11 of the Most Radical Road Bikes Ever Built

Strange Bikes: Ed Hood has been looking back in time when bikes were ‘innovative’ in very radical ways, and not always for the best. Here is his choice of radical/unorthodox bike designs, some artisan beauty and some just plain ugly.

Stephen Roche
The low profile – The beginning of the end for Stephen Roche

It was Stephen Roche who said that with the advent of the low profile design, bicycles ceased to be beautiful. And whilst today’s carbon – or is it ‘plastic’ as the old boys say? – machines are striking, it would be pushing it to call them ‘beautiful’ in the way you can a 70’s Raleigh, Bianchi or Masi. We thought it might be interesting to have a wander through some ‘alternative’ designs of bicycle – judgment on their aesthetics is up to you.

A thing of beauty?

# Horace Bates:
‘Back in the day’ of Simon Pure amateurs in the 1930’s the British cycling journals of the day frowned upon publishing pictures which displayed the frame builder’s marque too prominently. Bates came up with their double radius ‘diadrant’ front forks which illustrated better than any decal who had made the frame that such and such a star was riding. But the ‘double radius’ wasn’t just a gimmick, it was intended to give a more comfortable ride – and indeed, modern Pinarello forks aren’t a million miles away from Bates in terms of contours. Bates other innovation was ‘cantiflex’ tubing, specially drawn for them by Reynolds; where the tube wall thickness was thinner in the center of the tube, to save weight but the external diameter of the tube was increased so as not to compromise strength; those 30’s cycling engineers were every bit as innovative as they are now.

Horace Bates – A work of art

# ‘bauer’ Merckx:
For the 1993 Paris-Roubaix, Canadian professional, Steve Bauer appeared with his ultra-long wheelbase, ultra ‘relaxed’ angled, Eddy Merckx machine. It was designed by Richard Dejonckheere (brother of Motorola DS Noël) with a 60 degree seat angle and somewhere around a 42” wheelbase with Rockshocks and 185mm cranks. It was comfortable and grabbed a lot of column inches but the design never caught on, I can’t imagine why. . .

merckx bauer roubaix bike

#Dursley Pedersen:
Developed by Danish inventor Mikael Pedersen and produced in the English town of Dursley. thin tubes, suspension, a ‘hammock’ saddle and according to Henry Meudt; ‘After more than a century, Pedersen’s design continues to be an example of unique craftsmanship in a world of mass-produced convention. Pedersen bicycles are a link to the past, when cycling brought independence and freedom of movement, when quality was apparent, when details mattered, when style was beautiful. Proving that, ‘beauty is in the eye of the beholder’ – and you can still buy one in the USA, complete with Columbus tubing and Shimano transmission.

Dursley Pedersen
Dursley Pedersen – It’s a bike

# Flying Gate:
Originally designed by the Baines Brothers and called the VS 37 [VS as in ‘very short’] – which was the wheelbase in inches – but soon dubbed, ‘The Flying Gate’ due to the unorthodox ultra-short wheelbase. It enjoyed a revival in the 70’s when Trevor Jarvis contacted Bill Baines and asked permission to re-launch the design. To promote the machines Jarvis sponsored the short lived TJ Glemp Anglo-Belgian team with riders like Maurice Burton and Bob Cary on the payroll – not that many actually got paid. And then in the 80’s the beasts were favored by some top English time trial riders like Martin Pyne. The good news is that you can still have one built for you by Smithy Frameworks in Wales.

burton flying gate
Maurice Burton of Glemp TJ Cycles team with his ‘Flying Gate’

# Hetchins:
From the same era as Bates comes the Hetchins, another design to circumvent the need for decals with those ‘curly’ chain stays. ‘Harry’ Hetchins started building frames in the 20’s and claimed the chain stay design smoothed out rough road surfaces – but were also seen on their track frames. Their other feature Hetchins was renowned for was their ornate lug work – usually gloriously chromium plated and creeping along the tubes and forks. Collectors’ items they now enjoy a cult following and command big prices. I owned one back in the 70’s and I still see it cropping up on social media – PEZ mentor and soothsayer, Vik has still never forgiven me for that, ‘sorry the jeuneuse.’

ed hetchins
Ed Hood and that ‘curly’ Hetchins

# R.O. Harrison:
Billed as hill climb specials with their super short wheelbase, another from the 30’s; the ‘Shortwin’ had a twin down tube – perhaps Ernesto Colnago saw a picture of a Harrison before he designed his twin down tubed titanium and carbon frames? – and seat tube coming in ahead of the bottom bracket shell, a feature Trek later adopted. Harrison’s were produced from 1933 until the late 1950’s, my buddy Bill Wright’s dad had one and it did look pretty cool.

ro harrison
RO Harrison – Pretty cool

# Museeuw Bianchi:
The early 90’s saw a flurry of interest in suspension for road bikes with Gilbert Duclos Lassalle winning the 1992 and ’93 editions of Paris-Roubaix with ‘RockShox’ forks.

Roubaix - France - cycling - cycling - radsport - cyclisme - Bianchi bike wit suspension pictured during Paris - Roubaix 1994 Archive picture - photo HR/Cor Vos © 20R/
Seemed a good idea at the time

But in 1994 Johan Museeuw went one better, appearing on a ‘full suss’ Bianchi complete with rear single-pivot swing arm and short aluminum seat tube-mounted rocker link driving a small coil-over shock. However, a broken chainstay meant the machine never saw the Roubaix Velodrome. Innovative it was, pleasing to the eye it was not. [See our original story on a version of this bike here.]

Not a success

# Paris Galibier:
For this one I’ll pinch straight from the Condor Cycles website, the famous London company having resurrected the name and design: “Truly timeless and an instantly recognizable classic, the Galibier packs charisma and a tenacious ride quality. Like its namesake mountain, the Col du Galibier, the Galibier bicycle is steeped in folklore. Introduced by Harry Rensch in 1947, the unique frame design caused a stir amongst post-war racing cyclists. It screamed continental flair and packed a punch with a shape created to eliminate whip, making acceleration and handling better.”

A new Paris Galibier by Condor

“Our modern Galibier is a perfect reconstruction of one of the most iconic British framesets. The quality of the tubing improves upon Rensch’s original selection, but the quirky design remains. Constructed from triple-butted, heat treated steel, the specialist tubes are made exclusively by Columbus for Condor. The high grade steel tubeset is accompanied by dropouts and fork crown that are stronger and lighter than the 1940s version, whilst the bi-laminations are now laser cut for precision detail.” If you fancy one then, get an email off to Condor. . .

paris galibier
A 1951 Paris Galibier

# Soft ride:
It was 1989 when the ‘soft ride’ company came up with their ‘beam’ concept; with Zipp producing a similar frame in 2001. The ‘beam’ was designed to flex and give a comfortable ride but it was also very ‘aero’ with there being no seat tube. The design is non-UCi legal so you won’t see a WorldTour time trial rider on one, although it’s still popular in triathlon.

soft ride

# ‘Stayer’ bikes:
‘The Big Motors,’ or ‘Demi-Fond’ as they say ‘and France,’ where brave – maybe just a little crazy – riders sit behind powerful motor bikes at highway speeds. The small front wheel, reversed forks and huge extension are designed to get the rider as close as the regulations allow to his leather clad pacer.

Paul Curran paced by Joop Zijlaard

Gears are understandably huge and tires as well as being glued to the rims have ‘bandages’ which follow the circumference of the rim bonding the sidewall to it.
There was a motor paced world championship, ‘back in the day’ but the Machiavellian deals struck between the pacers meant that the UCi ‘pulled the plug’ some 30 years ago. However, the sport still has its devotees and enjoys a cult following in Germany on big, old concrete bowl tracks.

Kemper behind the big motor

# Let us know if we’ve missed a favorite of yours, and thanks to the photographers. #

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