- Wednesday January 14 1981
Big wheels in bike world
THE three directors of a Blackpool firm specialising in the building of racing bicycles; proudly display one of their products, an £800 exhibition model. Dennis Hill, Harry Howe and Brian Addison have been manufacturing their "Hill's Specials" from a small workshop in Charles Street since last April, and already orders are pouring in from abroad, as well as from Britain's own racing champions. But after last week's news that one major bike manufacturer has succumbed to the recession how come this company is taking off? DAVID MOFFATT went along to find out.
WHEN you're cycling up slopes steep enough to make the average mountain gazelle falter, every ounce of your strength - and your bike - counts.
That was the weighty problem which former Great Britain cycling international Dennis Hill knew only too well when he joined the new racing cycles division of the Harbri Engineering Company, Blackpool.
"Hill's Specials" were the result - lightweight cycle frames for all aspects of the sport, road racing, pursuit racing and time trials.
One of the directors of the company, Mr Harry Howe, explained how they approached Mr Hill: "We first met when we supplied his father's bike firm in Burnley with fixtures. We realised there was a market for specialised bikes - people will always want a Rolls - Royce - and when the opportunity arose we bought the Hill name and offered Dennis a directorship. He accepted and has since moved to Blackpool."
But, with one major bike manufacturer laying off several hundred workers last week, was the move a wise one?
"It's true there's a slump in the larger stores for bikes, but there are quite a few small firms producing custom - built bikes who are doing very well," said Mr Howe.
The show got on the road in April and since then orders from as far afield as Dubai, Australia and New Zealand have arrived at the Charles Street workshop.
"Hill's Specials" are custom - built frames light enough to be pulled along thousands of miles of road by ever - wearier legs, resilient enough to withstand the sudden lurch forward in sprint competition.
The acid test for them will come in March when the racine season starts. Several frames have already been sold to competitive cyclists including road racer Tim Schools; Bob Barlow for the forthcoming police championship; and Harry Hill, star of the 1936 Olympics who is making a comeback in veteran racing.
"We believe we are producing the best bike frames in Europe," said Mr Hill, 'we use the highest quality materials and the most skilled craftsmen."
One of them, frame - builder Roger Kowalski, has sweated over bikes, in and out out the saddle, for more than 40 years.
In his vast experience for several cycling companies he has built for the sport's great names Reg Harris, Beryl Burton and Norman Shiel.
"A frame is like a work of art and like the artist the builder must have that special gift in his blood," he says.
The frames are constructed from sets of Reynolds lightweight alloy tubing which is cut to the rider's specifications and brazed and soldered together
Roger explained how the quality of the materials has a direct effect on a bike's performance: "If we use silver solder on the joints we can have a brazing temperature which is half that of brass. The metal retains more of its strength under lower temperature and the bike will be stronger."
Since April the firm's four frame-builders have turned out 120 frames tailored exactly to the individual rider's personal measurements. Each one takes two days to produce and costs £203. Weight is cut to a minimum and the average roadracing frame tips the scales at 14lb.
Next year the firm is looking to expand: "We have a full order book now and we hope to produce 250 to 300 frames next year,"said Dennis. "We are taking another apprentice on and we are looking for that rare commodity - a skilled frame-builder."
One of the apprentices currently learning the trade is 16 year-old Stephen Vaselli. Hanging above him in the workshop is a frame he has just built, as yet unpainted and without handlebars or wheels.
But in February, Stephen, a champion junior cyclist will be able to see just how good his handiwork is . . . he'll be riding the bike in a competition!