The history of Reynolds
by Chris Lowe
Reynolds began in 1841 when John
Reynolds took up shop as a manufacturer of nails. The business
prospered over the next 34 years at which time he retired and
entrusted the business to his sons Edwin and Alfred John. Sadly,
Edwin died in 1881 leaving Alfred John Reynolds alone at the helm.
By 1890 Alfred John's two sons, John Henry and Alfred Milward,
joined the business.
As the century closed, the company
had developed an excellent reputation in the nail business and
Alfred M. Reynolds began to look at ways in which the company could
expand. In 1895 he began examining a problem which cursed many frame
builders of the day: how to join thin, lightweight tubes without
weakening the joints at which they are connected. It was a question
that would forever shape the future of not just the Reynolds
company, but of all bicycle manufacturers. Reynolds came upon a way
to increase the thickness of the walls at the ends of the tubes
only, while not increasing the tubes outside diameter. This was
indeed a major breakthrough. Up until then frame builders had to
manually insert a liner into the end of each tube to reinforce the
joint or use heavy, thick tubing. In 1897 Alfred M. Reynolds and J.T.
Hewitt, an employee of the company, took out a patent on their
A year later John Reynolds & Sons
Limited decided to spin off the tubing business into its own
separate company to be known as The Patent Butted Tube Company
Limited headed by Alfred John Reynolds and his son, the inventive
Alfred M. Reynolds. In 1902 they published their first catalog
devoted to cycle tubing. The catalog boasted of a set of Reynolds
butted tubing weighing only 4 1/2 pounds. Competition in the cycling
industry was fierce at the time but Reynolds was generally
acknowledged by the cycling press as being the best. As time
progressed the company would also manufacture a range of handlebars
(which at the time were made of steel).
In 1914 war erupted throughout
Europe and Reynolds received contracts from the government to
manufacture tubing for military bicycles and motorcycles. In 1916
they received an important contract to manufacture tubing for use in
aircraft. The contract was important as Reynolds would continue to
be closely involved in the aerospace industry right up through to
the present day. As war contracts continued to come in the company
continued to expand and in the autumn of 1917 relocated their
headquarters to their present location: a large Tudor period house
known as Hay Hall.
The signing of the armistice meant
an end to the war contracts and thus Reynolds was forced to find new
markets for its products. One of the markets tapped was the auto
market and it wasn't long before Reynolds began supplying tubing for
use in the frames of autos which were becoming increasingly popular.
As the world began to get back into order following the War, The
Patent Butted Tube Company Limited made the decision in 1923 to
change their name to the more readily identifiable "Reynolds Tube
Company Limited". A year later the newly renamed Reynolds put some
of their experience in manufacturing aircraft tubing to use in the
bicycle trade by introducing the "Reynolds H.M. Quality".
The H.M. stood for High Manganese
and the tubing was a noticeable improvement over all existing
tubesets. It should also be noted that because of the high manganese
content of this, and all other later tubes from Reynolds, it is
inappropriate to refer to Reynolds tubing as chrome-moly since there
is little, if any chromium used. The proper term would be
manganese-moly. So good was H.M. that it would remain the premier
tubing for the next 11 years. All this activity at Reynolds didn't
go unnoticed in the business world and so it came as no surprise
that in 1928 Reynolds was acquired by Tube Investments Limited,
better known as T.I. Limited.
Reynolds began working in aluminum
to meet the demands of the Royal Air Force. However, it has only
been in the past couple years that Reynolds began to produce
aluminum bicycle tubing (perhaps giving great weight to the argument
that aluminum is far from being an ideal material for bicycles!). A
more immediate product of their aircraft endeavors was the
introduction in 1935 of the legendary "Reynolds 531" tubeset. A
tubeset that still remains popular through the present day. However,
531 came about unintentionally. It was Chief Inspector and
Metallurgist Max Bigford who spotted an aircraft tubing which he
thought held the potential for making an excellent cycle tubeset and
reworked the specifications along with Director Austyn Reynolds. So
important was the introduction of 531 that the Cyclist's Touring
Club awarded Reynolds their plaque for the most meritorious
contribution to the sport of cycling.
In the late 1930's the activities
of a certain ex-German Army soldier of questionable mental stability
were drawing the attention of military planners in Great Britain.
This soon lead to the introduction in Britain of the Supermarine
Spitfire fighter plane. The Spitfire was at the time a marvel of
engineering and so it was only natural that Reynolds was called upon
to supply tubing for its production. By the end of 1939 it appeared
war with Germany was inevitable and Reynolds was forced, for the
first time ever, to cease production of cycle tubing. As World War
II progressed Reynolds expanded its work force, opened new
facilities, and maintained production around the clock. It should
also be noted that during these demanding times a great many
Reynolds employees also served in the Home Guard (similar to the US
National Guard, but devoted entirely to the defense of the British
mainland). In fact, so many employees volunteered that Reynolds had
its own company-sized unit within the Home Guard.
During the War Reynolds produced
tubing for everything from the Spitfire to the PIAT (Britain's
answer to the Bazooka) to flame thrower barrels. In all, Reynolds
produced 77,000,000 feet (14,602 miles) of alloy tubing and
53,000,000 feet (10,038 miles) of steel tubing. All this was
produced by a labor force that at War's height numbered less than
2,100 employees. Following the ending of the War Reynolds scaled
back its production considerably and in 1947 they formed a separate
company, "Reynolds Light Alloys", to handle the production of
In 1958 Charly Gaul of Luxembourg
pedaled to victory (at a then record setting pace of 22.8 MPH) in
the Tour de France astride a frame built from Reynolds 531. This
would mark the beginning of what would soon become a near total
domination of the Tour de France. Between 1958 and 1991 (the last
year a Reynolds frame won the Tour) Reynolds tubing was used in the
bikes of 26 Tour de France winners. Anquetil, Merckx, and Hinault
all used Reynolds exclusively in their Tour victories (Indurain also
used it in his first Tour win in 1991).
It is worth noting that Reynolds
531 was so successful that it wasn't until 1976 that Reynolds was
able to improve on it with the introduction of Reynolds 753. 753 is
a very unique, heat-treated tubing with an ultimate tensile strength
of 179,200 psi (Compared with 121,000 psi for Columbus SLX). The
heat treating process also means that great care must be taken in
brazing the tubes so as not to overheat them which would result in a
brittle and unridable frameset. To avoid this builders must braze
with silver instead of the traditional brass. All this extra care
means not just anyone can use 753. In fact, before being allowed to
purchase 753 tubing from Reynolds a frame builder must first submit
a sample of their work to be quality tested. If the builder makes
the grade they become certified by Reynolds, a source of pride
amongst many frame builders. In 1977, following the successful
introduction of 753, Reynolds again changed its name, this time to
"T.I. Reynolds, Limited".
Because 753 requires such care, and
is thus unsuitable for mass production, 531 tubing remains very
popular. A sign of this continued popularity came in 1980 when
Reynolds 531 was the recipient of the "Guidon D'Or" (Golden
Handlebar), an award given for services to the sport of cycling. In
order to understand the importance of this award consider the
following: only three companies (Peugeot, BP France, and Pernod --
all French) have received this award and only 4 times prior has it
been awarded outside of France.
Since 1980 Reynolds has introduced
a wide variety of tubing from 501, intended for entry level racing
bikes, to the new 853 which is intended to give titanium and
composites a run for the money. Reynolds has also introduced both
oversized (731os) and internally rifled (708 classic) tubesets to
meet the demands of heavier riders and sprinters. They have also
expanded the use of 753 tubing to include tandems and mountain
bikes. In addition to their 2 dozen plus steel offerings, Reynolds
now offers butted titanium and aluminum tubing.
Reynolds has a tradition of being
truly innovative, that is they introduce products that are truly new
and not just inventing new tubesets for the sake of meeting a demand
created by marketing hype. It is, after all, worth noting that over
40 years passed between the introduction of 531 and 753 tubing. It
is just such longevity that puts Reynolds in the same class as other
notable British companies such as Brooks and Carradice. Such
products remain competitive decades after their introduction because
of the intelligence of their design rather than the strength of
their marketing. They are immune to fashions, fads, and labels
(including "retro") and simply continue to be the best products
available for a given purpose.
This article originally
appeared in the Rivendell Reader, issue 6.
Reprinted with permission. Thanks G.P.
Coyote Sports acquires Reynolds
Current management team to remain the same
Oldbury, Warley, West Midlands,
England, September 18, 1996 -- TI Group plc announced today the
sale of the Reynolds cycle tubing company, which includes the "853",
"753" and "531" brands of cycle tubing, to Coyote Sports Inc.
Coyote Sports Inc., is a privately
held company owned by Jim Probst and Mel Stonebraker based in
Boulder, CO. Coyote Sports was recently formed with the specific
purpose of establishing a cohesive group of companies in the
sporting goods industry.
Included in the purchase was
Reynolds' sister company Apollo Golf, a seamless golf shaft company.
TI Group based in England, has
substantial U.S. and international engineering businesses and in one
of the Top 100 companies quoted on the London Stock Exchange.
Reynolds, with its cycle focus, was a non-core business and
therefore available for sale.
"In establishing Coyote Sports, our
criteria for acquisition included a company that had global
international markets; strong OEM relationships; strong R&D,
innovation and manufacturing capability; capable of substantial
growth; and strong management," said Probst. "Reynolds met these
The new owners are prepared to back
Reynolds with substantial investment to underpin the growth seen
after the successful launch of "853" air hardening steel tubing, at
the Interbike Show in 1995.
The current management team of Andy
Taylor, Managing Director; Graeme Horwood, Research and Development
Director; Stewart Tibbatts, Manufacturing Director; David Nelson,
Controller; Keith Noronha, VP/General Manager, now UK based; Terry
Bill, Sales Manager Europe and Pacific Rim; and Tim Halloran, Sales
Representative North America. Holloran will continue to work out of
the Elk Grove Village, Ill., office.
"The acquisition is excellent
news," said Noronha. "Coyote Sports has the commitment and resources
to back our drive to once again make Reynolds a major player in the
industry. We will focus on giving our customers innovative and
distinctive products that add value to their model ranges."