A Fifties Revival – F C Parkes Cote d'Or

I think you know by now that I can't resist anything pertaining to cycling history. Books, magazines, maps are avidly collected. It could only be a matter of time until an old bike joined the collection. Well, time and getting the shed roof fixed so that I have somewhere to keep it. I'd been looking on Ebay for quite a while but all the real vintage classics – Hetchins, Bates, Ephgrave, Jack Taylor went for far more than I could afford. Then this one caught my eye, an F C Parkes from the 1950s with all its original kit, even the John Bull Safety Speed tyres.

F C Parkes rebuild 011

I knew nothing about F C Parkes and so set about searching the internet to find out. Basically Parkes was head of Sun Cycles in Birmingham who made some classy lightweights from 1930s to late 1950s before they were eventually taken over by Raleigh. Some of their better bikes were also sold under the F C Parkes name. Beyond that there was precious little information available. However my membership of the Veteran Cycle Club allows free access to the National Cycle Collection online library and they had a Parkes catalogue listed. Unfortunately it had not yet been scanned in, but Ray Miller, the librarian, kindly scanned it in especially for me. It didn't list my particular model but it did give some interesting information.

001

This confirmed that it was indeed a decent bike and I knew I just had to have it! I also knew it was really much too big for me but then I only wanted it as a period piece, not as a bike for riding long distances. Later, further enquiries to the VCC marque enthusiast, Peter Cowan, yielded a catalogue scan of my particular model. The sharp eyed might notice that the picture is actually of a different model, the Scirroco, but the details are the correct ones for the Cote d'Or.

IMG[1]

I put my bid in and waited impatiently for the auction to end. Great news! It sold for £20 less than my maximum bid. I now waited for the day when the big box would arrive. A few days later I staggered up to the shed clutching a huge box, anxious to see exactly what I had bought. A cartoon in the latest issue of Boneshaker magazine describes this moment perfectly.

001

I had a huge pile of bits of bicycle. Now all I had to do was put it back together!

F C Parkes rebuild 001

I immediately hit on a snag – all the bolts are imperial and all my spanners are metric so none would fit! I did however have an old raleigh type multi spanner that fitted most things and an adjustable spanner that would just about fit the rest. First purchase – an imperial spanner set. I was most worried about reattaching the chain ring and crank. I'd never had anything to do with cotter pins and the instructions in my collection of old books for using a hammer and a block of wood seemed rather complex. To my surprise it all went very smoothly. Actually hitting things with a hammer is probably my sort of maintenance! An unexpected difficulty was fitting the rear wheel. No matter how hard I tried it always ended up cock eyed. I solved it eventually by removing the frame from the stand and putting it upside down on the floor. That way gravity was working with me rather than needing 3 hands to hold it in place, keep it centred and tighten the nuts! It was starting to come together.

F C Parkes rebuild 003

The next major problem was the derailleur, a Benelux 5 speed and unlike anything I have ever seen before. The gear hanger was just held on by the axle nuts but I couldn't seem to position it so that there was any tension on the chain. The gear just hung there with the chain drooping miserably. I scoured the internet for information. Benelux gears only move in one plane – towards or away from the frame, they don't move towards the chainring like modern derailleurs. This was becoming an exercise in problem solving. The Ebay listing had included a close up of the derailleur so I printed it off and took it up to the shed for reference. It wasn't lined up quite the same but I still couldn't work out what to do about it. I tried turning the derailleur through 360 degrees on its hanger. This made it worse. I turned it back and then through 360 degrees the other way. Eureka! A tight chain. It even changed through all the gears. You'd hardly call it snappy, but then it is older than me!

F C Parkes 6F C Parkes 2
F C Parkes 4F C Parkes 7

I worked my way through, polishing each component before assembling it. I admit it would have been sensible to take the bottom bracket out while I had the crank off but I'm afraid I was too impatient to get it built up again. Its all shined up beautifully. The paint on the frame has obviously got plenty of chips and scrapes but there is no rust and with a bit of polish the paint still gleams. The down tube is beautiful with the contrast panels, the world championship stripes and the olympic rings. A large transfer anounces that the frame is built with EUUT quality tubing. I don't know anything about this but presume its not as good as 531. Its quite light though and the pedals are considerably lighter than my SPDs. One thing that is definitely not light is the Wrights Olympic saddle. Together with the seatpost it weighs over 2 lbs!

F C Parkes rebuild 006 The finished masterpiece

I've taken it for a couple of short test rides. Its not a bike for the hills, the gearing is very high and the brakes are dreadful! There is also an issue with the headset – no matter what I do I can't get rid of the play in it. I'm going to have to consult an expert, an older clubmate who used to own a bike shop should be the very man. That apart it rides well and I love the fact that every single component says 'Made in England'. Its a great piece of cycling history – 2 years older than me!

35 comments on “A Fifties Revival – F C Parkes Cote d'Or”

  1. Alan wrote:

    Lovely bike. Gorgeous lugs! It needs a period pump to slot under the top tube.

    And the woodwork on each side of your garage door could use some attention. (Tee hee, I'm glad you can't see the state of my garage.)

  2. Mick F wrote:

    What a lovely bike, and it must be a treat to ride. The nuts and bolts won't be just "Imperial", they will be "bicycle thread". One of the best things that's happened the bicycles over the years is the going over to metric standardisation.

    Jockey wheel tension nowadays is adjustable with a screw, but on some older units they had two or three hooks to fit the return spring into to have different tensions. You have to pre-load the spring first of course. Glad you sorted it out, I bet it was obvious what the problem was when you sussed it!

    Great stuff!
    Mick.

  3. Hilary wrote:

    Glad you like it.
    Alan wrote

    It needs a period pump to slot under the top tube.

    Indeed it does, I'm on the look out for one.

    As for the garage, that's actually next door's. Ours is worse! :)

    I didn't know there was such a thing as 'bicycle thread'. That explains why my shiny new Imperial spanners still don't fit very well!

  4. Chris wrote:

    I think the 'bicycle thread' refers to the number of threads per inch (TPI) that are found on the actual thread of, say, the bolt rather than just the imperial measurement of the bolt head. (I've been reading about this as it happens because I've been putting off replacing my external bottom bracket cartridge – 68mm English thread with 24 TPI – and reading about means I another day will pass before I do anything about it. I've had the replacement bottom bracket cartridge since Christmas!)

    I remember my granddad had spanners marked 'Whitworth' and 'AF', which he told me meant 'across flats', if I remember correctly.

    Yes I do like the look of your 'new' bike. Right down to the mudguards that match the contrast panels on the head tube and seat tube. Very nice. Do you think you will get on with that saddle, though? 😮

  5. Mick F wrote:

    Yes, the TPI count was different for bicycles as was the "across flats" on the nuts too.

    As a kid of thirteen, I saved up for a flashy set of spanners I'd seen in the window of the local Halfords. They were all Imperial AF sizes and I was SO disappointed that most of them wouldn't fit my bike! It was only then that I heard of "Bicycle Thread".

    BTW, I still have those spanners!

    Mick.

  6. Keith Edwards wrote:

    I think you will find the old Whitworth or BA spanners will fit. In the 1950's these were the type used in this country, AF or American Fine as was named then were not introduced for a good few years.
    These are not produced new so only available secondhand.
    If you purchase metric spanners in the not common sizes eg 16mm you might get a reasonable fit.
    From 14mm down it is usual to go best fit using either metric or Imperial.
    If you go to a really really good engineers shop or boot fair you might just find some Whitworth ones.

  7. Kern wrote:

    "... its character began to wake ..." – what a great line.

    Cote d'Or looks like a very specimen, Hilary. Her previous owner must have taken great care of her – she gleams as if new.

  8. Patrick wrote:

    My cousin's husband, (Jimmy) who was with us at the weekend, had a bike frame and forks resprayed by Argos Racing Cycles complete with the original maker's decals. They did a lovely job. Argos has a good reputation for frame restoration. Not suggesting your frame needs a repaint but maybe worth knowing for the future.

  9. Mr T. Davies wrote:

    My first racing bike was a Sun Parkes. I bought it in 1955, at a time when all my peers were buying Dawes bikes. I was 13 at the time & in my spare time, holidays etc, I worked in my local cycle shop helping out with repairs, punctures etc. I bought the bike out of the money I earned there. I used it for many years, eventually replacing it with something newer, & I eventually gave it away.
    Mine was a 5 gear benelux derailleur with a "double clanger", which gave a dubious 10 gears.

  10. DAVE HAYMAN wrote:

    This site is a Fantastic find for me

    I had an FC Parkes in the late 40's and rode my first 25TT on it on the F3 Century Road Clubs novice 25 TT at Waterford. (If I remember the details correctly), in the rain I might add.

    Just looking at your site brought back such lovely memories for me. Its a great joy to dream of yesteryear.

    Would loved to have ridden it.

  11. Hilary wrote:

    So glad you enjoyed it. Its always good to hear comments from people who rode a Parkes years ago.

  12. Ted Murat wrote:

    Just found this website, and thrilled.
    This week I have had my F C Parkes revamped with mostly new equipment retaining the original 1953 Brookes B17 saddle.
    All my racing was done on this machine and when I heard about a 10 mile time trial was to be held on the course that I had done a personal best just 50 years ealier I had to give it a go. I was happy to be only 8 minutes slower.

  13. Hilary wrote:

    Hi Ted
    Glad to hear you're still enjoying your F C Parkes.
    Only 8 minutes slower after 50 years is a great achievement, well done!

  14. Ian Hadley wrote:

    My very first lightweight was a Parkes Sirocco which I bought in 1958. I could not afford a Rory O'brien at the time but was more than content with the Parkes. I was a member of Romford Wheelers and rode my first '10' on the E3 in 27.12. It had a benelux 5 speed setup and a single Williams chainring. In the winter I took off the gear and the rear brake and rode fixed wheel as most clubmen in thoose days did. I sold it to Rory O'Brien for £3.10s in 1963. Wish I had kept it! Now that I have seen this one it makes me want to get hold of an original too.

  15. Ted Murat wrote:

    I chose my F C Parkes at the Earles Court cycle show in 1952. My Mum and Dad took me there many years because they owned a small cycle shop in Sheffield.
    I rode and raced with the Sheffield Sports CC until our second baby came along, then the Parkes took a back seat until I retired, now I'm riding it two or three times a week helped by very very low gears.
    It's nice that people out there remember the make, very few of my cycling friends have heard of the name.

  16. Dave Nothard wrote:

    After years of storage during which time the rubber of the tyres perished, I now find this web site just as I am about to (free) part with the machine that served me as a teenager in late 50s. I was foolish to replace one tyre with a solid one – it becomes too much of a bone-shaker. At one stage I had a "double-clanger"chainwheel so that I had ten gears but the change mechanism became temperamental, so it got swapped for a single. The only real disaster I had was once whilst looking down at the chainwheel, trickling along on a quiet side street, and ran into a stationary car. Forks bent back and even after trying to restore their curves, no longer was I able to ride hands-free. I was always quite proud of my Parkes Sirocco with its Reynolds 531 tubing, for it was certainly considered a lightweight despite having steel wheels. By rights I should have sought alloy wheels a long time ago.
    If anyone wants to take it off my hands now that I have retired .. feel free to contact.

  17. Tony banner wrote:

    Mum bought me an F.C Parkes, identical paintwork to the one featured, in about 1959/60. I couldnt reach the pedals to begin with but with a couple of 1inch blocks of wood fitted, we slipped into gear.

    I soon grew enough to dispense with the blocks and later raised the saddle once or twice. so, on my secondhand Parkes I won races all over Europe. It was (solo) races all over the local tip, actually, but when youre 10 years old you only need your imagination.

    Thanks for the photo—-salad days.

  18. Graham Westwood wrote:

    I still have my 1953 F C Parkes with Accles and Pollocks tubing I had all British fittings except for the Mansfield saddle and South of France handlebars the rest of the fittings have long gone. I paid £13 for the frame. I have a period pump.

  19. COLIN GRANT wrote:

    FC Parks,those were the days, my mum purchased mine from Buntings cycle shop in Watford for me in 1955, i think it was the basic bike, not the top of the range one, all she could afford, cherry red, three benelux gears, but to me it was the best bike in the world. i rode it far and hard, all the way to Germany on a school trip, fell of it showing off a few times to,i still have the scars to prove it to this day, the best looking girl in our village, Sarratt, used to ride on the cross bar, i hope its still out there somewhere. Colin Grant

  20. Dean mcdermott wrote:

    Hi. My wife has a parkes 531 tubing bike similar to above. We had it serviced recently. She now can't ride. If anyone's interested pls get in touch. It's in green. Deanjmcdermott@hotmail.com

  21. stephen pryke wrote:

    Hello all,
    I discovered this site while trying to research a bike I bought for £30. It's a Parkes racing cycle, well the frame & forks are, while everything else seems to have been upgraded or replaced. It's almost impossible to find pics to identify it so I'm hoping I can post some here & someone may be able to tell me what I have! I also suspect the present colour is not its original colour scheme. I also wondered if it's worth anything substantial, as I've been having to lock it in the city centre, which if valuable, is asking for heartbreak!

  22. george buckton wrote:

    I have an f.c.parkes (westbury) model frame number (rsv1765), I bought this from Cliff Pratts cycles in Kingston -upon Hull in 1953/4, I raced not very succesfully for many years, it had fixed wheel as I could'nt afford gears an 18 toothed sprockett on one side and a15 on the other, I rode to the race on the18 raced on the 15 then back home on the 18, it's been refurbished more than once,and now has a shimano 7 speed hub with hub brakes front and rear ,I find the weight penalty of the hub gears is worth it as I can change gear at a stop and low maintenance, frame and forks are powder coated in white with red stickers , I don't have any idea how many miles I have ridden on this trusty steed, but did many 100 mile Sunday rides and 50 mile training session in the evenings as well as using it to go to work on, now at the age of 75 I still enjoy my parkes though the rides are much shorter,it was origonally a 23 inch frame but as I grew older I found it to much of a stretch so i had it cut and welded to a 21 inch since none of my chldren are interested in the wonderfull sport of cycling I'm hopig to pass it on to a grandchild I hope you find my little story of some interest

  23. Hilary wrote:

    Thanks for sharing that with us George, its great to hear of bikes and their riders still going strong after 60 years! Your bike has certainly got some miles under its wheels.
    I didn't realise that you could have frames cut and welded back together like that. My Parkes is also 23" and much too big for me!

  24. George Buckton wrote:

    Dear Hilary, Thanks for your reply, in answer to your question, any competent engineer
    with gas welding skills should be able to cut your frame down. In my case two inches was taken out of the head set stem and the forks threaded down to the appropriate level. The saddle tube was also cut down two inches lower than where the saddle stem would go to, lastly the rear forks had two inches taken out above the brake and mudguard holder. These had to be over sleeved with short metal tubes with the same inside diameter as the rear frame tubes outside diameter, this I found was the maximum which could be taken out of my frame.
    Good luck and let me know if you manage it.

  25. Kern wrote:

    A good story. I like the 15-18 tooth gear swap.

  26. David Moore wrote:

    F C Parks Racing Tandem . I know how you feel. Last week my parcel arrived in Austria.
    A Parks pre war tandem . I am delighted . All original. Paint in excellent condition. It came from Scotland .

  27. Ben Parkes (No relation) wrote:

    Nice reading about FC & Co .

    My dad was a main agent for Sun & FC Parkes from the mid 30's onwards.

    I met Fred a number of times and his son Peter .. nice people .

    Had a Sun Wasp and then a Manx TT in my early/mid teens and had an FC when I did a few time trials when I was 17.

    I have Longstaff Trike at the moment, but its not been ridden for some years .. did end to end and back on it in the 80's

  28. Ben Parkes (No relation) wrote:

    Incidentally, in the works 'Wasp' was not pronounced 'wosp' .. it was rhymed with 'Asp' , .. it is the old midland dialect way of speaking.

  29. james harry allen wrote:

    We had a Parkes tandem in 1952, a pre war model, wonderful ride but the Resilion canti brakes didn't work too well on steel rims. Sold when babies arrived, no sidecars for my wife, baby too precious, money spent on a pram.

  30. Rod Allen wrote:

    Just considering, at over70, whether to purchase a hybrid, and have therefore been browsing the web on things cycling. Came across this one, and find a Parkes bike in the same colours as one I had in about 1956. Happy days

  31. Tony Radlett wrote:

    I have just found this site being curious about my Parkes Lightweight bike. I bought it as a wreck when at school and did it up, using it continuously on a high ratio fixed wheel for years. (I used to race it at weekends.) Later at Uni, I put on a shimano five speed set with a double clanger and am still using it today. That means 53 years of use: not bad for the original outlay of 7/6d !! (37p )

  32. jason caunt wrote:

    I was given a blue parkes lightweight serial number xssv3499 by my older cousin who had it new in the 50's. My dad had it stove enamelled bright orange! During my teenage years iIdid a few time trials and spent all my money replacing bits including cinelli bars and campag handlebar changers! Unfortunately it was stolen during my stay at Leeds University in the early 80's. Every now and then search the web for any more info on Parkes cycles and fortunately I have stumbled across this site. If there is anyone out there with my old orange Parkes I am more than happy to buy it back.Thanks

  33. Calvin wrote:

    Hi Hilary
    I came across your post only now 11-03-2016 only because I did a search for my old Bike FC Parkes of witch I still have, thanks for all the info. Looks like I did to go find it and dust it off.
    Cheers
    Calvin

  34. Paul paterson wrote:

    Re Jasoncaunts post an orange parks frame in poor condition was advertised on ebay
    Just the other week buy it now £40
    My father bought a blue fc parkesin 1950 for around 20 pounds as a member of Aberdeen paragon cc he cherished it for many years passing it on to my brother who had it stolen only to be hit by a car and that was the end of it in 1967ps I still have the3 speed cyclo derailour with cable and shifter

  35. Andy Aitken wrote:

    I have one of these Parkes Lightweight Specials and have got it running today after finally getting round to making a new centre spindle for the Cyclo Benelux gear set. It is still resplendent in original bright metallic yellow but not such good paintwork as shown on the example here. I've had it since I bought it at a Dumfries auction in 1973 for £15 as a thirteen year old. I always had to cycle because we lived out of town and I used to get everywhere very quickly but exhausted! ... having just taken it for a spin, with the benefit of age and comparison to other bikes I now realise why ... although it has five gears ...they are very high geared ... it's a phenomenal flying machine!

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