The Hetchins Keyhole

Steve Maas, Long Beach, California

 

I had been looking for a Hetchins for some time when, in mid 2003, I found this bike on eBay. It is a 57 cm Hetchins Keyhole, a bike at the less-ornate end of the Hetchins continuum, made in 1972, according to its previous owner, but more probably in 1974 (see the footnote, below). I bought it from its original owner. Keyholes are not that common, especially in the US. American collectors usually go for the curly-stay bikes and ignore the more ordinary ones. Still, the Keyholes are pretty classy, compared to most bikes of the period. They are extremely nice mounts, and anyone should be happy to own one. 

The bike wasn't quite what I was looking for. It was, however, relatively inexpensive and little used, having been in storage over 30 years. It was also mostly Campagnolo equipped. Unfortunately, when I received it, the bike was in worse condition than I had expected: the frame artwork had deteriorated significantly. I was in for a bigger job than I had anticipated.

Still, the bike had a lot of positive characteristics: except for large quantities of storage schmutz, the paint was in good shape. There were few scratches (at least none in highly visible places) and, as I discovered on disassembly, the bearing wear showed that it really hadn't been ridden much. Although purple might not have been my first choice of colors, the purple-gold combination (the royal colors of Rome, after all) are elegant. So, the bike clearly had potential.

Below are some pictures of the bike as I received it. Click on the thumbnails to see a larger picture, and use the back button of your browser to return to this page.

Frame Artwork Restoration

Restoring the artwork is a dilemma. First, the old decals are difficult to remove without damaging the paint. Hetchins bikes often have a distinctive, candy-apple paint, which I want to preserve. Second, I obtained replacement decals for the seat tube and down tube from H. Lloyd Cycles, but not the head tube decal. After contacting Hetchins experts worldwide, I learned from Len Ingram, keeper of the Historic Hetchins website, that it is indeed an unusual decal, not readily available. It is also too complicated for me to reproduce. I discovered that the seat-tube decal would not come off without damaging the paint (it had been clear-coated, as had the head-tube decal.) Same story for the downtube. Sigh. What to do?

After agonizing over the matter for far too long, I decided to restore the down-tube and head-tube decals in place, as best I could, and replace the seat-tube decal, which clearly was not restorable. I would repaint the gold panel in the seat tube if necessary.

After tearing down the bike, I began work on the frame by cleaning off its 30 years of storage dirt. I cleaned off the leaking grease from the headset with solvent, being careful not to damage the head-tube decal further. I washed down the frame with alcohol to remove old wax and the remaining grease. This made it look a lot better, although still a little dingy.

I then started in on the seat-tube decal. After trying every trick imaginable to remove it without damaging the paint, I gave up and took it off with sandpaper. The sanding ruined the gold paint, but I easily repainted it with spray lacquer, the same stuff I used on my Allegro

I then applied the seat-tube decal from H. Lloyd's. It went on easily. I clear-coated over it with unthinned oil-based lacquer, which I had previously tested on "trash" decals that Nick at Lloyd's had graciously provided with the purchased ones. I tested a few different paints. I found that you must be very careful about the clear coat; many paints dissolve the printing on the decal. For example, the lacquer worked fine, but if it were thinned, the thinner made a mess of the decal. Also, the decals are fragile, and require at least three coats of lacquer to protect them adequately.

Finally, I had to face the problem of the head-tube decal. The worst part was the shield in the center, although there was some minor flaking elsewhere on it (which, unfortunately, I made a little worse by messing with it). I decided to reproduce the shield on white-background decal film. First, I cut out the shield from the original decal with a Dremel tool. I then used the usual process: photograph it with a digital camera, fix it in Adobe Photoshop, and print on a color digital printer. This worked out pretty well. I finally painted over the whole decal with clear lacquer. 

I painted over the gold and white lug outlining, which had become quite dull, and put a couple coats of 50% thinned lacquer over the downtube decals to preserve them. Unlike replacements, the Hetchins fairground decals apparently are applied as separate letters. (I wonder if any frames ever left the factory misspelled--maybe after an employee had a long evening at the local pub!) I carefully coated only the letters, so that the areas between them could still be brightened by waxing.

I used an automotive cleaner/wax on the bike. It cleaned and polished it nicely, but over time, it turned into a dingy coating. Eventually, I had to remove it with alcohol. Choosing an appropriate polish is a dilemma, as the bike needs something to renew the finish, but something that leaves a  yucky film after a year or so is not the answer. As time goes on, I'll experiment more. 

Components

The components were awfully cruddy. The grease in the bottom bracket and headset was like chewing gum, and the wheels would hardly spin. However, after a quick soaking in solvent, the bearings were clean and most components looked like new. Indeed, the races showed hardly any wear.

The wheels were a dilemma. The bike had 27-inch wheels, using Wolber Super Champion rims and Campagnolo Record hubs. They were 36-spoke in front and 40-spoke in the rear. (It's a British thing; you wouldn't understand.) Unfortunately, the spokes were galvanized: ugly, ugly, ugly! So, I pulled apart the wheels and  discarded the spokes. I found some appropriate rims and a rear hub, and I built new 36-spoke, 700C wheels. Of course, this sidesteps the question of what to do with the 27-inch rims and 40-spoke rear hub. For now, they're in the parts storage heap. Might be there awhile.

The bike has a Huret Jubilee rear derailleur which doesn't fit well. One of the better Huret creations, but not really appropriate, in my view. I bought a Nuovo Record derailleur to replace it.

I needed a set of brakes for one of my other Hetchins bikes. The ones on  this bike didn't fit it very well (it needs short-reach brakes), so I put them on the other bike. Now, I need to find a new set for this bike. I have some other brakes in my component stash that might do, a miscellany of Campagnolo, Modolo, and Shimano. Something there should fit. 

As usual, I polished and buffed the stem and center portion of the handlebars. The part of the bars with the Cinelli logo was badly scratched, but after some sanding and buffing, it looks really nice. 

Reassembly

I put the bottom bracket together and installed the crank, then noticed that the bottom-bracket spindle was clearly too short. I took it apart again and finally took a close look at the spindle. It is not Campagnolo, as I had thought; it is actually a Teledyne titanium unit! A beautifully made component, though, quite unusual. I found a longer spindle in my BB stash and used it instead. 

I was concerned about the seat binder. It used a 5/16-22 hex socket cap bolt. This is a BSF-standard bolt, now considered obsolete even in England. The cap socket was chewed up because someone had used a metric Allen wrench on it instead of the correct English one. It was clear that I would not be able to service this thing on the road, because I never carry English Allen wrenches, and if I ever were to lose that bolt, I'd be sunk. I decided to convert it to a more standard 6 mm. I drilled out the threads in the frame and retapped it for 3/8-24, NF. I then took a 3/8-24 bolt, faced off the end, drilled and tapped a hole down its center for 6mm, and cut off about 0.3 inches. I threaded this piece into the frame hole; the fit was nice and snug, but I still used a little loctite on the threads. I made a brass washer for a 6 mm hex cap bolt, so the top of the cap would be flush with the recess in the frame, and finally touched up the paint. Now I have a perfect, replaceable, serviceable, 6mm binder. 

Originally, I reinstalled the Regina 5-speed freewheel that came with the bike. I found that the Regina chain was not flexible enough to shift well, so I installed a SRAM PC48, one of my favorite chains. The Regina, however, was annoyingly noisy, and the frame is actually sized for a 6-speed, so I replaced it a few weeks later with a Shimano 600 freewheel. Not exciting, but now the chain line is perfect, and, with the new Nuovo Record rear derailleur, it shifts nicely. 

The brakes that came with the bike ended up on my other Hetchins; they didn't fit the Keyhole well, anyway. I found a set of short-reach brakes in my pile o' parts that seemed OK. Only problem was the lack of pads. I installed a set of Kool-Stop Continental pads on them. These are obviously not correct, but they look OK and work nicely. They'll do for now. 

I bought a set of Continental Sport 1000 tires for the bike. The dark sidewall doesn't look quite right, but it's the best I could do at the moment. Nothing really goes well with purple, except perhaps black, which is a little boring. The 700C wheels, with Record hubs and old-style Mavic labels, look fine.

Finally, after all the uncertainty, I ended up using conventional black neoprene bar tape. With this and the brake pads, the bike has quite a few period-inappropriate components. I don't worry much about this; frankly, I think it's usually silly to insist on period-correctness for expendable components like chains, sprockets, freewheels, pads, bar tape, and lever hoods. These things wear out and are replaced by whatever is currently available. That's normal in the life of any real, working bicycle. It does not detract from what's really important in this bike: its classic design.

Completion

The bike's maiden voyage was on Friday, March 5, 2004; just a quick loop around Long Beach. I rode it a second time the following Sunday on the Pasadena ride. It generated the requisite approval; I'm satisfied. For no specific reason, this has become one of my favorite bikes. It just, somehow, feels good under me. Do I need more reason than that?

Fascinating Footnote

In 2006, I purchased a Hetchins Spyder, well documented as having been ordered in 1973 and delivered in February, 1974. The serial number of that bike is H10687. The serial number of this bike is H10685, only two numbers away. It therefore seems pretty clear that this bike was actually built in early 1974, perhaps late 73 (since frames were not necessarily produced in exactly the same sequence as their numbering). I also received an email from a person who once owned S/N H10690, another Spyder, which was purchased in 1974. Seems that the frames produced by Hetchins in some particular week in early 1974 lasted pretty well. 

More on Hetchins

See the links on my Hetchins Magnum Opus page; click here to go to it.