Sunday, 30 January 2011

Bottom brackets

On Friday morning I noticed that the bottom bracket spindle on my 1978 Viscount Aerospace Pro seemed to be running loose in its bearings.  This caused the chain wheel to wobble and my gear changes to be a bit hit-or-miss.  It also prompts me to talk about the bottom brackets used in Lambert and Viscount bikes.

[Note for people who do not speak ‘bike’:  The bottom bracket is the bit at the bottom (!)  where the pedals go round and round.   The spindle (or bottom bracket spindle) is the bit that is attached to the cranks and the chain wheel.   (It is a spindle, rather than an axle, because it rotates.  Strictly speaking axles don’t turn.)  The bearings are what the spindle turns in.  Traditionally, the bearings were made up of separate bearing ‘cups’ and loose balls.   Together the spindle and bearings make up the ‘bottom bracket’.  The part of the frame in which the bottom bracket fits is the bottom bracket shell.  Nowadays, most bottom brackets are sealed units.]

Lambert was an early adopter of ‘sealed’ bearing units - in fact industry standard ball bearings.  These push fit into the bottom bracket shell and the spindle fits into the bearings.  Circlips were fitted to the spindle to stop any tendency to move from side-to-side.  A similar arrangement was used on Klein bikes.  Here are some photographs and text about changing Klein BBs, which might be of use if anyone is changing a Lambert or Viscount one.

Certain problems arose with the Lambert BBs.  Early spindles and crank sets had parallel-sided square ends, unlike the square tapers then usual for cotterless crank sets.  This was asking for trouble and the cranks were inclined to work loose as the holes in them became enlarged.  Later versions had the normal tapered ends, but there was always a question mark over the accuracy of the machining and the Lambert/Viscount cranks require careful alignment.  Another problem that has been reported is early failure of the spindle, which has been attributed to stress-concentration due to the grooves for the circlips, but might be due to poor castings.  If this happened when you were cycling fast or going uphill it would certainly be frightening, possibly dangerous.  There is a good photograph of Viscount BB spindle failure here and also a way of curing the problem.

Another point is that normal cartridge bearings are not totally ‘sealed’ and they are vulnerable to road dirt getting in and wearing them out.   This is probably what has happened to mine.

Next time I’ll write about the options for your Lambert or Viscount bottom bracket, should you need to replace it, and I hope I will have sorted out mine.

Monday, 24 January 2011

History Part 2

In the mid seventies, probably in 1975, perhaps in 1974, definitely by 1976, the production of Lambert bicycles was taken over by an old established English bike manufacturer by the name of Trusty.  Jigs for the fillet brazed frames were transferred and the stocks of Lambert branded and special components.  The bicycles were now made in Birmingham, England and were called Viscount Aerospace bicycles.  Decals / stickers on the down tubes noted that the frames were made by Trusty.

The first Viscounts, as might be expected, were very similar to the Lamberts but, over the next few years, they evolved into rather different bikes.  Keeping to the same Aerospace fillet brazed frames they sported more modern paint schemes and over time most of the specially-made components disappeared in favour of bits from Shimano and other component makers.

Building on the experience of Trusty, lower-range bike were also badged as Viscounts.  The chronology of this is unclear, but I think that they came in before the company was taken over again, this time by Yamaha, probably in 1978.  They included ones with lugged frames that were built in the UK and ones using Taiwanese-made lugged frames.  Of the first type were the Sebring 10-speed model, which seems to have been a very popular entry-level ‘racing’ bike and one that many people remember with affection.  It began the use of US cities as the model names of Viscount bikes.  I had a Tulsa G.L., which had a made-in-Taiwan frame.  A collection of details of all these models needs to be made.

In 1980 or ‘81 Yamaha-Viscount stopped using the fillet-brazed frame.  The top-of-the range bikes still used the same tubing (or appeared to) and were called Aerospace but the frame was built with rather natty pointed lugs with windows (Prugnat?).  Production had at some point moved from Birmingham to Potters Bar, North London (Hertfordshire), where Trusty had a plant.  By 1980 use of special, own branded components had entirely ceased.  

I have a 1981 catalogue in which the top of the range is one with a Shimano Dura Ace group set.  I’ve never seen one of these.  Second was probably the Viscount Aerospace 600ax, with the Shimano 600ax gruppo.  Just below that must have been the 600ex (you can guess what that came with).  I have one of these and gorgeous it is too.  

Then there were a number of variations around the Viscount Aerospace 400 theme.  It may be that they were intended to use the Shimano 400 components, but my 400 came with a 600 rear derailleur, Dura Ace front mech, Weinmann brakes and SR chainset.  Incidentally Zeus Olimpic 64 pedals were used on lots of Viscount Aerospace bikes, irrespective of the other bits used.  But I am digressing into components.

Despite successes in various races and being named as bicycle of the year in 1980, the marque seems to have disappeared completely by 1982 or 1983.

There is a group on Flickr for photographs of Lambert, Viscount and Trusty bikes.

Saturday, 22 January 2011

History Part 1

Although there are several sources on the Internet, the hisory of Lambert and Viscount bikes is anything but clear. A friend of mine is piecing together information from original sources - people who made the bikes, road on the works teams, dealers and early buyers. If you have any facts about the history of the marque, I would be glad to relay them. See some comments on the CTC forum here. It seems that Lambert bikes was a project to produce high quality lightweight bikes much cheaper than those offered by established builders. It was apparently headed by the son of the founder of the Marriot hotel chain, but manufactured its bikes in England. It may have been associated with a revival of the Viking name, the original company having closed in 1967, since some early Lamberts were badged as Vikings. See the Classic Rendezvous site. The first Lamberts seem to have appeared in 1972, using a rather nice lugged frame. Here are some photographs of a frame of one of these I own. It is a gold plated Professional Grand Prix.

An important aspect of the bikes was the use of 'aerospace' tubing for the frame. This is a chromium-molybdenum (cro-moly) steel alloy but not one produced by an established bicycle tube manufacturer like Reynolds or Columbus. It seems to have come from a British company called Phoenix. Although straight gauge (not butted) it produced light frames and was used for the top-of-the range Viscount bikes until the end of that company. Lambert frames carried stickers extolling the virtues of the tubing. Also very obvious on the Lambert bikes was the extensive use of alloy components specially made for the bike, rather than bits from the established component manufacturers. Various theories have been advanced for this and the unusual steel used for the frame. These include: the design team was made up of cycling enthusiasts, determined to produce their ideal bike; there were lots were ex-aircraft engineers in the company, perhaps from cancelled UK projects like the BAC TSR2 bomber (stopped in 1965); and (!) they were all crooks. I think the last can be safely discounted. The components are so interesting that I will blog about them separately. At some point production changed over to a fillet brazed (lugless) frame. This was not a new technique, but such frames are more difficult to produce to a high standard than a standard lugged frame and this must have been one of the few uses of the method at the time on a mass-production scale. Apart from the appearance if it is done well (not to everyone's taste I know), it has some advantage in lightness and strength. Despite what seem to have been quite healthy sales in the US (where most Lambert bikes come up for sale these days), the company got into trouble and after a couple of years it was re-born as Viscount. Which is a good place to stop for now. Keep pedalling!

Thursday, 20 January 2011

Early recollections

I fell in love with Viscount bikes when I was at college in the late 1970s. A friend had a red Viscount Aerospace Sport with fillet brazed frame. It seemed beyond cool. At the time I had an ancient and nameless British lightweight with a pull chain rear derailleur and a suicide lever front derailleur. When I could afford it, in 1981, I went to buy a bike like my friend's but found that Viscount had discontinued the fillet brazed frames, so I bought a blue Viscount Aerospace 400. This had a nicely lugged 'Aerospace' frame. It cost about two hundred pounds, which was quite a lot then but I guess less than a traditional high quality lightweight. I still have this bike although the frame has cracked across the bottom bracket and I have used the components on other bikes. This picture shows the 400 in its original glory.