A Real Race Bike
A week or two after my accident I was working at Walter Scott’s (not the poet) little bike shop - W.S. Cycles. Walter was only a year or two older than me and on reflection he was quite the entrepreneur. The shop was a lean-to in an allotment on the junction of Brook Street and Claypotts Road in Broughty Ferry and I worked there on and off through 1987. Sometimes Walter would give me a lettuce or two to supplement the meager wages. One thing about his shack was that it was freezing and most of the repair jobs, often punctures, were on rusty old BMXs. I used to really hate these bikes. Highlights of working there was scouring the Ron Kitching catalogue for proper bike bits.
One day a real race bike appear - a red Raleigh Scirroco made from Reynolds 501 tubing. Now this may not be much nowadays with all the cheap lightweight super stiff imports from Taiwan, but it was a major step up from my flying gate Raleigh Equipe. And I was still dealing with British bikes! When Walter told me it was for sale and I could see that it fitted me fine, I got together the 80 pounds he was selling it for then did something unbelievable. I had the nerve to take it to Nicholson’s Cycle Center for them to check it. I can still remember riding up the Kingsway on it.
Anyway, Bryn or one of his underlings gave it the seal of approval - it was a Raleigh afterall - and I took ownership. Apart from being lighter and stiffer than the Equipe, it also had the best front gear mechanism I’ve ever had the pleasure to encounter. No kidding, this Suntour front mech was a joy to use. Even the latest Campag and Shimano 10-speed Titanium / Carbon-fibre jobs are not a patch on this antique. Actually I think it has more to do with the fact that the gear block at that back was only 6-speed and front mechs back then were only designed to handle this, allowing them to be narrower and hence have better changing. Anyway it was sublime and 20 years later I have not forgotten it!
On the following Sunday I was to ride a 30 mile time trial on the Dundee-Perth dual carriageway. 30 mile time trials are kind of weird. I mean what’s the point? 25 mile and 50 mile time trials count towards year long competitions and 25 and 30 is about the same isn’t it? So what it the point? I only rode a few of them but I always did okay in them for some reason. I almost missed this one of the 31 May 1987 because my junior block (15-20 sprockets) did not fit into the new Scirroco frame!! I had not tested this! Anyway there was no time to have the wheel dished* or any such thing so I put in my other block (14-24 I think) and to be fair I blocked off the 14 sprocket as that would be illegal. I was strictly speaking still illegal because blocked off gears were also not allowed under SCU rules but no one checked the bike that day.
It was a howling gale which made a murderous outward leg to Perth. End result was John Kermode mashing his knees in a huge fixed gear to a stunning 1:10 something. In comparison I did a terribly pedestrian 1:26:04, but it was the fastest from the Broughty Velo CRT bunch that day. A minor victory over my mates Don Crowe, Jon Carter, Jon Fenwick and Andy Brewster!
And now to enter Andrew Morton mode of writing... Little could the Raleigh Sirocco know that it would meet disaster just three years later. Or that’s its owner would, too.
*I had this done later and my second hand Mavic GP4 sprints on Campag Super Record (bought from Bill Nixon) were never the same again ... Welcome to Broken Spoke City, Arizona - a long running saga.
Red Raleigh Sirocco kind of like mine.
What’s wrong with Fife
15 June 1987: It may be more than 20 years ago and in many ways it may have been quite an ordinary and even a rather dull ride. There were 5 Broughty Velo guys who are unnamed in my diary (other than Colin Douglas who is noted for his absence), plus a certain Steve ‘Bullet’ Black and Ian Watson. Steve was in another Dundee club called the Charles Star CC. This was a rather nondescript entity of a club and I never understood why anyone joined it, so maybe it was not a surprise that young Steve joined the larger group outings. As to the name Bullet, I don’t think it came from any great ability to ride fast but maybe more to do with his prominent nose. He could suffer pretty hard and I remember one ride over Loch na Craige in the winter where he just hung on over the summit, breathing like a banshee, face bright red, shoulders rocking. But then again who at 15 back in those days would forgo a few minutes of pain for a lonely and desolate 50 miles home alone. Crazy days.
Anyway back to 15 June 1987 - what set this day apart - for me at least - was that the group went across to Fife and did so without Tom Robertson’s persuasion. In all my years of riding in Dundee this was a pretty rare occurrence, so even though I was not much of a fan of the Kingdom of Fife, I remember these runs well as they were so rare.
With some of the best cycling country I know of, and with a maze of routes on the doorstep, Dundee riders are often stubbornly unoriginal, blindly following the same route week-in and week-out. And even rarer than going to Fife that day, we went up a dead-end hill just for the hell of it. At the back of Cupar in the heart of Fife there is a hill with some transmitters and we rode up to these and back down for no reason other than it was there. I think it was at Ian Watson’s instigation and no matter what you say about him, I thank him for showing me that originality is also important in cycling.
10 years later there’d be a similar day with a huge argument at the meeting point in the morning and half the guys going to good old stunningly beautiful Dunkeld like every weekend and a renegade group going to Fife for yet another dull but at least original ride. Long live the rebels.
The Clubby Roof Rack
To get the full nostalgia effect of this story buy a model one at http://www.corgi.co.uk/CorgiSite/Rootes/VA10400.htm
Jonny Fenwick had a green Hillman Avenger. It had three benefits fitting the levels good, medium and bad. Good - it got us to races and for we who were still without cars or driving licenses this was a God send. Medium - you could drive it no hands safely around shallow right hand bends. Bad - it did not start properly on 28 June 1987 causing Mr Fenwick, Andy Brewster, Steve ‘Bullet’ Black and me to ultimately miss what may have been the greatest and richest victories of our sad little biking careers.
We arrived around six am at Fenwick’s house and quickly mounted the bikes on the infamous Broughty Velo CRT bike rack - which should have its own website strictly speaking. This white painted roof rack was pretty dodgy to say the least with rusty bolts and clamps that threatened to dump our precious bikes on the road at any moment. There were no quick release skewers for the front wheels so a wee spanner was handed around. Old toe straps were used to hold the back wheels in place. Some other holders held the front wheels wherever there was space for them.
Anyhoo, the bikes were all set but as I said earlier the engine did not start. The street had a slope to it so we were hopeful of getting it going and as ever Fenwick was not worried. After Steve, Andy and I had pushed the car back up the hill for the third attempt he was beginning to show some doubts but thankfully it was third time lucky and we piled into the moving car before it changed its mind.
Okay so we were still on time to made the rendevous with the big event and I should further build the tension by saying that the prizes were amazing considering it cost one pound to enter. First prize was a weekend away at the Aviemore ski resort staying in a high class hotel with dinner included (that none of us had partners and we were average age sixteen was not important). Second prize was a crate of whiskey (ditto age irony). Third prize I can’t remember but it was surely better than winning the typical old tubular that had lain in a store since Fausto Coppi ruled or XXXL nylon fronted jacket or pound note that you’d usually end up with in most races.
Just before Blairgowrie and the half way there point Fenwick announced that we did not have enough petrol to make it to Braemar. We headed into Blairgowrie but the fuel station was closed which wasn’t exactly unexpected at quarter to eight on a Sunday morning in the 1980s. The station we knew would be open was back near Dundee; Invergowrie to be precise. Here I committed a stupid error by thinking it would be quicker to cut across the hilly Aberntyte road and everyone went along with this. With four guys and four bikes on the roof Fenwick did a superb job of not killing us or even losing the roof rack on the numerous bends and dips.
When we got towards Braemar it was already too late and to make matters worse we had to drive towards the competitors. With the exception of the fine Len Coutts who won the time trial up to the pass by a massive margin the rest were holiday makers in Braemar mostly wearing foot ball shorts (I kid you not). We hung out the windows and did not know whether to laugh or cry. We held on to the hope of getting a late start but that was pushing it a bit. We spoke to the organiser and he apologised and someone even asked if we could get our entry fee back (one quid!).
We consoled ourselves by saying that we’d definitely have got the 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th places. Fenwick reminded us that he’d have got the whiskey in any case as he was the only one of legal age to drink the stuff. And then we made up for it all by having an awesome day of bike riding. We drove back up to the cold and cloudy summit of Glenshee and got the bikes ready. Wearing all our bike clothes we descended back to Braemar where it suddenly got really hot and we needed to strip in some toilets and wrap the excess clothes around our waists like real amateurs.
We then headed up into the Grampian mountains and climbed some superb roads with fantastic scenery. It felt epic, it felt a bit like the Tour de France might feel we kind of reasoned. When we climbed the long climb back to Glenshee it felt like finishing on Alpe d’Huez and we were Kings of the Road. Brewster got there first (and got the virtual whiskey - we accepted we’d never have beaten Len) and I was second, Steve and Jonny bringing up the rear.
On the way home we stopped at some country western style bar in the middle of nowhere and felt foreign and different. Jonny bought us all a shandy to apologise for the shambles, but it was not really necessary. It was one of the best bike rides I ever had and the day will stay with me to my end of days. My sincerest thanks to Jonny, Andy and Steve.
First Taste of the Alps
In July along with Jonny Carter and my folks we headed to the Cote d’Azur and a wee village called Sclos. It’s in the suprisingly little known region where the Alps hit the Med. I say suprisingly because these mountains are within sight of the popular beaches and resorts. Truth is once you head into the hills the roads are well graded, car free and the scenery is stunning.
There was no space to take our bikes but the mountain roads coupled with following Stephen Roche’s epic riding in the Tour we were motivated to make it back here some time soon. We did manage to rent mountain bikes (my first time ever on one) at the Valberg ski resort (sometimes Paris-Nice makes it here) up above the pink rock Gorges du Cians and descend about 7km down the west side of the pass, then do a U-turn and ride back up the mountain. It was hot and sunny and my diary says that Jonny suffered.
It would be two years before I’d be back in the Alps with a bike, three years before I’d ride a mountain bike and four years before I’d ride off-road. All good things come to those who wait, so they say.
By the way on the long road north to Scotland again we stopped near Geneva and saw the start of one of the final TdF stages. I got a photo of Stephen Roche wearing the green jersey. he won it back again from Delgado in the time trial the next day. They don’t make ’em like that any more.
More on the Alpes-Maritimes will appear in the 1989 and 2003 diaries.