On New Year’s Day we encountered the Veteran Cycle Club after driving into London on our way to the National Portrait Gallery in SW1. Unexpectedly we got caught up in the New Year’s Day Parade around Westminster (yes, we were walking as planned at that point!) and the only thing I really stopped to look at was the Veteran Cycle Club.
It was quite fortunate as there was a bit of a “parade jam” ahead of them and so they stopped right in front of us. Quite a mixture of strange looking bicycles, all lovingly restored and the cyclists themselves were in period costumes to add to the picture.
It wasn’t surprising when I heard a little voice say “Is that like your bike Dad?” and then I realised it was a young lad asking his nearby Dad the question. “Not bloody likely!” he said, in a stern semi-serious way. At least it wasn’t me being asked by either of my daughters, although I could tell they were tempted to ask. Instead I simply gave them “the look” and they instantly changed the subject and asked about lunch plans (years of parenting practice now paying off).
Please don’t be put off checking out the Vintage Bike Club by my lousy photo above. It’s quite an interesting site although I must confess I don’t know much about real vintage bikes. The nearest I can go is having a 1984 Dawes Galaxy hanging up in my garage and my eldest daughter has a splendid Argos fast tourer from the late 1980s. Both of my own bikes have a Brooks B17 leather saddle – vintage design, comfort and tradition in their own right but somewhat quirky nowadays.
All this is giving me a nudge to call my friend Geoff as we normally have a New Year phone call. He has a collection of Moultons and a curly stay Hetchins or two, amongst others. I have enjoyed listening in the past to Geoff waxing lyrical about the painstaking work and research needed to restore some bicycles back to their original state. I think it’s a “labour of love” as nobody can ever do it as an investment as I’d be astonished if anyone ever got their money back, or made a profit. However, that’s not the point. People restore bicycles for the love of it, the challenge, the nostalgia, revisiting their youth, preservation and almost certainly there will be other reasons as well.
I mentioned that I’m not knowledgeable about vintage bicycles at all. Nevertheless I cannot help but marvel at the ingenuity of bicycle engineers of old. Although the materials and technologies were crude and basic by today’s standards, we have a lot to be thankful for. It is amazing how they overcame technical problems with the available materials and ingenuity rather than the clever, high tech solutions around today. One example springs to mind – the Sturmey Archer 3 Speed hub – internal gears which were incredibly reliable, durable and easy to use and produced decades ago and arguably very under-rated.
Me? I appreciate the wonder of bicycles and how they help with efficient, sustainable transport. I love bicycles for being a great way to stay fit, healthy and happy. Bicycles are cheap to run (but not all the time according to my wife), the cultures and subcultures are fascinating and always developing. I can appreciate the craftsmanship, the technologies, their occasional beauty and their clever designs.
All fine, but you’ll never catch me in tweeds.