Classic Lightweights UK
Classic Frame Builders
J R J (Bob Jackson)Peter Underwood (with help from Norris Lockley, John Spooner and Justin Cotton)
Bob (John Robert) Jackson started his cycle business at Leeds in 1935 building frames which were held in high repute, first by local, and later cyclists from all over the UK and abroad. After a few years he was called up do do military service at the start of WWII and he was compelled to close the business for the duration. He re-opened when he was demobilised at the end of the war. They produced both road and track frames frames which were badged with down tube transfers having 'JRJ' in the centre of the olympic rings, with 'Olympic Cycles' superimposed (see image above). In 1956 he purchased the ailing cycle company Merlin Cycles (original Merlin badge shown on right). Ernie and Gus Merlin had both been a south London builders from the 30's. Details of early production by the Merlin Brothers on the Merlin page. Jackson used either a winged 'M' or the word 'Merlin', along with 'Olympic Cycles' and the Olympic rings. These later Merlin frames, one of which is seen below, also had 'Merlin' in block letters on the front of the top tube. The Bob Jackson name is still well-known and it is an ongoing company in the lightweight world, producing Hetchins frames in the 1980's as well as some 'curly' frames with elaborate lugs under the Bob Jackson Super Legend name.
In the 50's, they produced the JRJ frame seen on the left and also produced in the same range the Olympic 25 Time Trial and Olympic International Road Racing models. Bob used to prefer to spray these frames with flamboyant transparent enamels over a silver base-coat; for £1 extra the same finish could be had over chrome plate giving a de-luxe effect. His favourite colours for road frames were flam ruby, flam royal blue, or flam emerald green. These finishes were accompanied by a white head panel, elongated diamond panels in white on the down and seat tubes, and long triangles in white on the fork blades. All frames had double-box lining. He claimed that the white paint showed off the Olympic circles better.
This JRJ track frame has been beautifully renovated by a local framebuilder, Chris Marshall (who had worked many years for Pennine/Whitaker & Mapplebeck). It is probably the Olympic Sprint No. 2 model that was designed for track use and short road work, i.e. 10 and 25-mile time trials using fixed gear. With a 40.5 inch wheelbase, it was just 0.5 inches longer than the Olympic Sprint No.1 model which was designed for serious track use and had a small braze-on lug on the top tube in front of the seat cluster; the saddle support that held the saddle nose rigidly in position was bolted to this lug. Both models were very popular with British amateur riders and used by several UK champions. A larger frame such as this one would have 74/72 angles, whereas the mid-sized ones had 73 parallel.
The lugs on this frame are the Oscar Egg Super Champion, model SC2 - this pattern being the most popular in the range.
In 1963 Bob Jackson marketed the same frames under both the Merlin and JRJ names. One example was the Merlin 'Modena' or the JRJ 'San Remo'. Another frame sold as 'ideal for massed start or for time trialling' was the Merlin 'International' or the JRJ 'Internationale'. In addition they listed the Madison track and Olympic track frames. Confusingly, the catalogue also listed 'Record' and 'Olympic Italia' as complete cycles.
In the Leeds and Bradford area there was much competition among the various framebuilders because the two large cities are less than ten miles apart. Bradford boasted Baines cycles who were content to produce their short-wheelbase Gate design, while well-known road racer and framebuilder Geoff Clarke produced well-balanced sound, but unfussy frames. At Ellis-Briggs they produced their fancy lugged Superbe and International models, but preferred to nibble their fancy lugs out of Ekla or Brampton cast lugs.
Some Jackson track frames, including Justin Cotton's were built with reinforcing at the chainstay/bottom bracket junction - see image below:
The other popular Bradford builder, Whitaker and Mapplebeck (later to become Pennine Cycles under Johnny Mapplebeck), was the preferred shop of the breakaway road racers - members of the Britsh League of Racing Cyclists. W & M claimed that their frames were inspired by continental designs but this did not prevent them from attempting to copy, rivals and outdo JRJ with their variations on Oscar Egg lugs - the brand that seemed, from Norris's memory, to be the most popular in the area, more so than the Nervex Professional.
John Spooner was also impressed by the quality of JRJ frames although he lived on the South Coast. He purchased a 'Merlin' from Wilsons Cycles, Aston Road, Birmingham in August 1963, having caught a train to Birmingham to order the frame and then he carried on to complete a cycle tour of Wales.
On the left below is John's 1963 Merlin "International" frame with 'winged M' and Olympic rings on a white down tube panel and 'Merlin' on the top tube. Right is a photo of John racing the Merlin in the 25-mile time trial on the IOM in 1964. John's cartilage trouble was starting so he wasn't able to ride the Manx International as he had in 1963.
Below are images from John Spooner's catalogue which he used when he purchased his frame in 1963
Click on each image for a larger version
Deatails of 1968 J R J 'Bob Jackson Olympus'
Over the years they dropped the 'JRJ' name, settling for 'Bob Jackson', although 'JRJ' was still a subtitle in the 1987 catalogue. The Merlin name lived on into the 80s and was used in the 1987 catalogue.
A rare picture of Bob Jackson, seen here on left at the 1978/9
New York Bike Show
(Image thanks to Dale Brown of Classic Rendezvous)
© 2009 Classic Lightweights