BIKES? I'VE HAD A FEW
There's more to cycling than riding a bike, says Paul Wagner, who has the heart-breaking job of thinning out the fleet.
I hope you’ll excuse me if I go back to the perennial subject of bike ownership. I have written about the perils of owning too many bikes before and believe me, I know all about it. I thinned out the collection a while ago but I’ve still got too many, so what’s to be done?
I have always been a bit ‘sticky’ where bikes are concerned. I tend to get fond of the things and I don’t like to part with them, but in the last couple of years I’ve had to offload a few. I had accumulated rather too many and I didn’t use them any more, so I decided that it would be good if someone else could be given the chance to ride them. Those bikes were old friends – every one. I needed to make sure that they’d be looked after so I simply gave them away to known homes, with a prayer for their future well being. That way I got rid of eleven, (I can’t believe it when I see the number written down), ranging from a 1907 lady’s loop frame Rudge, through classic tourers and a series of Dawes Kingpins (including a very rare ‘Take-apart Newpin’, the two piece forerunner of the Kingpin as we know it), to one real old clunker of a mountain bike which, in spite of its gas tube ancestry, still serves as a useful ‘town’ bike to its new owner. You would be forgiven for thinking that getting rid of that lot would have cleaned me out, but I’ve still got seven – a Holdsworth Mistral, a Mercian, a fully refurbished rigid Kingpin, a Trek model 750 hybrid, a resprayed Dawes Horizon awaiting rebuild, a folding Ridgeback, and my most recent acquisition, a much valued Pipit from the Planet Works, Tildesley, Birmingham, that originally belonged to the late Revd John Durnell, who was a truly steadfast friend for many years.
Now, my bike shed’s in a mess again and seven bikes is an unnecessary encumbrance. Could any of them go?
Bikes? – I’ve had a few!
If you consider the motley collection of machinery that’s left, you can tell that I’m not a one-discipline cyclist. My bikes have always appeared to me to be a right mixture, but while taking a couple of pictures to go with this article I became aware of the fact that the Mercian and the Holdsworth are clearly similar examples of classic 531 touring bikes. John’s Pipit is an earlier version of the same thing – if you look at the image of all three of them together, you’ll see what I mean. They are like peas in a pod. I’d never noticed it before. Why? Heaven only knows! Anyway, in my long cycling life I have never been much more than an idle, inquisitive tourist, and I reckon that the bikes that are still in the shed are suited to that quite nicely.
Above .... no need for comment. Below .... Dawes Newpin (now in the National cycle collection at llandrindod Wells) and the 1907 Rudge (still in service).
Above .... Mercian, Holdsworth, Pipit stacked up
The Holdsworth is a superb machine, well over forty years old. I got it from a club mate as part of a swap-shop deal, and after spending a fortune on it, it’s in ‘as new’ condition. It’s light, it looks lovely, it runs like clockwork, it rides absolutely beautifully and it’s as near to my ideal bike as you can get, so it isn’t going anywhere.
I built the Mercian from spare parts, based on a frame and bits given to me by another close friend, Bert Catchpole. It was Bert’s ‘go everywhere’ bike until he hung his wheels up at the age of ninety-something. As is frequently the case with good lightweights, this bike, mounted on a really smooth pair of ‘Mavic on Mavic’ wheels, is a dream to ride, and I use it almost every day. There are those who maintain that old frames should only be rebuilt using parts ‘of the period’ and I have a huge amount of sympathy with that, but practicality comes into it as well. I like brakes that stop me with a minimum of effort and gears that change precisely, so I have used modern kit in these areas on the Mercian, although I have to say that I don’t like spoiling the look of an old frame – they have a classy style that should be preserved. I have to ignore the fact that in my eyes they only look ‘proper’ with dropped handlebars, but I can’t get down there any more so like many an old-un, I have to compromise.
Tektro dual-pivot brakes fit old frames very nicely and allow me to stop with the minimum of pressure on the levers, even if they do look a bit ungainly, while Shimano indexed gears provide me with a slick, inaudible change. However, my current Tourney six-block rear changer is unacceptably ugly. I really must do something about it – I can’t stand it, it’s a clumsy great thing with big jockey wheels and it sticks out like a sore thumb, so if anyone out there has an old Shimano Deore XT that they don’t want, I’d like to buy it please – it’ll look better!
Below .... Compromise? Not authentic, but they don't half work well
Above .... beloved Dawes Kingpin ...... Below .... badge of pride
Above ... Pipit and Ridgback folder: poles apart. Below .... Paul leaning on his Trek, "as usual"
Going off the track
Here I go with a small ‘aside’. I have a high regard for the selfless dedication of many clubmen of Bert’s era. Bert served cyclists here in Shropshire for fifty continuous years as secretary, chairman, president and currently life vice-president of the Shropshire DA (now member group) of the CTC, and he was unstinting with his time, money and effort. He has been my friend and mentor for thirty-five years, and I hold the man in the highest esteem. Bert is now 101 years old and he’s as sharp and modern in his thinking as someone fifty years younger. In the common sense department he runs rings round me, so he’d probably tell me that where the Mercian is concerned, I should use whatever bits I can get that will do the job and to heck with the looks, but I just can’t do it. I have a genuine liking for the bike but a profound affection for the man, so the Mercian stays, too!
I was given the Kingpin ten years ago by my local junk shop. Its Sturmey Archer hub tells me it was built in 1974, and for some strange reason I fell in love with it the minute I laid hands on it. On a whim, I stripped it out and totally refurbished it, right down to the last nut and bolt. A friend gave me a brand new pair of alloy rims to fit it, (try getting them now – they are as rare as hen’s teeth), so I can stop it in the wet, too – the original steel rims were useless. At first sight you wouldn’t rate it as anything more than a shopping bike, but you’d be so wrong. Admittedly it’s a flat earth machine, but on gentle, sunny summer days it’s a brilliant companion. It enjoys pottering alongside the Montgomery Canal looking at the boats, or going down NCR 81 by the River Severn and out to the Corbet Arms at Uffington for a bit of al-fresco lunch or, as Shrewsbury is an agreeably relaxing place to live, simply pottering into town to see who we meet. It’s a comfortable, ‘baggy shorts and a straw hat’ sort of bike – a sweetly retro, self-indulgent bit of kit.
But don’t underestimate it. It’s capable of extended riding as long as I don’t show it too many hills (it walks up those), and in recent years it has occasionally joined me on holidays in Wales, socialising up the Mawddach Trail and in the local towns, or idling its way round Lake Vyrnwy. This bike has an undeniably rakish attitude to life – it’s carefree manner lifts my spirits – so why on earth would I even consider getting rid of it? I wouldn’t.
The Pipit, (and no – I’d never heard of them either, until I got this one) will be with me ‘til the end of my time. The Revd John died last year, having bought the Pipit new, in 1957. John was another one with a motley selection of bikes, and his son Adrian gave me this one to remember his dad by. Thank you, Adrian – you know that he will always be in my mind when I ride it. The steel rims are painted red to match the frame – a quirk, by all accounts, of the fifties – which I have never come across before. In the thirty-odd years that I knew John, a policeman turned priest, we had all sorts of outings together, both on and off the bikes, and his passing has left an enormous hole in my life. He was top rate company – uncomplicated, humorous, caring – and a very wise man. God bless you, John.
I’m not sure about the Ridgeback folder. It was indispensable in the past when I went abroad a lot, and more recently I’ve chucked it into the back of the car and used it for days away from home, but I don’t do that as much as I used to. It’s a good piece of kit and perhaps I should use it more, but I don’t, so it’s a candidate for the chop – possibly.
I bought the Trek, an unusual choice for me, twenty years ago, as the result of a ‘stolen bike’ insurance claim. It has always been a bit long in the top tube, but back then, when I was supple, it was absolutely the dog’s doo-dahs for all sorts of things, not the least being testing bits of off-roading. Regretfully, I have gradually become less flexible in the intervening years, and I’m beginning to find it just a bit awkward to ride. It is, nevertheless, a really nice bike. It will be a sad day, but it too could, perhaps, go. Eventually. Maybe.
The Horizon is an un-started project. I splashed out on the 24” frame, which is in immaculate, ‘manufacturer’s re-spray’ condition, with every intention of building it up as a winter bike, but it never happened. It can go tomorrow if the right punter comes along – otherwise, it’s just hanging in the shed, doing nothing. Is it ta-ta time? Certainly. Anyone out there want it?
So where am I now, following this fresh reflection on the bike shed situation? I’m not absolutely sure, to tell you the truth. I have three bikes that can go, but four ‘keepers’ that’ll be with me long after I have ridden my last ride. I reckon I’m happy with that. I often used to wish that I was one of those fortunate people who only ever wanted two bikes – one for winter and another for summer, with a couple of spare pairs of wheels – but destiny dealt me a more complicated hand. Mind you, I’ve had a great deal of fun shuffling bikes about over the years, and I still see many of those that I have parted with, being lovingly used about the county occasionally, so I have no regrets at all. You can only ride one at a time.
The four bikes that will eventually remain will be ridden, in turn, as and when the mood takes me. They are – between them – of every-day practical use, visually delightful, mechanically sublime, amusing, reflectively sentimental, or a mixture of these things, which is a happy combination if you think about it. I sincerely hope that in the fullness of time, you may all get as much pleasure out of bike ownership as I have. Meanwhile, all I’ve got to do now is get rid of half a shed-load of accessories and stuff.
Leaning on a lamp-post
Just as I finished writing this, I was given a really decent lady’s mixte frame Raleigh Misty with Weinmann centre-pull brakes and early Positron indexed gears. It was leaning on a lamppost in the next street waiting for the scrap metal man. The warm brown paintwork is in excellent condition and the bike twinkled at me – there was life in the old dowager yet. I think I’ve found a home for her, but there again…
Do the riders of modern bikes amass them in the same way as I have done, or is it only older, possibly unusual machinery that fosters this inclination? A shed full of current-day carbons and aluminiums wouldn’t have the same attraction for me, but you may have a different opinion. If you have a view on this, or better still, if you have found yourself in the same dilemma, I’d love to hear about it.
PUBLISHED JANUARY 2016
Above left ... At Stan's Bikes in Shrewsbury.... "I took the Pipit in to have its hub doctored and, coincidentally, they had in for repair a Tildesley Cycles Piet 'lady's' bike."