Beautiful and unique design, engineered to last a lifetime.
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I stumbled down the proverbial rabbit hole in the summer of 2016. Having recently acquired a vintage British bicycle frame from the late 1940s, I was pondering what would be required to get it rolling again. I had moved to the US from the UK in the late 2000s, and the idea of riding around on British steel had a lot of appeal. Not knowing what components would befit so special a frame, I began asking in the far recesses of bike forums for advice. Various brands were suggested: Williams, Gnutti, Stronglight, Simplex. One name, however, was proffered above all others and in more reverential tones. That was Chater-Lea. Vaguely recalling the name, I began to look for what they made. I was sure I had seen that distinctive CL monogram before, but knew nothing more.
Roll forward to today. We — a small group of Anglo-American designers, engineers, and product people with a passion for cycling, sustainability and supporting a revival in domestic manufacturing — find ourselves the custodians of this storied company. Any business that made products from the late Victorian era until the end of the 1980s would certainly have a rich history, but this one seems exceptional. It seems worthy of special attention, of once more being part of the UK manufacturing scene. Wanting to leverage opportunities afforded by manufacturing advances and to utilize the very best of British engineering, we set about rebuilding Chater-Lea. Unlike other recently founded companies, articulating the mission and values at the heart of the brand required no soul searching. The words were delivered to us by the hundreds of people who had built the firm over generations: “beautiful and unique design, engineered to last a lifetime.”
Since we re-emerged in the spring of 2019 with our first product, our motives and desires have been the subject of speculation. Given Chater-Lea’s remarkable past in the world of cycling and manufacturing and the esteem its products garnered (and continue to), we are not surprised. We have been encouraged by an amazing amount of goodwill, often from places we least expected it: those steeped in the traditional world of bicycle and component manufacturing; makers of all types and sizes keen to collaborate in the production of new British products; and most of all, cyclists both young and old who ‘get’ what this is all about.
We’ve begun this blog as a vehicle to tell the story of the revived Chater-Lea. While we may on occasion draw on its wonderful past and provide more detail on how the revival materialized, the project is about what’s ahead. We’ll focus on the story behind new products, our partners on the journey, and the rebuilding of this company for the 21st century.
Thank you for coming along with us.
*Photos courtesy of David Rielly (2019)