Wednesday, December 17, 2008
In the seventies I read an article by renowned British journalist Jock Wadley where he mentioned a ride across the length of the Pyrenees named the Raid Pyrenean. The event immediately interested me as I feel these are the most beautiful mountains to ride through with their open roads, majestic views and small stone houses in mountain villages. For this and the challenge of a ride seemed like something I had to do. From the Atlantic to the Mediterranean, the ride crossed most of the famous Tour de France cols, where my childhood heroes had made their mark in cycling history.
However it wasn’t until 1981 when my business partner at Bicyclesport, Mike Brown and I decided that we wanted a really good challenge. I mentioned the Raid to him and he was immediately keen to give it a try. We had done several good long rides together and always got along well. He didn’t half wheel me, we rode the same tempo, and the conversation was always interesting.
I contacted Jock Wadley and he put me in touch with the Raid organizer in Pau, France. The Raid Pyrenean is a “permanente”, one of many routes set up across France by the French Cycle Touring Association. Anyone can ride a permanente at any time, although there are some limits on the mountain routes as passes are usually closed in the winter.
Mike and I decided to attempt the Raid in the last available week of the 1981 season. The route is closed at the beginning of November because of the likelihood of snow after that date. We chose the late date because our busy store, Bicyclesport, made it difficult for us both to be away earlier.
The route is 720 km long and there are eighteen “cols” or passes to be climbed between the start on the Atlantic coast at Hendaye and the finish on the Mediterranean at Cerbere.
We registered with the organizer in Pau and picked up our control cards from him on our arrival in France. The control cards must be time stamped at controls along the route to ensure that the route is ridden and completed within the 100 hour limit. The controls are usually situated in restaurants but should the control be closed then one can get the card stamped at a post office or other official building.
If the control card has all the necessary stamps and you arrive at the finish within 100 hours from the start you will receive the official medal.
Mike and I had two new Mariposa bikes built for the ride. The bikes were still being assembled just hours before our departure so we had no possibility to try them out. We were busy with the shop and our priorities were with our customers.
We flew from Toronto to Paris and then took the train down South to Hendaye. A good friend, Bob Zeller, who had agreed to go along and drive a support car, accompanied us.
The first day started before dawn at six o’clock, our generators lighting the way. All went well but when we arrived at the Col d’Aubisque I was feeling unwell. That night, I was violently ill with a fever. However we had to be up and on the road again at six the next morning with the Col de Tourmalet coming almost at the start of the day. I was in no state to enjoy the climb and struggled over the summit, in falling snow, sometime after Mike. Despite the effort required my fever diminished somewhat and we were able to finish in Cerbere in 76 hours. (We were misinformed and thought the time limit was 80 hours and not 100).
Just before we left for the ride I had spoken with Jock Wadley. We discussed the Aubisque, Tourmalet, Aspin and other major climbs made famous by the Tour de France. Jock had an intimate knowledge of them all from his days as a journalist as well as touring cyclist. He said, “yes they are the big ones but don’t forget the Portet d’Aspet”. That is a climb that I will now never forget. When Mike and I reached the base it was late in the day, getting dark, raining steadily and the wind was picking up. In a short time Mike dropped me and his rear light disappeared on the switchback turns above. The light from my generator, diminished somewhat by my slow speed, was barely sufficient to make out the road ahead. I was suffering but eventually made the summit where I was delighted to find Bob Zeller in his car. Mike was already inside warming up and enjoying food and drink that Bob had bought for us. I joined them and revived while the car rocked in the wind howling across the summit. Half an hour or so later Mike and I braved the elements and rode the twenty kilometre descent to our hotel.
Mike and I had been the first riders from North America to finish the Raid. Bob Zeller wrote an article on our ride for the UK magazine Cycling (now Cycling Weekly). The article stirred a lot of interest in the English speaking World and soon there were many British, Americans and Australians riding that route across the Pyrenees.
Sick, the ride had been a real struggle for me and although I was pleased to have finished it I said “never again”.
22 years later, in 2003, a group of Toronto riders decided to make an attempt at the Raid. I couldn’t resist it and decided to join them. This time I found it much easier. We had great support from Nick at “Pyrenean Pursuits” who, in conjunction with Toronto locals Geoff Gadd and Judy Watt, organized the whole trip. It was scheduled at a better time of the year-- early September-- so there was no snow to contend with like we had on some of the higher passes in 1981. Also Nick scheduled our ride to finish just within the 100 hour limit. The extra day made it far easier.
This time round the Port d’Aspet was still a struggle but in warm sunlight and little wind it was far easier than in 1981. Good friend Dougie Kerr and I battled it out together with Dougie getting the better of me at the summit after we had stopped briefly to pay our respects at the Fabio Casatelli Memorial which marks the spot of the Olympic Champion’s tragic death in the 1995 Tour de France.
The Fabio Casatelli Memorial
There is a lot more traffic now than there was in 1981. The last day down to the coast in 2003 wasn’t too enjoyable as the roads were too busy. The rest of the route was OK but the tourist trap of the Mediterranean coast makes that area not too enjoyable for the cyclist.
I had another new Mariposa for my second attempt. I call it my ‘mountain bike’ as it was built for the mountains. It has a triple crankset with 52/42/30 rings and a 10 speed cassette with 13-26 sprockets. I found those gears to be fine. I fitted fenders as it always seems to rain in the mountains and a small carrier to strap those clothes to that are needed for the descents but not the climbs. Most of the other components I chose to reduce weight. No lights this time, I figured that with the schedule Nick had set up we wouldn’t be riding in the dark.
Mike's Mountain Bike, 2003
The Mariposa that I rode in 1981 was a bit heavier than the 2003 version but in many respects the bikes were very similar. In ’81 a triple crankset was fitted but with 52/48/34 rings and with six cogs on the back, 14-26. Mike and I both used Clement Campione del Mondo 28mm. tubular tires. We had only one puncture despite the rain and generally miserable conditions. Both our bikes were fitted with Sanyo bottom bracket generators, which were a boon as we started and finished each day in the dark.
The biggest difference between the ‘81 and ‘03 bikes is the shifting. In ’81 we had Simplex down tube retro-friction levers which, when combined with the Simplex SLJ derailleurs, gave the best shifting of any derailleurs available then. In ’03 I had Campagnolo Ergo levers and 10 cogs at the back. Shifting is better and far more convenient. No more sitting down when one needs to shift as it is possible to shift while standing on the pedals. The biggest difference of all though is the much more comfortable position made possible by the Ergo levers. I occasionally ride the old ’81 bike now and I can’t get over how uncomfortable the Mafac levers are in comparison.
The ’81 bike had Mafac GT centre-pull brakes fitted and the ’03 has Tektro dual pivot. Braking performance is similar but the Mafacs had one disconcerting feature: the brake quick release mechanism would snap open when one braked really hard. I changed them for Mafac 2000s when I returned to Canada.
Of course in ’81 Mike and I used toe clips and straps. In ’03 I had Look clipless pedals. A bit of an improvement I suppose but no big deal really.
In ’81 Mike and I both used handlebar bags but I didn’t bother with one in ’03. One very interesting accessory that we both had fitted in ’81 was the Pacer 2000 computer. These were the first electronic “cyclometers”. The handlebar mounted display was about 6” x 4” in size and gave two functions: speed and distance. One upsetting feature was that they both reset to zero about half way into the ride. This was caused by some software function that I could never understand. I don’t bother with bike computers now. I don’t need to know how slow I am going.
When I finished the Raid in 2003 I didn’t say “never again”. It had been a very enjoyable four days. Will I do it again? I don’t know. I still consider riding in the mountains to be the most enjoyable and satisfying cycling there is. However there are many more mountain passes that I haven’t tried. I have ridden most of the Alpine passes, almost all the Pyrenean, many in the Rockies but none in the Dolomites. One ambition I have had since I was a kid is to ride the Stelvio and the Gavia.. Hopefully that is on my schedule for 2009.
Tuesday, December 16, 2008
The first was a secondhand Carpenter that I had originally built up as a winter hack bike with single gear and mudguards. Soon after buying it I was on a long early season training ride down to the coast from my home in London, England. About sixty miles (100km) from home the top tube broke just behind the head lug. What to do? There was no calling home for a lift in those days and I certainly didn’t have the train fare. I went into a garage and scrounged a good length of rope which I tied around the seat tube and head tubes. Then a piece of wood was inserted into the loop of rope and used to twist the rope forming a tourniquet pulling the two tubes together. This got me home. Carpenter wouldn’t replace the tube under warranty so I had it replaced elsewhere for the princely sum of thirty shillings. (About $2.50 in today’s money but a bit more back then).
Once repaired the Carpenter became my cyclo-cross bike and general winter hack. A single freewheel was fitted to give a gear of 58”. A length of an old tubular tire was fastened to top and seat tube to provide a comfortable shoulder sling for carrying the bike. Double sided Lyotard pedals were recognized as the best cross pedals and they were used without toe clips .No cantilever brakes, just a pair of Weinmann sidepulls.
I managed a couple of seasons on this bike and it served me well even though at the end of the first season a crack appeared in the lower head lug. This I was able to fix by holding it altogether with a modified hose clamp. This set up survived the second season after which I moved most of the parts onto a secondhand H.E. Green frame.
I was able to have cantilever brake bosses brazed onto the Green and I fitted a used Campag Gran Sport derailleur with a bar-end control. With the addition of toe clips and straps I now had just about the state of the art cross bike for the period.
This bike served me well for many years and was pressed into use as a touring bike and cross bike after I came to Canada.
I rode a few cross seasons on it in Ontario and then loaned it to one of the juniors on our Bicyclesport Team. He managed to ride it into a ditch and buckle the top and down tubes. No apologies, just a complaint that it couldn’t have been a very good frame. Thirty years later the frame is still hanging in the workshop waiting to be repaired. Maybe I will get around to it before long.
The H.E. Green was then replaced with an Italian Alan cyclo-cross frame. Alans were, for many years, considered to be the finest of cross bikes. All the top events were won on Alans often rebadged with other sponser’s names. They were aluminum with tubes screwed and glued into aluminum lugs. The early Alans did not have cantilever brake bosses. They were normally fitted with Campagnolo side-pulls, after all what self respecting Italian bike manufacturer would use anything other than Campag brakes. I fitted Mafac Racers to mine.
And that is the cross bike that I have today. In the thirty years that I have had it it has had a few different groups of components fitted. It started off with Simplex SLJ derailleurs and Mafac brakes but then when combined brake/gear levers came along I fitted a Sachs New Success Group. The Bicyclesport/Mariposa Team was sponsored by Sachs at the time. I still have those Sachs levers (which were made by Campagnolo) but now have Campag derailleurs as well. The Sachs derailleurs eventually wore out after many seasons of mud and sand.
I haven’t raced cyclo-cross for quite a few years now. I guess I’m a bit long in the tooth for it now but the cross bike still gets a lot of use for my grass rides in the Park. (See earlier post “riding the grass”)
The frame has stood up pretty well for the last thirty years. I cannot say that it has been flawless-- the steerer came loose in the crown at one point but Alan supplied a new fork. And then, one of the screws attaching the seat stays to the seat lug snapped but that was easily replaced.
One summer, some years ago, I decided that it would make a very nice commuter. I fitted a pair of wood rimmed tubular wheels with Campag track hubs and 32 mm section Continental tubulars. It had a single freewheel. A pair of light alloy fenders were fitted and a pair of Cinelli ‘bars covered in tan leather. The whole bike was plain aluminum, wood and leather, no decals or paint, and quite spectacular. However the cross season came around again and it went back to it’s original role.
For years I have talked about building myself a Mariposa cross bike but haven’t got around to it. I somehow doubt that I ever will. The Alan will probably see me out to the end of my days.
So I have had three cyclo-cross bikes in fifty four years, the last one for thirty years. It is amazing how well bikes last. A cyclo-cross bike takes probably the worst beating of any but they keep going on.
Carpenter and H.E.Green were both excellent South London builders in the fifties and sixties. Both are no longer in business but their frames are now fetching good prices from the collectors.
Alan is still making bikes but now they are all welded aluminum and carbon. You can see their range at: www.alanbike.net
Sunday, November 23, 2008
The last cyclo-cross I saw was probably the Canadian National Championships about five years ago. The difference between then and now is amazing. Then the Nationals was a pretty amateurishly run affair but todays event was very well organized. It was much like a European cross in many respects with even a beer tent, a live band, cow bells and even a group of guys in shorts and bare arms waving the yellow and black Lion of Flanders flag.
Mike Garrigan outclassed the rest of the field to become 2008 Ontario Champion.
Cyclo-cross has changed in all aspects. The number of riders is five times what it was even a few years ago and the increase in women riders about ten times. It was sad to see, however, that the number of juniors was about the same. The bikes used are, for most part, top line dedicated cross bikes whereas a few years ago most riders were using older modified road bikes.
In 1964 just after I arrived in Canada from England I, along with fellow Brit John Bayly, organized what I believe was the first cyclo-cross in Canada and perhaps in North America. It too was run in a City Park and we had about twenty competitors. From that event a season long schedule was established in the Toronto area and by the mid seventies there was enough activity to have Provincial and National Cyclo-cross Championships. Interest in the sport has fluctuated over the years but never has there been the interest in North America as there is now.
My introduction to Cyclo-cross was in the winter of 1954/5. The sport was just taking off in Britain and I was really keen to be involved as I was very keen on any type of cycling and was a competent cross country runner. To me, cyclo-cross was the ideal: thrilling and a beautiful combination of the two sports I love.
1956. Mike Barry. Single gear but with toe clips
1958. Mike Barry. Now with a derailleur and clips and straps.
Almost everyone used the standard, at that time, leather cycling shoes and after the adoption of toe clips the TA shoe plates became standard. I was fortunate enough to know a custom athletic shoe maker and I talked him into making me a pair of special cyclo-cross shoes similar to the cross country running shoes he'd previously made for me. These had studs at the heal and provision for the TA shoe plates. It wasn't possible to have studs at the front of the shoes as it would not be possible to slide one's feet into the toe clips. I still have those shoes. Their existance fifty years on can probably be attributed to the liberal use of Kiwi shoe polish after each race. I haven't used them for a while though.
Those custom made cyclo-cross shoes
The most popular event in the London area was the Bagshot Scramble. This race was organized over Bagshot Heath which had been used as a military tank testing area during the second World War. It would attract a field of a couple of hundred riders who started all in one group. No categories for this event. The course's dominating feature was the death defying descent of the "Saddle Back", a 25% decline covered in large chunks of gravel. At the bottom of the Saddle Back there was a large bump which, when hit at speed sent riders airbourne. This bump sadly terminated my second and last ride in the Bagshot Scramble when my handlebars snapped in the middle when I hit it at a somewhat foolhardy speed. My enthusiasm for cross wasn't diminished however. I kept a keen interest and raced cyclo-cross each winter until I came to Canada. It was that enthusiasm for the sport that made me determined to see it established here.
In the eighties we set up the Bicyclesport-Mariposa cyclo-cross team and star member Ed Smolinski won a couple of National championships in our colours. Ed was smooth on the bike, an elegant runner and seemed at ease—like the best crossmen often are. Later in the early nineties the Bicyclesport Club junior team were dominant and son Michael was National Champion on a number of occasions. We had a great little community and after the event was over many of the riders would stick around to help tear down the course and load everything back into the van. On the way back home, a dozen or so of the diehard weekly cross riders would stop together for a coffee and doughnut. It was a warm little community that embraced every newcomer.
It was wonderful to see the enthusiasm for the race today both from the riders and their supporters and from the locals that happened upon it. It was a really good day out. Many thanks and congratulations should go to Stephane Marcotte and his team of helpers, to local legend Johnny 'Jet Fuel" Englar and to Ziggy Martuzalski of ZM Cycle & Fitness for a great event.
In forty years the sport has come a long way in North America in many respects but the nut of it, the heart of it, seems to still remain intact. And, that is really wonderful to see.
Noah Rosen (Velocolour) tackles the snow and mud of Riverdale park.
Saturday, November 1, 2008
For more information on the futility of mandatory helmet legislation go to:
The Vehicular Cyclist is edited by friend Avery Burdett. It is Avery that we have to thank for fighting mandatory helmet legislation in Ontario.
Although any person under eighteen is required by law to wear a helmet it is my understanding that no one has ever been charged. Except, that is, for Dougie Kerr. Dougie was riding to work one day and was stopped by a young police officer and given a ticket for not having a helmet. Dougie does look younger than his sixty years but I don't think anyone would mistake him for a teenager. The young officer would hear nothing of Dougie's claim that the law applied only to those under eighteen. A few days later Dougie did get a call from the officer saying that he had dropped the charge. No apology of course.
Wednesday, October 29, 2008
We have been doing a bit of traveling this year from Holland, Belgium and Spain to a number of places in Canada and the US.
In most of the places I have been able to get out on the bike and when not riding I have taken a keen interest in the local cyclists. One observation has been the striking difference in helmet use between Holland, for instance and Nova Scotia where helmet use is mandated by law.
The contrast is sharp between the two places. In Holland the drivers are courteous and I never feel at danger in traffic. The only Dutch cyclists wearing helmets are those dressed in Lycra. The average cyclist, of which there are hundreds of thousands, do not wear them. In most Dutch towns the roads are packed with people on bikes. Moms with kids on carriers back and front, office workers in business suits, fashionable women in stilletto heals, teenagers and younger children going back and forth to school and not a helmet to be seen on any of them. They ride calmly, confidently, and safely through the streets, pushing the pedals steadily on their big black Dutch bikes often in howling wind and pouring rain.
In Halifax, Nova Scotia every cyclist, except me, wore a helmet. Halifax is built on a steep hill and yet the downtown bike messengers ride the currently very fashionable 'fixies", track bikes with fixed wheel and no brakes. How they can control the bikes descending the steep hills I do not know. I guess it doesn't matter as they wear helmets. At night many cyclists are seen without lights but again they have their helmets on. Surely enforcing existing laws that mandate brakes and lights would do far more good than introducing another law requiring helmets that is not enforced as I found out. These helmet laws are introduced by 'do good' politicians who have very little, if any, experience of cycling and obviously haven't studied the results of similar laws passed in other jurisdictions. How much better we would all be if they spent their time and energy making cycling safer for us all by putting money and energy into educating cyclists how to ride safely and teaching drivers that a bike is a proper vehicle. A helmet will never prevent an accident. Use of brakes and lights certainly could.
I wonder what the North American helmet zealots think of all those Dutch cyclists riding without helmets. The way they talk one would think that a vast proportion of the Dutch population would have been killed off long ago . Well they haven't. Maybe it is because they ride sensibly on properly fitted bikes equipped with brakes and lights and that they observe all traffic laws. The have grown up riding bikes where cycling is an integrated part of the infrastructure and they keep much healthier because of it.
At a school close to where I live, each spring a large sign is hung over the front of the building. "Cycle safely - wear a helmet" it instructs. I am sure that that is the only cycling instruction the students receive as I see many of them riding poorly fitted bikes with complete disregard for laws and safety. How much better it would be if they were given safe cycling instruction and bikes were considered vehicles and not toys.
In Ontario The law requires those under eighteen years to wear a helmet. This discourages them from cycling. Few trendy teenagers want to be seen in a helmet. It has been proven that the health giving effects of cycling far outweigh the risks of injuries prevented by helmets. Our efforts should be directed into instructing and encouraging them to cycle safely.
The subject of helmets seems to get people all worked up. If there are still a few of you out there reading this blog maybe we will get some comments.
Monday, July 21, 2008
The truth is I've been riding my bike. I went down to the Finger Lakes in New York with a group of friends. There were 24 of us in total and I was just about the least fit of the lot. I had only myself to blame as I hadn't really ridden since the end of last season. Normally I run in the winter but this year the weather was awful and although that usually doesn't stop me running this year I couldn't summon up any enthusiasm for running on ice covered paths.
On returning from New York I decided to get back into my grass training routine. As those of you who know me know I am not much into all the modern training technology of power meters, heart rate monitors, gym sessions, massage and all the rest. I just ride the bike when I can and normally run when I can't. However it is difficullt to get a good training ride in when one lives in the centre of the city. So I ride the grass. I live close to the park and I have set up a route within the park which is almost all on grass. The only parts on pavement are up and down short steep (15%) hills. I ride my old Alan cyclo-cross bike which still hasn't yet come unglued after thirty years of use. The route takes me about an hour, a bit longer when the grass is wet and a bit less the fitter I get. It is a really good work out and it is fun. I have to ignore the stares of those who I am sure wonder why that silly old fool rides on the grass when there are perfectly good paved paths to ride on.
An hour on the grass is worth about three hours on the road. I liken it to riding a mountain pass. There is very little let up. There are some areas that are down hill and quite fast but you get stretches like that when climbing most mountains. There are other uphill sections that are a real struggle in my bottom gear of 42 x 28.
Since I got back from New York I have been riding the grass two or three times a week and what a difference it has made to my fitness. Riders that were dropping me on every hill in NY I can now stay with. A few more sessions and maybe I shall be able to drop some of them.
How much better one feels when fit. Not just on the bike but in every aspect of life. The vast majority of the population don't know what it is like to be even close to being fit. What a lot they are missing. Over the years I have had so many people come to the shop concerned about the weight saving of one component over another when they are carrying about twenty pounds under their belt. Some where their priorities are all wrong. As a good friend recently said "there is just one way to get fitter-ride more, eat less" To that I'd add "ride the grass".
Wednesday, May 14, 2008
Right: The Barry version.
That was the start of the Torpado Project. I had the derailleur and the hubs and had a suitable old Torpado frame, which although not as old as the hubs and derailleur wasn’t too far out of keeping. The frame was repainted by Noah Rosen (Velocolour.com) and the hubs were built into a pair of old wood rims. Friend and vintage bike enthusiast Peter Cridland has refinished the rims. He’d spent hours sanding them down and applying coat after coat of varnish. I found an old Italian “Invincibile” saddle, which was brought back to life with a bit of TLC. A pair of Cinelli steel ‘bars were fitted to an English lugged stem. I know it isn’t correct to fit an English stem to an Italian bike but it’s lugged construction when painted to match the frame, seemed to be just right. A Torpado crankset and Italian “Super Rapid” brakes completed the project.
I intend to make a rod operated front derailleur for the bike and I have some nice Italian stainless fenders which will be fitted but it is almost complete and has been greatly admired by all those that have seen it.
My great grandfather started a bicycle business in Bromley, Kent in 1888 and the shop was in the original location until one evening in November 1940 when a Luftwaffe bomber decided to jettison its bombs over Bromley rather than continue to the original target of the London Docks. My grandfather George had been working late in the workshop that night, and had just left for home on his bicycle when the bomb exploded on the shop.
The next day George, my father, and some of the neighbours started to clear out and salvage what they could from the bombed building. On the opposite side of the road was a derelict pub, scheduled for demolition as part of a road widening scheme which the War had postponed. My father contacted the owners and made arrangements to store all the bits and pieces in the old building for a few weeks.
Fourteen years later the shop, was still in the old pub, not exactly luxury accommodation, but it worked and the public was buying bicycles to get to work or school, and business was good. I left school and started to work in the workshop with George, while Dad had a small office upstairs. One day I was rummaging around upstairs and found a broken wicker basket originally from a butcher’s bike, covered with dusty cardboard.Inside was a collection of bicycle parts which had been rescued from the old shop, a few steel cranks and rusty BSA inch pitch chainrings, a pair of Stronglight 49D cranks, some Osgear parts, and in a battered dark red cardboard box with embossed gold writing, a pair of Palladini hubs. The Stronglight cranks went onto my racing bike and saw many years of service, the Palladini hubs stood on the shelf and I thought that one day I might build them up into a bicycle just for fun.
In 1968 I moved to Canada, bringing with me two racing bikes and the toolbox which I had used as a mechanic in the 1958 Tour of Britain. In the bottom of the toolbox I had put the Palladini hubs. Mike and I met up again in Toronto; we had raced together as juniors in England in the 1950's. We were both very much into bikes, and we started building Mariposa frames together in a friends basement in 1969, we have been the best of friends ever since.
The hubs accompanied me through my wandering working life in England, Canada, USA and The Netherlands, like some kind of talisman, connecting me to my roots,....and one day they would be built into a bicycle. In 2006 Mike was restoring a 1950's racing frame for me and it was then that I realized that the hubs should go to Mike, as he was the one person who might actually use them on one of his restorations. They were too interesting for me to keep in the bottom of my toolbox any longer.
Tuesday, May 13, 2008
Fausto Coppi on his Bianchi during the 1952 Tour de France
In 1953 at the age of fifteen I saved all my paper route money to buy a new bike. I had a custom frame built by local South London builder Stuart Purves and had it finished in Bianchi celeste with chrome lugs. I started to equip it with the best equipment that I could afford. Campagnolo had recently introduced their revolutionary Gran Sport derailleur and I was determined to set up my dream bike with one. The regular price on this derailleur was 3 pounds 12 shillings, which was about three times the price of the very popular Simplex Tour de France. However I managed to get a deal at Claud Butler’s shop. They had one that had the fancy drilled out pulleys removed and replaced with Simplex pulleys and sold it to me for two pounds. This new Campag derailleur was without doubt one of the finest pieces of bike equipment ever made and when I had fitted it to my celeste Purves I was the envy of all my club mates.
I used that derailleur on a succession of different frames over the next few years and eventually, when it got rather worn, replaced it with a later model Gran Sport. However, I kept that original one. It would now fetch quite a good price on ebay.
My fascination with Fausto Coppi never waned. I bought a Bianchi very similar to the one Fausto won the 1950 Paris-Roubaix on and always wanted to put together a replica of his 1952 Tour de France bike.
Fausto Coppi winning the 1950 Paris-Roubaix with Campag Paris-Roubaix equipped Bianchi
Many years later in the nineties I found an advertisement for the correct 1952 Bianchi frame in the British magazine Cycling, and had a good friend in England pick it up for me and bring it to Toronto on his next trip. I had the derailleurs and slowly managed to piece together all the other parts.
Eventually the bike was complete and I proudly displayed it in our Toronto store.
Then one night, I was woken by the alarm company. Someone had broken in. When I got to the shop the front window was smashed and two bikes were missing. One was the Bianchi. Whoever stole it probably had no idea what they had stolen as it was just one of the two bikes closest to the window. I let the other shops around town know about it and asked them to keep their eyes open.
About a month later a friend and mechanic at a downtown store called to say that he had what seemed to be the rear wheel of the Bianchi. I rushed to his shop and there was no doubt that it was the wheel. Someone had brought it in to have a new tubular fitted.
At that point I made the first of three mistakes in the stolen Bianchi saga. I called the police. Two very polite and pleasant constables arrived and waited around until the fellow that had brought the wheel in returned to pick it up. He was arrested and charged with steeling a bicycle wheel. They made no effort to see if he had the bike. If I had waited for the guy and offered him a few hundred bucks I’m sure that I would have had the bike back.
We all went to court and he gave a sob story that he had needed the wheel to get his bike going as he was out of work and had no other way to get to job interviews. He said that he paid fifty dollars for it to a guy on the street. Case dismissed.
Then I made the second mistake. I should have gone up to him outside the court and offered the few hundred bucks but I was so mad that I didn’t. I am sure that he had the complete bike.
That was all about ten years ago and I had given up all hope of ever seeing the Bianchi again. Then about two years ago a customer named Will came to our shop asking for celeste cable casing. He explained that his girl friend’s uncle had given him an old Bianchi that he had found by the side of the road in Oshawa. That is about fifty kms from where the bike was stolen. He described it and it sounded very much like my Bianchi.
That is when I made the third mistake. Instead of asking to buy it from him and driving to his house there and then I persuaded him that he should bring it to the shop and we would see if we could help him restore it. He agreed to this and for the next few weeks I anxiously awaited his arrival. He never came and I again gave up hope of ever seeing the Bianchi again.
Then a few days ago I got an e-mail from a fellow named Josh. He had just bought a fifties Bianchi from Craig’s list. He said that the serial number had been filed off so he felt sure it was a stolen bike. As our shop was the most likely in the Toronto area to have restored or dealt in such a bike he contacted me. He described the bike and immediately it became apparent that it was mine. He had paid four hundred dollars for it and refused my offer to pay him twice that to get it back. He insisted that I pay him only the four hundred dollars even though he knew that the rear derailleur alone was worth much more than that.
The Bianchi as I received it back from Josh.
And so I have the Bianchi back. It is almost complete except that the Campag. ‘bar end levers had been removed and replaced by a fine pair of Shimano SIS stem shifters.
I'm not sure what Fausto would have thought of these.
It came back with a rather nasty rear wheel but I have the original which was returned to me by the police after the court case.
That may have been the end of the story but the day after I got the bike back I got a call from Will, the guy that had been in the shop two years ago. It was he that had sold the bike on Craig’s list. He heard from Josh that it was a stolen bike and that it belonged to me. He insisted that he return to me the four hundred dollars that he had received for it. He said that he didn't want to make money from stolen property.
What a couple of great guys these two turned out to be. Josh knew that he had a valuable bike and that he could easily have sold all of its components for a substantial profit on e-bay. Will didn’t realize the bikes value but was certainly under no obligation to return the money he had received for it. The 1952 Campag Gran Sport Extra derailleur. The missing bits came back in a plastic bag.
For me the bike is irreplaceable as I put it together with a childhood vision, dream, and hard work. Like an old song that reminds you of your teenage years the bike brings back emotion and a million memories for me. It is not only a bike but also a piece of my youth.
Now that bike will be restored again. It has suffered a bit over the years but there is nothing that a little TLC will not fix.
It does need a bit of sprucing up but overall it is in pretty good shape.
It would be nice if the bike could talk and could fill in the missing gaps in the last ten years.
Tuesday, April 8, 2008
I’ve just spent the last few days in London, Ontario. I had hoped to get out for a couple of rides with some friends to see some of Ontario that I am not too familiar with but as it turned out I couldn’t meet up with them and rode on my own. The country around London is pretty flat and as I rode the straight roads across the windswept farmland I was reminded of the roads in northern France and Belgium. The cobbles are missing but there are plenty of rough gravel roads that at this time of year, just after the snow has gone, are almost as much of a challenge as the pave of Europe.
Not Belgian cobbles but almost as tough to ride.
Maybe it is because of the similarity with their homeland that Belgian immigrants settled into this area. Delhi (pronounced Del-high) is the centre of the Belgian community and was at one time a hub of bike racing in Ontario. The first bike race that I saw after arriving in Canada in 1964 was in Delhi. The main street was closed down for the race and the large crowd was obviously knowledgeable. Compared with the races I had ridden in England this was so much more exciting. Bike race spectators in England were almost exclusively connected in some way with the riders. Here they were all local residents, mostly farmers and their families, often shouting encouragement to the riders in Flemish.
Over the next few years I made several two hour drives to Delhi from my home in Toronto to not only race in their local criteriums and road races there but also to attend their winter socials at the Belgium Hall where roller racing would be the main feature.
In 1972 the bike racing fans of Delhi built a velodrome in the local hockey stadium. Of course, even in Delhi, hockey is the number one sport in Canada but during the summer the arena wasn’t being used too much. Locally they had an expert at building velodromes: An ex-six day racer himself Albert Coulier had previously built fourteen velodromes in Canada and the US during the hey day of six day racing in the forties and fifties.
The velodrome in Delhi that Coulier built was fantastic. Constrained by the available space of a hockey rink it was short and steep--118 metres with bankings at 55 degrees-- but it hosted some of the most exciting bike racing one could see anywhere. Renowned British cycling journalist Jock Wadley came to Delhi to see a six day event and wrote a glowing account of it in his book “Old Roads and New”. Jock had seen racing all over the World from World Championships to Six Days at the Paris Vel d’Hiv to nineteen Tours de France. Jock said that the racing at Delhi was “the most exciting, most adventurous, most spectacular cycling scene I have encountered in more than 40 years association with the sport”.
Delhi could not, of course, attract the professional riders but it did attract most of the better amateurs from Canada and the States. The stars of Delhi were Canadian Jocelyn Lovell, ex Brit. Chris Hooker, American Roger Young and local riders such as Pete Penman, who was an expert on the steep boards of Delhi.
Sadly, the Delhi Velodrome lasted only a few years. The new generation of Delhi residents were not as keen on bike racing as their parents and other summer uses were found for the hockey arena. The Delhi Velodrome was dead but by no means forgotten.
Thirty years later in 2005 a similar hockey arena became available in London. The local hockey team had moved to a new facility downtown and their old arena was standing empty. Local bike racing enthusiast Rob Good saw an opportunity, approached the owner and a deal was struck. Albert Coulier, now in his eighties, agreed to come out of retirement and design the track With the aid of Albert’s two sons and their company, Apollo Construction, the Forest City Velodrome was born.
A training group negociate the 50 degree bankings
The track is a work of art, a beautiful wooden bowl; Rob Good’s Field of Dreams. At 138 metres around it is a bit larger than the old Delhi track and perhaps a little easier to ride. The curves are banked at 50 degrees and the straights at 17 degrees. It is certainly quite intimidating and so far I haven’t summoned up enough guts to get on it; however, I am put to shame by the crowd that I have seen racing and training on it. There are riders of all ages from ten year olds to one fellow in his eighties looping around at speed. What a joy it is to see those little ten year olds flying around the top of the high banking without a fear in the World.
Rob Good, his wife and a large crew of volunteers have transformed a more or less derelict arena into a wonderful sports facility. When they took the building over there were numerous burst pipes due to a previous tenant being unwilling to heat it over the winter. The place was dirty and in need of paint. The volunteers have now fixed most of the problems and it is a great place to spend some time be it racing, training or just watching. There are teaching and training sessions everyday where complete novices are taught the basics and soon become confident on those intimidating bankings. There are plenty of bikes available to borrow.
Unfortunately even for the most exciting racing sessions spectators are sparse. Maybe that is because Canadians are too much into hockey and have no time for anything else. Maybe it is a lack of advertising. Whatever the reason, it seems a shame that people are missing out on a good evening’s entertainment. One group that never misses a race meet is the “Delhi Ladies”. A group of elder ladies from Delhi that remember the old Delhi track and know just how exciting the racing can be.
The others that seem to be staying away are the road racers. With Canada’s long winters one would think that the opportunity to train indoors would attract a good crowd. What better place to get in a few winter miles and sharpen up your bike handling skills than at the velodrome.
However even without the crowds of spectators and the road racers the Forest City Velodrome seems to be flourishing. There is a very enthusiastic youth group and a large group of regulars that put on exciting racing. If you get a chance pay them a visit I’m sure you will be equally impressed as I am.
For information on the Forest City Velodrome go to: www.forestcityvelodrome.ca
Friday, February 15, 2008
It wasn’t long however before I realized that if I wanted to be recognized as a real cyclist I would have to replace the hub gear with a derailleur. No true racing cyclist used a hub gear, unless of course they were sponsored by Raleigh who owned Sturmey Archer.
I managed to find a used Simplex “Tour de France’ derailleur with a three speed 16/18/20 freewheel. It didn’t matter that there were only three gears, which gave nowhere near the range that the four-speed hub gear did, it was a derailleur just like the aces rode.
That first Simplex got me fascinated with derailleurs, a fascination that has stayed with me ever since. My first derailleur, a Simplex 'Tour de France' from the 1940s.
The principle of the derailleur is very simple. It is a mechanism that pushes the chain laterally to engage another sprocket. A very simple action but over the years there have been innumerable different types of mechanisms to accomplish it. The fact that one can see exactly what is happening, unlike a hub gear where the mechanism is totally enclosed, is the beauty of it. I have collected many examples and hope in the near future to put them together and create a virtual museum.
The French were the leaders in derailleur design from the twenties until the fifties when Campagnolo brought their Gran Sport model onto the scene. It is fascinating that until then the Italians persevered with very complicated devices that more often than not required the rider to back pedal while shifting gears with controls on the seat stays. The French, meanwhile, had perfectly good cable operated derailleurs, which could be operated while actually pedaling forward.
It is to Gino Bartali’s immense credit that he could win the Tour de France in 1938 and 1948 riding back pedaling derailleurs while all his non Italian competitors were using French Simplexes or Super Champions which operated in much the same manner as those we use today.
Bartali’s 1938 bike was equipped with a Vittoria Margherita derailleur. To change gear he would stop pedaling, reach down to a lever situated just above the front chainwheel, move the lever forward which took tension off the chain, and back pedal while simultaneously twisting a knob at the end of the tension lever. The knob operated a couple of flippers that moved the chain to another sprocket. When all this was finally accomplished he could re-tension the chain with the lever and commence pedaling forward again.
The Vittoria Margherita derailleur
In 1948 he rode a Campagnolo Corsa derailleur that was equally bizarre. The Corsa had two levers situated on the seat stays. One of the levers was in effect an extended hub quick release lever, which released the rear wheel. With the wheel released the second lever was used to select one of the four rear sprockets. All this, of course, was accomplished while back pedaling. One had to remember to tighten the rear wheel again before pedaling forward or the wheel would be pulled out of the drop-outs. The French must have been most amused.
Bartali changes gear during his victorious 1948 Tour de France
It is not any wonder that in 1949 Bartali turned up at the Tour with a cable operated forward pedaling Cervino derailleur. Apparently he helped finance an Italian company to make an almost exact copy of the French Super Champion. He didn’t win though as he was beaten by compatriot Fausto Coppi riding a Simplex. Gino Bartali riding the Cervino derailleur
Recently my son Michael and his friend Chris Mathias were scanning the French ebay sight and came across a French bike that had a derailleur that wasn’t cable operated. They sent me the details. I was fascinated and had to have it for my collection. No one bid on it so I guess there are not too many nutters like me that would get excited about a scruffy 1935 French bike with a “derailleur sans cable”.
As you will see from the photo the derailleur is operated by a 16” long lever, which is pivoted at the bottom bracket and runs along the side of the down tube. I’d never seen anything like it before and did some research. The bike is a BGA, which stands for Blanchard-Grange Armes. It was made in St Etienne in around 1935. In those days St. Etienne was the centre of the French bicycle and arms industries. The bike is a typical French city bike fitted with 650B ‘demi ballon’ tires. The derailleur and brakes are ”Velectrik” which seems to be the house brand of Blanchard-Grange. The brakes are in effect “V” brakes, manufactured sixty years before Shimano reinvented them for mountain bikes.
A few years ago if I got a bike like this my first inclination would be to restore it to 'as new' condition. I now have a few ancient bikes, which look as if they just came off the production line. Now my thinking has changed. The BGA has its original paint and head badge. The chrome is a bit ratty but so it should be after 73 years. Everything, as far as I can tell, is original apart from the fenders and tires. The original fenders were missing when I got it and the tires were rotten. I had an old pair of French Lefol fenders, which seemed to fit the bill and the white 650B Wolbers made the whole thing look quite smart.
The derailleur works “just like Campag” and there isn’t much chance of breaking a cable. The brakes can be operated with one finger. Have bikes progressed very far in the last seventy years? When the snow goes I will report on my first decent test ride.
The longest gear lever ever.
The Velectrik derailleur
The BGA headbadge
Saturday, January 19, 2008
Now we are back in Toronto. While we were in Spain there had been some brutal weather here but for our first few days back it was relatively mild. Last Sunday it was about five degrees C so friends Dougie, Noah and I decided to make the most of it and get a few kilometres in.
In recent years cycling out of Toronto has become pretty miserable with traffic. We now almost always drive out to the outskirts and ride from there. The countryside is still remarkably close and after half an hour in the car we are in quiet country roads. On Sunday we decided on our usual ride from the Toronto Zoo and then up to Goodwood which is North East of the City. The roads are quite quiet and quieter still if we choose the gravel ones. This time we decided to stay on the pavement as we feared that the recent weather would have made the gravel roads rather messy.
A great gravel road near Girona, Spain
A strong wind out of the east made the ride tough and it was a bit of a struggle over the rolling hills. The cafe in Goodwood is a great place to stop. The coffee, food and service is always excellent. Soon after we arrived another group of a dozen or so riders turned up. They were a group from the Jet Fuel Team who were out getting some early season training miles in. We spent a pleasant half hour or so chatting. On leaving Goodwood there are two roads to take South. One is HWY 47 which is always busy with fast moving traffic and the other is Concession Road 3 which is gravel. We decided that gravel was preferable to traffic. It turned out that the road was in great shape, well packed down and almost as smooth as tarmac. Why would anyone choose riding on Hwy 47 when they can ride this quiet country road.
Riding on roads with a lot of traffic means that you are forced to ride in single file with cars, trucks and buses thundering by. What pleasure is there in that? But most cyclists will not dream of going on the gravel roads. Sometimes, usually just after the "improvement truck" has been through, the surface can be loose and a bit dodgy but if one relaxes it is not too bad. One doesn't need fat tires. Everyone in our group rides 700 x 23s. although I'm sure something a bit fatter would be preferable. On this occasion we stayed on the gravel almost all the way back. We saw almost no cars, we were sheltered from the wind by forest for most of the way, and were able to ride two abreast and chat without worrying about the traffic.
Like riding in a close knit group, riding on gravel roads requires practice. One has to learn to relax if the surface is loose. But the advantages are many. The gravel roads generally take you into farmland away from housing. The roads are much more interesting as they are more likely to have curves and hills and they generally take you deeper into the beautiful Ontario countryside.
Remember gravel is a lot safer than traffic.
Wednesday, January 9, 2008
The final Saturday was a good day. Many friends came by to wish me well, enjoy a celebratory drink, and reminisce about time spent in the shops. It was a shame that Tom was not there. He had been with me for 17 years and he certainly deserved many of the thanks and good wishes. Tom has moved on to a new career but I hope that he hasn’t left the bike for good and that we shall see him out again before too long.
We have had a wonderful Christmas in Girona with Michael, Dede, Liam and Ashlin. Michael is training hard with four or five hour rides most days. I’ve managed a few rides of two or three hours but I am pretty unfit and I am certainly struggling on the hills. However the weather is great and it is a real treat to be able to get a few rides in at this time of year.
On a couple of the rides I started out with Michael and turned off after a half hour or so. One day, when he didn’t need to train hard he rode two hours with me. Of course it is always a treat to ride with one’s son especially in such wonderful countryside. It is also a treat because he never makes me feel as if I’m holding him back. We ride side beside, elbows almost touching, chatting. At least he is chatting I’m often finding it a bit difficult to chat when I’m climbing the hills. What a great way to spend some time with one’s son, just doing what we both enjoy most in life.
This got me thinking. It seems to me that many cyclists do not experience what is to me probably the finest aspect of cycling. That is riding in company in a tight group, side by side, enjoying one another’s company. Most cyclists I see are riding separate. Even those that are obviously out "together" are not riding close enough to chat or perhaps more importantly, not getting the drafting advantage of riding close behind a rider in front. A group of six or more is ideal with the riders in pairs riding two abreast, never three. The lead is shared with the front pair swinging off and going to the back of the group after perhaps a kilometer or two. The time at the front will change depending upon the conditions. If there is a strong head wind then time at the front will be less. If conditions are really favourable then the lead will change less often. If one of the riders is having a hard time then he/she should be sheltered at the back out of the wind. In this manner distances can be covered more easily and more enjoyably.
In recent years we have had many people taking up cycling that have never had the benefit of an organized club or have come to road cycling from mountain biking or triathlon neither of which discipline encourages group riding. Also it seems that to many cycling is just a way to get fit. What a lot they are missing, as there are so many aspects to cycling that they will never experience. Riding together in a close group is probably the most important.
Here in Girona everyday we see a group of retired men that meet to ride. There are about twenty of them, most in their sixties and seventies, they meet at a local bar/cafÈ and finish their ride at the same spot. They ride out in a group for about thirty of forty kilometres to a restaurant where they have a very social hefty Catalan lunch and perhaps a drink or two before riding home. They return home after spending a few hours in conversation with friends and having got in some good exercise. Not a bad way to spend your day. I’m sure that most get encouragement from both their doctors and their wives but foremost I think ride because they love the social aspects.
I started cycling with a club in London, England and I was immediately taught the benefits of group riding. Of course it takes a while before one is comfortable riding close to others but with a little practice it becomes second nature and you will get so much more enjoyment from this wonderful sport and pastime.
We return home to Canada in a couple of days. It will be strange not having to be at the shop everyday. I will however, still have some mail orders to take care of as I intend keeping that going. I also have many restorations and projects I am eager to get to work on—and I hope to write a bit about those in the coming weeks.
I’m sure the weather in Toronto won’t be conducive to cycling but when it isn’t then I will put on the running shoes and try to get fit for those group rides in the Spring. Even on a cold spring day, the thought of riding in a small group, chatting with friends, stopping for a coffee and cake gets me dressed up, out the door and on the bike.
Happy New Year to you all.