I remembered this, as I glanced at it on my desktop this morning so I thought, lengthy as it is, I should post it. So anyone interested in the ins and outs of working for Raleigh Ilkeston’s SBDU should read on.
Words by Mike Mullet.
30 years ago, but here goes.
In the closing years of my Army career (1969 to 1976) I managed and mechaniced for the Combined Service cycling teams which led me to doing the same tasks for the British Cycling Federation at National and International events. This led to an invite from the Raleigh UK team to mechanic for the team on a freelance basis. This I was very happy to do, particularly for such a famous team.
On leaving the service I started framebuilding under my own name but still freelancing for Raleigh and writing a technical column for the UK magazine “Cycling”. The editor at that time was Ken Evans, sadly deceased at an early age.
In 1978 I rang Gerald and asked to visit Ilkeston, the base for the UK team which was managed by George Shaw an ex Raleigh UK based pro. The upshot of the visit was Gerald asked if I would like to work at Ilkeston with a view to taking over from him when he retired.
Would I. Why me? Evidently my freelance work for the team and my weekly column in Cycling had paid off.
Gerald told me I would have to have a formal job interview with his boss, the Design Director of Raleigh – Alan Oakley. Raleigh Chopper fans will be aware of Alan, a revered figure having designed the Chopper on the back of an envelope on a fight to the USA. What a gentleman. The job interview took place one lunch time (and well into the afternoon) at one of the most elite dining establishments in Nottingham with Gerald present. It was one of the most civilised job interviews I have ever had. Happy to say I was offered the appointment of Workshop Manager.
I moved to Ilkeston in the Autumn (Fall for you guys over the pond) of 1978, and was treated very warily by the existing work force. The workforce was 14 strong, four of the guys travelling in from Worksop (ex Carlton chosen by Gerald: Paul; Bob; Johnny and Ivan) every day, some 36 miles. Gerald had brought with him Eric, his trusted workshop fixer, from Nottingham also due to retire shortly. Yvonne ran the office and protected him from predators! From Nottingham came: Les the main builder and foreman; Preston; Ray; Derek; Peter; Jack and Charlie. New employees from Ilkeston were: Paddy; Sam and Phil Insley.
Gerald also travelled in from Worksop daily. For those people who knew Gerald he was an enigma. A talented engineer and great PR man who either liked you or not. If it was not, then beware. He was the most frustrating man to work for depending on his moods. He would sit me down in his office and tell me stories for hours on end of cycling characters, his experiences, events in the past and then berate me for lack of production. Some days he would not appear at all. Lunch times were legendry.
There was a public house (The Gardners Arms) just up the road from the factory, which incidentally was an ex Rolls Royce development unit, where the “management” Gerald, Eric and I would retire for lunch, usually accompanied with more stories. Gerald was a very hospitable man. The guys used to arrive at 8.00am and work through to 4.30 with ½ hour for lunch, The workshop was very spacious. Each of the craftsmen had a particular task, there was no one frame builder who created a frame from start to finish. Lugs and brackets were prepared, about 30 sets at a time, a week’s production, hopefully. Tubes were mitred on a VAR tube cutter, seat tube, and one end of a top tube and down tube. Rear ends were brazed into chain stays and drilled, and rear brake bridges brazed up. Pete and Sam built all the forks. Ends into blades then fork ends drilled, steerer into crown, blades raked and silver soldered or brazed into the crown and steerer assembly.
The build list for the week was known so correct length steerers could be brazed into crowns and the forks were numbered when manufactured. Seat tubes were brazed into brackets on a surface table fixture by one man, Paul an ex Carlton employee, and head tubes to down tubes to a predetermind angle depending on the size of the frames on the weeks order list. Bob, a master craftsman capped all of the seat stays with the trademark raised caps as well as being the final finished frame inspector.
With all of the sub assemblies to hand and a chart of standard dimensions for stock frames, top tubes were mitred to the final length and the frame assembled on a table by Les.
Frames were assembled on a surface table with a stock fork of the correct rake and brake clearance with a front wheel in position, less seat stays, the bracket height set, with a stretcher fixture maintaining the chain stays in the correct position. The down tube which had been cut to just over length was scribed inside the bracket seat tube marked to head and head tube marked to length. The frame was then taken apart, down tube mitred, a breather hole for the top tube drilled in the seat tube.
All joints were fluxed, the frame reassembled with the correct length stretcher in position holding the chain stays, dimensions checked and the joints pinned.
The assembly was then passed back to Paul who silver soldered or brazed (depending on whether 531 or 753) all the joints with the frame held in alignment on a surface table. It was located by a mandrels through the bracket, top of the seat tube and a mandrel through the head tube.
The sequence was: down tube into bracket, chain stays into bracket, top head lug and finally the seat lug. Remember the seat tube into bracket and head tube to down tube had been already joined.
Next to Ray who removed the excess head tube and seat tube lengths, cut the heads of the pins off, reamed the seat tube, reamed and faced the head tube, aligned the rear end and fitted the chain stay bridge, finally drilling and hand cutting the seat lug clamping split and tapping the 8mm seat bolt.
Over to Derek who fitted and brazed/silver soldered the seat stays in position and fitted the rear brake bridge.
Down tubes and seat tubes had been pre drilled for the bottle bosses, and Preston fitted all the brazings. Bottle bosses, lever bosses, TT cable stops, number tag under TT, chain stay gear stop and any other fittings required.
Ivan and Paddy then hand filed all the lugs and brazings after shotblasting. Small air driven hand held sanders were also available at all of the work stations for finishing.
Over to Bob, the final out inspector for all the alignment tests, standard of brazing and joint examination. Dour and uncompromising nothing got past Bob. He also numbered the frame with the SB number and the size.
Over to Jack and Phil the painters, each with their own wet booth and one oven. The work sheet that accompanied the frame on its travels specified the colours. Team, Ice Green, Silver, Gold and a few other colours approved by Gerald. Each painter worked on a frame from start to finish. Primer, undercoats, masking, transferring and lacquering.
Finally to Charlie. Head badge drilled and fitted, seat and head tube reamed to clear the paint, bracket threads tapped and BB faced. Fork crown seat reamed, head set fitted and rear adjusters and all threads tapped to clear the paint.
The spacious workshop housed a milling machine, a lathe, several bench drills and a pillar drill, two shot blast cabinets and an enormous compressor.
Materials and Components were held in a secure cage and comprised mainly of tubing, lug sets, brackets, fork ends and a variety of head sets. The production output of Ilkeston was mainly frames, but a limited set of Campag group sets, rims and tyres were stocked.
Bespoke frames were calculated and laid out by Gerald or me and the dimensions entered on a worksheet which accompanied the frame round the workshop.
Jan Legrand would come over in the Autumn with all the frame specs for the forthcoming season. Jan was based in Amsterdam and was Peter Posts mechanic during the latters racing days and head mechanic for the TI Raleigh team. I first worked with Jan as a second mechanic at the Skol 6 of 1972 and 73 when Peter Post was paired with Patrick Sercu.
We would work through the frames with Jan doing most of the building with the sub assemblies prepared in advance, and the finishing completed on the shop floor. This I think was the most rewarding time at Ilkeston, being involved with the creation of frames for the forthcoming season. Such was my dedication in those days that I worked through the weekends with Jan without pay to complete the following seasons frames.
One particular New Years holiday I went in to the workshop on my own to build a six frame required rapidly by Joop Zoetmelk, there’s dedication for you. Perhaps one of the reasons my family did not settle.
Sadly my family were not happy with the move to Ilkeston and I regretfully resigned at the end of 1982 and returned South.
I continued building frames under my own name, but gave it all up in 1984 (hard work) and returned to teaching, building only for fun.
It was a prestige establishment and very exciting to work in that that environment and I only wish that I had realised how Ilkeston would be viewed in the present day and I would have kept more detailed records of the unit.
Hindsight is a great thing!!
Thanks Mike for taking the time to write this.
Via the Raleigh Team Pro’s Yahoo group.