Monday, October 19, 2020

Peak Fall

It had to happen eventually. After several weeks of gorgeous riding weather, our good-weather-fortune seems to be coming to an end. I'm sitting here on a computer at work on a chilly, rainy, miserable day - and the forecast looks like more of the same this week.

This past Saturday was glorious, though, and I got out on one of my vintage Mercians to enjoy brilliant blue skies and sunshine, cool temperatures, and vibrant fall colors.

I stopped for a photo on a quiet road that winds its way through the woods where the light just looked like gold filtered through the fall leaves.

There may still be some nice riding days left this season, but I've got no doubt that trees will be far more bare and a lot of the color will be gone. I'm reminded of a line from a well-known poem by the renaissance poet Robert Herrick, "Gather ye rosebuds while ye may." I'm glad I got to enjoy it while I still could.

That's all for now - just a short post today.

Thursday, October 15, 2020

Sad News - Bob Jackson Cycles Closing

It's sad to say it, but another great name in classic bicycles is about to disappear. Bob Jackson Cycles, also known as JRJ Cycles (for John Robert Jackson) is expected to close their doors later this year. Between an aging staff and a global pandemic, the company decided that the time has come to call it quits. 

I contacted the current owner of the company, Donald Thomas, who tells me "It’s as simple as this: we are very much an aging workforce and over the last 10-15 years we have not been able to find younger members of staff willing to take on this kind of light engineering work and get their hands dirty. So we are simply retiring. We have four key members of staff, including me, who have said 'enough is enough - let's stop and have some quality time while we can'." He also noted that sales have been trending downward for a while now, what with aluminum and carbon fiber frames dominating the market.

Thomas cites the current pandemic as another factor - if not due to its direct effects on the business, then because of the way it changes the mindset and rearranges priorities. All in all, I suppose it shouldn't be a surprise - but it still saddens me a bit.

In terms of quality and style, I've always felt that Bob Jackson Cycles were a lot like Mercian, which has long been a favorite of mine. The bikes and the companies just always seemed to have a lot in common: lugged steel frames, made to order with traditional methods and traditional materials. There were also some similar frame models, and paint schemes, etc. But JRJ is/was a bit older than the brand from Derby.

Bob Jackson began producing bicycles in 1935, with a hiatus during WWII while Jackson served in the RAF. Frame production resumed after the war, and over the years the company has produced other brands as well. In the 1950s, they acquired South London-based Merlin Cycles which they produced until some time in the 1980s. In the late 1970s and '80s, they built bikes for Hetchins, which was for a few years under the same ownership as JRJ. Even after Hetchins and JRJ were separated and Hetchins resumed building their own bikes, JRJ retained rights to produce the famous and distinctive "vibrant" or "curly-stay" designed frames. 

The Bob Jackson "Vulcan" (from their 
current website) is the only bike other than
Hetchins authorized to use that "vibrant" rear
triangle design. Brand new, starting at only £850.00 
(about $1100!). Sorry, too late now.

Bob Jackson had retired in 1986, and according to their own history page, the company had some troubled years following. In 1993, about the time that the Hetchins and JRJ companies separated, Donald Thomas took control of JRJ Cycles, with Bob Jackson as an advisor, and brought new energy for improvements and expansion. All building and painting operations were updated and brought in-house for better quality control. Mr. Jackson died in 1999, but the company continued.

I suppose signs that the company was "winding down" have been popping up for a couple of years now. They had a retail shop which I'm told was closed a few years ago, though frame production continued. Frames could be ordered through their website, either fully custom built or "off the peg." But custom orders were recently halted, and they had stopped taking new work for frame renovations and repairs, which was another thing they were known for. Their website still says folks can order an "off the peg" frame, but that needs to be updated because Thomas says they are not accepting any more new orders at this time. "We have had orders flood in since the word (about the closing) got out, so I would say now, no, sorry we will not have enough time left to build more orders."

Thomas told me the plan is to finish the last of the orders that have come in and close the doors by mid December. When it's all done, he added, "We are going to build ourselves new frames each, the last ones to leave the factory in the 85 years and 30,000 frames we have built."

There really aren't many of the old traditional builders left in Britain any more. Woodrup is still in business, with Kevin Sayles as the builder, and Mercian is still going. I believe one can still get a Hetchins as well. If someone wants a new "keeper of the flame" British-built lugged steel frame, the options are are really thinning out. Such a shame to see it happening. I'll be wishing all the best for the folks at Bob Jackson. You'll be missed, lads.

Saturday, October 10, 2020

A Beautiful Autumn For Biking

There's been lots in the news lately about wildfires in the West, and hurricanes in the South, but for the past few weeks here in Northeast Ohio, we've had just about the best weather for riding a person could ask for. We've had very little rain, mostly sunny days, cool temperatures overnight (down into the 40s typically) but up into the 50s and 60s by afternoon. I've been riding to work nearly every day. In fact, I've only driven my car once since Labor Day.

Early in the morning on my ride to work on Oct. 1st, the clear skies were lit by the harvest moon - seen here, just getting ready to dip below the horizon. It looked huge to my naked eyes, but I only had my phone for a camera, hampered by the limitations of that tiny wide-angle lens. This was one of those times where having my SLR camera with a telephoto lens would have given a much more impressive photo, but that's not something I normally carry with me on my ride to work. October this year will see a second full moon, the "blue moon," on Halloween.

At this point in the season, my rides are in darkness all the way to work, so I'm really relying on my lights for the morning commute.

Our weekends have also been beautiful, and the roads, paths, and other facilities of the Cuyahoga Valley National Park have been booming with cyclists. This morning, which was perfect and clear, with temps in the low 60s, I got up fairly early and suited up for a ride into the valley. The Saturday morning farmers market is still going on in the middle of the national park, and I made a stop for some goodies. There are only a couple more "outdoor" farmers markets scheduled for this year before they move to an indoor venue for the winter. I brought my orange Mercian, which has an assortment of small bags (most of them made by Berthoud of France) which would be useful for carrying my purchases from the market. Vendors have a lot of nice produce to offer, as well as meats, fresh pasta, and bread and other baked goods.

I stopped at the train depot near the historic Botzum farm for a photo on my way through the valley.

The "orange pearl" on the Mercian is a great color for a fall ride. The headtube is done in a cream color that looks very similar to the paint on the train depot. Coming back from the market, those bags will all be full.

Our leaves are only just beginning to turn color for autumn, but I anticipate they will be spectacular in another week. Hopefully our excellent riding conditions continue through that peak of color. 

That's all for now . . .