When fate plays a hand

A tourer from the middle of last century - what a find.

Today, I'm celebrating another "dump" find, one of my best yet. It's an 1939/early '40s F. C. Parkes, a hand-built lightweight from the company that made Sun bicycles and motor bikes. This, I'm convinced, is a bike that was destined to fall into my grubby fingers. Here's the story...

We moved house a fortnight ago and I had a car full of rubbish that I had to off-load at the Riverside council skip in Dundee. By the time I'd remembered it was in the boot of the car, the dump had closed for the day. The next day, I dropped my better half and daughter off at work and school respectively and decided to pull in to the Baldovie skip in another part of town to jettison my, by now, smelly cargo.

Brooks B17 in great condition.

On the way back from the skip I saw a commercial yard with a sign up declaring their ability to dispose of rubbish, clear houses and garages, etc. I thought about popping in to see if they ever came across old bikes but the yard was a couple of inches deep in mud so I just kept going. A hundred yards further on I thought it would be daft not to have a quick look since I was in the area so I turned the car round, drove through the gates and parked next to the portacabin office.

I looked up and there, leaning against a fence not eight feet away and looking sorry for itself, was a clearly very old lightweight racing machine. I could swear I heard the theme tune from The Twilight Zone as I climbed up the steps to the office. The very attractive young woman "manning" the office said one of the drivers had picked the bike up in a garage clearance in nearby Tayport a few weeks ago and had rescued it from the pile of junk, placing it against the fence. He wasn't in but if I phoned back she'd see if he had any plans for it. I had a quick look at the bike before getting back in the car and saw it was a Parkes.

Not sure of the make of the stem. Maybe something will be revealed
when it's cleaned up?

The following day, she'd had a chance to speak to him and I could have it for £20. I fired up my old Saab 900 which, with the rear seat folded down, is capable of taking an entire bike and journeyed across town. The driver proved to be a nice guy who had recognised the antiquity of the bike and had put it aside with the idea of perhaps restoring it himself. After a while he began to realise just what would be involved in getting the Parkes looking good again and lost interest in the project.

So that's the story of why I now have a completely original F. C. Parkes in my bike shed. I haven't even had a chance yet to wash it but the equipment reads as follows:

  • Alloy bars
  • Lugged steel stem
  • Brooks B17 on a steel post
  • Fluted cranks with a swaged on Williams pattern chainring
  • Chater Lea "Tommy bar" pedals
  • Sturmey Archer rear hub (probably an AW)
  • Sturmey BF front drum brake hub
  • Endrick rims, 26"
  • Steel rear brake caliper with Burlite (?) levers
  • Parkes branded Britannia celluloid mudguards
  • Rear bag carrier and saddlebag

I'm guessing at the 1939-ish date based on the fact that the Sturmey trigger on the bike is the first handlebar-mounted model (as opposed to the top-tube mounted quadrant shifter) which came out that year. Yes, it was in production until 1948 but the mudguard eyes are also in the pre-war position a few inches up from the dropouts and I believe the Brooks badge on the rear of the saddle is the earlier type as well.

I think these are Burlite levers...

There weren't many lightweights built once the war started so if it's not pre-war there's a chance it might be just post-war. Once I clean up the hubs, the Sturmey date code will provide some information and, if the cranks are Williams, then their date code might provide some confirmation. I'm a bit curious about the Burlite levers, however - assuming they are Burlites. I seem to remember that they came out after the GB brakes were launched in 1946. Maybe I've got that wrong.

What condition is the bike in? Well, the paintwork is faded and dull and there's some light surface rust on a few tubes. With a very careful wash and polish I think the frame will be quite respectable-looking and certainly won't need to be refinished. The saddle is in remarkable condition given its age and the fact it has been sitting out in heavy rain for a fortnight.

The Sturmey hubs are covered in oily grime which means they should be OK underneath. The front drum brake seems to be functional, the saddlebag looks usable and the mudguards are in great shape.

The Parkes seat tube transfer.

That's the good news - now for the bad. The rear brake caliper has completely shed its chrome and the cranks have followed its example. The swaged on chainring is also showing the early stages of hooked teeth from use. The seat post is in a similar state chrome-wise and the Endrick rims are chrome-free and rusty. The lovely lugged stem is rusted and a little pitted. I think I'll have the stem re-chromed, replace the rear caliper with a period alloy one and fit better quality cranks.

It's strange that the original owner used very expensive Chater Lea pedals but a basic chainset. Or maybe he just had no money left for better cranks! It's tempting to find a pair of replacement Endricks and reuse the spokes as they seem to be sound but I also have a pair of 26" Conloy Standard rims in the shed. I'll have to think about that one.

So that's the F. C. Parkes. The company had a long history. It started in 1885 making light fittings and morphed into the Sun company that went on to make highly-regarded bikes and motor cycles. In 1936, F. C. Parkes, the grandson of the founder, decided to launch a range of elite bikes bearing his name. They were built to order by the company's best framebuilder. Eventually, Sun became part of Raleigh and was reduced to a brand marketing exercise in the 1960s.

I'll update this find once I've had a chance to scrape the muck off everything and can shed some more light on it. Sorry about the iphone pics - it was all I had handy at the time.

Normally the Brooks embossing has been well-worn through years of use
- not in this case, though. But is it original?

Too mucky to see what it is but probably a bog standard AW hub.

Chater Lea pedals - expensive in their day.

The front BF drum brake hub.

Original pattern Sturmey trigger shifter, 1939-48.

Swaged on chainring.