| Jack Taylor passed away over the weekend. The cycling world has lost a true legend. We are huge fans of his work here at Via Bicycle. We offer our condolances to his family and friends in this difficult time. He will be missed. The following history is taken from Joel Metz’s Blackbird web page. The photo below is left to right: Jack, Ken, and Norman.
Jack Taylor Cycles was the framebuilding collaboration between the 3 Taylor brothers, Jack, Norman and Ken of Stockton-On-Tees, England. A range of frames for touring and racing was produced under the marque from 1936-2001, and they are considered by many to be the closest thing Britain has to a French-style “constructeur” a la Herse and Singer etc. Well-known for beautifully clean lugless (“welded”, or fillet brazed) construction (a method which rose out of neccessity during the war years – lugs simply weren’t available) as well as for lugged frames, and impeccable box and lug lining.
Each of the brothers had their place in the enterprise:
Norman Taylor – Framebuilding
While Jack Taylor started the business, and built the first frames back in 1936 at the age of 18, Norman soon took over the framebuilding position of the trio. Everyone I’ve spoken to who’s seen Norman wield a torch has spoken with reverence concerning his ability to quickly lay a fillet of brass and leave a weld so smooth that filing would be irrelevant. This is, in many ways the basic secret of a Taylor – what Holland Jones (of Fulton Street Cyclery, and later Velo City, in San Francisco – at one time the largest customer of the Taylor shop) referred to as “magic hands” welding – the ability to cleanly weld with the absolute minimum of heat applied to the tubing, something that directly affects the ride quality of the finished frame. When I first saw Taylor frames, another aspect of this was one of the attractions – the brazed joints that were smooth enough to have been filed, but weren’t. While the surface isn’t neccessarily indicative of the weld’s strength, it does attest to the builder’s skill, hinting at what lies beneath – and while many file their welds, removing any trace of the builder’s skill, these were an open book for anyone to read. Now into his 80s (2004), Norman (who had a stroke in 2003) can still wield a torch, and still rides (fixed, i think) back and forth to the pub and around town.
Jack Taylor – Painting and Transfers
When Norman took over framebuilding, Jack moved into the painter’s booth. While the original few Taylors had been sent off to Claud Butler’s shop for paintwork, Jack’s work rapidly took over, starting with the arbitrarily chosen restart of the frame numbers at #400. Taylor owners who ordered from the trio have often stated that the finish work was as much a part of ordering a Taylor as the frame itself. Jack’s paint was top-notch – the Taylor “flambouyant” colours are particularly brilliant – as was his lining, accomplished with a small roller
(box lining) and a set of dividers (for lug lining with regular thickness). Originally, they had someone else to do the lining, who used a brush, but when he died (date?) Jack took over, keeping what may have been a dying art alive. Jack also did repaints, and enamelling for other builders, though later pricelists specify that such services are available only for their own bikes. Jack also took care of the bulk of the bookkeeping responsibilities. After Jack left the business in 1990, paint was outsourced, and the bikes produced post-Works are typically plain color jobs, rarely with box or even lug lining. The oldest of the three, he is now (2004) in his mid-80s, and has little involvement with the world of bicycles at this time, but I am told is still sharp as a tack when it concerns the old days.
Ken Taylor – Assembly, Wheelbuilding and Crating
Besides being a fine wheelbuilder (I myself have a front wheel that Ken probably built in the 60s sometime, and it’s still true as can be) and general mechanic, Ken took care of the bulk of the tasks related to final assembly and shipping, including drilling the rim blanks they typically ordered when 40 and 48 hole rims weren’t readily available. His crating work was always a special touch – I’ve met several Taylor owners who still keep the handbuilt double-wall corrugated cardboard shipping boxes that Ken built by hand, because they’re almost too nice to throw away – and always with “Have A Nice Ride” written across the top. These boxes can be a great source of the small bolts for Taylor bottle cage bosses and rack mounts if you haven’t tossed yours – they typically are assembled with the same hardware. With Jack gone from the paint booth post-Works, many frames shipped straight from the painter, missing this extra care, and a number of later Taylors arrived with shipping damage after a long international trip. Ken is the youngest of the brothers, still in his late 70s, and while an accident a few years back put him off his bike, he still keeps up with the world of cycling quite passionately.
While their original background was in the world of early British road racing in the 30s and 40s, the Taylors catered actively to the touring cyclist, producing a line of capable touring singles and tandems, suitable for everything from day touring to british rough-stuff and french-style randonneurring. Bicycles for the road and track were also produced, as well as touring trailers, junior and children’s bikes, trikes, triplets, and even a trailerbike and the odd custom unicycle!. Taylor carriers were custom-made, and serialized with the frames they came with, concealed dynamo wiring was available, and standard, adjustable and tandem stoker stems were also produced. Tandem models (and Curved Tube and Ladies frames as well, I beleive) were always built lugless, because of difficulty of obtaining proper lugs for the various nonstandard angles.
Jack Taylor Cycles was a truly custom shop – while they had their production models, they would build anything the customer would draw out for them. This might mean simple modifications to an existing production model, adaptations of other builders designs (the Five Bar Gate/Flying Gate, for example), uncommon frame styles (unicycles, front-steer tricycles) or bicycles built entirely to the customers specifications, the Taylors would build whatever was asked, as long as the customer could come up with specs that would build a working bike.