“The Rolls Royce of bicycles” is an oft-used description of Hetchins, one of the most iconic British marques. The elaborately carved lugs and ‘curly’ stays that are characteristic of Hetchins frames are truly awe-inspiring, especially when coupled with their Latin model designations.
Hyman ‘Harry’ Hetchins escaped to England around 1917, a refugee of the Russian Revolution and opened a music shop in Tottenham, in London’s north, in 1922. Aside from sheet music and gramophones, and as a result of him also being a keen cyclist, Harry also began selling bicycles.
As a result of his natural inclination towards engineering and his business acumen, Harry built himself a bike which was promptly snatched up, encouraging him to seek out more local frame builders. Fortuitously, he was approached by a Jack Denny, who would become his business partner.
Jack presented Harry with a new frame design inspired by the rake in a curved pair of forks. The thinking was that if curved forks absorbed vibrations, then why couldn’t the same physics be applied to the rear? Harry saw the marketing potential and the ‘Rear Vibrant Triangle’ was patented in 1932.
Hetchin’s ornamental lugs aren’t just for decoration, the extra contact area makes for a stronger joint. Jack found the shapes to improve the capillary action required by the brazing process with up to 15 seconds less heating — handy for tempered steel tubes, which weaken with re-heating.
The lugs began as cast Chater Lea pieces, to which Jack would braze extra material before filing them into his designs. They deserved grand names, so a Latin phrase book was referenced. Hence, Nulli Secundus (second to none), Experto Crede (the expert’s choice) and Magnum Opus (great work).
A customer could choose the style of lug and have it applied to their choice of frame, which included road, tandem, path racer, touring and track frames. The rear triangles were available in orthodox and Vibrant layouts, or an equilateral ‘Hellenic’ version.
The Magnum Opus Millennium was a commemorative edition, only 15 produced for the year 2000. A Chinese collector acquired this one, who passed it to Serk, a bike shop / bar in Beijing, were it was built it up with a Campagnolo C-Record group, NOS Mavic GP4 rims and a Modolo cockpit.
The saddle is a Paul Smith x Kashimax special edition, a quirky choice but a complementary match. Nothing can distract the eyes, however, from those famous lugs and that Vibrant frame. Special thanks to Shannon Bufton at Serk, Mathias Magg and Yichen for the photography.
For more information on Hetchins and to view an amazing collection of beautifully lugged bicycles, head to the exhaustive Historic Hetchins site.