Love at First Bike

Love at First Bike

A guest blog by Tony Clay

Some people remember and like to reminisce about their first love, the smallest details recalled with pinpoint accuracy, burned and burnished in vivid, Kodachrome memory. Some people constantly hearken back to their school days, sometimes seen as the zenith of their life, the time when they were at their happiest.  For others, their powerful, memorable moments came attending the birth of their children (personally, although indelibly burned on my cerebral cortex, it was an experience I’d rather forget – I’ve never felt more useless and powerless, but that’s just me).

For others though … well, apparently, they can recall their first proper bike in glorious, intimate and scarily forensic detail.

Hmm, I remember my first proper bike. It was blue … or was it red? I know it had two wheels and a saddle and … handlebars? It did, didn’t it?

Luckily then, you don’t have to rely on my ever-fallible memory to fill a blerg post reminiscing about the dim and distant detail and provenance of my first bike, we’ve brought in an outside obsessive to do all that for us.

You may recall leaving this particular obsessive on the road to Hexham, astride a borrowed bike, but startled by the revelation of briefly riding a real racing bike.  This was an experience that lit a fire that burns to this day.

We pick up the story shortly after this transformative event.

SLJ 28.05.2020


So, I had survived my first real bike ride, our 50-mile trip to Hexham in the summer of 1974.

Aye, I was hooked. I hung onto Dick Taylor’s Raleigh Clunker™ for as long as possible, but I only managed to eke out about 3 weeks before he started getting impatient. And he was a very Big Lad!

A search for my own bike began.

The first and most obvious step was to go to our (very) Local “Bike” Shop, Tommy Braunds. Well, I say bike shop, but it just happened to sell bikes alongside toys, model kits, dolls, prams and other assorted odds and ends. We used to pass it most days on the way home from school.

There was a lovely purple and chrome 5-speed Carlton Corsa in the window, £55. But my Dad wasn’t prepared to shell out that much for something that he thought might just turn out to be a short-lived fad. [SLJ: by the magic power invested in me via Google, I can tell you that £55 then is equivalent to £576.99 today. Well, sort of, approximately.]  

Continuing my search, I found a bike that I fancied in our ‘Littlewoods Catalogue’, I can’t remember the make, but it was 10-speed, bright green and was £2 a week for 39 weeks. As my pocket money was only £2.50 a week, and most of that already earmarked for Airfix model kits and the latest singles and LP’s, it was out of my reach.

Continue searching…

Word came that a lad at our school, Dave Curry, had ‘some’ bikes that he might sell for a couple of quid. He lived not far from me, so I wandered down to his one evening and found him in his backyard, completely surrounded by frames, wheels and components. It transpired that he was probably one of the first ‘re-cyclers’ as most of his stuff had been gathered from derelict houses (we lived on the edge of a slum clearance area), skips and, in the case of my eventual frame, the local (heavily polluted) river Team.

I knew it had come out of the river because of the stinky black mud still lurking inside the bottom bracket, seat tube and fork steerer. Still, I had a frame, and it only cost me £1.50. I’m not sure of the make, possibly a Raleigh, Sun or BSA, but it was sound and had half chrome front forks. Class!

Dave dug out some additional parts from his “bike store” (a.k.a. the coal shed) and I was set. Over the next couple of weeks, I cleaned up the frame, gave it a coat of ‘rattle-can’ paint, and polished up the rusty bits. They were all chromed steel, so just needed a few hours with the wire wool and Autosol. Some parts I had to buy new including a rear mech, a Huret Svelto at a whole £2.50, the cheapest you could get, but very simple and reliable.

When complete, my bike had mismatched front and rear brakes, a saggy leather saddle and an alloy stem with steel handlebars. I found out later that this combination of steel and alloy was actually quite dangerous as the alloy stem doesn’t hold the steel bars securely and they can slip, often prompting an unscheduled trip to the dentist. Fortunately, this never happened to me.

Still, it was my bike and rode it as often I could.

Gradually, bit by bit (quite literally) I managed to improve it by finding good second -hand kit, or occasionally a new part, after I’d saved up a bit and I started swapping the old stuff out.

Fiddling about with my bike so much, often breaking it down to ball-bearing level and rebuilding it, had made me quite handy at fixing them and I could make a fair job of truing a wheel. I ended up working on most of my mate’s bikes too.

I’m not quite sure of how it came about but, one day I got a phone call from my Aunty who had gone to school with Mrs. Braund, Tommy’s wife. Tommy, the eponymous owner of my LBS, had died in his shop of a heart attack. His wife had heard I was handy with bikes and she needed a Saturday mechanic, £4 a day and 10% discount on all bike stuff, (although sadly not Airfix Models!) [SLJ: Once again, Google suggests about £41.96 in today’s money].

I had a wage! I could now start thinking about getting some real kit and started saving.

The first significant upgrade was when I bought a pair of ‘sprint wheels’, Mavic rims and Campagnolo Nuovo Tipo hubs, £35 [SLJ: that’s £367.18 today, you bloody spendthrift!]

Even though the ‘tubs’, Hutchinson Aguiras at £2.50 each, were the worst I ever, ever had, like tractor tyres and a nightmare to repair, riding on the light wheels, even with the dodgy tubs, was great.

A really key moment was when I spotted a real bargain in a local second-hand shop. I’m sure he didn’t know what he had, when I bagged a fully chromed Reynolds 531 Condor with a Campagnolo Nuovo Record groupset, Universal Brakes, Cinelli bars and stem with sprints and tubs, all for the princely sum of just £30. To put that into perspective, a brand-new Raleigh Chopper back then was about £65 [SLJ: £681.90! No wonder I could never afford one].

The seat tube on the Condor was 22 ½ inches and way too big for me, but I had a ‘pukka gen’ racing bike and did a fair amount of miles on it.

Denton’s Cycles (227/9 Westgate Road, Newcastle) [SLJ: Once, but sadly no more] was always the place to go for quality kit and we’d spend hours drooling over the unaffordable bikes and all the shiny components on display.

It was there that in February 1976 my Dad bought me a beautiful sky-blue Denton frame for my 16th Birthday, and it was the correct size too – 21 inches. Full Reynolds 531, double butted tubing with Campagnolo forged ends and fitted with a Stronglight headset for £65… SIXTY FIVE QUID just for the frame?! My Dad nearly had a bloody seizure! [SLJ: well, I’m not surprised, he could have bought a new Raleigh Chopper for that!]

1975 Denton

So, I stripped all the kit off the Condor, thoroughly cleaned, polished and lubed it all and transplanted it onto the Denton. It made a really nice bike. A very dear friend of mine, sadly no longer with us, had started racing in the early 50’s when kit was in extremely short supply after the war. He once told me, ‘Nivvor hoy owt away!’ and, over the years I’ve pretty much stuck to that maxim.

Never throwing anything away was brilliant in one way, as I’m now using some of that exact same kit from the Condor/Denton to renovate a 1976 Team Raleigh, meaning I don’t have to pay extortionate ‘Eroica’ inflated eBay prices for second-hand 70’s kit.

But on the flip side, my flat is full of box after box of components and bits and pieces that, realistically, may never get used [SLJ: Ahem … may never get used???] But there is another plus side. Last year a guy posted on a vintage bike Facebook page that he was desperate for a lock nut for a 1970’s Campagnolo Record rear hub to complete a renovation. Of course, I had one. I let him have it for the cost of postage. Where did I have to send it? Victoria, Australia!

I had no idea about structured training and just enjoyed being out on ‘me bike’. Alone or in a small group, sometimes with SLJ, I’d ride to the coast or down to the lovely city of Durham. At Durham we would sit on the banks of the River Wear, not the River Tyne, as “whistling genius” Roger Whittaker would have you believe in ‘Durham Town (The Leavin’)’.

We’d also go up into the Silver Hills that rose up from the Team Valley in Gateshead and in our young, teen imaginations we were in the Alps and Pyrenees, battling it out ‘mano a mano’ with Merckx and Gimondi up the Iseran and Tourmalet. The rides were usually a good couple of hours long and I gradually got fitter and more skilled at bike handling.

Then one weekend, near what is now ‘Beamish Open Air Museum’, we happened upon an actual bike race. It whizzed past us all bronzed limbs, rainbow coloured peloton and sparkling spokes and looked so exciting.

Now, I could really fancy having a go at that …  


STOP PRESS!

This afternoon I’ve just sorted out a guy with a 1980’s Campagnolo Super Record seat pin clamp bolt, and he’s in Pennsylvania!

Captain Underpants

Captain Underpants

Club Run, Saturday 15th July, 2017          

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                                  119 km / 74 miles with 516* metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                          4 hours 27 minutes

Average Speed:                                26.8 km/h

Group size:                                         18 riders, 0 FNG’s

Temperature:                                    19°C

Weather in a word or two:          Miserably damp


 

15th july
Ride Profile


* It was raining throughout the day and my Garmin really, really doesn’t like the rain. I don’t for one moment believe we only had 516 metres of climbing, but that’s what I’m going with.

The Ride:

Let’s talk about the weather, eh? Its mid-July, supposedly British Summer Time and in the Tour de France, the riders are struggling through a heatwave. Now my expectations have naturally been tempered by years of disappointment, but nonetheless, Saturday was like the nadir for summer rides – as bleak, dreary and wet as a dank, November day. Except … it was warm. As in shorts warm. As in too warm to wear a rain jacket … and too wet not to.

I’m becoming as confused as my kit choices.

The start of the day wasn’t too bad, with a very light, quite refreshing rain, drifting down on a pleasantly cooling breeze and the roads not yet wet enough to slow me into the corners. I chased cars down the Heinous Hill, just to prove I could go faster than them – and they really shouldn’t be pulling out in front of cyclists like that.

I turned along the valley floor and directly into a headwind, but I was feeling decent, it wasn’t much of an issue and I was pressing on at a fair clip. After a few miles I climbed up to the traffic lights and then swung down toward the river, spotting a familiar cyclist churning up the ramp toward me. It was the Prof, riding with beZ and Jimmy Cornfeed on their way to a time-trial somewhere in the dangerous, wildlands south of the river.

I only had time for a quick salute as I swept past in the opposite direction, although I did catch the Prof muttering something about the Heinous Hill as I darted by. (Just to be clear, for the record the slope he was tackling is but a speed bump, a mere pimple, a trifling minor irritation of little consequence, compared to the true heinousness of the Heinous Hill.)

By the time I reached the meeting point, the rain was becoming constant and heavy and I was glad to duck into the shelter of the multi-storey car park while our numbers slowly assembled.


Main topics of conversation at the start:

After a long, long absence, the Dabman reappeared for his first ride out with us since snapping his collar bone like a dry stick.

“Have you actually got written permission from your lass?” a surprised Red Max demanded to know.

“Oh, she’s away for a few days…” Dabman ruefully admitted.

It was obvious that he was out on a stealth-ride and would need to get back (preferably in one, whole piece) and restore everything to pre-ride condition, prior to Mrs. Dabman’s return. He was warned to stay away from my camera, so there’d be no photographic evidence of his ride and if anyone asks, his very appearance in this blerg is just another of my wild imaginings, with no actual foundation in the truth – or, if you like, the same as pretty much everything else I write.

Speaking of expunging rides from the data banks, Crazy Legs returned having survived the club time-trial last weekend, but couldn’t really say how it had gone as he’d blanked much of the experience. He did recall however that his, somewhat cobbled together, time-trial bike had caused a few problems – he hadn’t bothered to fit a front derailleur, reasoning he’d only need the big ring and it would just add to the weight and cost.

Things were working fine until he hit a bump in the road and the chain skipped down onto the inner ring. Faced with the choice of pressing on, or wasting time by stopping to manually lift the chain back up again, he chose the former option.

Waiting at the finish, G-Dawg reported he never knew legs could actually spin that fast and that they had been “a smerking blur” as Crazy Legs crossed the finish line with one last, all-out effort.

OGL reported that he’d been invited to take part in an episode of Come Dine with Me, but had sadly declined. I must admit my imagination completely fails when I try to imagine what that would have been like, perhaps somewhere between toe-curling embarrassment and the fascinating horror of a slow-motion car crash. He offered the opportunity around, but apparently we all still retain at least some iota of self-esteem and there were no takers.

The Monkey Butler Boy was out with us, having been abandoned by his wrecking crew of young guns (as they are all, apparently scared of getting wet). He was fascinated by the Colossus’s Time iClic pedals, but dissuaded from further investigation when the Colossus pointed out the blunt, dagger like protrusion that encased the spindle and the corresponding, identically matched bruises and indentations they’d made in his shins.

The Garrulous Kid announced he was thinking of taking Geography as one of his A-level options next year, as apparently he likes his teacher, Mrs. Naff.

Crazy Legs was about to embark on an extended dialogue about how you can tell the difference between good teachers and naff teachers, when I interrupted.

“Hold, on. Mrs. Naff. How do you spell that?”

“You know, Naff,” the Garrulous Kid replied, “N-A-T-H.”

In spite of the rain, Szell put in a rare appearance. The Garrulous Kid wondered when he would be disappearing into hibernation and Szell explained it was usually after the summer Bank Holiday. He said that, like Freda the Blue Peter tortoise, he had a big cardboard box filled with straw, that his wife had prepared by punching holes in the lid. He said he’d be putting it in a darkened cupboard and retiring to it in good order, long before the leaves started to turn.

I explained to the Garrulous Kid that this was all nonsense, you couldn’t believe a word Szell was saying and he was obviously lying. No one was going to believe he actually had a wife.


We could delay no longer and looking out at the rain falling with increasing intensity, I pulled on my rain jacket and reluctantly pushed off, clipped in and followed everyone out onto the roads.

For the first part of the ride I was entertained by the Garrulous Kid providing a running commentary on exactly where and how quickly, the rain was creeping through his clothing. He became particularly animated as he started getting a wet bum, especially as he declared the rain seemed to have soaked straight through his underpants.

“What? Wait! You’re wearing underpants?”

“Of course I’m wearing underpants.”

“Under your cycling shorts?”

“Yes. But not just any underpants, they’re from the Marks and Spencer’s Autograph range.”

The Garrulous Kid refused to accept that he was the only one among us wearing underpants under their cycling shorts – although, when questioned, the Monkey Butler Boy did later admit he had. Once. When he was about 11.

But, apparently we’re all wrong, or depraved, or masochists and wearing underpants beneath cycling shorts should be de rigueur because it’s much more comfortable, much more hygenic and … and … much warmer!

Forget about the chafing, forget about the horrendous bunching and rubbing and the irritation. Forget about Betty Swollocks and the broiling, swarming petri dish of a breeding ground underpants will create for all kinds of bacterium and fungal spores. Remember, you’re improperly dressed unless you’re wearing your tighty-whities. At all times. Preferably from M&S. (Other makes are available.)

The rain continued to fall and, as usual, the poor weather seemed to have an adverse effect on driver comprehension, as if giving them something else to consider somehow befuddles and overloads their brains.

Our first indication of this was a skip lorry that tried overtaking our bunch, going uphill and around a blind corner. It lumbered all the way across to the other side of the road and huffed noisily upwards, before having to come to an abrupt halt in front of a car parked at the kerb and leaving too little room to squeeze past.

A few miles further on and it was the turn of an Astra driver, who almost made it to the head of our “peloton,” before meeting a Mercedes travelling in the opposite direction. Both cars stopped dead, bumper to bumper, while we rolled past amazed at just how dumb and reckless some drivers actually are.

Just before we dropped down towards the Tyne, OGL, a delegation of Grogs and a few others took a shorter more direct route to the café, effectively halving our numbers.

We swept down into the river valley and picked our way through a few sleepy villages, before climbing out again via Newton. I suspect G-Dawg found the going much more amenable than the last time, when he’d been forced to tackle this route on his fixie, following one of the Prof’s characteristics “route lapses.”

The heat generated by some prolonged climbing, combined with the briefest cessation of the rain, lulled us into shedding our rain jackets, well for a couple of miles anyway.

G-Dawg now led us on a wholly new, untried route through to Matfen, travelling on roads he’d identified courtesy of the complete novelty of looking at an actual map. This he’d carefully and craftily folded into his back pocket and we would catch him occasionally consulting its arcane mysteries, while muttering strange incantations at it. You know, those map things are actually quite useful and I have a strange feeling they could perhaps catch on one day.

Stopping at the next junction, just about everyone who’d previously doffed their jackets now pulled them back on, as the rain returned with even greater intensity. We held station as another group of cyclists appeared, clambering uphill through the gloomy veil of this renewed downpour. They slowly coalesced into another local club, the Tyneside Vagabonds, or Vags, who looked almost as wet and bedraggled as we did.

“Oh, is it raining down there?” Szell asked brightly as they filed past, smiling and greeting us enthusiastically, probably just happy in the knowledge they weren’t the only raving lunatics riding a bike in such utterly miserable conditions.


NOVATEK CAMERA


Our group splintered on the climb to the Quarry and we swung right for the shorter run to the café, not even bothering to pause and let everyone back on. With the pace picking up on the run in to the Snake Bends, the Red Max suddenly appeared on my shoulder, having completed an epic chase to catch up. This he’d accomplished in part thanks to some kamikaze cornering around wet bends that I’m glad I didn’t see.

We exchanged a few words, before he declared our pace was “far too civilised” and attacked off the front. Having also chased on, Taffy Steve followed him through and I latched onto his wheel, until I sensed the Colossus winding up to follow the attacks. I eased and let the gap grow so he could slot in behind Taffy Steve and the trio burst away to contest the sprint.

I picked up the pace again and followed in their wake, sparring with the Garrulous Kid for the minor placings, before sitting up and coasting through the bends.


Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:

At the café, Caracol started eyeing up one of the tray bakes like a predator assessing the herd for the choicest prey and he quickly determined that one of the segments was considerably larger than the others – or in his eyes, old, infirm and separated from the herd.

He turned on the full charm, which was a bit like a dusty, old 40-watt light-bulb attached to a dodgy and backfiring generator. Still, it flickered briefly into life and he quickly made a plea for the over-sized portion. Inexplicably, it somehow worked and the serving girl carefully shuffled the pieces of cake around to fish out his marked prize.

The Monkey Butler Boy was even more delighted when she did the same for him – and he didn’t even have to ask. I was going to suggest it’s because he’s younger and better looking, but didn’t want to start a bitch fight.

The Grogs were already done, leaving as we were sitting down and we caught Mini Miss, hovering, peering out the door and waiting for everyone to assemble before making a dash out into the rain for her own bike. Or maybe she’s just in training for a triathlon transition.

The Monkey Butler Boy continues to outgrow his bikes and is looking for something new to ride. At present he’s struggling with the choice between an aero road bike, or a light-weight climbing machine. I suspect he’s leaning toward the aero-bike, but on canvassing the table wasn’t getting much support. The Colossus however came to his rescue suggesting it didn’t matter which bike was the lightest, had the best spec’ or was the most practical, what really mattered was which one looked the best.

Crazy Legs was happily reminiscing about a video of old-school Raleigh Grifters and recalled owning an iconic Raleigh Chopper. I only ever remember seeing them in orange, but Crazy Legs insisted he had “a purple Chopper” before admitting that’s “not something you tend to talk about in polite company.”

What wasn’t there to love about the Raleigh Chopper? A tiny, small wheel at the front, a big tractor tyre at the back, tall ape-hanger bars, an elongated saddle with a sissy rail, hub gears and a centrally mounted gear lever that always seemed poised to emasculate the unwary. Choppers were expensive, a pig to ride, incredibly heavy, impractical, dangerously unbalanced and unstable, but super-cool. And every kid coveted one.

Hmm, maybe the Colossus was right, insisting it only mattered which bike actually looks the best.

I could even recall one particular abortion of a Chopper variant, the Sprint, which incongruously had drop handlebars.

“Who on earth would want to ride such a thing?” I pondered.

“Well, the Prof, obviously.” Crazy Legs suggested and I had to laugh as I found myself heartily agreeing.

As if talk of childhood bikes had instigated a return to purely juvenile ways, we spent the next 10 minutes or so discussing who would win in a fight between Nacer “Boxer” Bouhanni and Marcel “Pretty Boy” Kittel. The judges finally gave the win to Bouhanni, by a majority of 6 votes to 1.


Our return home was briefly delayed behind a horse drawn cart, trundling slowly along the lanes and laden with middle-aged, horsey types. I hate to imagine where their mounts had disappeared and suspect they could have walked faster than the lumbering cart.

Safely negotiated, the rest of the ride was without incident and I was soon turning off for home. Passing the rugby ground I saw the flash of a hi-vis, green, rain jacket disappearing round the corner and I gave chase, only to be caught on the wrong side of the level crossing as a Metro clattered through and the lone cyclist got away to built a good lead.

With the way clear again, I chased up the hill past the golf course, through the junction and then up another hill past Twin Farms . He was probably younger and most certainly fitter and faster than me and it was hard work closing him down, even though he wasn’t even aware he was in a race.

Through the lights past the Fire Station, I stomped hard on the pedals and tucked in for the downhill, swept over the dual-carriageway and caught him just as the lights ahead turned red.

I issued a nonchalant, “how do?” and pressed on downhill when the lights released us again, thinking my mission was complete.

Unluckily, I’d either picked a cyclist going my way, or one with no fixed destination in mind and happy to just follow the wheels. Hoist by my own petard of vanity and refusing to ease up, I led him down the hill to the river, along the valley floor, across the bridge, up the sharp ramp where I’d saluted the Prof that morning, then down and all the way along to Blaydon.

As we exited the town, he swished past, thanked me politely for the tow and disappeared and I could finally draw breath and complete the rest of my ride at a far more sensible pace.

It turned out to be another long one, though if I’m to believe Strava (I don’t) one that was much less hilly than usual.


YTD Totals: 4,469 km / 2,777 miles with 51,679 metres of climbing