Steel is real, Part one.

dronfield-3Back in the day, Vernon Barker built some very nice bikes. Indeed he still does.

The owner and proprietor of a shop in Dronfield, which is still going, his bikes were popular with club riders and one even won the Milk Race (what is now the Tour of Britain) with the great Malcolm Elliot on board.



I came across a nice looking example of one of his frames on Ebay some time ago. Sadly it had a rather large dent in the down tube.



and the original forks had been replaced with some chrome ones.


The dealer selling it was a reputable and reliable source, not given to bulling about the condition of stuff. He assured me that the frame was straight and in pretty good condition for it’s age (1983/4). I thought the dent would put of many, so placed a snipe bid of £65 and got the thing at the end of the auction for £60.

When it arrived I checked it over and it was all as straight as the day it came out of Vernons workshop. Top quality 531 C tubing and just my size.

It passed my test of how well a bike has been looked after; no rust damage and clean threads on the bottom bracket housing, with flying colours.



Any cyclist who removes and cleans the BB housing regularly  is some one who cares. Failing to do this will always show up as corrosion  and damage to the threads from ham fisted removal of stuck BB’s. A  frame with a damaged BB housing is going to cost a lot to repair, so give them a miss.

Hand-built frames like this have usually been well looked after. The contemporary thing of buying a new bike every five minutes only applied to those paid to ride them last century. Back in the day, club cyclists brought a hand built frame that fitted them and then looked after it. By the 1980’s most mass produced British cycle manufacturers had either gone broke or were producing toys and second rate bikes. It was a boom time for many of the small scale frame builders and frames built by any of the small scale producers for road or touring bikes are some of the best bargains you can find. A 531 C frame like this is lighter than many Alu frames and a better ride than all but the top quality Carbon bikes and at a fraction of the price. Indeed you can still get a hand built top quality steel frame for the price of a mass produced carbon one!

My plan was to build this up as a single speed and use it for a month or so and then get it resprayed and repaired if it worked well.

Most of the stuff I needed to get it back on the road I already had in the shed. All I really needed was a new flip flop hub rear wheel. SingleSpeed Components are my first choice for wheel. They import some excellent wheels and are all round good guys,


The frame set came with a headset and although this would eventually have to be replaced it was usable, so I was able to use an old Cinelli  handlebar set and a stem I had in the shed. The stem was a little short and the handlebars to big for me, so they will be eventually be replaced.


These Miche brakes get used on all sorts of build, but only ever as a temporary solution. They are pretty rubbish at speed I am afraid, so I will be looking out on ebay for some second hand Shimano 105 or Ultegra ones. I want duel pivot brakes which is out of character with the age of the bike (duel pivot didn’t come in to around 1990), but before dual pivot brakes on road bikes were rubbish, so safety comes first!



Likewise with the crankset, this is a “Mighty” 44 tooth built for BMX. It works and is light, but looks horrible. So it will be replaced when I can afford one of the very nice Chinese reproductions of classic Shimano and Campag track cranks from the 1970 / 80’s.


Here’s the bike built up and waiting for a rear wheel.


And the “finished” bike out on the road, now with a much nicer crank. The tension device is horrible. When I put the final bike together I will invest in a half link chain so I can get the chain just right, sadly standard chain would either be too loose or to tight.

I have now used the bike for a few weeks over Xmas, including a club run with the Beacon and one with the CTC group I ride with putting 300 km on the clock. I think it’s lovely.

I have been in touch with Vernon Barker Cycles and on Thursday 15 Jan I am taking the frame back to it’s birthplace for painting and repairs.

I will post again with a second part when I rebuild the bike.

Categories: Articles, Technical and reviews