Vintage Bicycles Done Proper :: Portland, Oregon
Imagine owning a bicycle for 41 years. You think you know its history but are still discovering secrets. Meet David and his 1965 Carlton Flyer.
New to the Simplicity of Vintage Cycles is Tell Your Story, a way for visitors to share the history of their bicycles.
People find the Simplicity of Vintage Cycles through searches of all kinds. Some dig for specific, detailed knowledge on parts, others fish for restoration tips and some acquired a bike and simply want to know what it is worth. Then there are those interested in finding a place where they can share history.
The Simplicity of Vintage Cycling is dedicated to the preservation and appreciation of fine steel machines and saving the sites content for my projects exclusively seems wrong. Why not give others a say and a chance to immortalize their cherished steeds? Thus, Tell Your Story is born.
With this inaugural addition, I am honored to introduce David. He is the privileged owner of a 1965 Carlton Flyer that has a fascinating history of twists and turns as it exchanged hands, writing its own history. Typically, posts are not this in-depth but with the intriguing paths this bicycle has taken, an epilogue is added for those who wish to dive deeper into the Carlton story.
Enjoy reading about David and his spectacular bicycle. While you do, please consider contributing to Tell Your Story.
THE BLUE CARLTON
By David L. Caraher
In the early 1970’s I worked as a ranger for the government: I rode horses, not bicycles. I managed a chunk of federal land, which included working with neighboring ranchers. On a cold November morning, I saddled up a young paint and headed out to help the neighbors with fall roundup. The paint, half-broke and cantankerous to boot, spent the morning crow-hopping, half-bucking and tossing his head wildly to shake off the bit. He was carrying on like this when he sidled up too close behind an ill-tempered mare. She looked over her shoulder at the ruckus behind her, and apparently decided to teach the paint some manners. She rocked forward on her front legs, and like a mule, kicked the paint with both hind legs. Her left hoof punched him in the chest, knocking the wind out of him; her right crushed my right leg against the paint’s flank.
I spent the next ninety days in a cast from the base of my toes to my crotch. When the cast came off, my leg resembled the dried-up remains of a road killed deer. Besides, it had gone from slightly bowed to downright crooked, and I couldn’t bend the knee. I went to therapy, spent time in a whirlpool hot tub and tried exercises. But even after a month, the knee would barely bend. It needed to be forced, so I quit the therapy, hot tub and exercises, and bought a bicycle—a Schwinn Suburban. I rode five minutes every evening, then ten, then a half hour. The knee began to loosen, and I began to enjoy the ride. Soon, I could ride fast enough to feel the wind in my face and the exhilaration of a good ride. The knee kept improving, and I kept going.
I subscribed to a bike magazine, bought bike repair manuals and ordered bike catalogs. Fascinated with the derailleur and all the cables, I took the Schwinn apart and put it back together. I added those new bar-end shifters, and toe clips. I learned about Peugeot, Eddie Merckx, Reynolds and Campagnolo. I bought old frames, gave them a new paint job and scrounged around bike shops for the parts to rebuild them. Word got around. Friends and neighbors brought bikes to me to be adjusted or fixed. Short neighbor Dale came by on a too-tall bike, obviously not his, but the prettiest bike I’d ever seen. While he talked, I checked out the stunning two-wheeler: chrome forks, chrome chain stays, chrome seat tube, Brooks saddle and fancy chrome lug work. The hubs, chain ring, and derailleur were all Campagnolo Record. The head badge said Raleigh, but down tube decal said Carlton, and the top tube decal named it a Flyer.
“Where’d you get this?”
“I borrowed it from the dentist.”
Ah yes, the dentist. He was the new, young fellow in town. Already president of three civic organizations and on the executive board of the ski club. He flew his own plane and built a spreading ranch house on ten acres overlooking town. The governor named him “Man of the Year.” I’d met him a few times, been to his office for dental work, but didn’t know him well. Even so, he called me at home one evening.
“You’re in charge of all that government land north of town aren’t you? I see you’ve got some windmills out there. How about selling me one? I want it as a decoration for my front yard.”
“I can’t sell you one of those windmills, they belong to the government.”
He pressed a little harder, but after I insisted I couldn’t sell him a windmill, he came up with another idea. “Well, I wouldn’t be opposed to you and me going out there after dark with my pickup and trailer and making a midnight raid.”
“Not my kind of a deal,” I said, and that brought our conversation to an end. After hanging up, I went back into the living room to read my paper and told my wife, “That boy’s going to wind up in jail someday.”
A few months later I was in the young dentist’s chair. When I got a chance, I asked, “How much would you take for that big blue bike of yours?”
“Oh, so you’ve seen my Raleigh. Pretty nice bike, isn’t it? Well, it’s not for sale.” But then a few minutes later he came back. “I’ll tell you what; I’ll trade you that bike for a windmill.”
I did know a rancher who had an old dead windmill lying behind his barn. I paid him $125 for it, called the dentist, and we made the trade—dead windmill for the blue Raleigh Carlton.
When I got it home, I began tinkering with the Carlton. The rims were aluminum Weinmann, and the front one had a dent, probably from hitting a curb, so I replaced both rims, lacing up new Red Label Fiamme tubulars onto the original Campagnolo hubs. I also changed the freewheel cluster from the original the Atom racing ratios (14, 16, 18, 21, 24) to a wider gear range of Atom touring ratios (14, 17, 22, 26, 30). These are the only changes I have made to the bike.
As for the dentist, he did not fare well. A year or so after our trade, the state board of medical examiners charged him with “fraud and misrepresentation in obtaining fees.” They revoked his license to practice in the state. He didn’t go to jail, but he had to leave town and leave his ranch house and windmill behind. I eventually left town too, but I took the blue Carlton with me.
In 1980 we moved to the city. Work kept me too busy to ride, so I hung the Carlton up in the garage. But eighteen years later when I retired, I had a little time on my hands. I dismantled the Carlton, cleaned and polished all the parts, installed new bearings and grease all around, new cables and housings, and put it back together. By then I was back into riding, but it was long-distance riding, and the tubulars were impractical. So I bought a new bike and reluctantly hung the Carlton back up on the shop wall. At least it could give the place a little class.
That was fifteen years ago. I turned 77 last year, and got into a bender about reducing my earthly burdens. Since I hadn’t even looked at the Carlton for ten years, it seemed like a good first candidate. I took it down, dusted it off and started looking for a buyer. That took me into an e-mail exchange with Josh, which in turn took me into researching Raleigh and Carlton. Along the way, the bike- bug bit me again. I found new tubulars for the Carlton, took it for a ride, and realized I couldn’t sell it.
I still have other bikes, including a custom built Serotta, which is a fine, fine ride. But with its tempered, swept forks, long wheel base and high-pressure tubulars, the blue Carlton is smoother.
Occasionally in good weather, I take the Carlton out. The down-tube, non-indexed shifting takes me back to a time when smooth shifting required a steady cadence, good timing and a quick, accurate hand. And the blue Carlton reminds me of the way a bike is supposed to look—high flange hubs, a parallel top tube, and sweeping forks. But mostly I like the ride. All silk and speed. On a good day, riding along an open road, the Carlton has a feeling about it, as if it had a mind of its own and is eager to roll.
Color: Carlton blue
Frame Size: 63cm (C-T) seat post & 58cm (C-C) top tube
Frame: Reynolds 501 butted tubing
Fork Crown: Vagner
Drop Bars: GB
Bar Wrap: Hunt-Wilde
Saddle: Brooks Professional
Seat Post: Campagnolo
Crankset: Campagnolo Record; 54/46; 170mm
Front Derailleur: Campagnolo Record
Rear Derailleur: Campagnolo Record
Shifting: Campagnolo (downtube)
Brake Levers: Weinmann
Brake Calipers: Weinmann 999
Brake Cable and Housing: DiaCompe
Freewheel: 5-Speed Atom (14/17/22/26/30)
Chain: Renold (original chain)
Hubs: Campagnolo Record
Wheels: Fiamme Red Label
Tires: Vittoria Competition Rally 23-28; Tubular
BLUE CARLTON EPILOGUE
As I was bringing the blue Carlton back to life last year, I became curious—is it just another common, old English bike, or is it rare and valuable? In my spare time I began poking around on the internet, and months later, I’m still learning bits of critical information about the bike.
To begin with, in spite of its classic Raleigh head badge, that bike isn’t really a Raleigh of Nottingham, England. Rather, true to its downtube decal, it’s a Carlton of Worksop, England. And true to its top tube decal, it’s Carlton’s most expensive model—the Flyer. Raleigh bought out Carlton, long-time maker of hand-made, high-end bicycles in 1960 and thereby assumed rights to put their own head badge on the bikes and collect the profits of Carlton sales. But Raleigh’s real motive was to add a prestigious line of high-end bikes to their catalog. Fortunately, Carlton’s operations and workforce remained intact, and Carlton continued designing, building and assembling its own bikes at Worksop, including my blue Flyer.
From there I tried to find out when my bike was made. Still poking around the internet, I chased after vintage serial numbers looking for a clue. I did find Raleigh’s system and history of serial numbers, but not Carlton’s. Instead, I learned I could determine the bike’s age by the date stamped on the Campagnolo hub locknuts. My blue Carlton was born in 1965.
Years ago, I found a paper rolled up inside the seat tube of the Carlton. On one side is a typed price list of available components (and their prices in English pounds). The other side was used as note paper, apparently by a factory worker, to specify the model, (“Flyer”), frame color (blue), an illegible word, the serial number, (9187), a second number, (479). I never thought much about that second number. I thought it was probably a factory production code. But just a few weeks ago an internet site featuring vintage Carltons, pointed out that Carlton used a second three-number code, stamped separately on the bottom bracket for custom orders. I’ve done a lot of work on that bike, had it upside down lots of times, but never noticed a second code on the bottom bracket. After reading that line on the web site, I ran to the shop, looked, and sure enough, there it was: “479.” The same number on the scrap of factory paper I’d found in the seat tube. My Carlton was a custom order.
That bike was rare the day it was born. How did a rare, hand-made, high-end English racing bike fall into the hands of a dentist on the West Coast of the U.S.?
Back on the internet trail, it took just ten minutes to track down the dentist. He had a web site for his office, including of course a phone number. I called. The receptionist said he had retired and sold his practice. Then, she volunteered his home phone number. (It’s amazing what people will reveal to strangers over the telephone.)
On the second ring he answered. I had neither seen nor spoken to him for forty years, but he remembered me immediately and remembered our trade—windmill for bicycle. He even remembered the dent in the front rim. He was friendly and talkative. I asked him how and when he got the bike.
He said that in 1966 and 1967, he lived across the street from Ole Bardahl, inventor of special oils for racing machines. Ole had a number of grandsons living in the neighborhood, “mischievous rascals who lived by their own rules.” In 1965 or 66, one of them, Ole’s oldest grandson, a kid about ten or twelve years old, came to the dentist’s house and asked if he wanted to buy a bike. Being that it was a Raleigh and looked good, and that the kid wanted only ten dollars for it, the dentist bought the bike. The dentist went on to say that the kid was Kurt Manchester, son of Rex Manchester, world-famous hydroplane racer. In June, 1966, Rex, a father of seven, was killed in a racing accident in Washington DC.
After that phone conversation with the dentist, I checked the Bardahl web site, and archived news stories of Rex Manchester. (Rex had married Ole Bardahl’s daughter.) It all checked out. Kurt Manchester, the kid who sold the bike to the dentist, was until recently a vice president of Bardahl International.
So my blue Carlton has a history almost as interesting as its heritage. Who placed the custom order for the bike with Carlton in the first place? How did a ten or twelve year old kid come into possession of such a bike?
I guess that somewhere, someone has access to Carlton’s records. But for now, my search into my blue Carlton’s history is over.
David L. Caraher
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