I’ll admit that my initial attraction to Jack Taylor bicycles was superficial. I loved the flamboyant paint, the box striping, and the mid-century modern logo. After a few years of searching, I finally found a Jack Taylor frame in my size in Macon, Georgia. It was a “Sports” model from 1981, and I bought it as a frame and fork. I knew the Taylor would be pretty—white and blue with box white box-lining and the “Mondrian” style downtube logos—but its wonderful performance on the road was unexpected.
The high quality paint and finish work on Jack Taylor bikes was no accident. Although in many ways, the French inspired them, the Taylor brothers weren’t impressed with French finishes. In an interview with Jack, Peggy, and Ken Taylor in the summer 2009 issue of Bicycle Quarterly, Ken says, “The French were good at designing bicycles and making them, but they were hopeless on finish. No matter what you bought in France, the finish was atrocious.” The Taylor bikes have a luminous finish from baking or “stoving” enamel paint. And the demanding pinstriping (or box-striping) was done by Jack Taylor, by hand.
In the Bicycle Quarterly interview mentioned above, I learned about the Taylors’ close ties with American shops and cyclists. In fact, a young American couple, David and Audrey Radmore, played a large role in establishing the Jack Taylor brand in the states. The couple from Stockton, California, had come to Britain on their honeymoon in 1956 with the intention of bicycle touring around Europe. They were directed to the Taylor brother’s works to have a tandem built, and were so taken with the process, that they came the works everyday to watch their bike get built. Audrey ended up designing the iconic “Mondrian” style Jack Taylor logo.
My 1981 Taylor “Sports”, built relatively late in the Taylor works timeline, exhibits several Taylor trademarks: filet brazing, 73 degree headtube angle with 2.5” of fork rake. After years riding their own bikes, and building bikes with head angles between 72-74 degrees, they had settled on 73 degrees as best for most of the bikes they built. In the Jack Taylor brochure, the Sports model is described as a bike good for “fast club riding and hilly tours.” I’m not sure what I was expecting in the ride of my frame, but I have to say that it completely surprised and delighted me. As many of the Taylor models were aimed at touring and club riders, I expected something comfortable, stout, and perhaps a bit ponderous. What I got was nimble, with a light feeling front end, thin fork blades that seemed to gobble up bad pavement, and a bike I could ride no-handed for extended periods with ease. It lived up to its name, as it was indeed, sporty. Reading about the popularity of British club cycling in the 50s and 60s makes me nostalgic. This British Transport Films production shows the fun and ease of combining a bike outing with a train ride in 1955:
Another surprise for me, were 27” wheels. I came into road cycling when 27” wheels were deeply out-of-fashion among road riders and in the shop I worked at, I only seemed to encounter them in the form of heavy steel-rimmed department store bikes with equally heavy and poor quality tires. When I got my Taylor frame and unboxed it, I put on a pair of 700c wheels, and sure enough, the brake reach was massive, and the 700c wheels just looked a little small on the bike. I did have a set of nutted modern dual-pivot Tektro brakes that would reach, but they also looked wrong. I remembered that I had a nice set of 27” wheels with red-label Normandy Luxe Competition hubs laced to silver Mavic MA2 rims. I took those wheels and put on a set of tan sidewall Panaracer Pasela 1 1/8” tires I had on hand, and tried them on the Taylor. They looked much better—like they were made for the bike. The big clearances on the Taylor—even with the 27” tires—would make a few frame builders I’ve met cringe. But in riding my Jack Taylor. I learned that the larger clearances don’t negatively affect performance and that big 27” wheels will roll over almost anything. More so than any of my other bikes, my Jack Taylor rewards effort and it has a magic carpet ride quality. In fact, it is so fun and fast feeling that I’m wondering if I should change the build to a racier less tourist configuration?
One last thing that endears me to Jack Taylor bicycles is that several of the Taylor owners I know ride the heck out of them. Here in Tucson, Craig Montgomery, veteran rider of dirt roads in Pima, Santa Cruz, and Cochise County, loads his Taylor up like a pack mule and pedals as far as New Mexico. I also got the pleasure of briefly meeting a silver bearded Holland Jones at Eroica 2016, in April. He was pushing around two very used and beautiful Jack Taylor bikes. Later, reading that Bicycle Quarterly interview, I realized that Holland was one of the first U.S. Taylor importers. By sheer chance, the Taylor Brothers were in San Francisco visiting the Radmores, when they met Holland Jones’ wife (who was out cycling with her baby) on the Golden Gate Bridge. When she found out they made bikes, she said, “will you come home and meet my husband, he’s got a bike shop and he can’t get any?” Holland became a lifelong proponent of Jack Taylor bicycles. He passed away earlier this year; happy pedaling Holland Jones. I think about you when I swing a leg over my JT. Thanks for bringing so many excellent British bicycles to America.
Like the very best of my bikes, riding the Taylor makes you grateful. Grateful to be alive and on a bike, grateful for people like the Taylor brothers who cared to make these lightweight bikes by hand. When I ride my Taylor, I can look down and watch the pencil-skinny fork blades moving–soaking up the bumps and rough spots on the tarmac. It is a svelte and wonderful machine.