Wednesday, July 27, 2011
It was on Ottoline Drive's sleepy tarmac that I learned to balance that old yellow and red Tri-ang, with its white, 12-inch Speedmaster balloon tyres. The stabilisers came off and I pedalled it at furious cadences up and down, often dressed as a cowboy. Finally, at the age of perhaps eight, I was presented by my dad with a second-hand 'proper' bike, a cherry-red Raleigh single speed which seemed vast, enormous, unrideable. Of course, I rode it immediately, my feet dangling inches from the ground with the saddle at its lowest.
The day a police car slid silently alongside as I was perched atop this machine, and a cop said 'you're too wee for that bike, son.' was the day I fell messily and tearfully into a hedge. Delivered home by the policemen, I was banned from riding until my feet could actually touch the earth while sitting on that flappy plastic Wrights saddle. Eventually, they did.
I have had a host of bicycles since then. I deeply regret the loss of my Uncle John's Dawes Dalesman, my first bike to have derailleur gears. But I still have my beloved early 80s Orbit Gold Medal Alivio. I was contemplating restoring its Reynolds 531 frame to original, pristine glory, when I began to check prices. An Argos (top stove enamallers) frame restoration starts at £600.
And then, on eBay, this came up. An Argos-restored early 80s Raleigh 531 Clubman, handbuilt in Nottingham, back in the days when Raleigh made their own frames. An absolute classic, albeit scratched and with some non-standard components. I coveted the Campagnolo derailleur, though.And surely it couldn't go that cheaply? It did.
Today I assembled it. It rides like a dream. It looks...breathtaking. You may have noticed that it's cherry red. Yes, the same cherry red as that long-ago single speed. I adjusted the saddle carefully. My feet touch the ground when I stop, just. If I stand on tip-toe. But when I ride, I ride my dreams back in time, faster and faster and faster.