So it all started when a good friend and ‘fellow velo’ bought me a copy of ‘The Golden Age of Handbuilt Cycles’ – a large-format photographic tribute to French bike constructeurs and a book that has found permanent residence on my work desk at home.
This tome mainly confines its scope to the randonneur machines of Alex Singer and Rene Herse, bikes that tick many boxes for me in terms of cycle aesthetic. The more I leafed lovingly through its pages, the more I wanted to attempt my own incarnation of this venerable, long-haul cycle.
Ideally, I would have caught the Eurostar to France, got a cab to Victor Hugo Street just outside Paris’s Boulevard Périphérique and talked to the folk at Alex Singer direct – hoping my clumsy French would suffice. Linguistically I may have been onto a winner, but my wallet couldn’t support such a venture.
The same was true of commissioning a bespoke frame. For this project, my focus had to be a wee bit more modest so I settled on a Bob Jackson World Tour – my early French affair taking a distinct Anglophile turn.
This is an ‘off the peg’ frameset which essentially fixes the frame’s angles. You can specify quite expansively around this template, though, which gave me welcome licence to order a larger size than ‘stock’ and add a proper headbadge. The rest of the spec was very standard.
Sizing, as ever, was a key consideration. After a bit of email tennis with the helpful folk at Jacksons, I settled on a 26.5-inch version in standard oversize Reynolds 631 tubes, which manage to retain a traditional look on such a large frame and should improve the ride. The oversize set was complemented by beefed up stays compared to my French reference machines.
Offering this traditional geometry up against my custom Woodrup confirmed the decision on sizing. The Bob has relaxed head and seat tubes compared to the semi-compact Sportivo but is slightly longer in the ‘effective’ top tube. This should allow me to get a (nearly) like-for-like position, although with the bars a little higher for a more upright ride.
If you are interested, the seat tube is 67.3cm in new money, with a 61 cm top tube. The headtube is 24cm.
The frame is painted a simple Oxford Blue enamel to show off the shiny components that will ultimately grace it. In that vein, I opted against lug lining to keep the canvas as blank as possible (although it may have been a good idea to request just one set of builder decals in retrospect). Unbeknown to me, Jacksons took the liberty of lining their makers initials at the top of the seat stays in white. These ‘BJs’ will no doubt elicit the odd titter for some!
Other nice touches on the frame include braze-on cable routing under the bottom bracket shell (something I wish I’d have specified on my Woodrup) and a chain hook on the rear stay. I decided to keep the guides for STI cables on the headtube in case my plan to fit downtube shifters proves a wildly romantic nod to the past.
On the subject of components, I have been caught in a tussle between form and function. It’s very tempting to think of freewheels, first generation Campagnolo Rally rear mechs, Simplex shifters, ‘New Old Stock’ etc etc. Tempting, that is, until you see some of the prices this kit now commands on eBay, a market charged by the crop of l’Eroica events around the globe.
My component set will be a bit more modest but will resolutely avoid carbon and black anodising. This means looking to Taiwan, the USA and Italy for the shiny and some fun experimentation with mongrel drivetrains… More of that soon.