Tuesday, December 2, 2014

The Return of Holdsworth

Serious vintage bike fans probably have fond memories of great old Holdsworth bikes of the past -- bikes with their wind-themed model names, like the Whirlwind, the Mistral, the Cyclone, and more. The classic orange and blue livery of the Holdsworth-Campagnolo pro team bikes of the 70s is still a favorite among a lot of retro bike fans.

With its classic orange and blue color scheme, along with
Reynolds tubing and lugged construction, the Professional
model recalls the vintage look of Holdsworth racers of the 70s.
By the 1980s, the Holdsworth brand was struggling and went through ownership changes resulting in a loss of its history and its status. Production left the U.K. and the brand gradually faded away into obscurity, just another of many trademarked names languishing in a portfolio. But recent news has it that the classic Holdsworth name is back -- on new vintage-inspired steel frames, and with plans to eventually bring production back to the U.K.

The British bike company Planet X, which focuses mainly on direct sales of decidedly non-retrogrouch-y bikes and components, has acquired the Holdsworth name from its previous owners, the Tandem Group. Planet X owner David Loughran told The Telegraph that he was negotiating a "close-out" sale of Taiwanese carbon fiber frames from the supplier and managed to get the Holdsworth name as part of the bargain.

The Mistral is listed as the touring model, with rack and
mudguard eyelets front and rear. However, with clearance
for tires "up to 28 mm" with fenders, it might not be the best
choice for serious long-distance touring.
The first batch of lugged steel frames seems to have a lot going for them from a retrogrouch perspective. With Reynolds steel, level top tubes, and classic-style paint schemes, the frames are currently being built by a "specialist workshop in Italy," though Loughran says his plan is to eventually move production back home to Britain. In the Telegraph article he says, "As a business owner it's one of my last goals to control our production from parts right the way through to end consumer, and do it in England from start to finish."

There has been some speculation among classic bike enthusiasts as to who exactly in Italy is building the frames currently -- but a look at the Planet X website, where the new frames are already available for purchase, one can see that the firm also sells a lugged steel frame from the Italian Viner brand, and I'd be willing to speculate that the same workshop could be brazing both brands, and perhaps a few other resurrected names as well.

The sport-touring Cyclone has chromed fleur-de-lis lugwork, a
classy vintage-inspired paint scheme, and chromed
 stays and fork ends.
In any case, without seeing a frame up close, I'd say that the construction looks to be very nice and the details look "right." They definitely have that kind of retro-style that appeals to me.

There is a full range of models available -- the racing Professional, the sport-touring Cyclone, the touring Mistral (also available in a mixte configuration), and the Zephyr track model. Prices range from about £800 - 1200 ($1250 - $1900 at current exchange rates -- but don't forget to factor in shipping). Obviously more expensive than generic-looking welded frames, or even mass-produced lugged frames from Taiwan -- but not outrageous given what looks like nice workmanship and style.

Now that we see some of the new offerings from this vintage marque, how about a little history?

W.F. "Sandy" Holdsworth started the company bearing his name in the 1920s, originally selling cycling clothing and later accessories for riding. By the 1930s, the company was known for their "Aids To Happy Cycling" catalog which sold bicycling clothing and other products via mail order. They also had a handful of retail shops, the most well-known of which was in Putney, London.

The W.F. Holdsworth shop in Putney, was opened in 1927.
 Roy Thame managed the shop from the 1950s until his death
in 2006. The shop closed its doors in 2013.
The Holdsworth company was building a few frames in the 1920s, but the framebuilding operations didn't really get going in earnest until the mid 1930s. Bill Rann, who had previously worked for F.H. Grubb, was the foreman. He was soon joined by Bill Hurlow, who would be widely regarded as one of the best British framebuilders of the post-war era. Another noted builder in the Holdsworth shop was Charles Roberts, who would later form his own eponymous company, known today as Roberts Cycles.

In the 1950s, Holdsworth purchased two other respected bicycle operations, F. H. Grubb and Claud Butler. Also in the 1950s, retired racer Roy Thame joined Holdsworth, and headed up special frame building operations, and later oversaw the company's competitive racing program. In the late 60s and through the '70s the Holdsworth-Campagnolo racing team, with Roy Thame as director, became one of the most dominant British teams of the era. Thame had also taken over management of the well-known Putney shop in 1958, which he managed until his death in 2006. That shop only just recently closed its doors in 2013.

After the death of W.F. Holdsworth in 1961, and the death of his wife Margaret in 1964, the shop operations and the factory operations became separate entities. That separation grew wider over the next decade and would eventually lead to some confusion between "shop" and "factory" product offerings.

By the late 1980s, the Holdsworth brand was flagging and was eventually purchased by Falcon Cycles. But the flood of cheaper Asian imports really hit the British industry hard as a whole, and eventually the various brands, like Holdsworth, Claud Butler, Falcon, and many others were swallowed up, taken over, transferred, etc. etc. until they bore no resemblance or connection to their former entities. And that brings us back to the beginning of this article -- when the Tandem Group, which was the most recent owner of the Holdsworth name, transferred it to Loughran of Planet X.

The first frame offerings from this new Holdsworth brand look promising to fans of classic-styled bicycles. Here's wishing them success.


  1. Those all look really nice. I especially like the Cyclone (though I'd prefer it without the red headtube, a little "busy" looking for me w/ it.), the chrome lugs are really a nice touch.

    The curved forks are especially nice in contrast with the straight blades on every other bike you see these days.


    1. There is another color combination available for the Cyclone -- a red and white option. The fleur-de-lis lugs on that are a standard cast lug design from Long Shen. I've seen them on some other bikes. They're pretty cool-looking.

  2. Holdsworth also has a Facebook page