Bicycle Diaries: Think yiddish...

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Think yiddish...

ride British

The Gentleman Cyclists are small, far-flung but dedicated group that honors The Golden Age of British Touring by restoring lightweight bikes from the 1930s through the early '60s. You might think they're not all that different from the Penny-Farthing or Schwinn beach cruiser fanatics. But they are, indeed, a unique crowd.

What's the point of restoring a classic Raleigh or Phillips or Rudge if you're not going to tour with it? Why would you ruin the experience by stuffing yourself, sausage-like, into togs of Lycra or other horrid unnatural fibers. And why set a speed record when the countryside is so pleasant?

Twice a year, The Gentleman Cyclists answer these questions by gathering for a spirited roll down memory lane. In the Spring, they show up in Red Wing, MN for the 3peed Lake Pepin Tour. Then in the Fall, outside the Twin Cities, they stage an All British Cycling Event.

This is the first year I've done both with that which rolls, my '62 Raleigh Robin Hood Sports. In fact, after Lake Pepin I spent most of the summer working restoring it as well as putting together my British touring kit and togs. It's not as difficult as you might think. Frost River produces a nifty line of saddles bags and panniers.

The tours are Lycra-free events. Not a stitch of it is permitted ... well except for padded shorts that are conveniently hidden. But finding proper attire with that 1930s flare isn't all that difficult to find. I've always been attracted to its classic look: tweed touring caps, Norfolk jackets, and breeks.

I actually found this relatively cheap Norfolk-style jacket at Macy's just around the corner from my downtown office. Besides, it's more comfortable than you might think. Neither tour is a speed trial; just the opposite. British touring from that period is punctuated with many stops for food, water, tea and sometimes a pint at the local brewpub.

Traveling light is the order of the day. We simply carry a change of clothes and rain gear. We also enjoy pass storming and rough stuff touring. Scenic overlooks are an invitation for a brew-up of tea or a nap in the grass and are seldom missed.

Essentially, to get away for the weekend we pack a few things, mount up and head to the country. Most every farmstead has refreshments or a room to rent, every little village has a family-run restaurant. It’s a romantic image to be sure but firmly based in reality. It’s a reality that is fairly easy to reproduce given the right scenery, equipment and most important: attitude. We even have a sag-wagon!

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Anonymous Jason said...

This is extremely hip. I'll have to browse and purchase these things in an undisclosed location or my wife will make fun of me (again). And now I need to look for a classic British bike.

17/10/07 10:25  
Blogger Da' Square Wheelman, said...

Ah ... the marrieds %) There are 20 or so Norfolk jackets on EbayUK right now. And if you buy from Hat People mention my name. They gave me a deal in exchange for spreading the word.

17/10/07 12:15  
Anonymous Jason said...

Thanks! Now -- any tips on finding a nice British bike?

18/10/07 20:19  
Blogger Da' Square Wheelman, said...

Depends on your resources and time:

There are a ton of Raleighs out there. They dominated the US market until the mid 70s when Schwinn wised-up and essentially stole the English road bike design.

But you won't be alone especially now that the hipsters have discovered the wonders of lugged steel. That means the typical $50-$70 price tag of several years ago has now doubled - if you're lucky.

Your best bet for this approach is Craig's List, Ebay (USA, CA, & UK), as well as stalking used bike or 2nd Hand shops. Or you could visit your neighborhood bike shops esp. if they specialize in fixing beaterbikes.

The cheaper approach is to find the frame and restore it from the tires up. Just be patient. It took me much of the spring & all summer to get that which rolls tricked out.

If you're really stuck, I do have two frames I'm not using - a Hercules (red) and Raleigh (green) both Sports models from the early 70s.

19/10/07 11:07  

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