Cycle racing was the top sport in the late 1800s, with professionals backed by the leading cycle manufacturers. By the turn of the century, champion cyclists were treated with the celebrity nowadays afforded to pop stars. With the advent of motorised vehicles, the bicycle was no longer the novel form of transport, so cycle racing lost its cult status. Although no longer a mainstream sport, it still had many followers around the world and the cycle industry behind it. As lightweight frames became more popular, many champion cyclists used their race money and status to start their own cycle businesses.
By the thirties, small cycle manufacturers were springing up everywhere, building their own lightweight frames. They were supported by their local clubs; often, club members were the shop founders and the businesses became local ‘hang-outs.’ Schoolboys of the day would wander past the shop windows of an establishment such as Harry Rensch’s Paris Cycle Co at 131 Stoke Newington Church St, London N16, and peer at the bicycles on offer. To youngsters of the austere postwar years, the Paris Galibier was a ‘dream bike.’ During the war, very few bicycles were made for civilian purchase. Immediately after the war, export was the priority. New bicycle models, particularly of a design as radical as the Galibier, were the talking point everywhere.
Its design may have been influenced by the machine with a ‘flexible’ frame built by French constructeur Jacques Shulz, from Colombes, near Paris, between 1935 and 1937. Despite many of the top builders of the 1930s producing individual machines to great acclaim, the Paris Galibier stood out from the crowd as soon as it was launched, to become an icon of its time.
It still is.
1948 Paris Galibier
27″ Wheels (27 x 1″ Tyres)
Frame No 3948
133 Stoke Newington Church Street, London N16
Says marque specialist Alvin Smith:
Paris Cycles was set up in 1943 or thereabouts by Harry Rensch. Harry Rensch was already widely known in the cycling world as ‘Spanner’ Rensch. Rensch had been well respected in the cycle business before the Second World War as the originator of Rensch bicycles. These were thoroughbred lightweights famous for their continental finishes, Massed Start frame design and novel construction – using lugless concepts made possible by a technique that the Rensch literature referred to as “bronze welding” but which is now better known as Sif-bronze brazing – a more controlled technique giving a stronger frame than normal brass brazing using lugs.
The pre-war bicycles were all true lightweights and most frames had Osgear rear ends needed for the gears used in Massed Start road racing. During WW2 Rensch was an oxy-acetylene welder in London’s shipyards. During this time he managed to continue bicycle trading but at some point decided to change the name of the firm to PARIS Cycles, probably in or shortly after 1942. It is thought that the change was to avoid the association of his own name with German interests, and of course there was at that time a violently anti-German feeling as a result of the London Blitz, particularly in the dockland areas. The new PARIS firm was set up in Rensch’s old home, 133 Stoke Newington Church Street in N16. The first publicity material came out in 1946 using this address.
The first frames advertised were the top of the line Tour de France (See image below) and the cheaper clubman-aimed Professional Road Racer –commonly known as the Professional. Demand for these bikes was considerable and to add to this pressure was the commercial success of a new model, the Galibier. This was a novel single main strut frame model with the prettiest – or most handsome – (take your pick) bilaminations at the head and strut joints. The Galibier had its detractors and many a fierce argument was had over this style guru’s dream machine.
The unexpected demand for the frames led to development of batch production of the bikes and to fast and furious expansion of the building space. Rensch had to take over the next door shop, the firm’s address now being 129/133 Stoke Newington Church Street. The enamelling shop also had its outside refinishing service as an established a market niche and moved to larger premises in Balls Pond Road near to the old Rensch firm’s pre-war roots.
By 1948 the PARIS marque had produced an attractive catalogue with some 13 models including four tandems. Rensch himself still built frames and there were RENSCH badged bicycles – these tended to the more expensive and finely finished models such as the RENSCH Champion du Monde in the range. As before all models were supplied as frame only – the marquee’s loyal enthusiasts were the type who were highly knowledgeable and selective about the components they put on their bicycles. Of course supplying a bicycle this way also avoided the swingeing 25% Purchase Tax the post war Government imposed on complete new machines.
Rensch though personally a friendly and even jovial character was beginning to suffer from diabetes and the pressure of running this whirlwind of a venture must have been an enormous additional strain. Those who came after certainly found the lack of sound management techniques surprising and this must have been a major cause of the firm’s problems. The collapse of the firm in 1952 has been said to be due to cash difficulties and certainly this was the case in a great many firms in the cycle trade at that time in the late 1940’s. In the case of PARIS the end was probably made inevitable because Harry also had marital problems and broke up from his wife in late 1951. Harry’s marriage break-up and his simultaneous departure from the firm meant that a new manager was needed.
WB (Bill) Hurlow was asked to manage the frame building side of the business in early 1952. Hurlow worked out of the old PARIS workshops for a period, trying to make the PARIS name work. However the firm was finally closed in 1953 and formally dissolved in 1955. Rensch never rejoined the cycle industry and died of diabetes-related diseases in 1984.
PARIS as a make did have a later incarnation when Michael Kemp, who had bought the PARIS name, traded as the Paris Lightweight Cycle Company Ltd. Monty Young of Condor Cycles, and Tom Board who was Condor’s frame builder, were also Directors of this venture. Tom Board, as the only builder, built high-class replica PARIS Galibier and Tour de France frames between 1981 and 1987. Condor have reintroduced the Galibier as a custom made retro design.
The above review is from the 25th Cycle & Motorcycle Show at Earls Court in 1949. You can see the Paris Cycles stand – number 164 – in the plan of the show below.
Paris information thanks to Alvin Smith. His history first published on www.classiclightweights.co.uk