Edward Elgar, Sunbeam Bikes, and Me

Gert Lusher Robert Porch shares his love of a certain composer and a favourite bike.

What connects a famous classical music composer, cycling and myself? Well, the composer Edward Elgar insisted that all his visitors had a good cycling trip to build up a hearty appetite. He had several Sunbeams in his day and a bronze depicting him and a Golden Sunbeam is in the grounds of Hereford Cathedral.

My Sunbeam adventure started at the end of a glorious day of vintage bicycling courtesy of Alistair and Sebastian Cope of Velo Vintage. There was a chance overhearing of a conversation in the Anchor pub at Sidmouth - I heard a lady mention a Rudge and then two SUNBEAMS that hadn’t been ridden for more than 40 years. I mentioned that I was looking for a Sunbeam, as Elgar had been on my mind.

A meeting in Cornwall was welcomed but not the appalling rain. Even worse, I think it had been raining through the roof of the outhouse for many years.The first bicycle was a lady’s Sunbeam. The second was a gent’s Golden Sunbeam, the real gold lettering was just holding on in the battle between paint to rust.

The distinctive 4 block rubber pedals were missing, as was the 3-spring Brooks saddle. The handlebars were encrusted with rust and glimpses of black paint and again, bright gold lining. A paint tin lid with a central hole was threaded on one handle. This turned out to be the chain case cover! A beautifully designed chain wheel lay on the floor but didn’t fit the spindle.

After a warming cup of tea, the rain had stopped, price negotiated and the poor old girl was unceremoniously strapped on the bike rack, like a nearly dead thing. Perhaps she’d never be strong enough to ride again? Rust was everywhere and if I rubbed any paint, the underlying orange pushed the black paint away. I knew that the rear hub would generally be original. This showed Sturmey Archer K5, 1935. It looked like a 30s bicycle with its Sunbeam gear selector on the top tube, (not the usual quadrant one) Sunbeam handle grips and oddly shaped brake blocks. I’d forgotten how some old bikes have contorted ways of getting force to the rear brakes.

When it came to fit, the bearing cup threads were very poor and wouldn’t accept the ring after all. - a right-hand thread outer with a LEFT hand thread inner. Typically Sunbeam! A plea on one of the Facebook groups led me to Doug Pinkerton. Old man Pinkerton had been one of the leading conservers of ancient and vintage bicycles. Amazingly, his father must have had a similar problem decades ago and had machined a few lock rings and Doug could lay his hands on one. When it came to fit, the bearing cup threads were very poor and wouldn’t accept the ring after all. Some copper wire wrapped around has to work for now. The front spokes had rusted to the thickness of dressmakers pins or rusted away completely. Incredibly, I managed to source new old stock spokes in their original black paint - 32 front 40 rear the standard back then.

Having managed to save whatever black paint as possible, matching up primer and new paint she scrubbed up and eventually, to my relief, was ride able.The Sunbeam always attracts attention as I try to match riding attire with the age of the bicycle, and obviously always provide appropriate music - Elgar makes perfect sense. Tally-ho!

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