Thursday, June 11, 2009

The Peloso


Above: The Peloso today.

I had just finished a circuit race in Toronto’s High Park. I hadn’t done particularly well in the race but I felt that some fitness was returning. This was encouraging as I had taken a couple of months leave of absence from work and had planned a trip back to England. I hoped to compete in races around the London area where I had raced before immigrating to Canada. The year was 1970 and I had been away six years. I was looking forward to meeting up with my old teammates and seeing if I could still hold my own in the races after six years away. At the finish of the High Park race I leaned my cherished Bianchi against a friend’s car while chatting to friends and other riders. When I turned to pick up the bike it was gone. Stolen while almost within reach.

I was due to leave for England in a couple of days. The planned racing trip wasn’t going to be much good without a bike. What to do: buy a new one here in Toronto or buy one in the UK. I decided on the latter. I spent the flight dreaming of the best bike that I could get, a Cinelli perhaps, another Bianchi or maybe a good English bike. Then I remembered ‘Baron” Smith. The Baron was one of the numerous colourful characters in the London cycling scene of the sixties. He was known as "The Baron" as he always had the most expensive and up to date bike and equipment. He was always immaculately turned out and it was rumoured that his bedroom wall was covered in a display of all the Campagnolo components available. The Baron rode a Peloso. It was silver with chrome lugs. That was the bike that I wanted.

I got in touch with Baron Smith as soon as I could. Where can I get a Peloso I asked? “You have to go to his shop in Alessandria,” he said. “That’s about halfway between Milan and Turin. Tell him I sent you, it may help”.

I talked good friend Mike Greenwood into joining me on the trip and we set off by train to Alessandria. Mike took his bike along as we intended riding back at least as far as Paris.

On arrival in Turin we went to the baggage area to pick up Mike’s bike but although it was there the officials wouldn’t let us have it until it had cleared Italian Customs. The Customs officer wouldn’t be in until the next day. We concocted a story; in our practically non-existent Italian that Mike was racing in Alessandria the next day and we had to get on the next train with the bike. At least one of the rail officials seemed to be a bike race fan and after a great deal of discussion they gave us the bike.

It was Monday when we arrived at Peloso’s small back street shop. He had no stock bikes. All were made to order. “Yes I can make you a bike. When do you want to pick it up?” he asked. “We would like to leave on Friday” I replied. “Impossible, I have to build the frame, have it chromed and painted and then assembled by Friday! Impossible.” Then I mentioned that Baron Smith had sent us. “Well let me see what I can do” was the response. I think the Baron must have been a very good customer.

Mike and I spent the next couple of days down on the beach near San Remo and were back in Peloso’s shop on Thursday afternoon. The frame was still at the painter’s but he sent off the shop “boy” to fetch it. It was beautiful. It was to be assembled “all Campag” of course but there was some discussion about the brakes. Campagnolo had just introduced their brakes and Peloso had a couple of sets. I could have these fitted rather than the standard Universals but that would put the price up $20.00. I decided to go for it and at about 9.30 that evening I left the shop with the “all Campag” Peloso and two extra Clement silk Criterium tubulars after paying the grand sum of $220.00.

On the Friday morning we were up and on the road early. The route took us over the 6,600 foot Simplon Pass into Switzerland. I had ordered the bike with my standard racing gears of 48/52 on the front and 14/16/18/21/24 on the back but at the last moment had asked for a 42 inner ring to be fitted. Peloso was somewhat disparaging. “You don’t need a 42, a bottom gear of 48x24 will be fine”. I’m glad that I insisted and had the 42 on the bike and the 48 in my bag.

It was a beautiful hot day and the climb was quite a struggle especially as both Mike and I were carrying large ‘mussettes’ filled with all our gear. Mike was suffering really badly and kept stopping to fill his bottle from the ice-cold mountain streams coming down from the glaciers above. When we arrived in the Swiss town of Brig he could barely stand from the pain in his kidneys. I had to help him undress to get into bed.

Next morning Mike was a little better but it became obvious when we started climbing the Furka Pass that he wasn’t going to be able to make it to Paris. We decided that we would catch a train at the next town. The next town was at the other side of the 7,900 foot pass. A fantastic climb with walls of snow either side of the road and the most wonderful Alpine scenery all around. The descent brought us into a small town with a railway station where we bought tickets to Paris.

The train was already in the station so we loaded our bikes into the baggage car and went for a meal in the restaurant. We were told that we had an hour before departure so we had plenty of time. Long before our hour was up the train pulled out with our bikes on board.

Seeing our dilemma a fellow suggested that we get out onto the highway and flag down a car. "The highway runs parallel to the railway" he said " and as the route twists and turns through the mountains a car should be able to beat the train to the next station". The first car we saw stopped and picked us up. When we explained the situation the two businessmen inside thought that this challenge was great fun. It wasn’t long before the train was in sight and we were able to overtake it. But then the road veered away from the railway and when it rejoined the railway again the train was again in front. We overtook it again and managed to get to the next town with enough time for us to run over a footbridge and arrive breathless on the platform as the train pulled in.

The rest of the trip back to London was uneventful and I was soon out on the Peloso on familiar roads in Surrey and Kent. One of the first races I entered was on the old motor racing circuit at Crystal Palace where I suffered the ignominy of crashing while climbing the hill. My chain slipped on the cogs and being out of the saddle I was dumped onto the tarmac. Although I wasn’t hurt the ‘sag wagon’ driver insisted on picking me and the wonderful Peloso up and taking me to the finish. My mates thought it hilarious and asked if I had forgotten how to ride a bike while in Canada.

I still have the Peloso. It has been repainted once but for a thirty nine year old bike it looks pretty good. I haven’t ridden it for a while but I will have to get it out again and relive that wonderful ride in the Alps even if it is just on those hills north of Toronto.



Definitely a bike built for me..


The head badge is a bit worse for wear.


The first Campagnolo brakes have no name engraved. They are now widely sought after by collectors.

16 comments:

Jim C said...

Mike,

Thanks for the post. Your Peloso is the absolute personification of the classic 1970's Italian racing bike right down to the beautiful, muted silver paint and understated decals. Your reminiscences are a lovely bonus.

R. Zach Thomas said...

A beautiful bike and fantastic story. Thanks for sharing.

Anonymous said...

Fantastic. That story touched me.

Anonymous said...

Great story, I'll think about it next time I'll ride over Furka and down to Goeschenen!

stephen saines said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
stephen saines said...

That was thrilling just reading it. Nothing makes you run like fear! Oh man, chasing the train brings back memories.

Fascinating to read that Universal predate Campy brakes. I'd originally posted a request for more info on Universal, I'd bought a set of calipers from Mike some years back, have served me very well in the years since, still look brand new, and found an excellent page describing the history of Universals at:
http://www.classiclightweights.co.uk/universal.html My heart is still racing re 'the chase'.

OAP said...

What an exciting story! Thanks for sharing!

For the record, 220$ in 1970 represents about 1200$ today. Not bad for a custom frame with top-of-the-line parts, made in four days!

-p said...

I enjoyed the story, thanks!

Anonymous said...

Bear with me here.

I had an old Falcon and the BB shell had been stripped and re-threaded more than once and by early 1990 it finally gave out with no hope of cheap repair.

Needing a bike fairly quickly and on the cheap for racing, I was told that a guy downtown Toronto had a ton of Bianchi's available in a warehouse, I believe on King Street. Being a teenager and from a small town, going downtown T.O. was kind of a big deal. I had an address, showed up, told them who sent me and hoping for a deal was led into this warehouse and what I saw could only be described as heaven. I had never seen anything like it. Rows and rows of Bianchi's hanging from the ceiling and wall. Bike stuff everywhere.

The nice man asked me what size and I said 56. Seemed to be the size everyone rode and wanted to emulate back then. The gentleman gave me a once over and said, I don't think so, a 54 with a 55cm top tube (it may have been 55.5) - what color? I was concerned about the size issue since no one had ever said anything to me before about my position being bad but he convinced me that is the size I would need. I took a Celeste in a 54. I can't recall the exact model now. I built it up that night and felt like I melted on the bike when I finally hopped on.

I raced that bike for two seasons and actually found a picture of me racing on it other day. What stood out though was the memory of that warehouse and the nice man that sold me the frame and fork. He knew the family that had sent me and helped me out. I was originally from England and we talked about that for a while and some of the british characters on the local scene.

Before I moved away from Ontario, I had seen this kid come up through the Ontario racing scene and how his entire family was involved - the kid was good but the family showing up to races was what stuck with me.

I heard more and more about this kid over the years until he finally turned pro. He started writing, sometimes about his dad.

A few years ago, it all dawned on me how it may be connected to my purchase of that Bianchi in 1990.

Mike, thanks. I don't have that Bianchi anymore, but I still ride a 54...

Grant said...

Nice choice on the Campag brakes.

Brock May said...

Wonderful telling of a great story Mike. Now that you've 'retired', you should seriously consider writing a book. I for one hope that you will. All the best, Brock

stephen saines said...

I've been regurgitating this for some time, and perhaps Mike could add a comment on it:
'Anonymous' wrote:
[I had an old Falcon and the BB shell had been stripped and re-threaded more than once and by early 1990 it finally gave out with no hope of cheap repair.]

I don't know if the ubiquitous 'heli-coil' is available in such a loarge diameter, they can make very solid repairs in auto repairs, being better than new in some instances (metal hardness and nature), but I'd sent a picture of a seventies "Argos Renovated" to Mike for a 'blessing' as to riding it as my main machine. My concern is in wearing down (I'm a very aggressive rider) a collector's item.

It was fitted with many Mavic pieces and the incredible Simplex spring loaded (torque neutral) shifters in immaculate condition. It is the most comfortable bike I've ever owned, indeed, ever ridden.

It came with the Huret Crankset, (Campy copies) which were not triple adaptable (within reason, anyway) and I installed TAs from Mike.

The Hurets used a bevel chamfer to mount a seled BB module by virtue of matching bevelled lock rings. The selaed barrel *floated* inside the frame housing, and was obviously of a small OD than the frame ID.

Mike had commented at the time I replaced the unit with TA that he found them 'wanting' (not his actual wording, but that's the gist) as a mounting method, and I've heard the same gist from a number of historical enthusiasts. The seventies were a time of much innovation, obviously, not all of it prime, but opportune just the same.

I still have the entire Crank?BB seled unit put aside. (I'm realizing that it was part of the Argos renovation done in 73/74, and thus something I should keep as a package of authenticity)(it is barely used, btw, perhaps a thousand miles top).

But here's how 'not prime' but 'opportune' becomes apt again:

If a BB frame shell is stripped to the point of no return, then the applicability of the design as a *reconstructive retrofit* once again becomes good engineering practice.

The tool to bevel the end faces of the frame BB shell would most probably be a grind stone(s) (without checking, from memory, the bevel was 45 degrees) and such stones if mounted concentrically opposing on the same shaft, could be run on a drill press with the frame clamped to maintain alignment, a jig to doing so most preferable.

One is then left to wonder (and I had to scrap my much loved Alcyon due to cracking of the BB shell) how many machines could be saved by an unrefined repair for BB shell integrity, and the fine alignment being re-attained by a bevelling process as described, as per Huret system?

The Huret system (and I have not Googled on this, albeit I will) is not prime, but faced with the loss of a frame that could otherwise serve exquisitely for decades more otherwise, how many other 'fixes' are out there?

Hopefully that will cue a response from Mike, 'fixes' over the years that have saved history from obscurity!

Tripling cranksets is an obvious sub-set of those possibilities. I make no apologies for being a 'softie' in that respect. It's not just the machine that takes incredible stress and wear if the gearing is not apt, but also the body.

You can't buy replacement rings for the knees!

stephen saines said...

Best I qualify the reno date stated in prior post:
On the fork steering tube, the date '74' is scribbled in pencil, along with the colour number of the paintjob.

It is possible/proabable that the actual mechanical assembly took place later (at least in the form I purchased it) as some of the Mavic grouping appears early eighties (derailleurs,cranks, rims, etc).

The point of retrofitting an older machine to circumvent spoled threads, etc stands:

I'm curious as to how many 'saves' Mike has been able to make over the years of what would otherwise be 'write-offs'.

It is entirely possible the Argos was built by them in 74, and reno'd by them later, albeit the paint job is in remarkable shape if that is the history.

Josh said...

Your fabrication of the rear shifter and the front derailed is awe inspiring for those of us who don't have experience with such things. I look forward to a "ride report" when you take the machine out on the road. Order Viagra

Ale- said...

Hello :-)
I stumbled upon this post just like on a treasure.
I'm italian and I'm looking for frames to build a fixie. I recently collected an old frame next to a trash bin. Know what? It's a Peloso! It's practically identical to yours, except for the name engraved on the lug which, btw, is a very common surname of my hometown. The frame has a Campag crankset, a pre '72 "170 Strada" and a "Nuovo Record" set. No saddle, no brakes, no wheels and it had been fitted with a common cinelli tourist handlebar and ordinary flat pedals, maybe because the owner stopped racing but continued using his bike.
The 170 Strada has a 49-44 and the whole frame needs to be polished and maybe re-painted or, as I tnink I'll do, just waxed.
I'd really like to know more about this Baron Smith, can you tell me anything more?
Thanks!
Ale-

Anonymous said...

I Have PELOSO

See the pictures:
http://postimg.org/image/67ujzmkbv/
http://postimg.org/image/ehcrg9t1v/
http://postimg.org/image/6aam6z3ld/
http://postimg.org/image/x9nhj5wt9/
http://postimg.org/image/m02mb1hth/
http://postimg.org/image/vqzy10gad/