24 April 2016

Crystal-Clear: Aurumania Is Expensive!

When I first started reading Bicycling magazine--about four decades ago!--Lambert of England was advertising a 24-karat gold-plated "Professional" bicycle.  It went for the princely sum of $279.88.

Apart from the gold plating, this, erm, model was interesting in other ways.  For one thing, it was filet-brazed:  that is to say, constructed without lugs.  The joints were built up with brass solder and brazed at a low temperature.  While Lambert was not to employ this method of construction, it was one of the few to do so--and, apart from the Schwinn Sports Tourer (which later became the Superior), one of the few high-quality mass-production bikes to feature it.

As for the frame material--it was called "aircraft tubing" but was just straight-gauge chrome-molybdenum steel.  Plenty of moderately-priced bikes have used it, but it was nothing unusual.  The forks, however, were often called the "death fork", as a number of them broke.

Most of the bike's components were made in-house and patterned after other well-known parts of the time. So, for example, their centerpull brakes looked like Weinmann Vainqueurs and the cranks resembled those of TA.  However, some of those parts had their own proprietary specifications.  As an example, the bottom bracket--probably the worst part of the bike--had an axle that didn't taper, so the cranks had a habit of working loose and getting gouged.   Also, the threadless bottom bracket assembly was held into the shell with circlips and was not interchangeable with other setups.  So, when the crank (or simply the bottom bracket) had to be replaced, the frame's bottom bracket shell had to be tapped to accept standard bottom brackets.

But, oh, that gold-plated frame!  At the time those Lamberts were made, the price of gold had risen from $35 to $58 per ounce.  As of this writing, the going price is $1236.  I wonder whether it would be possible to simply take off the gold plating and melting it down.

If I am thinking that way, I am obviously not in the market for a bicycle that was produced a few years ago.  It, too, is gold-plated--not just in the frame, but on all of the major parts, including the cranks, hubs and rims.  As near as I can tell, the parts are standard:  the sort of stuff you'd find on fixed-gear bikes today.  And the Brooks saddle and hand-sewn leather handlebar covers are the brown, just like the ones you can buy in your neighborhood shop.  They sure look good with the gold frame.

But perhaps the most striking part of the bike is the headlugs.  Adorned with 600 Swarovski crystals, they wrap like glittery necklaces and bracelets around the frame's headtube, top tube and down tube.

The bike, created by Aurumania, was made in very limited quantities--ten or fifty, depending on whom you believe.  If the latter numer is true, then you have to buy the wall rack that goes with the bike.  You're not going to prop the bike against your carved mahogany door, are you?

And let us not forget the Campagnolo gold-plated corkscrew you'll need to celebrate your new bike  After all, you're not going to use something you found in Bed Bath and Beyond to pop open that bottle of Romanee-Conti Grand Cru you're going to drink in celebration, are you?


  1. Aerospace tubing,heehee. That one always tickles me. It also makes me feel better to know that some of the plebian grade Schwinns and Raleighs I've ridden over the years were "aerospace quality". There was a Viscount for sale on CL Chicago this past winter. I actually considered buying it just to have a copy of the Death Fork. Some people get a thrill out of owning dangerous pets.

  2. Sheldon Brown had some very choice words about the Lambert/Viscount BSO.


  3. I bought a Viscount when my bike got nicked. It cost less than I had in the bank, had fancy lugless frame joints which nobody had seen before and came in a sparkly blue finish. Thankfully I could not afford the death fork but sadly the steel chromed option feel completely lifeless. It is still in the garage and was the winter get to work bike for many years.

    On the bright side it did spur me on to build up another "good" bike which still runs much like new nearly forty years on.

  4. Phillip--So which is worse: a kid's bike that pretends to be a car or motorcycle, or a bike made from gaspipe tubing that pretends to have anything to do with spacecraft

    Mike--I've seen that page. As usual, Sheldon is spot-on.

    Coline--Getting rid of the "death fork" might well be the best thing Viscount did.

    Isn't it funny how many things we buy--especially when we're young--because "it cost less than I had in the bank"? I love it!

  5. Salesmen always try to sell the sizzle not the steak. I guess it's no different in the bike biz. Getting mad at salesmen for trying to sell things is like getting mad at lions for not being vegan. Grant Peterson tried the straightforward honest approach during his time at Bridgestone and I loved it but where are they now. I suppose if the customer is happy it's all good. As a kid I had a Schwinn stingray with the five speed shifter. I loved that bike and was heartbroken when it was later stolen. Although looking back now I realise it wasn't a very good bike. The Lambert/Viscounts were not bad bikes(well except for the aforementioned fork) it's just that they weren't as special as their adcopy suggested. Most people who bought'em couldn't have cared less.

  6. Phillip--I think that Bridgestone, when Grant was working for them, was what Lambert/Viscount could have been. Of course, both marques beg the question of how long any business can survive by simply offering a solid product, without bells and whistles, at a fair price.