The Jack Taylor Story

The Jack Taylor Story

Some stories are too big for a regular magazine article. They could just about fill a book! In those cases, we dedicate almost an entire edition of Bicycle Quarterly magazine to a single topic.
The Jack Taylor story in Vol. 7, No. 4 is a good example. My friend Mark Lawrence became friends with the Taylor Brothers during his university years. The brothers had achieved world-wide fame for building touring bikes and tandems that rode wonderfully, yet were relatively affordable.
We decided that their story had to be documented, and Mark was the person to do the job. He spent many hours interviewing the surviving Taylor brothers, Ken and Jack, as well as Jack’s wife Peggy. The brothers gave him full access to their photo archives with wonderfully evocative shots of racing in post-war Britain, of the “works” (their shop), and of the bikes they built.
What emerged was a fascinating insight into the world of three “working lads” who started making bicycles in 1936. Their whole lives revolved around cycling: its social events, rides and races. The brothers were fascinated by European-style racing, and were suspended for life from their local club when they entered a renegade massed-start race. Back then, Britain’s official cycling bodies only sanctioned time trials. Undeterred, they rode in the first Tour of Britain (above). Ken Taylor is the third from the right, with the white cap.
I was most fascinated by their stories of going to the Paris Bicycle Show. They were blown away by the components and bicycles on offer in France. They came home loaded down with bike parts, and from then on, their machines were inspired by the French constructeurs. They started making custom racks, stems, tandems with oversize tubing, and even a copy of the Goëland trailer (above, Jack Taylor is chatting up a model during a photo shoot.)
When the Taylor brothers visited the Goëland shop, Louis Moire, the owner, asked them whether they could make trailers for him, too. He found trailers too labor-intensive to make a profit!
Later, the Taylors were discovered by American cyclists, and suddenly found themselves with dozens of visitors camping on the lawn near the works, wanting to visit and order bikes!
In the interviews, the Taylors talked about bicycle geometry and tubing, and many other aspects of what made their bikes special. Ken Taylor also related the secret of how Daniel Rebour made his famous drawings; the two had met many times at the various bike shows and bonded over their common interest in Leica cameras.
That issue of Bicycle Quarterly also included a photo feature of a Jack Taylor tandem in their typical “flamboyant” paint, and a ride report on that machine in an eventful 300 km brevet. From the Taylors, we learned that the “Mondrian” decals were designed by one of their first American customers, Audrey Radmore, who visited the works during a round-the-world tour.
Even after much editing, it was still impossible to fit all the great photos and stories into a standard issue of Bicycle Quarterly. So we extended the issue by four pages, making it our largest to date.
Click here to order the Jack Taylor issue.

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Comments (14)

  • Mike

    That was a wonderful article, and I was most grieved at the time to discover that I had left the issue in the seat-back pocket of an airplane. I only hope that the next occupant of the seat discovered Bicycle Quarterly and the rich history of cycling as a result of my lapse!

    April 17, 2013 at 6:00 am
  • Patrick Moore

    I enjoyed that article as much for the historical and cultural context as for the bicycle information. More like it, please!

    April 17, 2013 at 6:53 am
  • Michael Thompson

    What a pleasent surprise to see the Taylors on “Off the Beaten Path” this morning. I placed my first order for two Super Tourists back in 1983 while visiting the works in Stockton-on-Teeside. My wife and I were on a UK bicycle tour and we made the York Rally part of our trip. While there we met the Taylor brothers and after the Rally we cycled to Stockton. Many, many miles later I’m still riding a Jack Taylor made bicycle, and still in contact with Jack and Ken. Also while there we met and made friends with Dave and Audry Radmore, Audry designed the modrian type logo, as stated in the artical. Dave and I made a trip over in 2004 for a visit with all three brothers. We stayed with Norman, and had quite a lot of fun cycling and making a Pub run with Norman on Friday night. Jack hosted us to a Jazz music venue one night and Ken took Dave, Norman and myself out to for very nice dinner one evening. The Taylors not only made great bikes, they are just fine folks. I feel quite fortunate to have made there friendship back in 1983. As Ken would write on eveybox, “Have a Good Ride” and I really have had a “good ride” on my Jack Taylor made bikes.
    Mike Thompson
    Monroe, Louisiana

    April 17, 2013 at 7:08 am
  • thebvo

    Wow! Mike Thompson is a lucky fella.
    I too had bad luck with that, awesome, issue. Mine got wet in my tent while winter camping. That’s right, it’s never too cold to geek out on bikes! Am I dense or did you say that the 25% off is for all back issues? If I order more than one volume it still counts?
    If that’s the case, I’ll be bike nerding out for some time!

    April 17, 2013 at 7:43 am
  • Steve Green

    I met Norman, briefly, in Wales, when he was looking at my bike (nothing special, but nicely made). He said that he had built a “few” frames himself. Naturally, I asked his name; When he said “Norman Taylor” I burst out with “Jack’s brother?”. His reply tickled me; “Aye, but it’s me that does the brazing.”
    He was a charming man.

    April 17, 2013 at 8:13 am
  • Tom Macleay

    You must watch this documentary if you are interested in Jack Taylor bikes. I come back to it often. You won’t regret it!

    April 17, 2013 at 9:53 pm
    • Tom Macleay

      …and sign me up for volume 7 at 25% off.

      April 17, 2013 at 9:54 pm
    • Garth

      The link opened to a video on fender installation – do you have a different link to try?

      April 19, 2013 at 7:28 pm
      • Frank

        I don’t know for sure which video Tom meant to post but it might be this BBC-TV documentary on the Taylors from 1986, titled “The Bike Brothers – Jack, Ken and Norman Taylor” on YoTube:

        April 25, 2013 at 1:46 am
  • Brian

    great stuff. I can’t wait to get a copy. I own what I believe is the largest tandem the Taylors ever made which as roughly a 64cm captain and about a 58cm stoker. Here’s a pic after a cleaning a slight restore last summer –
    My wife and I enjoy riding it as much as possible.

    April 18, 2013 at 10:20 am
  • Ablejack Courtney

    My brother’s current project bike is a Taylor light touring model in olive green with Mondrian detailing. Our little gang, The Buffalo Lazy Randonneur Club wears BLRC on the back of our jerseys. The same as worn by the British League of Racing Cyclists that infamously bestowed the lifetime ban on the great Jack Taylor.

    April 18, 2013 at 4:28 pm
  • Mark in Beacon

    What an idyllic scene of the race, with a fan in the wooded countryside waving next to the hanging laundry. I also love all the neat bundles in the photo with the trailer. And that flamboyant magenta is spectacular–that hue was in the running for my new bike, but I already have a Louison Bobet in a similar shade.
    I too enjoyed the issue of BQ that featured the Taylors. Perhaps you’ll be doing another dedicated issue soon.
    Hope all are enjoying the emerging springtime!

    April 19, 2013 at 4:23 am
  • Heather

    Some time ago watched the short documentary on the Taylor’s and them working in their little shop. I think there is a little site dedicated to them where you can find it. It was all so low fi and simple! So inspiring that they rode into old age, just raised the handlebars and eventually had upright bars. One day I saw an elderly but spry man in a bike shop for a fitting. He had a gorgeous older lugged steel bicycle, but was having trouble reaching the drops anymore. I think he was hoping for a new stem, but he young hipster bike shop guy was like oh I can’t help you with that bike, you should get a comfort hybrid. He was so dismayed and I was appalled by how quickly this gent was written off. I told him about Jack Taylor bicycles and the brothers who rode into their 80’s, but just got upright handlebars and to just do that.
    Jack Taylors come up from time to time on ebay and cried in my tea when a mixte came up that I could not bid on. I’d love to read the article.

    April 19, 2013 at 12:05 pm

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