on quickly came SH377T, Steve Heffernan’s Reynolds 753 pursuit frame. And finally, to end the week, GH6175 has just arrived on the workbench, the second Raleigh frame of the week without an SB number. GH6175 is now my second TI-Raleigh Team track frame and joins the 1978 frame of Jan Raas, JR178T.
I’ve started a few blog posts recently with the words “I received an email…”; and this story is the same. Late on a Sunday evening I received a couple of emails with several images attached and then an email summarising very clearly what the frame was and what seemed like a comprehensive history. “Would you be interested in buying the frame?” My response was “Yes”, and after arranging to meet up, SB4933 came home with me.
What would you consider rare about the Specialist Bicycle Development Unit (SBDU)? I’ve heard people say that SBDU Reynolds 753 frames are rare… are they, or is that just perception? Defining something as rare really has to be done carefully, and in relation to the context of the subject. The way things are perceived is not always the way things actually are.