I was born in 1937 and I began cycle racing competitively around 1953.
Because of strict post war import restrictions, especially on so-called “luxury” goods, new racing bikes were few and far between and in any case well beyond the pocket of lads just out of school. So, the first racing bike I owned was a hand-me-down, pre-war Carlton.
Before I even rode that bike, I took it to pieces and rebuilt it.
Over the years I had a series of bikes. When work got in the way of being able to ride competitively, I still had a stable of bikes on which to ride for fun…until the stable was broken into and the bikes stolen.
That set me on a “replacement” path however things had moved on in South Africa and local framebuilders had emerged. I asked Gotti Hanson to build a frame, then another and yet a third. Thus I learned (the hard way) that the angles of a frame are determined by and restricted to the lugs used in construction. The fashion in the 80s was to have a “tight” or ‘stiff” frames.
I longed for the frames I rode in the 50s and 60s which had “relaxed” angles and a gracefully curved fork ensured a shock-absorbing, comfortable ride even over the gravel roads we often rode on.
And so I began looking round for a suitable older second-hand frame. Having acquired what appeared to be a fit, I would ride it for a while until something perhaps more attractive happened to come up and the collection grew.
As I have already observed, riders are notorious for fickleness and following fashion. When lightness became the objective and riders sought to trade in their “old” steel framed bikes for aluminium framed bikes, the bike shops would not take them as they had no resale potential! So bike shops sent them to me … and over the years many hundreds of steel bikes have come to me as a result.
Having been around steel framed bikes for all these years I had learned what every experienced horse breeder comes to know. He can see a specimen and tell a thoroughbred from a carthorse a mile off.
If you know what to look for and even with no paint there are characteristics of design and construction in a frame which defines its “class” more than any brand name.
The brand name on a frame [or for that matter any product] is there to assure the purchaser of pedigree. In today’s mass-production world the skill of the artisan frame builder is missing. In my opinion modern bikes have no “soul”. Sure, a Colnago or Bianchi is no carthorse. But they are made in their thousands. The lone frame builder put his soul…and integrity… into his craft.
I never bought these frames as an investment or with the intention of selling. Who could possibly have thought when I began collecting steel bikes in the late 80s, that they would one day experience a revival appealing to as many people as now.
I believe that people are beginning to appreciate the craft of a handmade steel frame in the same way I have always done. I have made available for sale those complete bikes, frame and forks and rare parts in my collection that people now seek, so that the appreciation of them can outlive me.
The frames in my collection that were damaged or in poor condition have been restored and refurbished with a new coat of paint with the name PHOENIX. A racing thoroughbred that has been reborn like the mythical bird who every 1000 years renewed itself in the eternal flame.