Rivendell Bicycle Works: Nigel Smythe & Sons:
Rivendell Bicycle WorksThe Story of Nigel Smythe & Sons,
Bagmakers extrordinaire

As there has been some open questioning regarding the veracity of the Nigel Smythe & Sons pedigree, I humbly offer this nugget, copied and pasted (though more accurately "sliced and stitched" from a certain website that doesn't really exist (and actually may not be there...), in a land far, far away, in the mythical realm of the magic woolywarm server:



The Smythe Story

As a lad growing up in the Cotswolds, Nigel's grandfather, Colin Smythe (1885-1968), never much cared for toys, but was enthralled by the boxes, chests, and bags in which they came. Though his parents thought it odd, soon enough those were the only toys he got. As Colin himself reported in a journal that the family still keeps, "It made for unusual Christmases, it did. My boxes never had nothing in them, they didn't, and I was happy with that! My younger brother gave me the boxes his presents came in, and so I always thought of my Christmases as doubles, as doubles."

What did he put into the boxes? Clothing, non-perishables snacks, and clean leaves. His father buckled under the stress of raising an odd-duck, so Colin and his mom and sister hit the road without a permanent home. But since boxes were too cumbersome to drag about, bags-which were squashable-became the substitutes.

Looking back, Colin reported in his journal that "I credit my mum for seeing that my fascination with boxes or bags and such dinna hurt nobody, and I was lucky to marry me an Irish woman who, like mum, dinna think I was daft for it. Bully for her!"

In 1905 Colin, having a fondness for thistles, moved to Scotland and married a local lass, Brighid. To support her, he started making bags for carriages, doctors, and travelling salesmen. The first bag he ever made still exists, but, tragically, the son of its senile owner won't part with it. It's a long story.

In 1907, Brighid gave birth to twins, Christopher and Emily. By the time they were old enough to be trusted with scissors, the children helped the family business grow and thrive-Emily cutting patterns, and Christopher setting rivets. By the time the twins turned 16, demand had grown to 500 bags per month, and the small family couldn't supply it. What made it worse was a growing market for bags made to look just like the Smythes. Father Colin accepted this as a natural consequence of having created a popular brand, but young Christopher was furious, and thrice was arrested for vandalizing the "spurious Smythes" as he called them, from local stores and on bikes whenever he saw them. Because these were his only run-ins with the law and because of his dad's good standing, he was let off lightly, spending only a week in the local detentiary. He was 30 years old.

It was a seminal period in Christopher's life, though. In the adjacent cell was Hannah Mboglio, a native of the Belgian Congo (now Zaire). She had arrived in London just two days before, and, not knowing the local laws, was arrested when she failed to pay a cab fare. She thought the driver was offering her a free ride out of kindness. To make a long story short, a year later she and Christopher were married, and a eight months later gave birth to twins-Nigel, Hanna (no second h). In the same year, Emily-who had married in '36-gave birth to daughter, Anna.

When Colin Smythe died of consumption (tuberculosis) in 1940, Hannah, who had become like a daughter to Colin, took his passing as hard as any of his blood family, and it was she who gave his eulogy-causing quite a stir in the then lily-white England. Historians generally agree that was the start of the civil rights movement in all of the United Kingdom-beating the U.S. by more than a full score.

At Hannah's urging, Christopher and Emily continued the family business, much to the delight of their mother. In 1942, at the peak of WWII and as the carriage bag business was dwindling, Emily suggested they introduce cycle bags to replace them. At the time, Carradice was the "cycle bag to beat," and another British bag, Karrimoor, also enjoyed a good reputation. Fortunately there was plenty of business for all, and each covered a different part of the U.K. Trade secrets were shared freely, and all brands flourished marvelously. Young Nigel was passionate for cycling, and by the time he was 16, it was assumed he and Anna would take over the business. But Hanna moved to the United States to marry a sailor, so Nigel carried on alone. Nigel married Cora Fitzgibbon in 1944. They had two sons, George and Christopher, who carry on the business today, with Cora handling all the paperwork. Nigel, now 67, works only four days per week, secure in the knowledge that the future of his company is in good hands. He still oversees designs and aesthetic details, and is known to his materials suppliers as a "tough bear" but fair & friendly.

Both George and Christopher Smythe are keen cyclists, and in fact neither owns a motorcar. As a matter of fact and trivia, George was named after our own George Washington, whom his father deeply admired. Christopher was named for Christopher Plummer, the reknowned stage presence.


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Rivendell Bicycle Works
P.O. Box 5289 Walnut Creek, CA 94596
T 800.345.3918/ 925.933.7304
F 877.269.5847


If you are looking for information about Bridgestone bicycles, I have a reproduced page on serial number conventions here. The best source for further information would be Sheldon Brown's Bridgestone Bicycle Pages.


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Last updated: May 14, 2007


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