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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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F C Parkes 2
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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!

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!

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