Clive Bonavia, Master Framebuilder

Clive Bonavia was a gifted craftsman and teacher. My attempt with this post is to (with the majority of work done by David Jacobs) tell the story of one of Clives bikes. This is not the whole story just a small chapter in Clives building career.

Below is a picture I took of Clive in 2009 taken at his home on Bexhill on sea, on the south coast of England.

Clive’s Reynolds 753 certification.

Clive has a great story surrounding this certification and how he had made a beautiful hardwood frame box to ship one of his frames to Reynold’s for inspection prior to receiving his certification. Expecting the box back with his certification a few weeks later the certification came back through the post…. no Frame box? Clive saw it as a compliment, but still missed the box.

The below text was taken with permission from David Jacobs a track racer now living in Australia whom Clive made this beautiful track bike for in the winter of 82-83. In conversation with David about his post it turns out that we have both worked in the same bike shop in Brisbane Australia! Albeit a few years apart. This is a small world indeed! Thanks again go to David Jacobs and of course Clive.

We all have at least one prized possession, something you could never part with, my last custom built steel frame by Clive Bonavia is one of those.

Palmer Park Reading 1984 *According to David this picture was taken the very first time David rode his Bonavia, notice the quick release front wheel (Clive had yet to complete the front track wheel) and headtube minus the headbadge.

First I should explain, I started racing in 1974, Track around 1976- That was in London regularly riding Paddington Rec, Herne Hill, Palmer Park Reading and later around the UK, always the eternal B grader.

Paddington Rec London 1984

I emigrated to Australia in 1994 and still race as a master in and around Brisbane.

Clive Bonavia ( the frame builder) owned a successful joinery business in Hampton Hill, outside London. As a hobby he made a few very good guitars. He also did a bit of bike riding, not racing just social stuff and decided to put himself together a bike. Sure we all do that, but Clive went and bought a set of tubing and lugs, hubs spokes and rims.
He built a few more road frames for friends of friends. One of his joinery customers was into the new fangled sport of triathlons and had this idea to make a frame with a very steep seat angle (think it was 78), at this time late 70’s early 80’s that was innovative. Clive built the frame. Clive’s signarture marks were incredible accuracy in his mitres and only using lower temprature silver solder to fit the tubing to the lugs.
In around 1980 I got onto him after I had broken a cyclo cross frame it needed a new top tube fitted, he was local and reasonably priced.

Esher Common Surrey 1981

By this time he had made a hand full of frames, and I started discussions about him building me a new track frame, “fixie no4”.
So in the Winter of 1982 I started to design my new frame, I had a pretty good one already, but wanted something better- it comes down to riding the national track champs and not being able to blame your equipment.
I needed a 57.5 cm square frame, we could not get long seatposts back then as I would have preferred to not have such a large and potentially flexible frame.
For the tubing Clive got me in a set of Columbus Pista PS, all well and good- but the downtube and chainstays seemed just a little flimsy in the tech specs, so Clive suggested using a heavy tandem gauge Reynolds 531 downtube, chainstays and fork blades.

The rear end and bottom bracket height proved the most troublesome- I needed a high bottom bracket for the steep tracks, as this would also produce a short chainstay for better rigidity and sprinting, but if it was too high it would effect the stability of the bike and my centre of gravity, making for a unstable frame.  So a compromise was found and with the 74 degree seat angle the rear wheel ( a standard single) would fit with minimum clearance against the seat tube with the rear wheel all the way into the dropout, the chainstay bridge was then ovalized to accommodate the rear wheel. We almost didn’t fit the chainstay bridge but after running some calculations decided the stress without it on the bottom bracket would be too great

The fork crown and bottom bracket are Cinelli . The fork rake was calculated by Clive.

The bottom bracket was going to be one of the first Royce Titanium ones supplied, the wheels Campag Pista and after a lot of searching 167.5mm Campag Pista Cranks.
Clive designed the frame around these components, to obtain a perfect chainline. The seatpost was a problem, I was over the Campag two bolt design and the bloody stupid 11 mm spanner to do anything, but single bolt Campag ones were very hard to come by, I got an ALE one, the saddle a brand new alloy cradled Cinelli/Unica with a plastic seat and leather covered.

Pedals, Campag chrome Pistas with Christophe steel toeclips. Headset Campag Pista Chrome.
I first used a Cinelli deep angle 110 steel stem and 14 bars, these were soon changed to a less radical 3TTT 120 mm track stem and Cinelli 67 Pista bar.

Back in the Early 80’s Reynolds brought out 753 tubing, if you wanted any to make a frame you first had to get a couple of tubes and a lug “kit” silver solder or braze it together, then send it back for testing. Clive got the kit put the bits together- few days later got a letter asking if he wanted a job making frames for the Raleigh Special Projects unit.

I met up with Clive again in the UK 2006, he had sold the joinery business and for the last few years had been teaching frame building in his home workshop.
Since then he has passed his name to Ross Allan one of his former students who in 2010 emigrated to Canada with the focus of developing Bonavia Cycles.

I retired my Bonavia in 2007.  The Bonavia hung in my garage for some time, and then slowly thanks mostly to guys on Fixed.org I wast inspired to put it back together as it always was. I have not resprayed it or polished the components, it is as it always has been built for speed not looks.

Apart from the the original Royce Ti bottom bracket and Campag 167.5mm cranks that are on my current track bike, this is pretty much as I raced on it from 1984 until 2007.
The wheels are my 1984 race ones, 32H Mavic hubs with Mavic CX18 rims, radial front 2 cross rear. The hubs were bought from the last day at a Bicycle trade show first pair in the UK with English threading. Singles are modern, sadly wore out all my Clement No 1 and No 3 silks- also cannot believe I didn’t hang onto any Dourdoigne singles.
I cannot imagine having my current alloy track frame last me 25 years.

The colour photo is possibly the last time I rode it in anger at speed in November 2006. That was at Chandler Velodrome here in Brisbane QLD Australia.