Last year I was unable to take part in the Tweed ride due to circumstances beyond my control.
This year I decided that I would do it one way or another. I was so determined that I started to look for tweed in January !
Initially I wanted to get a delivery bike, something old, maybe a butchers’ bike or similar. Back in April 2015 the only ones that I could find were very expensive and looked terrible. I realised at this point that whatever I got would require a lot of work.
So, I decided to build something.
Deciding to build a bike was the easy part, deciding what to build was a completely different thing all together.
I took a look at the photos from previous years and it seemed that many people barely bothered about the bike, there were people on mountain bikes and retro styled new bikes. One bike that seriously caught my eye was a Pashley Guvnor. Certainly a beautiful bike, but at £900 it was way out of my price range.
I started to doodle.
I came up with the idea of building a fighter plane inspired bicycle.
My initial idea called for a green frame, with plenty of RAF style markings. I decideed to use my fathers’ initials and his birth day/month to give him a nod. I based the markings on generic WW2 fighters.
After all, as a child I heard plenty of stories from my father that went along the lines of ‘When I was in the RAF’ and proceeded to mention 2-speed bicycles ridden long distances. These bicycles had solid (stone/brick ?) tyres and weighed at least 40lbs.
This lead to a decision – it was going to be a single-speed, just to go one better than my fathers two speed. It would not weigh 40lbs though. However, the skinny/high pressure tyres would give me a bone-shaker ride just like in the older days.
The graphics underwent a lot of revisions, I sketched out what I wanted, but at this point had not found a frame.
Ideally I wanted a full bike to give me enough pieces to build it, but nothing was coming up on the various search on eBay etc that I ran pretty much daily.
I then had a thought. Perhaps I could get a ‘track frame’ or better a ‘track style’ frame. So rather than search for vintage frames, I looked for something new and light.
I searched and searched and eventually found an high-end Italian frame in ‘flat black’, with minor paint damage. It was a heck of a bargain and the damaged paint did not bother me at all. It was the right size and crucially it gave me a decent sized canvas to work on.
I quickly re-drew my ideas, based on a larger tubed frame and I came up with a rather silly idea – perhaps I could get 5 or 6 spoke wheels for it.
I paid for the frame…..
I then had to wait for a week before it arrived, but I knew the dimensions, so I quickly ordered some graphics for it.
The frame arrived and apart from a minor paint blemish, it looked perfect. I measured it carefully and whatever damaged the paint, did not tweak the geometry.
My e-bay purchases then included a pair of ‘mag’ wheels in blue and a brown leather saddle.
My plan included wrapping the handlebars with brown leather tape, but this was proving difficult to find at this point. Most of the brown leather tape was very expensive and had ‘Brooks’ labels on it. I found some ‘Deda’ tape in the right colour on the US eBay, but I could not persuade them to ship it to me.
Some of the decals arrived and I put them in place to check out the look
Because I was busy at work, I barely had to chance to see how the various pieces would look when it was all assembed . When I finally had the time to throw it together, I instantly disliked the idea of the front and rear wheel matching. I did not bother to take a photo at this point, it looks awful. I swapped the wheel with one from my other bike and that looked better. Still not perfect, but better.
It held promise at this point, but really it was hard to say. I liked the geometry, but the front wheel was wrong, the back wheel needed paint, I hated the tyres – which were the only ones I had available and it really, really needed painting.
So I rubbed the frame down with some wet-or-dry paper and started to prep it. I had to attack the front end aggressively as this was where the paint was damaged.
After agonising over the exact colour for weeks, I decided that Olive Green was about right and even if it wasn’t I did not care as I liked it.
At this stage in the build I realised that I was building this for me, if others did not like it, well, that was not my problem.
The next issue was buying the paint. By chance I found out that Halford have a range of camouflage paint and it is highly rated by people that paint things in pseudo army colours. This is very handy. They sell Olive Green in a monster sized can and the preparation instructions run as far as ‘make sure the surface is clean and dry before spraying’. This worked for me.
I primed the areas that needed it, masked a few parts off, painted some sections, then repeated a few times. This was fiddly as I needed to paint the light areas first, then cover them and paint the green.
Once it was all dry I wet sanded it. Then I deliberately scuffed the paint in the most casual way possible. I wanted the black and grey underneath to be visible in places as though ‘care worn’. Pretty much like I would expect a fighter plane to be.
I let it dry for a few days after that. before applying the decals. Between the original drawings and the paint I had ordered a few more decals including ‘Bullet Holes’ to add to the ‘worn and used’ look that I was going for.
The other thing that I had thought about was painting a shark onto the front.
Yes, I realise that this was an American thing, not a British thing, but at this point I really do not care, this is my bike and I wanted to do it my way. The only thing I forgot though was just how hard it it to free-hand paint on a curved surface. This was a pretty difficult task and it took a long time but it was more than worth it in the end. It is a little rougher and a little more obvious hand-painted than a professional painter would probably accomplish, but having seen some WW2 planes up close, the rough and ready paint gives it a very authentic look.
The decals went on next, but again, they did not got to plan. Or rather the plan changed a tad as I was applying them.
I placed the decals on dry and kept moving them about until I was happy. Once you make your mind up, that is it though.
A final light sand the paint in a couple of rough areas and a wipe with white-spirit and on the decals went.
Again this was a lengthy process but the time taken was worth it.
One detail change at this point was the rear wheel. The blue was not good, painting it like a roundel felt cheesy, so I flat-blacked it and then painted a single spoke (one per side) in yellow. This is suppose to be a representation of a propellor. It has been pointed out that usually the tips are painted yellow, but again, my bike, my way…
Once I had the decals on, yet another quick dry build was done to confirm that it was looking good.
Once I was happy, I went back to the painting task and gave it several (many) layers of satin lacquer.
Satin was chosen because I did not want gloss.
Once that was dry it was time to build it up for real.
e-Bay once more was my best friend, I got a nice crankset, the elusive leather handlebar tape, a gold chain and a few other parts delivered and it was suddenly time to make it look like a bike. I re-used many parts, the seat post, stem, brakes, levers and handlebars all came from my crashed single-speed having carefully checked them for damage. The result looked OK, but it was not really right. I could not put my finger on it.
At this point I realised that the tyres were the wrong colour, yellow and green was never going to work and that I probably needed to pull the stickers off the front wheel if it was going to be a long-term resident too. Somehow it did not look right to me though.
I took it for a ride like this.
And hated it. The stem was too long, the pedals awful, the brakes were terrible and the seat uncomfortable. The handlebar tape was way too thin too. It was quite nasty to ride.
To add insult to injury, the front wheel was out-of true.
It was really not a good start. I was very disappointed to say the least.
At this point I had a parallel project running, I was building a city bike. I had ordered a pair of wheels for it and they arrived in the midst of my disappointment, I tried one on the front and realised that this is exactly what it needed. The existing wheel was way too modern for the look that it had.
So I ordered a short stem and some platform pedals. Then double-wrapped the bars and adjusted the brakes. I trued the wheel and re-used it elsewhere, then I adjusted the saddle and set it all up as well as I could.
The result was that the bike was utterly transformed. It went from ‘OK’ to awesome. To say that the change was dramatic is an understatement.
I found a nice retro style headlamp on e-bay and added that, then swapped the tyres for white ones. Just to complete the look.
I am very happy with it. It looks pretty much how I envisaged it would look. It is light, fast and relatively comfortable too.
On the Tweed Ride it quickly became known as ‘The Spitfire Bike’. Which made me smile.
I will probably swap the back wheel with one that matches the front and maybe change the gearing slightly, but other than that, I will just ride it. Its faux patina will eventually become real and hopefully both tyres will become cream….