London Classics: Evans Cycles

These days it’s London’s most visible bike chain, but Tom Bogdanowicz revisits the history of FW Evans

To most people Evans Cycles means a large chain with shops in most London high streets. That’s certainly true, but it’s also a brand with a venerable London pedigree dating back to the 1920s and firm roots in Lambeth where the brand was born.

Hilary Stone, the cycling historian, describes Frederick William Evans as he first British builder of specialist touring bikes — a heritage the company recently celebrated with a 90th anniversary touring model in classic steel. Evans edited CTC’s Cycling magazine before opening a bike shop in Westminster Bridge Road in 1922.  Stone credits Evans with inventing frames with a double fi xed hub and rear-dropout screw adjusters that became ubiquitous on quality frames. His specialism in touring bikes apparently came from links with CTC members and encouraged Evans to offer French-designed Cyclo derailleurs in the 1930s when most UK bikes were fitted with two- or three-speed hub gears (derailleurs allowed up to 12 gears). Other Evans touring refi nements included braze-ons for racks and hub brakes.

When FW Evans died during the war (knocked down by a milk float) his wife took over the business for several years, before selling it to Joe Smith. By the time I was a regular visitor, along with cycling author Richard Ballantine, the shop had moved round the corner to Kennington Road. Joe’s son Gary ran the relatively up-market operation with frames hung up in rows along the ceiling and bikes on the floor as far as you could see. Through a hole in the floor you could peer into the workshop where frame-builder Harry Healey built custom frames (models like the Continental and the Classic) and Bob the mechanic serviced bikes. It was in the window of the shop that I spotted what appeared to be the perfect bicycle — a gleaming black frame, gold components and superb vintage gold transfers saying ‘The Evans’ in a 1920s-style script. The lugs were Spearpoint but with the uncommon addition of round cut-outs. I learned that it was Ballantine who had uncovered the old (20s) transfers and assembled the glorious machine. It turns out that Ballantine, an old LCC member, still owns and rides the bike.

Gary Smith expanded the Evans business, moving to The Cut at Waterloo and then opening another shop nearby. Harry the builder was moved into yet another basement and continued brazing until he died in the 1980s. Thereafter Evans frames were made by outside builders like Nigel Dean and Bob Jackson (who also built the second generation Hetchins). Touring frames continued to be a speciality.

Expansion came about as a franchise scheme initially, but by the 2000s Evans bought the franchises back and set about becoming a major force in cycle retailing. It established the Pinnacle brand and is about to revive earlier FW Evans models.

Its 47 stores are spread across the UK, though almost half are in London. The Smith family remain shareholders in the company, but an Evans is back at the helm. Working for Active Private Equity, Nick Evans (unrelated as far as we know), led the Evans buyout and has become the company’s chairman.

Presumably it is no coincidence that the FW Evans brand is being revived — if they were to resuscitate ‘The Evans‘ decals as well, then its first and latest owners would be equally name-checked.

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