Wednesday, 28 November 2012


I’ve been struggling to find any meaningful information pertaining to the Carlos ever since I first saw the bike advertised on Gumtree. The guys at the Vintage Bike Cave couldn't tell me much either, other than that the company originated from somewhere in north-east France. I like to think I'm fairly adept at sourcing intelligence on the world-wide-web, but all I could find was a discussion on Bike Forums (under a thread headed 'Classic & Vintage - Where are the Belgian Frames?') in which somebody had announced that, ‘Carlos was basically a French make, close to the Belgian border.’ I’d found this snippet of near worthless material – for it merely corroborated what the Vintage Bike Cave already told me – by typing something like ‘French bicycle Carlos 1980s manufacturer’ into my search-engine.
            Once the bike was mine, and I could study it more closely, I’d employed the tack of adding various components to my search: Ofmega (shifters), Suntour and Triplex (derailleurs), Vetta Gel (saddle), Shimano 105 (headset), and Gian Roberts (chainring) – but still nothing. Frustrated, I widened my investigation even further by using Google France and writing in French (Belgique, bicyclette, Francais…). This reaped instant reward. I unearthed a thread on some French website that alluded to Carlos being a Belgian company (with amused references to the Venezuelan political terrorist Carlos the Jackal thrown in) and the fact that a few Belgian teams used to race their bikes during the seventies and eighties. This was progress of sorts, if only because it was my first indication that Carlos used to make half-decent bicycles.
            Slightly obsessed, I started trawling through any cycling archive I could find, on the lookout for obscure pro-team names from the seventies and eighties. At first this proved futile, but did inadvertently direct me – via a brief overview of the 1982 Giro d’Italia on Wikipedia, and the Belgian rider Lucien Van Impe’s 4th place finish in it – to a comprehensive list of all the professional Belgian riders that have ever competitively ridden a bicycle and the teams they raced for. I was nearing the end of this inventory when I clicked on the name of a Belgian Cyclist called Eddy Vanhaerens who it transpired once raced for a team called Carlos-Galli-Alan! Running a search on Carlos-Galli-Alan led me in turn to a website called Cycling Archives, an old photograph of said team and the results garnered during their singular year in existence. It seems that a Mr Dirk Baert was actually Carlos-Galli-Alan’s most successful cyclist, with three placings compared to Vanhaerens’ one, and probably should have featured on Wikipedia’s list of professional Belgian cyclists too. Anyway, feeding the phrase ‘Dirk Baert Carlos’ into Google revealed not only a great vision of the man, but the fact that he had also ridden for Carlos Cycles in 1975, Carlos-Galli in 1976 and 1979, and a team called Carlos-Gipiemme in 1977. Dirk had been those teams’ star man as well.

(Dirk Baert - Courtesy: Guy Didieu)

Born in Zwevegem, Belgium, in 1949, Dirk had embarked on his vocation with a team called Hertekamp-Magniflex in May 1970. In 1971 he moved to the more well-known Flandria-Mars marquee and continued to change teams every year before moving to Carlos Cycles in 1975, and remaining with them – or a variation thereof – until 1979. A time-trial specialist, Cycling Archives attributes 87 victories to the man, most of them road-races and criteriums. But he did partake in a few tours, and in 1974, riding for MIC-Ludo-Gribaldy, he competed in his only Tour de France, finishing 93rd in the General Classification; along the way, he came in 5th in the prologue in Brest; 7th on Stage 6; 6th on stages 8, 14, 20, and 21 (part a); and 4th on Stage 21 (part b). Eddy Merckx won that year, and I hope that Dirk looks back on his own participation with some pride. (Do you think he does?)
So Dirk’s the main man as far as Carlos is concerned, although he’s brought me no closer to finding out anything about the bicycles Carlos built, let alone how old my Carlos actually is. It's an ambiguous issue anyway, because bikes are very often re-badged, or built in conjunction with other firms. From the pictures on Cycling Archives, for example, it's clear that Alan bikes were ridden by at least one of the permutations of the Carlos marque (as is evident from studying the picture above). Still, the ambiguous Franco-Belgian credentials of Carlos established, I now have a theme with which to inform my prospective team name. I will attend to this matter when that damned jersey shows up.

Wednesday, 14 November 2012


I am contemplating jerseys and what to call the team I'm supposed to be putting together for the London to Brighton Bike Ride, 2013. I'm thinking about the culmination of all that has gone on since I began my search for the appropriate bicycle; the point of it all – the race. Although the British Heart Foundation is keen to point out that the L2B isn't supposed to be race at all: it’s a charity event, to be taken at a pace that feels comfortable – just a bit of fun. Which is fair enough, and if I was really serious about road-racing then I’d be better off joining a cycling club, obtaining BC and/or CTC accreditation, and finding a local sportive in which to partake. That means I’d have to wear whatever jersey my notional club decreed. We naturally like members to wear club kit,’ declares one such institution local to me, but it’s a pretty brutal offering, their kit, and the club’s handle displays little in the way of imagination. So that’s not going to happen.
They can be quite expensive, can cycling jerseys. There are cheap tops on the market as well, but they’re really rather uninspiring. That said, the most visually appealing jerseys aren't necessarily the ones that cost the most. I should probably lay my cards on the table here: I like replica team jerseys and I like jerseys of a bygone era, and, ideally, I’d like a shirt that combines elements of the two. The jerseys occupying the opposing ends of the fiscal spectrum, however, share a utilitarian approach to design that doesn't interest me at all.Primary colours overbear the palette, with black and white getting quite a look in too. Logos and patterns are conspicuous by their absence, which is admirable on one level but quite dull on another.
This ‘camping and outdoor’ attitude towards cycle wear is still a credible alternative to the third strain of tunic on offer to the aspiring cyclist: that of the novelty jersey. A company trading under the name 'Foska' appears to be the leader in this particular field, and they’re responsible for some real abominations: shirts adorned with adverts for various foodstuffs – Spam, Colman’s Mustard, Cornflakes, Marmite; wholesome cartoon characters from old-school comics; tax discs, flags and maps – the cycling equivalent, all, of wearing a wacky tie to the office. These atrocities come in at about £50, which represents the middle of the range with regard to cost. Fortunately, for that price there are far worthier alternatives.
I'm currently unemployed and so would like to exploit the fact that people might want to buy me things for Christmas, and stock up on cycling gear. My first thought had been for my team to be dressed in matching shirts. I have five people down for the L2B and I'm hoping these five people will still be with me when I start asking for money to sort out our accommodation come January. So I consulted the two potential members of my as yet un-named team who had cycled the London to Brighton Bike Ride before, to ask them for their thoughts regarding team attire. I’d started to have my doubts about matching jerseys, figuring it might give off rather arrogant vibes. Ben, who was the first to respond to my line of questioning, agreed that it might not be entirely appropriate, that one might want to consider entering a sportive if one wanted to take the ‘race’ so seriously, but that the L2B couldn't really be bettered for atmosphere. My brother, Simon, followed this up to say that he couldn't justify the expense of another jersey, for he did not cycle enough and owned a few already (Simon’s thing is marathons and the occasional triathlon). And so the way was paved for me to pore over cycling jerseys at my leisure.
I’d already been doing so, in fact, but with an eye to what I thought might be financially acceptable to my fellow riders. I’d identified the Giordana Tech Silverline, reduced from £74.99 to £37.50 on-line, as having solid potential. Available in black, white, lime green, red and blue, all with a white panel covering the chest and black trim around the collar and down the shoulder – and with a small motif perched upon the left breast – it was neutral enough to satisfy a miscellany of sartorial aspirations. At that price I figured I might go for the lime green rendition, if only as a jersey to train in, for as pleasing as the Giordana is there are far prettier shirts out there on the market. For £59.99, for instance, I could buy myself a Morvelo Chasseur de Cols Alpine race jersey, whilst £63 would afford me something from the excellent Solo range, the Moretti probably being the most attractive candidate. This is what I mean when I say that cycling jerseys can be quite dear, although I saw retro-style jerseys from Le Coq Sportif that were more exorbitant still.

                                                       Solo                                                                         Morvelo

So I drew a line under the Giordana – asked my parents for that – and decided that I would wait to see what the new year’s sales might bring with respect to either the Morvelo or the Solo. Besides, there was always Prendas Ciclismo – a small independent firm based in Dorset, apparently in their 17th year – selling retro-inspired jerseys for anything between £30 and £40. (I instinctively like this company and if I wasn't so bloody minded concerning all things aesthetic I’d have probably ordered from them already, and do not rule out doing so in the future.)
Before putting these accoutrements to one side, I thought I’d have a cruise on eBay and was instantly struck by the ineluctable presence of an organisation called I’d searched for ‘retro cycling jerseys’, not because that’s what I was specifically after but because I didn't think eBay would have anything out of the ordinary listed under any other category. In fact, eTailBar do not deal exclusively in retro or second-hand goods but in cycling and running wear in general. Their presence on eBay, then, is probably to shift their fine line in second-hand cycling apparel, for the official website makes no reference to their vintage stock.
I saw a 'vintage' jersey that I liked – really liked – manufactured by the Swiss firm Descente, but the chest was measured at 38ʺ to 40ʺ, whereas I think mine measures just over 36ʺ. The guy who modelled it looked pretty buff too, although it did cling slavishly to his torso. The thing was, this top was going for a little over £13, including the postage from… France. They were a French company, and I backed off a little, just because… because I had no experience of that. I continued to run through their stock anyway and came across another shirt, this time in my size, made of a wool and polyamide mix, and coming in at just under £16. 
Ah, what the hell…

[POST-SCRIPT: A subsequent measuring of my chest revealed it to be just over 38ʺ – good news in some respects, but I might have saved myself a lot of bother if I’d scaled it from the off.]

Thursday, 8 November 2012



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 of late, 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 grab these pictures while you can – perhaps these aspects represent Carlos’s Blue Period?  Note the addition of a sympathetic Elite Ciussi aluminium bottle cage, and what I think will be the final resting place of the Vetta Gel saddle.  I’m still not sure about the position of my brake levers, but that aside I think Carlos has now been pretty much tailored to my form.

[Images: author's own]