Thursday, January 2, 2014

A Fork Crown Collection: Peter Weigle

People are going to think I have a fork crown fetish by the time I'm done with this thread. I really don't! But when you get a contribution like the one I got recently, you run with it. American frame building master, Peter Weigle, shared a collection of his fork crowns with me, and now I need to share them with readers of The Retrogrouch Blog.

Unless you only discovered bicycles yesterday, you know that the New England-based builder has one of the best reputations for craftsmanship and artistry in the bicycle business. Weigle's experience goes back to the early 70s when he was hired by Witcomb USA cycles, which was an American operation of the British Witcomb brand. People familiar with that history know that this was where other frame-building legends Richard Sachs and Chris Chance also got their start. Weigle was trained at Witcomb's British factory, then built frames for their Connecticut factory until they closed up shop in '77. After that, he set up his own shop, still there in Lyme, Connecticut.

Over the years, Peter Weigle has evolved from building primarily racing and sporting bikes, some mountain bikes in the early 80s, and touring bikes. His emphasis in the last few years has been on randonneuring bikes -- inspired by the great French constructeurs of the golden age. Peter told me that the randonneur style has given him a lot of inspiration -- trying to take what's classic and beautiful, but to use modern materials and do something original and unique.

Take a look at a sampling of some really gorgeous work:

These crowns took their inspiration from the Daniel Rebour drawing shown above. They started life as Pacenti Artisan crowns. The Aritisan crowns (seen HERE) are a favorite choice for a lot of builders because they have a lot of metal to work with, which means lots of possibilities for a frame builder to express a personal style.
Here is one of the Rebour-inspired crowns brazed up and painted. Another interesting detail to note is the ring of six tiny lightening holes drilled around the brake bolt hole, harkening back to the "drillium" trend of the 60s and 70s. No functional purpose that I can think of, and would be completely hidden when the brake is mounted, but a little creative "surprise." 
This crown started life as a Grand Bois casting -- split apart and dramatically re-shaped, to be turned into a twin-plate style. According to Peter, this was the result of a challenge: The answer to a simple question, "Can you do this?"
Here is the above Grand Bois twin-plate crown, built up and painted a gorgeous blue. Note the box pinstriping on the frame. That head lug is awfully beautiful, too. I'd call it elegant.
This is an interesting fully-sloping interpretation of a Jo Routens-inspired crown. Peter says this fork was part of a conversion project -- replacing the fork on an older Merlin mountain bike that was being turned into more of a randonneur-styled gravel bike. The idea here was to take up some extra clearance and provide proper fender lines. This started out as a Cinelli-style Davis crown. Peter slid the steerer through the crown, then fabricated the lower plate that would also incorporate a fender mount. 
Here is the fully-sloping Routens crown, all finished up. With paint, you can see how the shoulders of the Davis crown stand just slightly proud of the fork blades, giving a hint of a shadow line. Note the front rack with a flashlight mounted -- vintage randonneur style. Look closely, and you can see how the Berthoud stainless steel fender mounts cleanly underneath the crown as well. According to Peter, the finished bike looks more randonneur than ex-mountain bike.
This was inspired by a fork crown built by Jamie Swan, (see it HERE) which in turn was inspired by Jo Routens. Peter says it started out as an "ugly, heavy-looking Asian casting" -- Much material was cut away. The holes around the the top lighten the crown and add a decorative touch (which again, would be totally hidden when the fork is installed -- Surprise!). Those were drilled on a Linley jig boring machine.
Here is the above crown, brazed up and ready for paint. Because there is so little metal left of the crown casting for attaching the fork blades, Peter used brass which tends to be a bit stronger than silver to join it together. Without paint, you can see that the brazing is super clean.
Finished -- in a shocking pink! Peter used the fork shown above all season on his own bike and rode it hard, including the "rough and tumble D2R2 event." (Deerfield Dirt Road Randonee) Reynolds 531 fork blades -- a classic choice.
Here is a modified Pacenti Paris-Brest crown; an investment cast crown that is inspired by vintage twin-plate designs. Peter has removed some of the metal around the brake hole, lightening up the look a bit, while extending the points that shoot downward from the shoulders. The hooks on the sides were also re-contoured a bit to better flow into the lengthened point.
Here is a look at the finished crown from above. In addition to the modifications already pointed out, you can see here that a decorative slot was added just above the point on the shoulders. There's also a beautiful hand-made rack that mounts to the cantilever brake bosses.

A side view of the crown above lets you see how much that side point has been thinned and extended to almost needle-like proportions.
This started out as a Grand Bois crown with Imperial Oval blades, milled out with a slot to give it some of that twin-plate style. Peter also re-worked some of the details on the sides, making the point into more of a needle, somewhat like the twin-plate fork above. Peter describes this as "a conservative treatment" that "compliments a nice pair of lugs, without stealing the show."
This was one of the earlier versions of the Pacenti Artisan crown. Some material was added to the sides, then the asymmetrical points were cut into it to complete a theme that is carried through the lugs and even through the paintwork on the frame. Note also the attachment points for the rack on the tops of the shoulders of the crown. A showstopper.
This crown started out as a later-generation Artisan crown, with the curved hooks on the sides opened up a little and the center point lengthened and thinned. Rendered in polished stainless steel, it's a clean, slightly conservative, but rich look. The brake mounts are for center pull brakes (hmm. . . vintage Mafacs, or modern Pauls?) and also provide a mounting point for the small front rack.
Here's one from the early days (above and below). This is a really interesting version of a fully sloping crown from a '79 Weigle frame. The look was inspired by the work of another frame-building legend, Albert Eisentraut. According to Peter, a few of the custom builders of the time, including Brian Baylis, saw Eisentraut's version and felt it was something they had to try. Peter says of the fork, "Very distinctive, and cutting edge for the time, this treatment took a lot of time and grunt work to complete, but it was cool. I built quite a few forks for my racing bikes using this 'Traut influenced design."
I saw an early J.P. Weigle frame on eBay a few years back that had this same fork crown treatment. It was close enough to my size, and the price wasn't too bad, that I'm still kicking myself to this day for not buying it.
Lastly, some "work in progress": January 1, 2014. A couple of re-worked Paris Brest twin plates, and a modified Grand Bois.

As much as I've shown here in this post, there is a lot more to see. After all, the man has been building beautiful bikes under his own name for over 35 years (and just over 40 years overall). The photos above, and many (many!) more, can be seen on Peter's Flickr pages. Let me give a big Thank You to Peter for taking the time to share these and describe them for me and for the readers of The Retrogrouch.


  1. Great post. Thanks to Peter for contributing!

  2. Ah , my precious, very nice blog . Bike lust and regrets , I had a 70's fillet brazed frame of Katakuras tubing , beautiful fork crown of double plate ,a car ate it .Got to see Vancouver BC builders , Green , Brodie in their shops , raw frames talk story .Thanks