A COUPLE of years ago I devoted this here column to my precious Brompton. For the uninitiated a Brompton is a folding bike. But not any folding bike. A Brompton is to folding bikes what an oak tree is to arboreal shrubbery.
I posted a copy of the relevant TFN off to the Brompton factory somewhere in England and waited for the handsome rewards to roll in. But, ach, the reply must have got lost in the post.
This is by way of saying that I am something of a bike nut (former friends are more precise and call me a wing-nut but I cannot fathom their nuance). People sometimes ask me when I got into cycling. The truth is I never got out of it. At the age of eleven I graduated from doing bike-jumps on the street over pieces of plywood to cycling out into the Ayrshire countryside, further and further afield. I remember that first bike run. It was 1977 and we’d eaten all of our pieces by the time we reached Skares, only two miles from Cumnock where we’d started. I had a car-washing sponge tethered to the saddle by elastic bands to hide its dishevelled state.
The distances increased. In the early 1980s a friend and I decided to cycle to Keswick in the Lake District – all of 110 miles. It took us 11 hours and we wore our heavy hiking boots for want of anything better. My bike was, by now, rather too small for me and my knees were grazing the handlebars as I pedalled. On the outskirts of Carlisle I came close to being mowed down by a lorry.
These were the days? Not a bit of it. Cycle lanes and cycle courtesy were unheard of. I read in Robert Penn’s splendid It’s All About the Bike that the 1970s were the nadir for cycling in Britain. That figures. There I was peddling away at something as deeply unfashionable as could be. My regular readers will recognise a theme here.
But, ah, 1984. While the rest of the country was cowering at the prospect of an Orwellian nightmare, I was getting my first proper bike. It was an 1957 Flying Scot frame, acquired for me by local legend Bill Frew, who counted among his followers Graeme Obree, living just over the moor and later to become world champion and world record-holder.
Bill built that frame up for me with bits and pieces others had left behind – including, alluringly, “some of the racing boys” he said. As I ambled along at 13mph I fondly imagined that my 52/42 chain rings were formerly being powered by G. Obree (actually I just made that up as Graeme was 18 then, like me, and equally unknown).
My wheels were new though – made by Alisdair Gow, now of Wheelcraft, but then building wheels out of the loft of a council house in Lennoxtown. It’s been 20 years since I visited his shop but it was always a hive of activity, day and night as cyclists from across the west of Scotland visited to get wheels built by the best in the business.
Almost 30 years later I still have those wheels – Campagnola hubs and Wolber Super Champion rims. Double-butted spokes tested by Big Al sitting on the rims as he built the wheels.
Where am I going with this nostalgia trip? Two places really. One is in recognition of the big and bold new cycle store, Evans at the east end of the ward in Edinburgh I am contesting as Green candidate in less than two weeks. I’ve not been in the new shop yet; it is a million miles from Bill Frew’s workshop in Sorn or Al’s loft in Lennoxtown or even incarnations like George Pennel’s bike shop in Peebles. But, at the very least, it is yet another sign of cycling’s continuing renaissance. There would be no bike superstores without a lot more customers.
So, secondly, that is why I hope everyone with a bike will be taking part in the Pedal on Parliament on 28 April. If you cannot make it sign the petition at www.pedalonparliament.org – Bill Frew and George Pennel are no longer with us but I am sure they would approve.
And in a last reference to the 1980s I’ve heard rumour that Norman Tebbit will grace us with his presence.