Roberts Cycles, 89 Gloucester Road, Croydon, Surrey CR0 2DN, England
Tel: +44 (0)20 8684 3370
Some of you may have seen some stunning recent photographs of a vintage Roberts mountain bike on our Flickr pages. It's a 25-year-old Roberts Stratos - one of only eleven built - restored to newly-minted glory.
The project, originally commissioned from Chas Roberts by MBUK, was the first British response to the US development of the raised-chainstay mountain bike, and he was offered the chance to build it in recognition of his pre-eminence among British steel framebuilders, with his World Championship and Olympic pedigree.
So, how do you find and restore a super-rare custom 1980s MTB? It ain't easy…
Sinnerman, a retro guru on the retrobike.co.uk forum, with a long history in the bicycle business and a connoisseur of the finest vintage mountain bikes, remembered reading about the then-groundbreaking E-stay bike built by Yeti Cycles in the USA in the late 1980s and the MBUK-commissioned UK "response". Having had an opportunity to chat to Chas about the design, learning more about its history and rarity, he began a 10-year quest to track down a Roberts Stratos, to satisfy his need to understand the significance of this small, but crucial, evolutionary dead end in the history of the Great British Mountain Bike.
Amongst the dedicated and passionate Retrobike forum members, snippets of information were collected together - vintage brochures, adverts, catalogues, photos, magazine articles - along with much speculation and debate exploring the standing of Chas Roberts in the frame builders' pantheon and the legendary status (or not!) of his designs over the years, but throughout, the near-mythical Stratos remained elusive.
Then, out of the blue, in mid-2011 a badly-treated and damaged frameset, undeniably a Roberts Stratos, appeared on eBay, causing quite a stir on the Retrobike forum. Our guru had to have it - but was due to be out of the country at the time of the auction's finish.. The bid was submitted and the week-long wait began. Luck was with our intrepid Roberts restorer - the auction was won by a single pound.
Returning to the UK a month later, a large box was waiting and inside was a battered and broken Roberts E-stay frame. The seized stem wasn't hard to remove, but finding the correct tube to repair the break could only be done by one man - Chas Roberts. Once Sinnerman had revealed his intentions, Chas was happy to help with the project, but only on the understanding that it would only be done if it could be done properly - Chas would need to locate exactly the right tube from the right manufacturer, with the right butt length, to ensure that the joint wouldn't fail again.
While waiting for the tube to turn up, a bit more digging into the archives revealed that the bike was always supposed to have had a custom matched stem - but the original order was eventually fulfilled with a Flexstem instead. In another visit to the Roberts showroom, Brian, our ever-resourceful mechanic, recalled seeing the original stem stashed away in a drawer in Chas's office - but it would be useless as it required a specific diameter handlebar, now long out of favour.
To a RetroBiker as tenacious as Sinnerman, this was like a nugget of pure gold. And, to top that, he knew that somewhere in the many boxes of bits that all bike obsessives inevitably accrue, lay a handlebar with the right diameter. Scraped and scuffed up, it took some finding - a drawn length of 753 tubing to match the stem that matched the frame. If only the right frame tube could be found, the fuselage would be complete!
Around a year later, the correct "period" tube was located and brazed in place - take a look at the pictures to see the exceptional fillet brazing work. Having had time to dream about how the restored bike would be built up and finished, Sinnerman decided to stick with period components, sourced bit by bit over many months, but to make the paint job something special that would highlight the exceptional workmanship and the choice of parts. Roberts Pearl White was mixed with Campagnolo blue glitter flakes to create the stunning colour scheme. Transfers using the original typeface were colour-matched, original world champion head and seat badges were located and the rest is now a slice of (restored) history…