06 November 2014

The End Of A Legend: R.I.P. Jack Taylor

Last week, I wrote a post about a Jack Taylor "Rough Stuff" bicycle designed in the 1950s and built, apparently, during the 1970s.

Jack Taylor (l) with brothers Ken and Norman

Well, the man whose name that bike bore died on Sunday.  Jack Taylor, who started building bicycles as a teenager in 1936.  At the time, he raced in the then-vibrant club racing scene in his native England.  According to legend (who started it, I don't know), he admired some high-end equipment but couldn't afford it.  So he set out to making it himself.

In the beginning, his friends Lance Bell and Jack Hood helped him.  At the end of the war, in 1945, his brothers Ken and Norman joined him to form Jack  Taylor Cycles.  Interestingly, Norman would come to be the actual frame-builder and Ken would build wheels, assemble the bikes and box them for shipping.  On each of those boxes--many of which went to the USA--Ken wrote, "Have a nice ride".  If I were a collector, I'd probably want one of those boxes almost as much as I'd want one of their bikes!

Jack, however, was the one who ensured you could tell a Jack Taylor--whether a racing, touring or "rough stuff" bike, or a tandem--from any other.  He's the one who gave the bikes their beautiful paint finishes and the box pinstriping that became his "signature", if you will.

That Jack Taylor stood out in a time and country with so many first-rate bike builders is a testament to, not only his (and his brothers') workmanship, but the ride and designs of their bikes.  They used geometries and configurations (such as curved seat tubes) that were previously all but unknown.  Among those configurations is the "Rough Stuff" frame I showed in my earlier post:  It has most of the major design elements of a modern mountain bike (high bottom bracket, sloping top tube, smaller-than-700C wheels) but was designed two decades before Gary Fisher, Joe Breeze, Keith Bontrager and the mountain-bike pioneers started barreling down Marin County fire trails on old Schwinn balloon-tired bombers.

Perhaps the most interesting Jack Taylor bikes--and the ones for which he is most renowned--are his touring bikes and tandems.  Those bikes are also the reason why JT was often called "the most French" of English bike builders.  The features that made them so well-suited to their purposes were adapted from constructeurs like Rene Herse, Alex Singer and Goeland:  frame geometries, integrated racks and fenders, oversized headsets and down tubes and brazed-on cantilever brakes, which hadn't been used much in England before JT started using them.

Many Taylor bikes (of all kinds) were also built without lugs in a technique called "filet brazing" or "bronze welding" which made the frames look as if they were sculpted from one piece of metal and polished.  (My  old Land Shark was constructed that way.)  Jack admitted that, as much as it made some of his bikes look as if they were built by one of the constructeurs, he did it because lugs and some other materials were scarce during the years just after the war.  However, even after he had an easier time finding the lugs he liked, he continued to make many of his bikes without them. Sometimes customers preferred them that way. But, more important, it allowed for greater flexibility in design:  an especially important point when building tandems.

Just about all Jack Taylors were built from Reynolds 531 tubing.  Jack developed a close relationship with the company.  For one thing, it guaranteed his supply.  But more important, it meant that Reynolds would make variations on their tubing--such as the curved and oversized tubes--to suit Taylors' unique designs.  In fact, Reynolds made some configurations of their tubing for Jack Taylor an no one else.

Jack retired in 1990, but Norman--who died six years ago at the age of 84--continued to build frames for another decade or so.  They had the same build quality as the older bikes, but because the paint and finish work was outsourced, they did not have the unique, distinctive beauty of the earlier bikes.

So goes another legend of the cycling world.  You can read another tribute (possibly better than mine) on a favorite blog of mine:  The Retrogrouch.


  1. I'd say your tribute is every bit as good as mine. Thanks, Justine!

  2. Retro--Keep on talking like that and you'll have to take the "grouch" off your blog' title. ;-) Thanks!

  3. My father was Jack Hood who started building frames with the Taylors. I grew up hanging around the Taylor workshop and had a number of bike rides with all of the Taylor brothers. My father was killed 10 years ago while riding his bike. He and I built frames together for years with frame building materials provided by Jack. I did not know that he had died. Sad day.

  4. Anon--Thank you for sharing your story. It's an honor to hear from someone like you who was even associated with such a legend as Jack Taylor. I am sorry about the way your father died. But it sounds like you shared some really good times with him.