Classic Lightweights UK

Recent experiences of obtaining transfers/decals for obscure bicycle marques 

Author Bryan Clarke

Whilst a great many replacement transfers are available through the usual sources I found over the years that as I became interested in the more obscure marques of lightweight bike, transfers for these were generally unavailable so that the necessity to find alternatives became imperative. To me correct transfers are the finishing touch to any restoration and a bike devoid of them always seems unfinished. With the age of computers it has become much easier to think of producing them oneself; if you are aufait with drawing programmes and have the necessary skill and patience. It is also possible to make waterslide transfers using a home computer and an ink jet printer provided that they are varnished first before application. In fact I can always get Mario Vaz to provide simple one colour text in self adhesive vinyl for me at little cost. Mario prefers to use these as a mask rather than a transfer. (see photo of Metro below)

Permanent downtube decal produced by placing the vinyl transfer on a base colour
and removing it after the final coat is applied to reveal the name.

As someone who has spent a lifetime connected with the arts and should have the right degree of patience, somehow in this case I could not bring myself to be bothered to obtain the necessary computer skills so I had to look elsewhere for help. I got wind of a sign writing firm not too far from my place of work that were willing to do the artwork from photographs or copy directly from originals as well as carry out short printing runs. Clearly the time on the artwork carries the greatest cost, the printing itself on very thin self adhesive vinyl carried very little of the overall expense. Therefore, I accepted these costs and had a number of transfers produced for marques such as George Brooks, Grandini and three versions of designs for Youngs bicycles. I was delighted with the results, especially the fact that the finished product was cut right to the edges of the designs and individual letters of any name. A simple cover sheet enabled these to be kept in place and accurately applied after the removal of the backing sheet. In turn these could be varnished over at the enamellers but could be applied retrospectively without a varnish as the adhesive is very secure. Perhaps the only downside was that this firm were not able to produce proper gold but this is not always a real problem.

Replacement vinyl Grandini transfers attached after carefully removing the shattered originals.
The head and seat ones were left untouched as they were in good condition.

The sign writing firm in question was fine to use when I was in regular employment but after retirement it was not viable, being too far away from my home. With yet another obscure marque ready to be restored, in this case a ‘Special CNC’, I set about finding a similar type of firm locally. This was much easier than I imagined and I took along a poor photo of an original decal of the right period downloaded from E Bay for them to copy. This new firm’s attitude was different in that they were happy to produce as many or few as I wanted although the artwork was again the most expensive part of the work. The results were very impressive and an accurate interpretation of the poor image I had supplied and not only that, they could provide proper gold. Whilst I had to make up a head and seat design from something I had seen on the internet – two complete sets of transfers/decals (eight in all) came to £44. The added advantage of using such a company is that the work is stored on their computers and any additional printing would be fairly cheap. I intend to give them something complicated next time but I am confident of getting very satisfactory result but there is always the cost of the artwork to be taken into account – the more complicated the design the more expensive. A syndicate of interested parties is perhaps a way of reducing the costs.

Sheets of head and seat transfers on their backing sheets as supplied by a sign writing firm.
More complex designs with fiddly edges or individual letters would have low tack cover sheets
to assist with positioning. These are peeled off after application.

Clearly there is no point in going to this trouble if one can easily obtain authentic decals elsewhere at reasonable costs but for the one-offs it may be worthwhile. This option of course may not satisfy everyone. Recently, a new company, bicycledecals.net has produced some impressive results of designs to a very high standard that were not previously available.

Sets of vinyl transfers made by a sign writing firm applied to a display board

Bryan Clarke
NB I have authentic reproductions for the Grandini, Youngs of Lewisham and Walvale transfers for sale. Contact me at clarkesharman(at)aol.com for further details.