DESIGN CLASSICS Ephgrave No. 1

Exquisite drilled out lugs resembling spears and swallow tails
- it has to be the Ephgrave No l. HILARY STONE looks at a
classic from the golden era of British framebuilding



Fancy cut lug work on bicycle frames is a peculiarly English phenomenon though in the last 20 years or so some really superb examples of this art have been produced in the States. The best known exponent of fancy lug work is Hetchins. Hetchins certainly produced fantastically ornate lug work from the mid-Thirties onwards but many would argue that Les Ephgrave actually produced the finest hand cut lug work of any English frame builder. Over a period of approximately twenty years from 1948 he produced a total of about 4000 frames under his own name and a few other top-of-the-range frames for local shops such as Rory O'Briens at Romford and Ducketts in East London.

Prior to setting up his own business in Clapton, London E5, Les had worked for Claud Butler and Harry Rensch (of Paris Cycles). In the early years he had as many as five people working alongside him. From the very first days the Ephgrave No 1 lug was produced. This initially featured swallow tails rather than spear points.

Each set of lugs was hand cut and although all No 1 lugs were made to a broadly similar design the length and width of the spear points and small details did vary. But what differentiated Ephgrave frames from many others with fancy cut lugs was the beautiful uniform filing applied to the lugs. Looking at Ephgrave lugs it's hard to imagine how pieces of metal could be so perfectly formed. And this was all done with Abrafiles and drilling. At first he sold frames from the back of his car at grass track meetings. Soon he took on agents and dealers around the country so it was no longer necessary to go the depths of East London in order to buy an Ephgrave.

In the early Fifties a Super No 1 design was added. Though judging by the number of Super No 1 lugs to survive this was obviously only made in pretty small numbers. They were very similar in design to the No 1 but had small windows cut in the spear points and on the side of the lug.  And for those whose pockets were not so well lined there was the Ephgrave No 2 which was based essentially on finely filed and subtly altered Nervex Serie Legere lugs. Early on there were some sif-bronze welded (fillet brazed) frames with long ornamental sleeves added on the top tube. And in later years frames were built with Prugnat lugs both in pretty much standard form, finely filed, and with their points split and curled round. Additionally fillet brazed frames with a 1 1/8in top tube were always listed in the catalogue though these are uncommon. At about the same time that the catalogue was first produced in the early Fifties the famous Ephgrave lollipop was adopted. On the seat stay top eye a small round disc was brazed into position with a short metal rib running down the outside of the seat stay, looking like a lollipop - hence its name.


As car ownership became more widespread in the late Fifties and early Sixties, demand for even top class bicycle frames dropped off rapidly. Les was reduced to working on his own and soon he took in work from the local Jaguar car dealer building badge bars, luggage racks and exhaust systems. The number of frames built in later years was very small and tragically in September1969 Les died from lung cancer.


Peter Holland ( 01892 510153) is the Veteran-Cycle Club's marque enthusiast for Ephgrave and would welcome any information relating to Ephgrave from current or past owners who have not already been in touch with him.


Thanks to Malcolm King for the 1950s Ephgrave No. 1 road/ltrack machine featured.


FRAME DESIGN
Les recommended a 72' parallel frame for mass start racing with equal length top and seat tubes. For track use the angles were steepened to 73' and the rear triangle shortened by a 1/4 in. to 17 1/4in. But these were only recommendations - Les would build to anyone's own requirements.
FRAME DETAIL
All the little details on Ephgrave frames were exquisitely executed - the seat stay bridge was reinforced for the brake and the tube ends were beautifully shaped to fit both front and rear fork ends. Fork crowns were filed to the same beautiful standard as the lugs.
EQUIPMENT
The frames were generally equipped to the rider's own requirements by the supplying dealer. in the early days purchase tax an complete bikes meant that most were bought as frames and equipped by their owners.
FRAME NUMBERS
Virtually all Ephgrave frames are easily identifiable, their frame numbers having an LE prefix, though this does seem to be absent an a few early frames.

 

Cycling Plus Magazine Jan 2000