Mid-Life Cycling

Mid-Life Cycling

25 July 2013

Splitting Vintage

Every once in a while, I'll walk by a seemingly-ordinary bicycle parked somewhere or another and, without knowing why, turn back to look at it.

That's what happened today at a local library branch.  This is the bike that made me backtrack:

At first glance, it seems like one of the current Merciers.  Not a bad bike, but nothing exceptional:  The welded Reynolds 520 frame sports a combination of inexpensive but functional components.  And the color and trim are rather nice but, again, not exceptional.

However, I noticed an interesting little detail upon looking at the bike for the second time:

The model name is "Galaxy."  Why would I notice something like that?

Well, as far as I know, when Merciers were built in France, there was never a "Galaxy" model.  However, another bike-builder--in England--offered a "Galaxy" model:

Dawes was a family-owned bicycle manufacturer based in Birmingham--the center of the British cycle industry--for nearly a century.  They were known mainly for their touring models; the Galaxy was billed as one of the least expensive stock (what the Brits call "off the peg") quality touring models available.

In materials, design and construction, it was very similar to the Raleigh Super Course, though the frame workmanship, in my opinion, tended to be a little better on the Galaxy.  Also, the Galaxy had, if I'm not mistaken, a somewhat longer wheelbase than the Super Course.

While not as popular as Raleigh in the US, many new American cyclists early in the 1970's "bike boom" bought a Dawes Galaxy as their first "serious" bike.  More than a few were outfitted with racks, full fenders (They came with useless half-fenders.) and lights and ridden on the Bikecentennial.  

What's interesting is that Dawes and Mercier--like Windsor--were bike brands that had somewhat-more-than-modest popularity in the US during that time. Now Chinese- and Taiwanese-made bikes bearing all three of those brands--as well as the hugely popular Motobecane--are sold on the Internet.  

Bikes sold under those brands in the US have no connection to the original manufacturers, which no longer make bikes in the countries in which they were founded.  Mercier, which had a successful racing team, went bankrupt in 1985; the same fate befell Motobecane, which became MBK and now manufactures motor scooters.  Windsor used to build bikes in Mexico based on European designs; its "Profesional" (note the Spanish spelling) was a knockoff of a Cinelli racing bike.  Eddy Mercx rode a Colnago bike bearing Windsor decals when he set the one-hour distance record in Mexico City in 1972.

So Dawes is the only one of those bike brands sold on the Internet whose original namesake company still exists. (Dawes bikes in the UK are sold by dealers and aren't the same as the ones in the US.) It's thus ironic to see the name of one of the most popular models in its history appropriated by a "ghost" bike label--that was based in France, no less!

Dawes Galaxy Road Test in Bicycling, May 1969



  1. As you note, Dawes still exists—in England. And they still make the Galaxy, and variants (such as the Ultra Galaxy) as touring bikes. Their web page for the 2013 Galaxy is http://www.dawescycles.com/p-791-galaxy.aspx

    But, as you say, you need to give custom to an LBS in the UK to get one. They're still well regarded over there from what I've heard. Dawes sold the rights to the name in the US to someone that takes random bikes and slaps the Dawes label on them and sells them over the net. They don't even try to mimic the range of models that the real Dawes has.

  2. Ailish--From what I've read on UK websites and magazines, Dawes bikes are still well-respected, as you say. But although they're not made in the UK, they're not the same as (probably better than) the bikes sold under the same name in the US.