I am looking forward to the arrival of my first Reynolds 531 framed bicycle any day now. It is with this in mind that encouraged me to write a little bit about this venerable steel tubing, which has been used on many fine racing motorcycles and cars.
The history of the Reynolds Tube Company dates back to 1841 when John Reynolds started a nail making business. In the late 19th Century Reynolds was looking at expanding the business and went into the field of making lightweight tubing. In 1897 Alfred M. Reynolds and J.T. Hewitt, an employee of the company, took out a patent on their "butted" tubes. These tubes were developed. It was in 1923 that the company was renamed the Reynolds Tube Company.
It was in 1935 that Reynolds 531 was first introduced. 531 came about unintentionally. It was Chief Inspector and Metallurgist Max Bigford who spotted an aircraft tubing which he thought held the potential for making an excellent cycle tubeset and reworked the specifications along with Director Austyn Reynolds. The approximate alloying composition of 531 tubing is 1.5% Mn, 0.25% Mo, 0.35% C, and is similar to the old British BS970 En 16/18 steel. It has a UTS of 700-900 MPa.
During WW2 Reynolds made over 10,000 miles of steel tubing for the war effort. 531 steel was utilised (amongst other things) on the frames that held Rolls Royce Merlin engines. After the war, 531 continued to be used in bicycle frames and also in motorcycle racing frames. The Manx Norton Featherbed frame is probably the most famous frame to be made of Reynolds 531. 531 was also used on cars, for example sub-frames on the Jaguar E type were made using it.
Reynolds 531 was so successful that it was not until 1976 that Reynolds was able to improve on it as a material for bicycle frames, with the introduction of Reynolds 753. Such was the success of Reynolds tubing in bicycle manufacturing, 27 winners of the Tour de France have won riding with Reynolds tubing.