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Amsterdam, Netherlands
Welcome to my BLOG about my pasion for retro mountainbikes and everything around that. I love to read your comments in the GUESTBOOK (on the right side) or email me : basads (at) gmail (dot) com thanks for reading, Bas

Monday, 29 June 2009

Kirk precision

Yesterday i was walking form my home to the Albert Heijn and found this on the side of the street.
Something special: A Kirk Precision.
It's not a bike i am specially fond of or anything but certainly is special and not something i was expecting to see parked on the side of the road, especially equipted like this with the original time period correct parts like the Spengle Wheels and Syncros parts.

I remember seeing this in the shopwindow of a bikeshop in Broek in Waterland long time ago, also white, never seen 1 since so it might be this one
BITD there was a story that the frame was made out of seawater.
I have searched the internet looking for info about this bike/brand and this is what i found:

Extract from an article in The Boneshaker 165 Summer 2004 (written by Gerry Moore) - The Kirk Precision bicycle frame was the brainchild of Frank Kirk, a gifted design engineer with many years experience in the automative and aerospace industries. He had seen the possibilities of casting technology whilst working as a designer for Ford Motor Company at Dagenham, Essex. The company was producing large mouldings for car bumpers and he saw the potential for using such a system to produce other products. He had had previous experience of magnesium casting, when working for a company making components for Jaguar fighter aircraft and high performance cars. By the 1980s, he became convinced that he could put his moulding and casting knowledge into the production of a cheap and durable bicycle frame.
Magnesium alloy is one of the lightest metals by volume though its modulus of elasticity (its rigidity) is much lower than steel. It is at the same time cheap and environmentally friendly. A cubic meter of seawater contains enough magnesium to make a bicycle frame. But to turn the magnesium salts into metal requires large amounts of electricity hence Norsk Hydro's later involvement. The frame design was carried out using what was at the time a very sophisticated computer, producing mathematical models analysing the criteria of production, stress, ride, performance and styling. He aimed to match the most advanced conventional steel frame.

(Picture of the Magnesium melting)

To his surprise, Kirk found that computer-aided-design (CAD) could not improve on the standard double triangle concept, nor on the positioning of components in relation to one another, as in the traditional bicycle frame design. What the computer did achieve, however, was to design a frame unhampered by the limitations of tubing. In an interview for Bicycle magazine Kirk claimed:
"...the section that represents the down tube on a conventional frame is able to almost exactly follow the axis of torque, about which the whole thing potentially twists, and which accounts for most of the increased stiffness. We were able to use CAD for small fine tuning adjustments and for refining the aesthetics. The computer could predict just what we could afford to change, and what we couldn't."
The frames were to be built by blasting molten magnesium into a mould under force.

They claimed that the whole process of producing a frame took only 8 seconds. It has been difficult to discover where the first factory was located. The earliest leaflet gives the company name and address as Kirk Precision Ltd, Unit 4, Hornsey Square, Southfields Industrial Park, Basildon, Essex. At this time there was only one model on offer, a road frame and only one colour, white. There was also only one size available, approximately 22in. The claim was that the frame design would accommodate riders of heights between 5ft 5in and 6ft 2in, using varying lengths of seat post and handlebar stem. Steel inserts were incorporated in both head-tube and bottom-bracket; billed as being replaceable. An aluminium sleeve was fitted to hold the seat-post, but whether these were replaceable or not is unknown. Carbon fibre seat-post clamps and front and rear gear-change hangers were fitted. Kirk suggested that due to the unique construction, every frame would be identical, allowing the only true test of a racing cyclist's ability. He would demonstrate the strength and durability of the frame by driving his Mercedes car over it. The frame would survive unscathed.


The Kirk Precision was launched at the New York Cycle Show in May 1986. Kirk could afford only a small stand at this prestigious event, but the appearance of his neat, girder-like frame caused a sensation. The first European outing at the Cologne show, in September that year, was no less rapturous. What admirers did not know was that the supposed magnesium frames were in fact made of sand-cast aluminium (Note: according to Frank Kirk they were high purity magnesium). Apparently Kirk was experiencing production problems with the magnesium casting technique. To meet the show deadline he was compelled to compromise. The two shows were outstandingly successful. Agents from both sides of the Atlantic fought to represent the new company giving Kirk a real problem. He was aware that despite the heavy financial investment in research and development and in setting up the new factory, time was still needed to perfect his novel method of production. To add to the problems, he had a full order book. As an engineer he must have been screaming for time to perfect the process, but financial investors demand a return, so, despite misgivings, he allowed the frame on to the market. It won several design awards and patents were granted in the United Kingdom, Europe, USA, India, Pakistan, Japan, South Korea, Canada, China, USSR, Thailand, South Africa and Australia.
The first frames were built-up into bicycles and marketed in the UK by the Ron Kitching organisation. Kirk engaged the British professional and Olympic rider, Steve Poulter, to ride a Precision frame with top equipment. He also supplied frames to the Dutch TVM team for the Tour de France. In the USA, the address for the company was given as Kirk Bicycles USA Inc, PO Box 866, Menlo Park, California. This suggests that orders were being handled from the UK. By 1989 two models were available in the USA, for road racing and touring, frame sizes were given as 21in and 22.5in, with two alternative paint finishes; white with red accessories and light blue with blue accessories.

(picture of to "taiwan" frames in the KIRK factory, and according me the left one is not Taiwanese but looks a lot like the Koga Miyata Ridge Runner)

It appears the demand outstripped the capacity of the Basildon factory and Kirk was forced to seek outside financial investment. Probably late in 1989, or early 1990, the massive Norwegian company, Norsk Hydro, became involved. They were, and remain, the world's largest producers of magnesium, and they saw the Kirk bicycle as an outlet for their product. Agreement was reached and three factories in South Woodham Ferrers, Essex, were leased. Little is known about the actual frame making process, but apparently a thousand tons pressure locked two halves of a mould together whilst molten magnesium alloy was injected in less than a fiftieth of a second. Robot handling was used in what was the largest system of its type in Europe.

UK marketing was put into the hands of Dawes Cycles Ltd and whilst the Kirk brand name was retained, a new range of models was introduced. The old Precision frame was tweaked, painted cerise, and renamed Genesis. A so-called street bike was introduced in aqua named Ranger. The newly emerging market for mountain bikes was catered for by the introduction of a model called Revolution, with raised chain stays, finished in fashionable black. The American market was offered the same three models renamed Competition (Genesis), a touring bicycle Touring (Ranger) and a mountain bike name City/Trail (Revolution). These models were available in a range of seven colours; white with blue logos, white with red logos, yellow end with grey base, two tone blue, sunburst, dark blue end with white base and Ferrari red ends with white base. Whether the frames were painted in the UK is unknown, but it seems likely that they were shipped to the USA unfinished and sprayed to order there.
(picture borrowed from the internet)

For a while the new set-up seemed successful. The design concept was good; manufacturing, financial backing and marketing were now in the hands of an experienced company, so why are they no longer making bikes today? Probably a combination of factors conspired against them. The time delay between concept and production had been too long, problems with the early models were not easily resolved, and the expectations of Norsk Hydro were not fulfilled quickly enough after their massive capital investment. And there were definite reliability problems - a Bath shop sold about six of the MTBs in 1992. All of them came back with broken frames. By 1992 Norsk Hydro had pulled out. Dawes soon cleared their remaining stocks, and practically the only Kirk bikes now seen are those on Veteran Cycle Club rides.
So what was the Kirk magnesium frame like to ride? Early frames had a reputation for breaking. Lever bosses fell off and bottom-bracket inserts worked loose. These problems were sorted out and later models were ok. The item that caused the greatest problem had nothing to do with the frame at all. It was the forks. The first models were fitted with Cro-Moly forks with forged dropouts. These increased the overall weight of the bicycle and were soon replaced with Vitus 979 Dural forks, these in turn were so flexible that they made the bike lethal. Many owners changed to Reynolds 531 forks, to cure the problems. The Tour de France team that rode Kirk frames used Reynolds 753 forks, so it seems to confirm that there were problems with the Dural models. It seems that if carbon fibre forks had been available when the frames were in production, potential fork problems would have been eliminated. In spring 1989, in New Cyclist, Mike Burrows reviewed the Kirk touring model. His critique was not unkind, the main complaints were that the magnesium frame was no lighter than a steel one and the bottom bracket had quite a lot of deflection. After test-riding if for a while he said 'I have grown quite fond of its chunky feel and looks...'. Surfing the web for Kirk Precision brought forth the following concerns from the USA. Magnesium frames will corrode if exposed...the Dawes Kirk suffered badly from corrosion and frame fatigue...If the Kirk was exposed to heat, it would burst into flames!

KIRK related website:
-> Kirk Bicycles UK
-> Kirk-Gallery

other brand related topics:
-> merlin newsboy
-> EWR eastern wood research
-> klein mountainbikes
-> barracuda


Anonymous said...

I have owned 2 Kirk bikes - a limited first edition road bike and a later moder mountain bike. Both bikes are still in mint condition and I have had no problems with them - great collecters items!

euphras said...

Great article! I have an 1990 (?) Kirk Precision Flyer from the IFMA Cologne in my archive.



Anonymous said...

hi i have the first two kirks ever to be sold , with a letter from frank kirk to confirm this they are up for sensible offers simon hayden has allso taken pictures of them, both are low 20s frame no i rode all the protertypes and won a gold medal on one of these bikes in trhe 80s email mickthetune@btinternet.com

Nithya said...

Thanks for sharing the useful information..

precision castings