Roberts Cycles

Roberta has just returned from her annual visit to Roberts Cycles for a service and general tune up. I sometimes think I should do more of this myself but there's no denying that, although I might achieve a reasonable competence, I am never going to reach the level of expertise displayed by the guys at Roberts. This year I knew that I needed a new headset and there is no way I'm going to tackle that one myself! We always take the train to East Croydon, drop off my bike (its only 5 minutes by bike from the station to Roberts Cycles) and then spend the rest of the day enjoying the sights of London. An evening at the theatre follows, then more sightseeing/shopping before picking my bike up late Saturday afternoon and catching the train home.

Roberts Cycles 004

Gloucester Road doesn't look like the home of the Rolls Royce of bicycles. Its an uninspiring mixture of terraced houses and light industrial units and you can't see the shop until you are right outside it. Roberts is not a general cycle shop, they don't sell spares and the showroom is usually unattended while the work goes on upstairs and out the back. Ringing the bell gains admittance to a small room full of beautiful bikes. I could happily sit in there for hours just admiring them!

Roberts Cycles 002

I'd booked my bike in on the phone a month or so ago and I was amazed that Brian, the mechanic, remembered my bike perfectly from the last time I brought it in. I knew I needed new bearings in my headset but unfortunately the manufacturer had stopped making replacement bearings and so I needed a complete new headset. I'd done my homework and decided to blow lots of money on a Chris King. They come with a 10 year guarantee and as the saying goes 'nothing says bling like Chris King!' I'd almost bought one on the internet but realising that bike shops need the profit that they can make on components I asked Brian to order one for me. It was then that I realised that Brian knows my bike better than I do! He pointed out that my headset has 2 spacers. I hadn't realised this, I thought they were integral to it. Chris King headsets, he told me, won't take spacers. If I had bought this myself, or worse still tried to fit it myself, I would have got into a terrible mess and wasted a great deal of money. We settled instead for a Stronglight one at a fraction of the price. Last year Brian overhauled my ergo levers. I had thought of trying this myself until I looked at the exploded diagram of all the tiny parts! He found a tiny washer that had cracked. Even if I had noticed this I would have had no idea where to get a replacement. A new lever would have been very expensive.

So Roberta was left with all the other shiny Roberts bikes and I went off to enjoy the fleshpots of London. A phone call on Saturday asked if I could leave it as late as possible before collecting her as they had been extremely busy and would be still working long after they officially closed at 4.00 pm. When I returned Chas Roberts was busy taking an order for a tandem. The husband was obviously dead keen but the wife seemed rather less so. He was clearly tempted by the £350 Phil Wood hub but his wife made it clear that she was quite happy with the £125 version that Chas had said would be fine for their purposes!

Roberts Cycles 001 Chas Roberts (back to camera) discussing tandems

Please excuse the composition of this photograph. It was taken in a confined space (thats my excuse!), just ignore the half of Dennis' head in the corner! It shows Roberta's new bar tape rather well though!

So, a new headset, all cabling (inner and outer) replaced, new bar tape and new bearings in my jockey wheels. Everything checked, adjusted and given a clean bill of health. Roberta now purrs along. Gear changes are silky smooth. I hadn't felt that they were particularly rough but they certainly feel much better now. I enjoy doing some of my own maintenance but I also enjoy leaving some things to the experts!

Roberts Cycles 003 Brian working out my bill. Not much more than the price of that Chris King headset I wanted!

26 comments on “Roberts Cycles”

  1. Patrick wrote:

    Hilary wrote: ... enjoying the sights of London. An evening at the theatre follows, then more sightseeing/shopping ...

    'Nuff said!

    If I was buying a new touring bike it would be a Roberts, in gunmetal grey. I'd have just the frame though (not lugged) and try to build the rest myself. Speaking of Rolls Royce, they are one of the biggest employers in Barnoldswick (in Lancashire) and Hope Technology is also based there – they make good headsets, hubs, bottom brackets etc.

    The jockey wheels: what sort of bearings are they that need replacement? When I took mine apart they were just ceramic-type bearings.

    That's lovely bar tape, but next year Hilary, you must be bold and take a full frontal of Chas Roberts (and swing the camera round to the left a bit).

  2. Hilary wrote:

    Patrick wrote

    what sort of bearings are they that need replacement?

    If I knew that I wouldn't need someone else to do it for me! :)
    Actually I was wrong there. They were replaced last year, this year they were just regreased.

    I'm afraid the photos were taken rather hastily – they were busy and I was a bit embarassed doing it, altho they said it was fine.

    What's the attraction of gun metal grey? I know they build the Roughstuff in subdued colours so they don't stand out so much in the type of countries where they are likely to be ridden. It didn't work for Ann Wilson's bike though!

    I hadn't realised Hope Technology is based in Barnoldswick. Why? bike has Hope hubs and very nice they look too!

  3. Patrick wrote:

    I replaced the jockey wheels on my tourer last year as planned maintenance. But I doubt if they wear very much as all they do is feed the slack end of the chain through the derailleur. The new ones didn't seem to contain any grease and the old ones didn't seem worn – that is why I asked. Do ceramic bearings need grease? No idea!

    Gunmetal grey: I like grey for bikes. Or black, or silver. Cars as well. I can also see why people enjoy bright colours.

  4. Kern wrote:

    It's a pleasure to read about a custom shop that supports itself. Hopefully you didn't blow your budget in London's fleshpots and were able to pay for the fancy tape! :)

  5. Keith Edwards wrote:

    Lovely tale and a lovely bike, unfortunately out of my price range.

  6. Patrick wrote:

    Well, Keith, we can still drool at the fine craftsmanship (from the Roberts Cycles Flickr sets).

  7. Keith Edwards wrote:

    I was doing enough drooling at the pictures above. I can not afford or justify another bike.

  8. Patrick wrote:

    Me neither (another bike). Thanks for your suggestion on the canisters BTW. It seems resealable ones are easily available in the Netherlands.

  9. Garry wrote:

    Two of the people on my Lejog last year, a couple, had fabulous Roberts Rohloff hubbed bikes. You'll see pictures of them on my Lejog account.
    I do nearly all my own maintenance as due to the job I had, I never had the time during the day to take my bike to a shop, so I just did it in my spare time. I also learnt to build wheels and build most of my own. It's a tedious business, building a wheel, but when you get it right it's hellishly satisfying!!

  10. Mary wrote:

    Ah, the Rohloff, Im in the process of selling mine if you happen to know anyone who would like a Rohloff Van Nichol Amazon....

    HOW lucky are you to have a frame builder not too far from where you live Hilary. Roberta looks very much at home. Is metallic grey a boys colour do you think? Chas likes the colour of my winter bike – basically a silver base metal... Me, I want colour, lots and lots of it. Roberta is splendid and she suits her usually bright sky blue back ground of summer.

    Dont knock your self when it comes to self maintenance on your bicycle Hilary, I have just bought myself my first naked bike frame having been inspired by several people – you being one of them, and will shortly be embarking on a bike building project to learn how to use my tool box properly, and to learn the understanding of how a bike works. (Under hubby instruction I have to add....)

    I might finally get to understand what those gear ratios mean when I meet fellow cyclists who are of the male gender and like to ask what what gearing my bike is on.... (eyes try hard not to glaze over.... )

  11. Mary wrote:

    Hilary,

    How did you KNOW you needed a new headset? OR did Roberts pick up on this during Roberta's service?

  12. Hilary wrote:

    Mary wrote

    How did you KNOW you needed a new headset?

    I'd like to be able to claim that I worked this out for myself but no, last time she was serviced they said that she would need one next time!

    I like your idea of getting a frame and building it up as a way to learn bike mechanics. It avoids that horrible feeling that you are going to wreck something that was OK until you took a spanner/allen key to it! I think it would also help a lot to have a dedicated workspace, taking over the kitchen for bike maintenance isn't really a very good idea! It also never seems quite as simple as it first appears. I bought a Shimano tool so I could remove the axles from my pedals and service them myself. Tool cost less than £3 but then I discover you are meant to hold it in a vice. Sadly I seem to be lacking a workbench with suitable vice!

  13. Paul wrote:

    Hi, came across this when searching for headset spacers! I have a Chris King '2nut' headset, just awaiting my new frame to fit it to.... They do accept spacers. It's the 'GripNut' version that does not. The 'GripNut' can be used on forks with steerer's that have been cut too short or with damaged threads I believe. Info here:

    http://chrisking.com/headsets/hds_2nut

  14. M D wrote:

    Just received my Chas Roberts Light Touring bike. Thought it worth sharing a few notes on the process so those thinking of ordering have some reference points. Hope it helps anybody considering an order – intended to be factual not emotive and your experience may vary, better or worse.

    Ordered pre-Christmas and was warned that there is a Christmas rush (starts in October) so bike would be delayed. Not a problem for me as I said I was happy as long as it was ready by April – received it in March.

    Fitting process started with a conversation about what I wanted from a bike and how I intended to use the new bicycle. Took about an hour and covered bars, seatpost, rack, security, brakes / gears, spokes, hubs and pedals.

    My background is in MTBs (96 Merlin, Hope, Pace, XTR / XT and Synchros). I went from this to light touring and the bike was to be used for credit card touring in Europe. SPD pedals, Ti Flite, Chris King Headset were my must haves going in. Chas did not discuss the frame – he trusted his measurements and stated he would mix Reynolds and Columbus to get the right feel. Tricky point was accomodatting large feet while retaining a sporty feel to the frame.

    Bar and Rack were 'impossed' politely. Asked for a Blackburn but was told that things had moved on. Final kit is fine and was shown examples of all parts in the shop.

    Received an outline list of kit and costs after about 3 weeks. Phoned the shop and changed a couple of parts – less Titanium, more Royce. No communication for 6 weeks and called the shop to ask on progress. Asked to call back in a couple of weeks. Eventually linked up with them (no email is annoying) and they said the bike would be ready on the following week. Very happy.

    Collection process walked me through the parts and advised on maintenance. Took about 20 minutes then on my way. Nice point was that all instruction leaflets for the components were handed over.

    Bike is ugly but does hit the design brief. Only slight niggle discovered so far is that the left hand bar tape is a bit loose.

  15. Kern wrote:

    Bike is ugly

    I'll bite: How do you define an ugly bike?

  16. Hilary wrote:

    Kern wrote

    I'll bite: How do you define an ugly bike?

    Yes, I was wondering that too, especially as Roberts bikes tend to be a thing of beauty (and a joy forever). :)
    They have obviously got busier since I bought mine. I ordered it in early October 2006 and it was ready exactly 4 weeks later.
    I hope MD enjoys his as much as I enjoy mine.

  17. John (TheCyclist) wrote:

    Hi there,
    I was wondering if you have any contact information for Brian, the former mechanic & workshop manager of Roberts Cycles, at all? If you do, could you possibly send it to me, please?

    I'm asking because I bought what was probably the last Roughstuff that RobertsCycles ever made and would like maintenance & modifications carried out by the Brian, whom I know did, in part, built the bike, and certainly maintained and serviced it before they closed down.

    Many thanks for your cooperation.

  18. Patrick wrote:

    I don't know the answer (Hilary might) but as a general comment here is more information about Roberts Cycles sabbatical (on road.cc) »

  19. Hilary wrote:

    I'm afraid I don't know where Brian (Phillips) has gone to either. He used to maintain my Roberts for me and is sorely missed! The only person I have come across who may know is Winston Vaz who was a frame builder at Roberts and is now running Varonha frameworks
    http://www.varonha.co.uk/
    There was a chap on the CTC forum trying to track down Brian a few months ago, was that you? If you do manage to find him please let me know.

  20. John (TheCyclist) wrote:

    Hi Patrick & Hilary,
    Wow! Those were two very quick responses. Thank you. :) It may have been, I can't remember anymore. If I do find him, I shall be sure to let you know. :)

    I do know that my Roughstuff was the very last bicycle they ever serviced, as I was watching him do so while the premises were being vacated. :(

    Kind regards,

    John

  21. John (TheCyclist) wrote:

    Just spoke to Brian today. He said that details would be on the Robertsycles website in due course about his location, contact info, etc.

  22. Hilary wrote:

    That's great news. How did you finally track him down?

  23. John (TheCylist) wrote:

    Did as you suggested. :) The person said he would pass my name on and see what happened. 'It' happened. Brian's been taking it easy for a while, but is now looking for suitable premises. He has asked me not to give his number out, for the time being.

    I shall keep you updated with progress, though.

    Incidentally, what Roberts bike do you have, Hilary?

  24. Hilary wrote:

    Glad to hear my suggestion worked (they don't usually!).
    I've got a Roberts women's Compact Audax and I love it! I've done over 70,000 miles on it and it still looks new.

  25. irene north wrote:

    Hi Brian, I have heard by the grapevine that you are up and running at servicing the bikes again. Would like to know where you are??

    Best wishes to you

    Irene

  26. Hilary wrote:

    Hi Irene
    Contact details for Brian can now be found on the Roberts website http://www.robertscycles.com

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