Tuesday, 7 March 2017

Classic Bicycles - we join the club!...

When I was at school I rode there every day - and home for lunch and back. Cycling was a major part of the transport infrastructure for teenagers back then. Money was scarce, although I had a paper round that paid the princely sum of £1.00 a week- for that I had to ride probably 10 miles, in all weathers, every day carrying a bag that, on weekends, weighed more than the bike. But for a while the major currency for our gang, and all the kids in our street, was bike bits. I built up two or three bikes by swapping bits here and there. I wanted some Cow horn handlebars? - no problem - cost me a saddle maybe.

Robert Hodges pulled an old bike out of the canal once. You can imagine what it was like - it had probably been there 20 years. It was black, with rod brakes (what was left of them) and with a big chain guard as I recall - a sit-up-and-beg style bike probably from the late 1940s or early 50s. We rebuilt that bike and got it working - he painted a name on the top tube - I can see it now 'Tank'.
When Trevor 'Gibbo' Gibbs turned up one day on his shiny new birthday racer he laughed at Tank - thinking back I suppose it was a bit laughable - but Hodge challenged him to a race there and then. The ride would be up the Lane to the Top Bridge and back - all uphill out and all downhill back. Winner would be the first one back to me and Dave Shrimpton who would be waiting outside my house. From the off they set off at a pace, Gibbo well in front by the time they disappeared around the corner by Mr Wall's shop. Then there was nothing for it but to wait. In my mind the distance was big, although everything seemed bigger then, if I went back now it would probably be no more than three miles total. We waited what seemed an age and then suddenly, reappearing at the top of the road, legs flailing, came Hodge on Tank - with Gibbo 20 yards back. Hodge beat him on that old bike, pulled from the cut - it still seems unbelievable - think Leicester winning the Premiership.

At that time the idea of owning an Italian racing bike with Campagnolo gears was akin to a lottery win. It just didn't happen. We saw pictures in magazines and if we went to Nutty Russell's bike shop in Walsall we'd get to see a couple of machines hanging in the window. The gear changer on the down-tube with the scalloped edges and the word CAMPAGNOLO running down the length was something to be treasured, something I would have loved on my bike - but was simply out of reach. No amount of swapping and exchanging would ever produce those parts - no-one had any Campagnolo kit. Except Gary Vaughan - well not exactly him as it transpired - it seems Gaz's dad had a Claud Butler bike in his garage - a dusty old lightweight racer, in bits - but with Campag gears. Gaz made a deal with Alun 'Wiggo' Williams to sell him the bike. He told him that he and his dad were doing the bike up and he could have it for £10 - He just needed a £5 deposit. Wiggo paid the fiver and looked forward to getting his hands on a dream-machine. Except he never did - Gaz trousered the money - but the bike was never done up. In the end, a few months later, Wiggo and his dad went round to Gaz's one evening to find that no work had been done - in fact Gaz's dad new nothing of it - the money was paid back and Gazza Vaughan got his arse tanned. I don't know what happened to the bike - it could be there still?

All of this bike nostalgia has sat in the far recesses of my mind for years - but I can report that both Gary and I are now the proud owners of some proper steel-racers of yesteryear - and yes - I've got those Campagnolo shifters at last. Here's how it happened.

Gary was riding a sportive in The New Forest with Dave the Damp and Barry the Bell. Riding round the course at one of the feed-stops was a small display by a chap called Mike Spratt who was the sportive mechanic for the day. It transpired that Mike has a small business called 'Vintage Cycle Sport' whereby he restores and sells vintage bicycles - anything you want he can provide it. He had on that display a photograph of a 1959 MacLean Featherweight racer - built in the year Gary was born and about to be restored to pristine condition. Gary decided he had to have it. As soon as I heard I too got in contact - I wanted Italian - Colnago or Bianchi - and with Campagnolo components. Within a few weeks Mike had found a 1976 Colnago Super frame in Italy and had it sent over - perfect! - A Colnago, one of the great names of cycling history - the bikes that Eddy Merckx rode!

After that it all happened fast - within a couple of months Gary and I were travelling down to Hythe to pick up our new (old) machines. When we got there we weren't disappointed - Mike does a fantastic job - he strips the frames back to bare metal, resprays them, matching original colours where possible, and adds new decals and period components to finish the job. They really are something to behold - and treasure. For a while I considered hanging mine on the wall at home! It's like owning a vintage car or steam engine - these bikes have the same allure and more for me.

Since then Dave the Damp has purchased a Bertin, another rider Phil has had his old 'BSA Tour of Britain' machine, that had been languishing in his garden, fully restored. I've purchased a second one - this time a Bianchi and Gary has ordered another bike too. The Midlands boys are keeping Mike busy!!

Here are some pictures of our vintage steeds...

Phil's BSA Tour of Britain
Gary's 1959 MacLean
My 1976 Colnago Super

My 1969 Bianchi Record

Dave's Bertin

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