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Ken Sprayson

Ken Sprayson
1927-2021

Master frame builder Ken Sprayson who made frames for world champions Mike Hailwood, Geoff Duke and John Surtees, and provided a frame repair service at the Isle of Man TT for 50 years died aged 94 at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Birmingham, on the 15 October. He had been in for tests and fell victim to coronavirus.

A proud Brummie, Sprayson’s skills with his hands were so evident that as a schoolboy his headmaster made him ‘school foreman’, fixing locks and so on.

Aged 14, during WW2, he started work in a Birmingham sheet metal factory. In 1950 he joined Reynolds Tubes – a division of Tube Investments – in Tyseley, Birmingham. His first job was making assemblies for Rolls-Royce Merlin engines.

Diversifying, Reynolds became the main supplier of frame tubes to the British motorcycle industry, and soon also added volume frame production, starting with McCandless “Featherbed” frames for Norton, and frames for Douglas. Later BSA, Ariel, Ambassador and Tandon joined the queue.

In 1953 Sprayson, who had a natural gift with the welding torch, was given his own experimental department. His first project was to develop the Earles leading link fork. His first frame design was for TT rider Maurice Cann’s 125 Mondial. This machine is now in the Sammy Miller Museum.

Displaying an intuitive knack for where to heat tube to bend it and how metal behaves, Sprayson soon found himself in great demand from factories and competition riders. He became Reynolds’ key man in the motorcycle world.

He also travelled the world representing Reynolds at shows, primarily in America where Reynolds Tube customers included Schwinn bicycles.

Sprayson relished being so deeply involved in the bike scene, especially at grand prix level, and was always willing to help. He travelled to events with top riders including Geoff Duke and motocross world champion Jeff Smith, usually with his welding gear.

Sprayson’s biggest job at Reynolds was overseeing construction of the chassis for Richard Noble’s Thrust II jet car which took the world land speed record at 633.5mph at Black Rock Desert, Nevada, USA, in 1983.

Sprayson left Reynolds in 1981 but continued to support the Isle of Man TT repairing frames. He stopped only because classic tube frames had largely been replaced by frames that tended to break rather than bend, and race teams preferred to replace rather than repair.

Post-Reynolds, Sprayson was recruited as consultant and frame maker on a variety of projects for motorcycle companies including Royal Enfield Imports, BSA Group, and Goodman Engineering.

Other consultancy work came from Manchester University, his old firm Tube Investments, and the Korean government. In Korea he lectured on frame design and welded assemblies, mainly for two leading Korean motorcycle and scooter manufacturers.

In retirement Sprayson stayed in contact with the motorcycle world attending leading shows and giving talks, often illustrated with his own excellent photographs.

“I was very lucky to be let loose on so many projects and mix with so many top riders,” said Sprayson. “I had no formal education but I was good with my hands.”

His funeral took place at Yardley Crematorium, Birmingham, on 11 November, followed by a reception at the National Motorcycle Museum, Solihull, Birmingham.

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