Guest Article: The Butler

The Claud Butler
The Claud Butler

For many Americans, their first ten speed bike was a Schwinn. It was heavy. Everything about it was heavy. It was the bike that was going to survive outside the bomb shelter. No one put a better crankset on a Schwinn. When we moved on that old bike languished in the garage and it was not coming back out. Not so for @Teocalli, for starters he didn’t start off with a Schwinn.  

Yours in Cycling, Gianni

As the younger brother many of my early possessions were hand-me-downs. The first bike I recollect was red with stabilisers. I was a lazy starter and would just ride on the stabilisers till they bent. Eventually my Dad simply removed them out of frustration. The next was a trike, green with a boot (trunk) between the rear wheels and rod brakes. Quite how we ended up with a trike I can’t remember – but I do remember it was lethal and turning the thing over quite a few times. Then there was the blue sit up and beg, again with rod brakes. I had a major crash on that one chasing my brother down a hill on his first racing bike. Much Red Sauce involved and I still have the scar on my head.

Finally came the day, the first major item that was to be all mine from new, my first Racing Bike. I still remember coming home from school in the summer of 1967 “There’s something for you in your bedroom”. Rushing upstairs there it was, a gleaming Moss Green, 5 Gear, Claud Butler. From that day bicycles had a name, identity and purpose – to look great and to go fast.

After the obligatory period sitting on my bed staring at it, I simply had to take it out for a ride. It was mine so I couldn’t ask for help and that was nearly my (first) undoing. I was struggling halfway down the stairs and on the verge of loosing it and falling in a tumbling mess, which would have had pretty disastrous results for the bike, the staircase, the door at the bottom and me (in that order in my thoughts), when my Dad appeared through the door in the nick of time and saved the day, just as Dads are meant to do.

I’m not exactly tall now and I was even smaller for my age in those days, so the setup must have been “dual slammed”, both stem and seat post slammed. Looking at the bike now I’m surprised I could reach the pedals and/or the bars at that age. I must have had a horizontal back just to reach the hoods. It was definitely a bike to grow into.

My next recollection regarding the bike was over the subject of mudguards. It came with full mudguards and according to Dad all bikes must have mudguards, “but Dad, Racing Bikes don’t have mudguards, I’ll be laughed at”. Compromises have to be made and that is why the bike still has the stubbies that were agreed upon. Do not quote any Rules at me over those mudguards, they stay in memory of my Dad and that compromise.

Anyway, from that point I was independent and I could get out and see my friends without needing a lift – and I could also get into trouble in a whole new way by being late home for meals. It’s only years later that you realise those silent glares and the blunt “Where do you think you have you been?” are a mix of anger and relief when “I’m just going out for a ride” leads to you being gone all day with no food till you come home late for dinner with blissful lack of comprehension as to how worried your parents have been.

The first rite of passage for a cyclist is starting to clean and service your own machine. I remember one day not long after getting the bike and not really knowing what I was doing, using my dog bone spanner I had taken apart all the bits that were easy to remove and clean, including removing the brake blocks and sliding the brake blocks out of the carriers to clean them. On the following ride I applied the brakes, something hit me on the calf and suddenly – no brakes. I’d put the blocks back the wrong way round and they all came out. Forty odd years later I can still picture in fine detail the back end of the low loader (flatbed) lorry I narrowly missed at the road junction.

At school we had a small cycling club and became proficient in servicing our bikes and every second weekend or so we’d strip them down completely. Dismantle the hubs etc, clean all the bearings and get them “just so” so that the weight of the valve would turn the wheel to settle at the bottom of it’s own accord.

After leaving school the bike sat in the garage for some years while I went through the rites of riding motorbikes and my first old banger car and the home servicing that came with motorbikes and old cars in those days. Cycling was then chiefly for maintaining summer fitness for playing Rugby in the winter  – a game incidentally that also involved the study of copious quantities and types of Fine Malted Recovery Beverage.  The Claud Bulter received an upgrade to 10 Gears with a Huret front mech and Suntour Crankset and rear mech in place of the Campag Gran Sport 5 Gear mech that it came with. After the early 80s the bike was essentially unused. There are many times I could so easily have got rid of it but somehow I never did. It became one of those Old Friends that, while you don’t use them, neither can you part with them.

My return to cycling in the early 90s was via Mountain Biking with a string of bikes from Big S, complemented by a couple of Bianchi Alu Road Bikes (the first was totalled by a car). I was mainly a mountain biker wandering in the undergrowth of darkness until I upgraded the Bianchi for a Pinarello last spring, came out of the darkness of the undergrowth and saw the light and the path (well the road actually) and discovered the Velominati.

Throughout all this time the Claud Butler was stuffed in a corner of our garage – or more latterly in my brother’s garden shed when he had an unfulfilled intention to take some exercise and get fit.

It was on a ride one beautiful evening last summer on the Pinarello that I was doing a typical Rule V evening ride and I was thinking that it would be nice sometime to take it easy and cruise the lanes in a different style. Somehow a Carbon Pinarello demands to be gunned at warp speed at all times. Around that time I was rooting around my office looking for something when I came across the original sales brochure for 1967 Claud Butler, I didn’t even know I had it. At that point the plan to renovate it was born. Thinking back to the school-day cycling club and all those magazine ads we used to browse and plan for upgrades we could not possibly afford, I decided to go for a period Gruppo upgrade that would have been the stuff of dreams for me as a schoolboy.

Recovering the bike from my brother some of it was in a bit of a sorry state but it was basically solid and, most surprisingly, the wheels would still turn of their own accord to settle the valve at the bottom.

After many hours mainly searching and biding on eBay and also via a couple of specialist period bicycle outfits, finding a few bargains and probably paying way too much for other items, I collected a box of Nuovo Record and other period components and the frame went off to Mercian cycles for re-spray and re-decal as near per original as possible. It has been something quite special to have had the bike for so long and to be able to put it back to what would have been the bike of my dreams way back as a schoolboy in that cycling club in the early 70s. I hope you like the result. I’m very much looking forward to riding in some vintage events next summer. It can’t be often one gets a chance to put a boyhood dream into reality in this manner. It has been a special experience for me.

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58 Replies to “Guest Article: The Butler”

  1. My Claud Butler is a 1954 ‘All Rounder’ model that left Claud’s workshop with just 3 gears!  As a teenager I spent every penny I had upgrading the original equipment when I could afford it.  By the mid- 1960s it was fitted with the best that was then available and it remained my velo of choice for the next 30+ years.  I renovated it in 2oo5 – re-enamelling, re-chroming, replacement transfers, etc.  but still with many 1960s parts – Campag Gran Sport front & rear; Mafac Racer brakes; Fiamme sprint rims; Cinelli bars; Brooks B17 saddle; Lyotard pedals; etc.  I completed a couple of L’Etape du Tours on it in 2006/7.

  2. That is, in every way a beautiful bicycle, and wonderful writing.  It’s amazing how much geometries have changed.

  3. @Teocalli As requested, photo shot of my lovingly renovated and upgraded Claud Butler;  frame no. 4399 built in June 1954 from semi-lugged / semi brazed Reynolds 531 tubing.  All parts circa 1966 except the Campag Record chainset which was a later addition, and the modern day tubs, of course!

  4. @Sowtondevil

    @Teocalli As requested, photo shot of my lovingly renovated and upgraded Claud Butler; frame no. 4399 built in June 1954 from semi-lugged / semi brazed Reynolds 531 tubing. All parts circa 1966 except the Campag Record chainset which was a later addition, and the modern day tubs, of course!

    Stunning.  Perchance are you doing L’eroica Britannia?

  5. @Sowtondevil Fantastic! I love the chrome plated stays and fork ends on old bikes. More class than we’ll ever see on a modern C bike. Just the right touch. Not too much bling, just perfect. Every year I go back and forth on starting a project with my good ol’ good ol’ and ultimately I take it on a ride and leave it just as is. Down-tube friction shifters are fun to have fun with. I have a buddy that rides old Italian steel framed bikes and he has the combo one handed front/rear down/up shifting thing down. I guess something that came in handy (pun?) when racing way back when. Two super bikes on this thread! Thanks and Cheers, RC

  6. nice story and nice bicycle.  It is possible to love a mechanical object, and bicycles are the best examples.

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