Opening the package revealed a full chrome Frejus track frame, late 1960's vintage. It was filthy dirty, in a way only city bikes can get, but the ornate decals were still 98% intact. Rich transparent cobalt blue painted panels shown like Vatican glass. Chrome had weathered just slightly, a testament to time passed, without yielding to rust. The head badge, a tarnished metal lace, still proudly held all seven colors. Gracefully aged. Perhaps filth had protected this frame, filtering the evil from benign effects of time. I hadn't seen such a fine example of this classic Italian marque in many years. It made my day... Until I opened the instruction envelope. "All black, cheapest powder coat only, including head badge." It seemed absurd! This was a stunning example of classic Italian frame builder's craft. I have restored similar bikes, sweating over them for tedious hours of plating, painting and decal reproduction to make them look like this. Customers had paid hundreds of dollars to regain what this guy wanted to throw away. I pushed back irony with the hope I could buy this bike, rescuing it from it's apparently oblivious owner. A shop had written the order, not providing the rider's phone number. I called them, "What's the guy with the chrome Frejus got in mind? Does he have the original parts for this thing?" "Yes" the shop owner replied, "he's had the bike since new and it was completely original when he brought it in. (Yes!) He's changing to upright bars and Topline cranks. He likes the way the frame rides, but wants the bike black so it's less conspicuous." "Hmmm", I responded, "I haven't seen such a nice original Frejus in a long time and I have customers who would give him top dollar for it. Perhaps he'd sell or trade for a new Ibis Scorcher or something. May I call him?"
"No" came the response. "I know this guy, he's very clear about what he wants, that bike is his daily ride and he wants it back soon, he won't go for it". The dealer wasn't happy about this at all. I put myself in his place, and continued, "You've probably got time in this and special order parts on the bench. Can I do something for you?" A flat, tight, "No" slammed that door. I was stumped, reduced to pleading. "May I at least call him? Or call him for me if you prefer! I really can make a very good offer, the guy could buy a really first rate new bike from you. It seems an shame to do this job"! The dealer responds, "The guy won't change his mind. We tried! Why protect the customer from himself? We know this guy's a putz, but he knows what he wants. We could not sell him a new bike. What makes you think you can? Now, you got a problem with this simple job?" I look back at the frame, feeling like a butcher between an angry owner and a beautiful racehorse. Helpless. I take a deep breath and tell the dealer, "I'm sorry I just can't do this job." He's furious, threatens to ruin my reputation. He insists I do the "simple job" and hangs up on me.
I take the frame to the workbench and remove the head badge. The chrome responds brilliantly to the polish, shattering light over my tools. The tarnished brass badge turns to gold in my fingers but I leave enough patina to attest to the years, then re-fasten it with original type rivets. I carefully clean the delicate decals and touch up a scratch in the deep cobalt blue. Finally, I take the frame outside to admire it in the morning sunshine. I catch my reflection, distorted, as in a doomed racehorse eye. I pack the Frejus carefully, enclose the dealer's check, and a refund of his shipping cost.
The Frejus shipped out that afternoon.
Simple? Not really.
~ Jim Cunningham, CyclArtist
These photos are of a sister frame to the one in the story. We were permitted to restore this one. It was rusty and needed new chrome, paint and decals. The frame in the story looked almost this good under the grime. I never heard what happened to it after it came back all clean...