Thursday, 25 October 2012

AN APPROPRIATE BICYCLE - Pt. 6: ASPECTS OF CARLOS


Punctures, like buses (or sagacious oriental apes), appear to visit themselves upon me in batches of three, so I was more put out by the prospect of sustaining further damage than I was about fixing this singular perforation. It was your run-of the-mill sort of puncture: a small, almost central intrusion – just one of those things. I hadn't expected it to be anything else, but was glad to know that it hadn't been caused by the bicycle itself: an errable spoke or suchlike.

It was Tuesday before I finally had the opportunity to conceive what this Carlos was really made of, and it appeared to be good stuff, save for a few entirely corrigible concerns. Before departing on my test-run, I had raised the saddle by a couple of inches. It’s a deceptive exercise, raising a saddle, and it soon became clear that I had not heightened it nearly enough. Having not thought to take a spanner with me on that maiden voyage, I was obliged to spend a fair bit of time out of the saddle. This was a basic error that I admonished myself for.
The handlebars were angled a little awkwardly, too – another minor quibble easily remedied. At worst, I envisaged having to remove the bar-tape and adjust the position of the bake levers to invoke a more relaxed geometry, but I wasn't going to rush into anything.
            The optical illusions that had plagued me now gradually shifted into focus. The bottom bracket was lower on the Carlos than it was on the Jamis Beatnik, accounting for their apparent – but inaccurate – similarity of stature. I concluded that if the stand-over of any given bicycle is correct, and the top-tube sits the requisite couple of inches below the crotch, then the bike probably fits. The saddle, seat-post and handlebars are designed for adjustment, it’s simply a case of playing around with them until one feels comfortable – crises over. I couldn't complain. Indeed, I was content with what my £295 had delivered and looked forward to taming my steed over the coming months.
 
It’s been cold of late but the wet weather has abated. The wind continues to be an irritating presence - it is autumn, after all - but there's been nothing to stop me from getting out there and riding my new bike. The sun has even been moved to put in a few appearances providing the perfect conditions for a spot of bicycle portraiture. (At this time of the year, the sun sits quite low in the sky, allowing for good pictures throughout much of the day.) I don’t expect such clemency to hold out for much longer, and it won’t be long before Carlos is retired for the winter, whereupon I shall be running instead.
So sit back and relax, then, and take a look at these pictures, taken in far from ideal conditions, but tweaked in Picassa to make them just about passable:

















[Images: author's own]

Saturday, 20 October 2012

AN APPROPRIATE BICYCLE - Pt. 5: CARLOS


£450 was my final offer, and it had neither matched nor exceeded the reserve. The only circumstances under which the Pinarello could now be mine was if I remained the highest bidder and that £450 was close enough to the seller’s valuation that he/she might let it go for less. By now I'm not sure I even cared.
            I left my house at 18:41 and the auction was due to reach fruition at 22:10:11. I assumed this time-scale was dependent on the exact moment the sale was floated and calculated on the basis of that – how else can you explain those extra 11 seconds of opportunity?
            When I logged on to eBay the following morning I was quite relieved to see that I had failed in my bid. But it was funny: my final offer had been the second-to-last tender of the day, before some opportunist came in with a bid of £460 at precisely 22:10:08. How’s that for taking it down to the wire?
As far as I could tell, at 22:10:04, the leading bid – my bid – was visible at £400. Somebody else then attempted to trump my bid with an offer of £422. I’d set my maximum bid at £450, so they were destined to fail, but this now placed me as the highest bidder with an offer of £430, because eBay raises the bid (in increments determined by the current value) on your behalf. Waiting in the wings, the eventual winner then submitted an offer of £460. I can only wonder what would have happened if, with the bidding set at £430 with just 3 seconds to run, the bidder had decided to chance his arm on a maximum offer of, say, £440. At least I think that's how it works...
But they still hadn't made the reserve. Had they taken a chance on my bid being close? Were they confident that the seller would acquiesce to the sellee and take whatever they could get?  Was I missing something concerning the nature of eBay? Was this a green light for the winning bidder to now enter into a personal dialogue with salesperson whereupon they’d thrash it out between them, reaching some sort of fiscal compromise? Consumed by intrigue, I sent the following email to the seller:

'Hey - are you selling your Pinarello for less than the reserve? I see that I was outbid at the last minute. If I'd known what the reserve was I might have bid higher in the first place. I don't really understand why people keep their reserve price secret - it just encouraged me to pull out of the bidding early. Anyway, if you let me know what you are prepared to take then I might still be interested.

Also, why did you buy a new saddle if you intended to sell the bike? I think you priced a lot of people out of the auction by having to cover that cost in your reserve.'

I wasn't expecting a reply to this and nor did I get one – which is a shame. It is a shame if only because it would make for more interesting reading, especially if the seller had somehow taken offence and sent me some sort of invective in return.(I never intend on being provocative or insidious, and it genuinely surprises me how irascible some folk can be when questioned via the medium of email. This rarely happens vis-à-vis, after all; people tend to take you at face value. There’s something about the email that seems to fool people into attributing a more cynical tone to the text. Maybe that says more about them than it does me. Or have I missed some sort of social convention here?) Anyway, the Pinarello was gone, the Raleigh had been long shipped and presumably received (to a disconcerting silence on the receiver’s part) and I was finally at liberty to buy that lovely looking Carlos.





And so I did. On Friday I climbed aboard the train to Waterloo, changed onto the Northern Line, vacated at Highgate and walked back down Archway Road. I felt strangely anxious as I neared the Vintage Bike Cave, so much so that I sought refuge in a delicatessen on the opposing side of the road, for a coffee to settle my nerves. This can be explained in part by a job vacancy at the Vintage Bike Cave that I had expressed a vague interest in. It seemed like it might be a nice place to work, I was unemployed, and working with bikes has to be kind of fun, no? But I was having second thoughts about that, because I’d noted the 70 minutes it had taken me to reach the Vintage Bike Cave, which was tolerable post rush-hour, but would be less so mid.
            I felt a little calmer after drinking mediocre coffee, and when I arrived through that back door the Carlos looked as impressive as I had remembered it. A ride around the block did nothing to dampen my enthusiasm and I knew that if there was any residual hesitation on my part, now would be the time for it to reveal itself to me.
And so the deal was done, the job was discussed (and left mutually open-ended), and I was on my way.
            The man who worked on the lathe – the proprietor of the Vintage Bike Cave – had scoffed at my reluctance to cycle back to Twickenham. It had been estimated that the journey – a journey that involved dicing with death on London’s very terrible roads – would take over an hour and a half, but I had already planned on riding to Gospel Oak to take the train home from there. This I attempted to do, although it was hard to know which way to go about it. At first I pushed my new bike down the Archway Road as far as Upper Holloway, because I thought it might be a good idea to see how long the walk would take, just in case I did indeed end up working at the Vintage Bike Cave. On reaching the intersection beneath Archway Tower I realised that Gospel Oak was too far from Highgate for this theory to make any sense, estimating that it would take at least 20 minutes on foot, thus negating any advantage the Silverlink Metro direct to Richmond might have to offer. I climbed onto the Carlos and started cycling in the vague direction of Gospel Oak.
            It should be pointed out that when I had ridden the Raleigh Record Ace to my courier I was struck by how comfortable it had felt. This was unexpected as I had been riding my Jamis Beatnik in order to preserve the Raleigh for sale, and had got quite used to that smaller machine. This physical amenity, then, took me by surprise, but it reassured me that the Carlos – whose dimensions I had measured to be almost exactly the same as the Raleigh – was probably of an appropriate size (the new found comfort of the Raleigh had also motivated me in continuing to bid for the Pinarello). But now I had the Carlos with me I was convinced that it was smaller than the Raleigh, although still bigger than my Jamis. This bode well for it assuaged any fears that it might be either too big or too small, but the fact that I could simultaneously consider it both left me rather perplexed.
            Meanwhile, my normally reliable sense of direction was letting me down. Meanwhile, the normally unreliable BBC weather forecast was also letting me down – or not. ‘It would remain dry for the rest of the day,’ they had told me this morning, but now it started to rain. I found myself in Kentish Town again, but knew I needed to be further west. I took a turn down a road that furthered itself in a westerly direction, but it led me straight into the bowels of an industrial estate. I retraced my steps and pushed my bike along Kentish Town Road instead, for I knew I’d get very wet if I continued cycling. This allowed me to admire the reflection of my new bicycle in the shop-windows I passed and assess its scale in proportion to my own form.
            I went too far: found a map of the area just outside Camden Gardens and saw the error of my ways, turned down Hawley Road, but on the wrong side, crossed over the road to join Castlehaven Road, which I knew would take me to onto Prince of Wales Road, allowing me to catch my train at Kentish Town West. As I got back on my new bike to ride up Castlehaven Road, I noticed that my rear tyre had a puncture.



[POST-SCRIPT: I did eventually receive a response from the Pinarello Guy, sent some weeks later and only picked up by me a few weeks after that again. He explained that he was in no hurry to sell the bicycle and that he happy to hang onto it if nobody offered what he considered to be a reasonable price. He assured me that the bicycle was not stolen (I'm not sure where that notion came from), that he wanted to sell it to someone who would appreciate it (admirable) and he intended to put it on eBay again – with a reserve in place – but if I was still interested than I was welcome to view the bicycle before bidding.
So far so very reasonable, but then he went on to explain the point of putting a reserve price in place – to keep it, in secret – and that if I didn't like this method of doing business then there were alternatives, both on eBay itself and on other websites (Gumtree, I assume). Maybe that made no sense to me but it did to him – and others too, apparently. It was obvious I’d rubbed him up the wrong way.
He confirmed that he had bought the new saddle prior to his decision to sell the bike and that it was his prerogative to change his mind. I couldn't argue with that but I got the impression that he thought that I was questioning the value he had placed on the bike itself, which was not the case. I just thought that he hadn't done a great job in trying to sell it. This was my reply:

‘Thanks for getting back to me - I only just picked this up as it wasn't sent to my email (or maybe it went to my spam?)

Everything makes a little more sense, now you've said you don't need to sell and are prepared to wait (I never for one moment thought it was stolen, by the way). It's just hard to know whether something is worth bidding on when you have no idea what the seller is holding out for. But you are right: it is a beautiful bike, and you should expect more than £460 - I was never calling into question your valuation. Unfortunately, money is tight for me right now so I ended up buying a Carlos for £295. It's no Pinarello, but it rides well and serves its purpose (and it’s sized right, which I could never be sure of with the Pinarello).
Good luck with the sale - with that saddle it's got to be worth at least £580. List it next time as a Pinarello 'Veneto' (just the one t) and hopefully someone will meet your reserve.’

I hoped he would not submit a response this second time around – what would be the point? He evidently hoped to make more than £500, but he’d only provided the bike’s measurements after I prompted him to do so, and hadn't even spelled Veneto right.]


Wednesday, 17 October 2012

AN APPROPRIATE BICYCLE - Pt.4: THE PERILS OF EBAY


The next day, after having discussed the contrasting merits of Gumtree and eBay (sic) with a friend of mine the night before, I whimsically decided to take a look at what sort of bicycles there were for sale on the latter. I had begun to feel like I was having some sort of affair behind the Vintage Bike Cave’s back, ogling over all these bikes after supposedly betrothing myself to the Carlos. But I couldn't help myself. Besides, I still fully expected to end up in bed with the Carlos come the end of the week.
I've only ever bid on eBay the once, and that was for something completely unrelated, but it was enough to get the drift. I understand that serious bidders tend to wait for the dying moments of any auction to launch pre-emptive bids, I am aware that some sellers put a reserve in place, that others offer the opportunity to Buy It Now (italics host-site’s own). What I also learned, snooping around eBay on a Sunday evening, is that you are not supposed to contact the seller with an offer until the auction has run its course – assuming that the opportunity to Buy It Now does not apply – but that you can email them to request further information about whatever it is they’re peddling
The first thing that grabbed my roving eye was a red 1980s Duravia, another French marquee that proved almost as elusive as Carlos. The bicycle in question was available for me to buy (it) now for £295, with only about 15 minutes left until sale’s end. Despite the absence of any bids, there was nowhere near enough time left to table my own. No, I needed a good few days to procrastinate, weighing up this and that, before deciding, quite viscerally, whether something convincingly appealed. But the Duravia was a good looking bike, sold by yet another vintage bike dealership bothering to clean up and present their stock for maximum impact (although the new triple-tone black/green/white Vittoria Pro Team tyres they’d fitted were a terrible choice). It was just as well, perhaps, that the sale was about to run its course, because I would have been lumbered with another dilemma to wrestle with for the coming week and I was starting to grow very weary of this whole process. When was I just going to buy myself an appropriate bicycle and start riding the damned thing?
As I was about to knock my eBay surfing on the head, I only went and stumbled upon a vintage Pinarello Veneto! The auction had another three days to run – there was no Buy It Now option on this bike – and the reserve had yet to be met. In truth, it looked like the velocipede might be marginally too big for me. The seller reckoned it was either a 58 cm frame or 60 cm, that he was 183 cm in height and it fitted him fine – and that was all he had to say on the subject. I'm about 180/181 cm, so it was not an altogether improbable fit. But I’d struggled with these sizing issues with the Raleigh and had since come to conclude that whilst my inseam implies I could handle a 58-60 cm sized frame, my ‘reach’ does not. In other words, my legs are in longer proportion to my body – perhaps. Dear old Carlos, on the other hand, had been quoted at 57.5 cm, which looked like a nice compromise. Why was I even considering submitting a bid for the Pinarello?






Because it was one of the most beautiful bikes I’d ever laid my eyes on; because it dated back to 1989, so was not so old that the parts should have suffered too much wear; because it had new wheels and tyres; it had a brand new Brooks Swift titanium saddle… but why had he fitted his bike with a new Brookes Swift titanium saddle just to then sell it on again? A Brookes Swift titanium saddle goes for about £180, so I could only assume his reserve was pitched to cover this extra cost. Why price yourself out of the market like that? Why add value to something that doesn't need adding value to? Maybe he bought the saddle not long before deciding to sell, because the pictures corroborated his claim that it was indeed brand new. I could resell the saddle but there was no guarantee of finding a buyer willing to cover my costs – not even for a pillion of Brookes’ calibre.
I asked the seller for a few more measurements, but they were inconclusive. I increased my bid anyway, because I thought I had a fair idea as to the bike’s real value. Still the reserve remained undisturbed. The next day I upped my bid again, no doubt irritating those who like to leave their bidding to the final moments. Again the reserve remained undisturbed.
I emailed the Vintage Bike Cave to reassure them of my sustained enthusiasm for the Carlos but would probably have to wait until Friday now. (I would have done this regardless of my bidding for the Pinarello because I had decided against picking the Carlos up late on Wednesday and cycling it across London to my bouldering place. It just looked far too dangerous on the map – that journey on a bike to which I was unaccustomed.) I thought very carefully about how much I would be able to pay for the Pinarello, because I wouldn't be near a computer for the final five hours of auction and would need to rely on a pre-prepared maximum bid to secure any purchase. My fingers hovered over the keyboard with much hesitation. I had no idea whether my last bid of £400 was anywhere near the reserve price but doubted that it was - £500 would have to be a safer bet. How far was I prepared to go?

Sunday, 14 October 2012

AN APPROPRIATE BICYCLE- Pt. 3: A TRIP TO DALSTON KINGSLAND


I emailed the Vintage Bike Cave to re-affirm my interest in the Carlos and to explain that it would probably be another week before I could and buy and collect. They were pleased, said they rated the bike and they would alert me to any third party interest, thus providing me with the opportunity to stake my claim in advance – perhaps with a debit card number.
            The next day I established that the funds for the Raleigh had been deposited into my account, but I had things to do and so taking the bike to my courier would have to wait until Monday (it was a Friday). And I thought that that was genuinely that, but on Saturday I couldn't help but have another sweep of Gumtree. To my surprise, I found an advert, which had been posted a mere 5 minutes earlier, for a vintage Holdsworth selling for £140. Holdsworth will need no introduction to those with an interest in classic bikes: it is a brand name that carries some weight. The advertisement read thus:

In Mint Condition Classic 1980s Holdsworth Racing Bike All In Perfect Working Order Also. I Need To Sell Due To Moving Away So If Anyone Wants A Beautiful Classic Holdsworth Bike For A Bargain Price Please Call Me On….

There was no current photograph of the bike (and the seller had insisted on capitalizing every word). Instead, he had sourced a page from an old Holdsworth catalogue showing a Triath-Elan VS in all its glory. It’s not that unusual for people to do this – we don’t all have cameras, or computers to upload our pictures on to – but I would normally take it as a sign to steer well clear. I did a bit of research anyway, discovered that the bike would have dated back to somewhere between 1984 and 1986, found some genuine photographs of the same model, looking resplendent in steel blue, and thought to myself that I’d quite like to ride that bike. The £140 asking price suggested the deal was too good to be true, but you never know with these things. I phoned the seller, who told me that a friend of his had placed the advert but that the picture his pal had posted was a true reflection of the bike he was selling and that it really was in very good condition indeed. He went on to tell me that the bike had been his dad’s, so he knew little about it other than it would suit someone of 5 foot 11 inches or thereabouts, for that was the height of his old man. I am 5 foot 11 inches. It sounded plausible – that he had inherited the bicycle from his father – but the way he talked about it aroused my suspicion; like he didn't actually want to talk about it. I decided to catch the train to Dalston Kingsland to see for myself.
            I had my head in a book for most of the journey (The Great Game by Peter Hopkirk) but took a break somewhere around Brondesbury Park. It looked nice, Brondesbury, but then places often do from the vantage of the London over-ground. You’re up in the trees, and the spires of local churches have an advantage over the more low-rise clutter that subjugates one's view from street-level: an isosceles order amongst the chlorophylloid chaos. Further afield you might discern more exalted  landmarks, or the city itself, and if there are interesting meteorological weather formations afoot, then they’re nice to behold too. So my 45 minutes train journey on a Saturday afternoon was actually quite pleasing and in complete contrast to the havoc that greeted me when I disembarked at Dalston.
            Dalston Kingsland’s a weird one. On the surface it’s reminiscent of old Stratford, or the more unsavoury elements of Ealing, with dated shopping malls and boutiques without any real focus. Look more closely amongst the crowds and the shops selling cheap linen and you’ll see hipster types buzzing about on single-speed bikes, or socialist workers encouraging you to join them on demos. I suppose I live quite a cosseted existence out west, and so all this can seem rather exotic.
            I’d texted my seller when one stop away from Dalston Kingsland and didn't have to wait long. As soon as I saw him I felt I knew his game. I might be wrong, and it could be awfully unfair of me to say, but my first thought was that the bicycle was probably a stolen one.  I've never known anybody who’s owned a Holdsworth, but I’d wager that their offspring don’t generally turn out like this: wearing baseball caps at jaunty angles, with nicotine stained teeth, baggy tracksuit bottoms, dirty finger-nails and a gait that nods from side to side. To be fair, the man (of approximately 25 years) was terribly polite and did seem to know his subject. The bike was in good condition – very good condition – but it was not a Triath-Elan, nor was it steel blue, and the tyres weren't of the racing kind. It looked to me to be a lower-end model (although still with a Reynolds 531 frame), was black and its tyres were a right chunky pair of monsters. This gave me an escape clause and I could relax safe in the knowledge that I’d be under no obligation to buy something that hadn't met with my expectations – the expectations that he’d handed to me. But it was a nice bike… and it was only £140… but no, I couldn't live myself knowing it was stolen. But I didn't know if it was stolen. But I would have to do something about those tyres, and I don’t really like black coloured bikes… Sensing my disinterest, he asked me to make him an offer. I was confident I could sell it and make a profit, but this bike business was starting to get ridiculous. I declined, thanked him for coming to meet me, he said it was no problem, and I went home.




A Holdsworth Triath-Elan VS


Back at the office, as it was fast becoming, I thought I’d Google-search for stolen Holdsworths. I don’t think I had any intention of doing anything about this potential act of pilferage, should something come up, but it would satisfy my curiosity and validate my instinct. Nothing was immediately apparent but I then decided to run a search on the guy’s name and telephone number to see if that threw anything up. And it did: about 30 adverts on Gumtree (some live, some dead), most of them with appropriated images (but not all) and almost all of them selling bikes at £140 a go. He normally didn't even bother to explain the motivation behind the sell, although there was mention of him actively building up single-speeds here and there, and that he was ‘Moving Away’ again. The bikes were usually in ‘Perfect Working Order’ or ‘Looking New’ with ‘No Service Needed’.
            By the end of the day the advert for the Holdsworth was no more.

Thursday, 11 October 2012

AN APPROPRIATE BICYCLE - Pt. 2: THE JOY OF TRADE



It’s clear that if I'm to fulfil my ambition of sampling a flavour of competitive road cycling then I will need to enrol in an event. It’s also clear that I’m in no position to enter something very serious, and the most obvious avenue open to me is a charity ride, like the London to Brighton: it is 54 miles long and that feels about right. In fact, there are sportives being held all over country for much of the time, and they’re normally very accommodating, with ‘standard’ and ‘epic’ distances to suit. Which would best cater to my needs is moot: I have both a relative and a friend in mind who I hope to persuade to cycle with me, and I know they appreciate the London to Brighton, having both ridden it twice. They may well be up for a sportive at some point in time, but I wouldn't know how to go about choosing one. I’d like to get other people on board too, and the London to Brighton will incentivise in way the ‘Sussex Surrey Scramble’ cannot. One other person has indicated that he might like to partake, and I also reckon the guy who lives below me wouldn't mind giving it a go.
            All this can wait, but when the time comes to get this thing off the ground I’ll be the one doing the bulk of the work: event registration, booking hotels, arranging that people meet beforehand. It’s my project and my idea and therefore my responsibility. As Directeur Sportif I’ll be the one who names the team and describes its culture. I look forward to that.

I suppose my brush with Gumtree had been somewhat successful, for it had revealed to me that there were vintage bikes aplenty to be had (if no apparent bargains), and also – and more importantly – that there were small, independently owned businesses selling working models for reasonable prices. So I continued to purge Gumtree for road bicycles and would visit De Vlo’s website on a daily basis to see if they’d finished off the works-in-progress that they’d assured me were on the way. De Vlo’s website led to me their Facebook page, which in turn led me to a company called the Vintage Bike Cave, based in Highgate, north London. I’d already spotted the Vintage Bike Cave selling their wares on Gumtree but had been put off by the graphics employed on their website and the plethora of vintage spares they had on sale. One might have a degree of empathy with my feeling towards the former, but why should the latter hold any leeway when it came to buying a used bicycle? I suppose the recent explosion of interest in cycling – and its vintage component in particular – has made me wary of some of the newer businesses currently ploughing this rather specific furrow. I don’t know enough about bicycles to say either way, but is that Campagnolo group-set really worth that much? And is it reasonable to expect someone to pay a couple of hundred quid for a steel bicycle frame that looks like it was chanced upon in a skip? Having said that, the Vintage Bike Cave had a couple of bikes I liked the look of, not as immediately arresting as the beautifully photographed Diamant from De Vlo London, but priced along similar lines and of corresponding age. Further, they seemed to be an altogether beefier operation, and as such it occurred to me that they might be able to do me a deal on my Raleigh Record Ace – some sort of part-exchange, perhaps?
            First off, I decided to call in the specifications on the two bikes that appealed to me: a Peugeot Competition with a 531 Reynolds frame – possibly a PKN-10 dating back to the late 1970s – and a chrome Carlos 10-speed racer of indeterminate origin. They both had 700c sized wheels, which was now a prerequisite of mine, and were valued at £345 and £295 respectively. I liked the look of both.



 The Peugeot


The specs had them sized about the same as my Raleigh, but with the marginally smaller 700c wheels bringing them in at slightly under. Their wheelbases were a little shorter, too (we’re talking about a difference of 3 or 4 centimetres here). Next I enquired as to what sort of discount the Vintage Bike Cave might be able to offer me in return for my Raleigh. Not much, was the answer – or that which fell way short of my own valuation. They asked me what I was looking for, I told them about £170, and they said – based on the photographs I had emailed them – that the most they could give me in part-exchange was a discount of £100. This was not to say that they disapproved of the value I had placed on my bike, just that they would not be able to make a sufficient margin based on the amount I was asking for. They advised that I try and sell it myself, so I did.
            The prospect of selling the Raleigh on Gumtree was not one that I looked forward to. It was the logistical element that bothered me – having to meet with people and maybe haggle a bit over the price – but I decided to proceed. Here is what I wrote for my advert:

Raleigh Record Ace: size 22½"/57 cm - with 531 Reynolds double-butted lugged frame and forks, Campagnolo gear-set and Weinmann Brakes, dating back to approximately 1984.  All parts are original except for the Schwalbe Marathon tyres fitted 2 months ago.
There are the surface abrasions that one might expect (nothing terminal - just a bit scruffy) but it rides fast and well.  Could do with a new saddle and bar-tape.
Would make for a great conversion to fixed-gear/single-speed bike (if you did want to do that then you could sell the Campagnolo gear shifters for about £20 - maybe the same for the derailleurs; they are in excellent condition).
... or you can ride as it is, although I'd advise a basic service: it handles great at the front but the back wheel needs a little adjustment from when I changed the rear tyre - I'm not a great mechanic!
... or it could be restored to its former glory, which I intended to do before time and money got the better of me (I have another bike so cannot justify this).

The size would be ideal for somebody between 5 foot 9 inches and 6 foot 2 inches; the seat-post measures 57 cm and top-tube measures 57 cm too.
I am flexible with regards to times and could arrange to meet in either Richmond / Teddington / Chiswick / Hounslow / Kingston / Mortlake - otherwise I am based in Twickenham.  The more convenient for me, the more flexible I'll be with the price.


I was asking for £180, to cover the cost of the tyres and a little of my labour – the three hours I must have spent stripping down and cleaning the bike. Essentially, I was attempting to break about even.
            Interest was almost immediate but seemed rather speculative. One guy in particular appeared to be very keen however, a notion that I arrived at via the medium of text, but all other enquiries came to nothing. Then the keen guy came back with an offer of £170, which I was willing to accept. There was a problem, though: he lived in Edinburgh. It was still early days for my advert so I was quite happy to bide my time for now, but told the keen guy that I would look into the possibility of shipping the bike to the Scottish capital. The reason why I was prepared to explore this avenue of delivery was because I know someone who works in logistics, close enough to where I live for it not to be too much bother, and nice enough a guy to do me some sort of deal. Actually, when I called my contact I made it clear that I wasn't looking for any favours with regard to the price, because that was a cost I intended to pass on to the prospective buyer, but he offered me a fairly decent rate anyway. I presented the keen guy with my quote and he made me a revised offer of £190, to include postage. It was a little lower than I would have liked, given the hassle of having to find a designated box for the bike, and then the need to haul it over to my courier’s warehouse, but if I wanted to follow up on my interest in those bikes at the Vintage Bike Cave then it would certainly be of benefit to resolve the matter as soon as was possible.
            I was also starting to develop a fondness for my potential buyer. I tried to provide as much information on the bike as I could, and to be honest in doing so. Given the time I was going to have to put aside to sort all this out, I decided I would have to insist on being paid up front. I do not think I was being unreasonable in making this a condition of our transaction, but I'm not sure how willing I would have been to part with my money without knowing the person I was dealing with. The keen guy seemed to hold no such concerns, and so we came to an agreement, bank details were passed on and I set about finding a box.
            Finding a box turned out to be a breeze. I emailed Moore’s Cycles in Twickenham, who duly obliged. All I needed to do now was to wait for the money to materialise and then I could go about the actual shipping.
            In the meantime, I felt I should really get things rolling with the Vintage Bike Cave and have a look at those bikes. On checking that they were still for sale it was discovered that the Peugeot was currently reserved, pending a visit from a potential buyer who had submitted a deposit. It was still available for viewing, and the Carlos was still very much available for buying.
            I am not sure how absorbing it really is to read about a nascent cycling enthusiast attempting to sell a bike, but hopefully the acquisition of its replacement piques a little more interest. Wednesday night is bouldering night, so to save on the expense of travel I elected to visit the Vintage Bike Cave late on a Wednesday afternoon. Highgate was the destination, but I thought I’d pause for thought on the South Bank on my way, as can be my want. After drinking my coffee, I crossed the Thames to Embankment and joined the Northern Line from there.
            Highgate, when I arrived, was a far and pleasing cry from the environs of Bow that I had to trudge through on my way to see the Diamant the week prior. I had never been to Highgate before and passed the Boogaloo on Archway Road, a pub whose grand reputation precedes it and that I had one day always hoped to visit. Now was not the time but it felt like a good omen to see it there.
            The Vintage Bike Cave was smaller than I had envisaged, monopolising a cramped bunker of a room. A young man was there to let me in through the back entrance, for the cave occupied the lower floor of a building whose basements were not accessible from the front. The bikes were ready for my inspection, for I had fired off an email before I left to tell them that I was on my way. An older guy took a break from his lathe to move them onto track-stands so I might better appreciate the work that had been done on them. Like with De Vlo, the bikes were a testament to some great care and attention: they were clean and well-oiled, with new tyres, brake pads and bar-tape. Actually, the Peugeot – the more expensive of the two bikes – looked the more tired. This was probably because it was undoubtedly older than the Carlos, but maybe too because it was white, and white is a colour that doesn't tend to weather very well. It was still a nice looking bicycle, although it was the Carlos that was feeling its way under my skin.
            The older guy who had taken a break from his lathe couldn't tell me much about Carlos other than that they were a French company.  Further research established that they heralded from an area close to the Belgian border, but I uncovered nothing more than that.  This is not necessarily a bad thing and might account for the £50 price differential between; everybody’s heard of Peugeot but how many of us are aware of Carlos?
            I probably spent about 10 minutes poring over those two bikes before having a snoop around the workshop and chatting a little with the younger guy. I told him that I was very interested in the Carlos but that I could only instigate a purchase once my Raleigh had been officially sold. I added that I would be prepared to lay a deposit, should the Carlos illicit further interest, and that if all went well I’d be back in a week to take another look and, in all likelihood, hand over money. And then I walked south towards Holloway because I still had two hours to spare before I was due to boulder in London Bridge.


The Carlos


It is a pleasing experience, walking down the Archway road towards Upper Holloway. There’s a really good bit where the B540 passes over on high, and the iron bridge that supports it frames a view of the city beyond, The Shard inevitably taking centre-stage. Upper Holloway itself lies beyond that, and it’s pleasant enough – Archway Tower is the stand-out feature here. I elected then to take Junction Road south, but Holloway Road, St. John’s Way and Highgate Hill are all possibilities. The area around Holloway Tower and Junction Road differs to the approach down Archway Road. It’s a busier environment for one, and I’d dare to say a bit more cosmopolitan. It reminds me a little of Hammersmith, with a touch of Southwark thrown in for good measure. That it is to say that there’s a mix of both Victorian terracing and red-brick 1980s type developments, the sort that seem to cordon themselves from the street with high walls and indeterminate front doors. There are cafes that look like they might be kind of cool, but you can’t be entirely sure.
            One thing I become very aware of, as I continue my way down Junction Road, is the concentration of bicycles and people riding them. They’re everywhere, and with quite a substantial vintage presence – you don’t find that in West London. Then I hit Tufnell Park, but I'm not sure what to make of that.
            I have a sandwich on my person that needs to be eaten approximately two hours before I commence bouldering. It’s about 17.45 and I’d very much like to have it devoured by 18.15 – bouldering tends to commence at around 20.00 – and I am on the look-out for the appropriate seating.
            Down Fortress Road, now, and the architecture is mostly Victorian. I pass the Bike House and a red steel framed bicycle catches my eye from within. It’s your more typical sort of high-street bike shop but the owners have saw fit to sell a few second-hand steel numbers on the side. The red one’s quite nice but they want £400 for it, and I'm not sure it’s worth that.
            I make the transition into Kentish Town – a more familiar territory. There’s the Bull & Gate to my right. I went there once, when I was a student, to see some aspiring indie band – it was before Britpop had started and everything.
            I think I spot an eating opportunity on the corner of Kentish Town Road and Leighton Road, but I’d have to share with tramps. Down Kentish Town Road, I’d forgotten how vibrant this area was. I reach the confluence with Royal College Street and for the first time I hesitate as to what direction I should follow. My desert boots are not proving to be shoes made for much walking, and my heels are beginning to protest. I persevere with Royal College Street and soon pass a triangular park that looks the perfect place to pause for my sandwich. Alas, ‘College Gardens’ are locked up for the night. Or maybe it’s a private residential area?
            But Camden Road Station awaits just around the corner, and there are seats there – free from vagrants – where I can finally get stuck into that chicken sandwich I made earlier.  It’s rather dull fare but serves its purpose. It is approximately 18:15.
            It will take me about 20 minutes to arrive at London Bridge, so still too early to make my way there. I’ll wander up and down Camden High Street for half an hour or so, to kill time and review what I've been missing these last few years. Apart from the rappers and the Emo kids, not so much, but I like what they've done up by the lock where a vicious fire took hold some time ago. They have adapted old scooters for people to sit on, overlooking the canal, to eat from the many stalls selling ethnic strains of food. If our climate was only hotter it would make for a wonderful place to hang out.


[Images courtesy of Vintage Bike Cave . They may be contacted at http://vintagebikecave.com/]


[POST-SCRIPT: The Vintage Bike Cave has since changed the background graphic on their website, and it’s a big improvement. Regardless, one shouldn't be too quick to pass judgement off the back of these things: not every company can afford – or needs – to pay a web-designer to make their website look all pretty. A visit to the Vintage Bike Cave is a case in point, for they offer a genuine, practical and well-informed buying experience, which I cannot recommend highly enough.]

Friday, 5 October 2012

AN APPROPRIATE BICYCLE - Pt. 1: A PARTICULAR KIND OF BIKE


  




My attention has turned to the bicycle. (It was the Vuelta a Espana that did it – or rather ITV’s excellent coverage thereof). Prior to, though, I’d tentatively bought myself a second bike, but of a different kind to that which I already owned.  (Maybe it was the Tour de France that did that, ITV’s excellent coverage thereof, and the resounding success of a certain Mr Bradley Wiggins.)   
I have been in possession of a bike of one form or another for over 10 years now, and it is the nature of my bipedal propulsion that has come up for review. Over time I have moved from mountain bike to single-speed – with a short sojourn using fixed-gear – and pondered the hybrid and cyclo-cross configurations in-between. But of late I have found myself poring over road/racing bikes, because I want to ride long and hard, and I want to know what it is to ride en masse, and to squabble in amongst the peloton, and somewhere along the way orchestrate a breakaway of sorts, and generally get some idea (it can be only some) of what it must be like to ride in a Grand Tour.
And so it was on the edge of Brentford I found myself, two months ago now, to see a man about a bike: a Raleigh Record Ace, dating back to approximately 1984, that had seen better days but had all the essentials apparently intact. I knew it was no bargain, but didn't think it was a rip-off either – fairly priced, one might say.  The Man had probably bought it at a car-boot sale for next to nothing, but he seemed to know his stuff, and he’d saved me the bother. My instinct told me that it was of the correct proportions, and so I overlooked the light rust, the grubby sprocket and tired looking rims, paid him the money and cycled home in the rain.
The next two weeks were spent grappling with a terrible sense of regret which I could only abate by reminding myself that there was nothing stopping me from putting the thing back on Gumtree and offloading this ashen spectre I’d lumbered myself with onto some other all too eager soul. Not that there was anything really wrong with the bike, but it soon became obvious to me that if we were to have any sort of future together then I’d need to spend money on restoring it to its former splendour .
But the first thing was first: learning to ride a bike with drop handle-bars and down-tube mounted friction shifters. On my mountain bikes I’d been equipped with slightly risen flat handlebars and integrated handlebar-shifters; my fixed-gear/single-speed had completely flat handlebars and, obviously, no gears at all. The terrain that I inhabit is mostly flat, so I decided to leave the gears well alone – I was sure I could get used to them when the time decreed. The drop handlebars represented a completely different proposition. Having never ridden in the drops, the assumed position took some adjustment. In fact I eschewed this attitude at first, riding on the ramps leading down to the hoods instead. This I liked and it seemed to corroborate my imagined fondness for bullhorn handlebars, which I had previously considered applying to my single-speed bicycle. The only problem then was the operation of the brakes, finding it hard to induce the requisite pressure from this position. This in itself forced me to reach for the drops where I approached situations in which I felt I might be required to brake hard, obliging me to familiarise myself with the drops more promptly than I otherwise might have. Still, my default posture was very much on the ramps and hoods, and I soon found myself feeling very much at ease there.
A few shallow climbs and a couple of open roads down the line and I had become very comfortable with all the configurations a pair of drop handlebars allow, the drops actually proving very agreeable on any incline. And suddenly my decision to chance my arm on this ‘new’ bike was proving to be a little less reckless. And then the Vuelta a Espana hit our screens and I started riding the thing like a man possessed.
There were a number of issues that needed surmounting. I’d made the decision to change the bicycle’s strained gum-walls tyres, as The Man had prescribed was imminently necessary. The pair of Schwalbe Marathon tyres I ordered as replacements did not break the bank but, when they were delivered to me, appeared overly wide and endowed with excessive grip. (My failing entirely for I had placed disproportionate value on the ability to resist punctures.) I could live with this, but in removing the wheels to replace the tyres – and to give the bicycle a much needed clean – I then struggled to properly re-align the rear wheel, and thus the derailleur, encouraging it to kick a little at the back-end (if that's the correct way of putting it). The bike still rode fairly well, but it emphasised to me the need to make a decision one way or another: to re-sell or to take the bike somewhere for a re-spray and service. I made enquiries, found someone prepared to take the job on, balked at the price, and left it at that.
            Befuddled, I thought I’d return to Gumtree and see what the marketplace had to offer: rubbish mostly, but with a certain level of intrigue in amongst it. Whilst this reassured me that I could certainly break-even on the Raleigh Record Ace, should I decide to sell, it underlined to me the need to remain vigilant at all times. There are people who either don’t know how to price a bicycle or have the time to push for all they can get. I have found plenty of bikes that are over-priced and almost none that are under, but I have stumbled upon some truly beautiful artefacts.


Diamant was a German company, since swallowed up by the American firm Trek in 2002. I’d never heard of Diamant until I found one of their bikes going for £420 on Gumtree. It really was a thing of beauty – not like those classic late 1970s, early 1980s road bikes, which normally appear to require too much attention for my liking, but of a slightly later vintage, issued at an unspecified point in time where steel was soon to be superseded by aluminium/alloy and carbon. Gumtree directed to me to small ‘boutique’ website representing a company that specialised in restoring old bicycles, most of them sourced from Belgium. On inspecting the dimensions of the bike in question the prognosis was that it was too small for me – comfortably so. But then, I’d been grappling with the idea that my Raleigh Record Ace was maybe slightly too big, which implied that maybe the Diamant Racer wasn't too small for me after all.
Sizing a bike is a headache in itself: I have tried many an on-line calculator; studied various photographs of people standing next to, and riding on, their bikes in order to gain a sense of relative scale; have focused very hard on my weight distribution whilst riding my 55 cm single-speed and my 22½ʺ Raleigh but have come up with nothing remotely conclusive regarding what sized bike I should be riding. It is an almost visceral science – which means it’s really not much of a science at all – so I contacted the guys at De Vlo London and asked for a few more measurements and maybe the opportunity to come and look at their wonderful bike 'in the metal', so to speak. Emails were thrown to and fro – with a complete disregard for health and safety – and just as common sense was beginning to prevail, having decided that a stand-over height of 74 cm was surely indicative of something way too small for my 180 cm frame, De Vlo flung another email in my direction – almost grazing my left temple – to tell me that they had got it wrong: the stand-over was in fact a grand 78 cm. The game was back on, so we arranged to meet on an industrial estate in East London.
On my way there I popped into Condor Cycles on the Gray’s Inn Road, sort of Clerkenwell way. The reasons for this were twofold: first, I liked the look of their bikes and, the Cycle to Work Scheme allowing, had not ruled out the possibility of going for broke and splashing out on one of their more modern steel offerings. Second, I figured they could give me an idea of what size of bike I should be considering.
56 cm seems to be about right for me but for some reason I've found 56 cm sized bikes hard to come by – or one designated as such, at least. With my Jamis Beatnik single-speed bike I’d erred on the size of small and settled for a 55 cm frame, as opposed to the 57 cm specification that is the next available size up. But Condor polarised matters even further. Here it would be toss-up between 55 cm and 58 cm, with nothing available in-between. I have always felt like my Jamis is just that little bit too small.  The 22½ʺ of my Raleigh, on the other hand, works out at approximately 57 cm, and, like I said, I have an inkling that it’s just a little too big for me. Swap the handlebars over on these machines – which is not possible given that one stem is threaded and the other is not – and I would probably have two perfectly sized bikes, if not entirely fit for purpose. The Diamant was measured at 54 cm, but with drop handlebars – and thus a longer reach – I figured things might just work out.

And then the guy in Condor throws me yet further cause for optimism.  He reckons I’d fit a 55 cm frame, no doubt about it, even if the 55 cm frame in the shop looks awfully small standing next to its 58 cm equivalent.  He rides a 56 cm (obviously not a Condor, then) and he must be about 2 inches taller than me.

I exited Condor Cycles, called the guys at De Vlo to tell them I would be there in approximately 45 minutes – as I’d been asked to do – couldn't get through but made my way towards Stratford anyway. Got to Stratford, called again – still no answer. Decided to wander around Westfield – quite liked doing that. Was in the middle of writing a text when I received a returned call from De Vlo, was told they’d head over to the self-storage company, of which they had already given me the postcode, and would meet me there in approximately 50 minutes, once we’d rounded up to the nearest hour. Said that was fine, nipped across the road to Stratford’s old shopping centre to withdraw another £200, caught the DLR, arrived at Bow Church Station at approximately 13.30, received a text saying that they were still 40 minutes away – 10 minutes later than scheduled – went off in search of a café to kill this surfeit of time. Became anxious.
I don’t know Bow very well at all. I know Hackney a little and have been known to grace Mile End with my presence. But I was out of my comfort zone and had £450 in my pocket. I established the whereabouts of Wick Lane using my hand-drawn map, walked back down Fairfield Road to look for a café of some description. I made towards Bromley but quickly retreated again. I walked west down Bow Road, found a café, but it was busy and there were no seats. My thirst was immense so I settled on a bottle of cheap pop from a newsagent on Fairfield Road, did a right down Wrexham Road believing I could pick up Wick Lane from there. Construction works prevented me from doing so. Retreated back down Wrexham Road, made my way north up Fairfield Avenue, did a right down Blondin Street and found an entrance to Wick Lane. I turned right down Wick Lane towards the thwarted junction with Wrexham Avenue, which bore no fruit. I walked back up Wick Lane and then realised that Wick Lane continued on the other side of A12, although it briefly mutates into Tredegar Road as it does so. I bridged the A12 and saw a self-storage company of sorts, although was unsure as to whether it was the right one. The numbers of buildings are hard to find on industrial estates, but – the roar of the A12 now behind me, the racket of construction to my right, and a dull, greying white mass of sky above my head – I calculated that the distance I’d travelled along Wick Lane was consistent with the address I had been given. Still no word from my suitors, I found the entrance to said self-storage establishment, and a roadside café selling polystyrene mugs of coffee for a pound. I ordered one, texted the guys at De Vlo to tell them that I was sat opposite Screwfix, and held tight.
15 minutes later – and now 30 minutes later than scheduled – I received a call asking me where Screwfix was, and besides, they were presently standing outside the self-storage company – the Big Yellow Self Storage Company. Never mind, I knew it couldn't be far, and it wasn't. And then I saw it – that Diamant bike – for the first time.
The bicycle did look a bit small, but it looked long, too. One of the dimensions I requested, when we were busy chucking emails at each other, was the wheelbase. Wheelbase doesn't really give much indication as to whether a bike is right for you or not, but it does, if you know the sort of bike you’re dealing with, give some hint as to how it might handle. The wheelbase in this instance was somewhere in-between that of the Jamis and the Raleigh. I had no idea what I was on about.
The girl from Belgium took me across to a strip of sculpted land – some sort of pastoral abyss amongst this mess of industrial clamour – so I could ride up and down a bit and get a feel for the vehicle. I put the seat up first, and fell in love as I did so (with the bike, not the girl). The bike was every bit as beautiful as it had looked on the excellently composed photographs on De Vlo's website, taken with the right sort of lens so as not to distort the angles. The small surface abrasions that they had drawn the viewers’ attention to really were the only surface abrasions of any merit. The paintwork was as vivid, the detail as pleasing and the mechanics as clean. I knew straight away that these guys weren't looking to rip anybody off. 
Unfortunately, no matter how many times I raised the seat, I couldn't get past the fact that this bike was patently too small for me. But I had not been wrong to see it for myself; the stem was unusually stretched out, which meant the reach was actually sufficient. If I could have raised the stem another 6 inches then I might have been able to make it work. The height of the bottom bracket seemed fairly low, though, and the forward slung riding position meant my knees were almost eating into my chest. It could have been a track bike, or a touring bike for someone with inordinately short legs. Whatever it was, it was a very pretty bicycle indeed.






The guys from De Vlo – the Belgian girl now joined by her English partner – were entirely sympathetic. As they ate their lunch, whilst I rode up and down that pleasant little stretch of land, I felt rather guilty for dragging them away from whatever it was they had been doing that day. But they were insistent that I’d every right to do so, that it was part of their business model and that they’d be happy to meet me here again if another bike of theirs ever took my fancy. So we parted company and I was satisfied that the journey had been worthwhile, despite the bike being too small for me and my migration from west London to east being really quite a long one, and that the weather had threatened to dissolve into a mess of melancholy at any given moment.
I stopped by the Royal Festival Hall on the Southbank, as I had done so on my walk from Waterloo to Condor Cycles before the weather had closed in, drank another cup of coffee, sweated with hunger, and then went home to think some more about what to do about my need for a particular kind of bicycle.


             (Images courtesy of devlo.co.uk . They may be contacted at info@devlo.co.uk)