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Frejus in Britain

Author: Bryan Clarke with help from Peter Kibbles

Frejus Headbadge 200
Bicycle frames made by Frejus of Turin made their first appearance in large numbers when imported by Jaggard and Mills in 1950. The company was situated at 13 Half Moon Lane, Herne Hill in close proximity to Herne Hill cycle track. Established in 1896, Frejus had an impressive track record having won the world championships on both road and track in 1930, 1933 and 1948.  The list of champion riders included such names as Guiseppe Olmo, Cino Cinelli and even Gino Bartali. Their reputation was to be further enhanced when the Swiss rider Ferdie Kubler won the 1950 Tour de France after the Italian team pulled out and he went on to secure the World Championship for them on the road a year later. A home-grown Frejus team also brought success in 1950 through riders like George Lander, Les West and Dave Bedwell.

Designed by the Ghelfi brothers, the frames were sleek, modern looking and in some ways the antithesis of the British lightweight and its obsession with fancy lugwork. The unusual frame angles of 72 degrees for the head and 73 degrees for the seat tube created a short top tube that reduced torsion, bringing the rider over the bottom bracket but also producing a balanced ‘hands off’ ride.

Frejus seat lug 250
All models had plain spear-point lugs and the ubiquitous Italian seat lug cluster that included scooped out tops to the stays with a separate collar to secure the seat post. It was used on all sorts of Italian bikes of the period. The forks had a semi sloping crown and a distinctive sharp edged oblong cut out at the sides but unlike other Italian makes had no reinforcing tangs on the inside of the oval blades. The top models could be distinguished by a vertical cut-out in the sides of the seat lug and a grease nipple at the back of the head tube.

Frejus Fork 250
Initially, three models were listed: The model M Super Corsa, the F5 Corsa and the cheapest model, the F4 Strada, which was the only model to incorporate internal brake and gear cabling. They weighed 7lbs, 8lbs and 9lbs respectively. In common with all imported frames of the period a chainset was supplied as standard equipment, which was of course engraved with ‘Frejus’ on the sides of the cranks. The ‘Campimissimo’ was added later that year. It was essentially a Super Corsa with Campagnolo ends, and came with ‘Paris-Roubaix’ gear and hubs. It cost a staggering £30, a colossal amount in those days and far above the more modestly priced but versatile Super Corsa at 17guineas(17pounds 17shillings). However, that was still expensive when compared with a hand built British equivalent. In 1951 the ‘Corsa’ became the ‘Tour de France’ after Kubler’s win and a track frame became available: the ‘Pista’.

The paintwork on all models can best be described as sober and characterised by a steel grey finish barely contrasting with the chrome head lugs and the all chrome forks. This finish was achieved with a special lacquer over nickel-plating on the top models and with steel coloured enamel on the two cheaper ones. The Tour de France model also sported bright yellow panels on the seat tube and head tube but on the Super Corsa it was common to find a plain blue enamelled head tube, with or without a matching panel on the seat tube. Other colours were to follow. Frejus components were also marketed in the form of mudguards, pedals, ‘wide flange hubs’ and alloy racing rims. These are rarely if ever seen these days but Frejus-Balilla brake callipers do turn up but never with any levers!

Frejus 350The frame numbers are stamped at right angles at the top of the seat tube on the left hand side – usually a six figure number starting with 01, 02 and 03 on early models. The model type could be identified with the frame size which was stamped under the bottom bracket; i.e. MC 56, MS 60, TDF58 etc. Early Super Corsa models have forged Simplex ends either plain or with a gear hanger. This could be converted to accept the Campag ‘Gran Sport’ gear by filing a notch in the back of the hanger but some were simply amputated through ignorance. In a  copy of ‘Cycling’ dated July 1953, an advert appeared for Simplex- Frejus boasting that their then novice team would be ready to win the 1955 Giro D’Italia. Whatever that outcome, more World Championships victories were to follow in 1953, 54 and 55. Frejus displayed all these dates with the words ‘CAMPIONE DEL MONDO’ on the Super Corsa head badge but this clearly had to be updated periodically when more wins were accrued. It is fun to see the dates crammed together on the later badges (the writer has one with dates up to 1955) and a mysterious year change from 1933 to 1932; some historian out there will no doubt tell us why. In fact Frejus notched up a total of 11 World Championships before the end of the decade. By the late 1950s Campagnolo ‘Gran Sport’ was the order of the day or ‘Record’ equipment could be supplied as an option on complete bikes when it became available.

Frejus headset 250

Jaggard and Mills were sole importers for Frejus for a relatively short time. By around 1953, Evian(GB) Ltd took over as the UK representatives, confining their product list to the three road models and a series of components and replacement parts. Certainly at the beginning of the 1960s the frames were being sold by Jack Whisker and Ross of Balham who were significant suppliers of continental frames and components. By then the Super Corsa had given way to the ‘Professional’ but some things did not change such as the vertical slot in the seat lug cluster and the grease nipple at the back of the head lug to distinguish it as the top model.

'Frejus' headset on Supercorsa Model M

Written with the generous help of Peter Kibbles, VCC Marque Enthusiast.

Frejus Riders
Frejus tribute to their team riders - 1950
Frejus cover 650
Cover of the 1958 Frejus Catalogue

Frejus Supercorsa with Corsa gear
1950 Frejus Campimissimo fitted with Campagnolo cambio corsa gears
Photo courtesy Eric Sayliss
Frejus Caliper
Bryan Clarke has sent in details of two recently acquired Frejus components
Frejus Chainset
Above left the Frejus Ballila brake stirrup and next to it a Frejus chainset

Frejus Team 1950
Frejus Team in the 1950 Brighton to Glasgow Race
Left to right: Les Wade; Len West; Dave Bedwell; George Lander, the winner
Apart from Geo landers winning, the Frejus team had Dave Bedwell in 6th place & Les Wade in 9th which gave them the team prize
(Thanks to Bernard Howerd for this image)