Ralph Robinson's 1983 Norman Hill

23/09/2019 14:56 | Anonymous member (Administrator)


  • by “Steel Baroudeur” Ralph Robinson

    I caught the ‘classic steel bike’ bug following my first trip to the L’Eroica bike festival five years ago.

    One evening whilst trawling eBay’s classic bike section, for a possible restoration project of my own, a bright luminous orange bike leapt off the screen at me and warranted further investigation. Apparently it was a ‘Norman Hill’ road racing bike. I’d never heard of him or his bikes and not being an expert by any stretch of the imagination put in a quick call to Del Leslie thinking he might know and able to enlighten me. But no, Del had been looking at it too and was equally mystified.

    I decided to do some Googling of my own to see what I could unearth about the bike or even Norman Hill. Bingo, - I got three useful hits;

  • 1.    Norman Hill, born in Leeds, had been a six day sprint racer turning pro’ in 1966 to 1973. 
  • 2.    Another Norman Hill bike sold at Bonham’s auction house, London, for £925 in 2012 (serial No. 012).
  • 3.    Bike, serial No.001, was owned by an enthusiast on Vancouver Island, Canada.

Intrigued by all this information I took a punt and bid £200. I got it, nobody else had bid, - result!

When I duly unboxed my prize I was still unsure of what I had in my possession. A hideous bright orange bike of some age, scruffy and well used, with original Cinelli handle bars and Campagnolo brakes and down shift levers and a lovely Regal saddle. However the drive train was a later Shimano 600 series group set that didn’t sit right with rest of the bike. A serial number of 042 lead me to believe not many of these bikes had been made.

Fortunately I was able to contact the owner of serial No.1, a Michael Burdge of Vancouver Island, as his email address was attached to the image I had previously found.  He informed me that the very same Mr. Norman Hill had recently bought it back off him for $220. Not only was Norman still around he lives in Richmond, Vancouver. Better still, I could have his email address. It just got better and better.

Whilst this research was taking place I was eager to get on with the restoration. Having dismantled the bike to all its component parts and put aside all the modern bits I then inspected the paint and decals. The paint work appeared to be original but was a bit far gone in places also the decals were scuffed here and there. I had wanted to do as much of the restoration as I could myself. 

First job was to trawl the internet for replacement decals but alas it proved fruitless but I did track down a chap in Melbourne (Greg Softley of Cyclomondo) who could reproduce the decals from AutoCad format. Having been an engineering draughtsman I set about fine measuring and spacing of lettering and images. That done, the frame and forks were media blasted back to metal, and with the help of a Maidstone based automotive paint supplier I managed to match that colour on a RAL chart, where a perfect match was found. 

Armed with some aerosol cans of primer and top coat I set to work respraying the frame. As a test piece the forks were tackled first and I must say that I was impressed with the white primer coat. So on with the top coat. Oh dear, an unmitigated disaster. Not only was the colour incorrect it was strong in places and grinning through in others and in a desperate bid to improve the result tears not only ran down my face but down the paint as well. I had to admit defeat.

Thankfully I have acquaintance, Dave, who is a high end automotive sprayer who also does some incredible jobs on motorbike frames as well. Following a call to him he said that he would undertake the task for me. For a few notes he had performed a minor miracle. Apparently it is an illuminescent colour which is notoriously difficult to spray, the paint container has to be constantly shaken to keep the mix even also the undercoat is dark brown not white. Well you live and learn!

During this time the decals had arrived from Australia. These were given to Dave to add prior to the lacquer coat being applied. Hey presto nice new paint job.

I finally emailed Norman with a list of questions about him and his bike. Thankfully, to my surprise he replied. There’s too much to add for this article but he was delighted to hear from me and gave me as much of the information he could remember. Would you believe it, he still has draw full of unused decals that I could of had. I shouldn’t have been so impatient. I managed to locate the Campagnolo drive train components from sources in America, who seem to have an endless supply and also Hillary Stone, in Wales, who is an excellent supplier of all vintage bikes and parts.

 When Norman retired, from racing, he went onto coach, first in the USA and finally in Canada. Eventually  he set up his own cycle manufacturing plant employing Derek Bailey from Geoffrey Buttler cycles to work with him in Vancouver. The salient points are that all the components used on his bikes were Campag’. The bike is called the ‘Bailey Fast Back’ (due to the unusual seat post clamping method, which was their design). Norman informed me that he had no end of trouble getting that paint colour right! He had only ever exported TWO bikes back to the UK. One sold at Bonhams and I’ve got the other one! Now that’s rare!

So go on polish up those old steelies, and ride with the Baroudeurs, who knows what stories may be out there.

Oh, and that colour orange is in tribute to his wife, who is Dutch. 

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