Bicycle Diaries: The true angels of Nottingham

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The true angels of Nottingham

or why
I'm a velopunk

Only barbarians are not curious about where they come from, how they came to be where they are, where they appear to be going, whether they wish to go there, and if so, why, and if not, why not.
The very desire for guarantees that our values are eternal and secure in some objective heaven is perhaps only a craving for the certainties of childhood or the absolute values of our primitive past.
Isaiah Berlin

I was reminded of the quotes above by two encounters over the last few days. First, an old friend and colleague came to town for business. We got together for drinks and our usual wide-ranging conversation drifted into leisure activities. He expressed good-natured shock when I mentioned my velopunk exploits with the nattily clad gentleman cyclists, even going as far as to warn me of the likely diminution of my manliness. I hesitated to assert a robust commitment to biking might just be the thing for reducing his own rather overly amble manliness. Instead, I smiled and wandered into another topic.

A little later, a fellow velopunk and gentleman cyclist sent me an email about my recent post, How the angels built bikes. He suggested I look at a couple of websites featuring photos of Nottingham's vanished bike industry. In contrast to the Ray Teece's wonderful photo essay of Raleigh industries architecture, Chris Richards's Raleigh Photographs (from which this post's photos are borrowed) focuses more on the true angels who built our worthy steeds. For example, the men in white (above) are the Raleigh Industries Cricket Team. It's now sadly absent as a worthy, working-class opponent for the more toffy Nottinghamshire County Cricket Club.

So in a delayed response to my old friend & colleague: isn't amazing that there's a rare species of bike enthusiasts who do not simply retire to the garage, basement, or workshop to bask in the glow of their iron bitches? Who instead bask in the glow of their own sweaty brows and in the warmth of their woolen togs during the semi-annual rites of lightweight touring. We, who risk the opprobrium of unsure families and uncomprehending friends as well as strangers, cagers, and pedestrians, cheerfully don breeks of tweed and socks of lengthy dimension to face the open road on lugged steel considerably older than ourselves.

...and each one built by men (and women), like those to the left. Few of us velopunks, whether of British extraction or inclination, despite an unfortunate accident of birth in the colonies, have met even one these true Angels of Nottingham. It fact, it's doubly unfortunate. Who amongst us hasn't scratched his considerably perspired noggin trying to figure out why the two sides of a front axle are threaded in opposite directions? What we wouldn't give for two or three hours of ale-inspired instruction from one or two of these wise craftsman.

More unfortunate, however, is the fading of their personal and collective histories. This is, I think, what has motivated Chris. This is a 1975 picture of his father, Harry. According to Chris, it as well as the others he has posted were taken by Terry Radford, who started at the Cycle Road 3-speed assembly shop as a youth in 1956. He knew my late father ... who looked after young Terry and the other apprentices in the factory. I must confess I get a little shivery thrill when I think that my original 1962 Robin Hood may have been built by one of these men. Certainly it's a shame that nearly all of the Raleigh Industries buildings are long gone beneath suburban redevelopment. That's where the 2nd Berlin quote comes in. To wit, [t]he certainties of childhood or the absolute values of our primitive past rarely survive. But that doesn't mean that a few stalwart velopunks can't remember and even celebrate the memories of such things. Besides, I've got to go and clean up the rusty chrome on my new acquisition, a 1930s Accels & Pollock Handlebar Stem.

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Anonymous theboy said...

This is lovely. I enjoyed the cherubs; this is better. I wish there were more information available.

23/10/08 08:40  

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