The Flying Gate, a legendary British bike frame, has been around for nearly 90 years, and the rather unusual design is still being manufactured, just by a different frame builder. It now even comes in a “rough stuff” design allowing for up to 32mm tires.
Originally made by the Baines Brothers who entered the bike-making business in the late 1800s, the iconic short-wheelbase Flying Gate has been around for generations.
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The bike was originally a product of Baines Brothers, and over the years the design became something of a legend. There were talks about it being used by the 1938 Olympic cycling team until the war put a stop to the Games. And when Baines had to shut up shop in the 1950s, the manufacturing of Flying Gate was on hiatus for a couple of decades.
That was until 1979, when Trevor Jarvis of TJ Cycles picked up the business and started making the bike again. Trevor re-registered the design under the name Flying Gate, an old bike nickname that references the quirky lines and fast ride.
Before looking at the newer developments, let’s first go back to the origins. The Flying Gate was originally designed by Reginald Baines of the Baines Brothers in 1934, then called the ‘VS37’. The VS in the name stands for ‘very short’ and really, the 940mm wheelbase of this bike was and is, really short. Later, it also came to be known as Whirlwind and International TT.
The bike shone on the roads with riders such as Jack Fancourt, Jack Holmes and many others recording excellent times on this new responsive design and the name “Gate” came later, derived from its unusual construction. This nickname stuck, however, and this is what we call it today.
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The basis of the Flying Gate’s unusual-looking design was short chainstays, which radically reduced the overall wheelbase. The traditional seat tube was cut off and a new vertical tube was fitted from the bottom bracket, perpendicular to the standard-length top tube.
This made the bike ideal for time trials, as the rider could maintain an optimal ‘tucked’ riding position but with greater acceleration, as the rear wheel sits very close to the bottom bracket. Where the vertical tube meets the top tube (known as the T-lug), small diameter strut tubes were added to join directly with the rear dropouts, giving a secure fixing point for the short seat tube as well as contributing to the desired responsiveness, which remains true to this day.
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The vertical tube that really makes the bike stand out from the crowd adds stability to the head tube too, but without making the ride feel ‘harsh’. Jarvis says: “The vertical tube adds triangulation that counters the torsional pedaling forces, producing a bicycle that has given great pleasure to all those who have ridden one.”
From TJ Cycles to Smithy Frameworks
Trevor Jarvis continued to make several different designs of the Flying Gate, and many of the 600 frames he made became collector’s items (there is a whole facebook group dedicated to Flying Gate enthusiasts). Jarvis had already planned to retire at the age of 80 and hired Liz Colebrook to make the frames for him.
But years later, he was still going; and when Colebrook wanted to move on to do other things, Jarvis was looking for someone to take over. In 2021 Jarvis met Chris Yeomans, an avid cyclist, artist and blacksmith-turned bespoke bike frame builder. With 29 years of experience of manipulating metal in his bike frame building, Yeomans was up to the challenge.
“The tipping point for me was when we went along to the Flying Gate Weekend, an annual meeting of Flying Gate enthusiasts that attracts over 50 riders for a weekend of riding and food. Lots of food!”, Yeomans recalls.
“Ages range from 17 to 87 for the riders, with frames dating from the 1940s to the day before the weekend. I was blown away by the enthusiasm they had for the bike and their sense of community. I realized it was an opportunity that if overlooked I could well regret for a long time.”
In 2021 Yeomans took over the ownership of TJ Cycles but continued to liaise with Jarvis on all things Flying Gate.
Along with the business came the frame jig that Jarvis had built in the 70s. Moving it out of his workshop for the first time in 40-odd years was a big step for someone who has dedicated so much of his life to building this frame.
To this date, the design of the frame remains pretty much the same as the original Baines, Yeomans says.
“Jarvis used to alter the lug designs every so often and I will do the same. Dropouts are now available in stainless and the tubes available to the Baines brothers have been superseded by better ones from Reynolds and Columbus.”
Yeomans has introduced the Flying Gate RS (rough stuff) model which will take 32 mm tires, as big as you can go without drastically changing the design. This was in response to tires volumes that Jarvis had never dreamed of using, Yeomans says.
“28mm was considered the max. It’s not a gravel bike, more a respectful nod to the Rough Stuff riders of yesterday. What we try to do on a bike hasn’t changed much over the years, it’s just that nowadays there is more chance of the bike coming home in one piece. Oh and less pushing!” Yeomans explains.
And what about Trevor Jarvis?
“Hey [Trevor] informed me last week that he has finally handed his gas bottles back and is officially retired at 88. We’ll wait and see,” Yeomans laughs.
You can find out more about the Flying Gate on the TJ Cycles website and about Chris Yeomans from Smithy Frameworks.