26 December 2010

The Twins: 1983 Norco folders

Allow us to introduce the Twins:

They're folding bikes! Here they are in the back of Angel's mom-mobile after she bought them back in mid-November.

The red one is Angel's, the blue one is mine, and they are practically identical. They have a Raleigh Twenty style folding mechanism (ie, a big hinge in the middle of the frame - and that's all), 20-inch white wall tires, and to our enormous surprise, Sturmey Archer 3-speed shifters and hubs. They were cheap like borscht, and look like they'll be reliable little bikes once we tune them up and add milk crates to the rear racks.

After some digging, this is what little information we have been able to find:

- Norco are a Canadian marque based in British Columbia, who started selling bikes (mostly copies or rebadged bikes from other makers) in 1964. They're best known for 1970-80s BMX-style imports and the suspension-fork mountain bikes they manufactured starting in 1993 with names like the Sasquatch and the Wolverine. Unfortunately there is very little information on their history or their older bikes online.

- A wonderful History of the Folding Bike helped us identify the frame style as a U-frame, produced in quantity by a number of European makers starting in the 1970s.

This is the only other photo we have been able to find floating around out there of a Norco folding bicycle. It turns out it's the subject of this bike forum discussion, which confirmed that it's called a U-frame.

- Another discussion of U-frame folders on the same forum yields this nugget from user LittlePixel:
It's one of a slew of similar 'U' frame [as they are wont to be described] designs that enveloped Europe in the late seventies/early eighties that were cheaper to make than their earlier more sturdy cousins by Puch, Raleigh, Dawes. I don't know the name as a lot of these kind of frames were pretty generic and perhaps not even a Peugeot design at all. They can be fun bikes (my sister had a non-pug one named a 'Marathon' as her first real bike aged about 10) but most people in these forums would not consider them beyond occasional or light use as the position of the fold and single downtube without extra strengthening can make for a slighty flexy ride.
(Emphasis mine.) Meh, we can live with that.

- A discussion of U-frame folders on Bikehugger tells us that the Phillips Folda was a U-frame. Since Phillips was a TI-owned marque, that could explain why our bikes have Sturmey Archer parts. This recent discussion at The Raleigh Twenty confirms that TI sold U-frame folding bicycles starting in 1984 - and their History page indicates they started calling it the Compact in 1987. And photos in Flikr's Foldr vintage-folding-bike pool show Raleigh-badged, Raleigh-badged and Hercules-badged U-frames with similar curved rear stays and rack as our Norcos - along with Italian-made Cinzia, Graziella, TicTac and Bianchi Aquiletta (which has a 3-speed SA hub). More about Cinzia's folding bicycle can be found here

- Back to that bike forum, someone asked a question about a Norco 3-speed folder that's marked Made In Italy.

What we know from careful examination of the bicycles:

The stainless-steel fenders are stamped INOX.
The brake calipers and levers are stamped WEINMANN.

The shape of the brazed-on rack and rear stays is fairly unique.
Interesting Y-shape in the chainwheel. Cottered cranks. Stainless steel chainguard.
Aluminum kickstand on blue bike is marked Made In Italy; red bike is missing its kickstand. 

Italian-made AMBROSIO rims with SUPERGA SPORT 20 x 1.75 nylon whitewall tires.

The saddle is stamped on the painted underside of its metal pan:

The headtube is stamped SIGUR BREVETTATO. 
Brevettato is a word associated with adjustable handlebars.
The top of the ring is stamped OMEGA, and the lever is marked SIGUR BREV.

The lever on the folding mechanism (seen here from the front when not folded) 
is also marked SIGUR BREV.

Folded. Those are the three-speed and brake cables.

ITM stamp in triangle on top of handlebars. (ITM Italia are still a component manufacturer.)

NORCO decals on headtube (above) and U-tube (below).

Made In Italy decal and sales decal from The Sports Stop, Edson, Alberta on the seat tube.

COMPACT decal on rear stay.

Front hub marked IMB.

Rear Sturmey-Archer AW 3-speed hubs stamped 83 2 (red, shown) and 83 3 (blue, not shown).

Plastic 3-speed Sturmey-Archer shifter

Union pedals.

Both bikes are missing the axle nut on this side of the rear wheel for some reason,
but otherwise need very little work.

Can anyone tell us more about these bikes? Does anyone know which Italian manufacturers Norco was working with?

Update: It appears that (Illinois company) KTC's Hyda Bike was made by the same Italian manufacturer, and sometimes has the Cinzia's star-shaped chainwheel and sometimes the Y chainwheel seen above. Here are links to one on eBay, two with the Y chainwheel on IBikeDB, and one with the star chainwheel on a blog.


  1. "They were cheap like borscht"
    Ah, yer making me jealous! I see the occasional old (70's) generic folder on Portland CL, but the sellers still want more than I'm willing to pay. Nice find. And I like those brazed-on racks.

  2. I really like the grips on the blue one (possibly on the red one too it's handlebars aren't in the pictures) if your planning on switching them out let me know and I'll totally buy them!

  3. I love the look of these bikes and the U frame. I've never been crazy about folding bikes, but these look like they would be fun to ride. Enjoy, and keep us posted.

  4. Ooh! Via a commenter on @Velouria's recent post on the D2R Boogie: here's a modern version of the U-frame.


    I'm wondering if the accessories would fit on the Twins. A front rack might come in handy!

  5. @adventure! - I think we paid $50 per bike. =D The brazed-on rack was what sold me on it, too.

    @mattyfu - Both bikes have those grips. I was thinking of keeping mine all original, but if either of us decide to swap the grips out we'll let you know first!

    @SM - We did pump up the tires on the blue one and take it for a brief spin. It was pretty comfortable - can't wait to have it tuned up and take it for a proper ride!

  6. $50? Sheesh. I'd be lucky to find a 70's department store folder that looks like it was stored underwater for that price in Portland!

  7. Sweet finds!

    We'll have to have another foldy ride this year.

  8. @breakingchainstakinglanes: I won't lie. I totally had the foldy ride in mind when we bought these. =D

  9. Very, very cool. My husband purchased a Dahon folding bike for me early this fall and I love it. They make a u-frame that is really lovely but a bit more expensive than I can afford.

  10. This is the foldy ride we're referring to: http://edmontonbikes.ca/calendar/more/1st_annual_folding_bicycle_pub_crawl/

  11. The 1st folding bike pub crawl was a blast... I organized it and we are looking to have another one in the spring.

    This U frame design is very common among Euro folders and all the parts on these seem to have been made in Italy, "Brev" is short for Brevetto which means patent in Italy.

    The Raleigh Compact and non folding Saffron were also Italian made and my daugher's Saffron dates to 1980.



  12. PS - The axle nuts are proprietary and you can get them at EBC or send me a note as I have some.

    You probably know this already.

  13. @Sixty Fiver: the axle nuts have already been ordered from one of my enablers on eBay. =D Springtime, sweet! So I guess the foldy ride will get an upgrade to biannual?

    We really should get on organizing a local vintage bike get-together, too... the photos at http://www.canadianvintagebicycleshow.ca/index.html make me weak-kneed and a little jealous.

  14. Deb - You really have to shop local. :)

  15. We hope to make the folding bike ride a bi-annual event (at least) as there are a lot of people in the city who have developed folderitis.

    I have 3 folders now... a Phillip's 20, a Raleigh 20, and a Bickerton.

  16. That Norco looks very much like my Atala, a big italian company still in bizness.
    I recall they are called "Graziellas" in Italy after one of the earlier producers of that design.

  17. I'm so jealous of that blue foldy:( I am making myself not scour ads for more bikes though lol...Eliza gets so damned jealous and hubby may toss me out in the snow;)

  18. The blue bike has a lot of the detail characteristics of my Graziella Brevetta city bike. It most likely was made by the Italian company Graziella.

    My other folder is a Downtube 8 speed SA fully sprung mountain bike. My previous Downtube (orange color) was stolen on Whyte at 104 St. Edmonton, a couple of years ago. Please watch for it.

  19. I acuired a "Hyda Bike" on Craigslist this past weekend and the geometry is exactly the same. Mine does not have a Sturmey Archer hub, instead it has a freewheel hub. Also the brake handles are integrated into the handlebar, that is, the base pivot is brazed/welded in, not clamped on like most bikes.

    The handlebars **are** flexy. I've only ridden it about 5 miles with the kids so far but if you try and pedal hard you will feel the handlebars flex forward and back as your body pushes against it. Haven't felt it wiggle side-to-side. Slightly annoying but I think as I put it through its paces I can trust it...

    $60 for it and a Dahon with a few missing parts..

  20. Hi! How did you date these as 1983? Your bikes have identical decals to my Norco Avanti and I'm trying to figure out the date.
    See: http://www.bikeforums.net/showthread.php/721077-Help-dating-an-old-Norco-Avanti?p=12413404


  21. @mark. - The 1983 date comes purely from the stamps on the Sturmey-Archer 3-speed hubs, which have kept to a year-month format forever. So 83 2 and 83 3 = manufactured in February and March of 1983, and likely the bicycles were assembled in spring of 1983 for sale. Like you, I had no luck finding information on dating Norcos based on their serial numbers or decals - but I bet @SixtyFiver's comment on your bikeforums.net thread is right on the money. Keith has a great eye for dating things based on such details after years in the biz and volunteering at our local bike kitchen. =D

  22. Thanks! For some reason I feel my Avanti is a very early 80s (even an 83 since the decals are identical), but perhaps it's a late seventies...

  23. I have an 84 Peugeot Folding bike, model P20 that has the same loop frame and rack. Same stamps on the handlebar, same rim manufacturer, and mine came with Pirelli whitewalls. One exploded so they are now whitewall Kendas. Got it in Sarasota for 125 in pristine hardly ridden condition with a free wire basket. Check it out on www.palmbeachcyclechic.blogspot.com


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