04 April 2010

W.B. "Bill" Hurlow: The bicycle builder who sculpted his lugs and frames

Good to see a bicycle builder getting so much press, albeit only upon his death. Yesterday's FT carried a long article on him, almost as long as the article on the Pope, filling the rest of the page on top.

Sound bites:

London-born Bill Hurlow was one of the world's best-renowned and respected builders of lightweight racing bicycle frames, not just for racers but for bicycle fanatics, weekend riders and collectors across the globe who still treasure his creations. Described by many of his peers as "the Picasso of bicycle builders", not just for his artistry but for the speed with which he plied his craft, Hurlow worked for most of Britain's leading bike manufacturers after the second world war, when Britain was at the vanguard of bicycle making and set the standard for the rest of the world.


Among the customers for his bespoke models were rock star bike enthusiasts Mick Jagger and Eric Clapton, as well as actor Peter Sellers, who insisted his model be finished in Ferrari red to match his car.


Hurlow was an amateur racer himself, winning numerous time trial awards for two of the great cycling clubs of his day, Galena and Marlboro, including in the great Bath Road 100 (mile) time trial, in which he won the Lascelles Cup three times - in 1949, 1951 and 1952. He was still racing into his seventies, often beating competitors 30 years younger, and still covered 30-40 miles a day for pleasure into his mid-80s.


Hurlow's designs influenced bicycle makers worldwide, particularly in the US, where frame builders took up his mantle and one described him as "the builder's builder, a tailor of tubes" for his ability to design and build a bike to individual measurements and needs - height, weight, build, and even, like a tailor, the vital inner leg measurement - to angle and balance the frame to suit the customer. "His bikes were the equivalent of Savile Row suits," said his friend and fellow biker John Hunt of Canterbury, Kent.


For many years, the Hurlow workshop in the mews of the White Horse pub in Herne Bay, Kent, was a mecca for would-be frame-builders, collectors or simply fans of his work from all over the world. One such visitor, American builder A.D. "Art" Stump, who came to Britain to have Hurlow build a bike for him, said of his work: "I liken a well-designed lug frame to a good, engraved English shotgun. It doesn't shoot any better than a plain shotgun, but it is pretty and shows the builder's care in making it." Such was Hurlow's reputation in the US that, after word of his death spread, bikers across the country hit the saddle for memorial rides in his honour.

1 comment:

mike said...

I have a photograph of Bill Hurlow meeting the Pope in Spain. Of course he is going to get that kind of press. Mike Graves