A Journey To 1930s Cycling, from Simon Ekless

The following explains just why we love vintage cycling - it's the internationalism, the craft skills, the treasure hunting and the glories of the final, restored, bike ridden in the company of appreciative fellow enthusiasts. Happy to welcome Simon back on May 3

Photo of 1929 Alcyon Tour de France Special. Jersey of Nikolas Franz Champion of Luxembourg.

Many years ago, I began my vintage odyssey restoring machines from the 1970s and 1980s, bikes I lusted for in my youth. Restoring pre-war racing cycles has been my passion for the last couple of years as I delve deeper into time, into ancient history as far as living memory goes.

Each time I ride one of these machines, I travel back to a time of dust and goggles, when gladiators of two wheels rode grand tour stages that stretched upwards of 400km in a day. Fuelled on bread, cheese and copious amounts of requisitioned local wine, riders were the dishevelled warriors of the unpaved road, often born into rural poverty, chasing dreams of fame and immortality.

At the inaugural 2019 Gert Lush, I rode my 1929 Alcyon Tour de France Special. The same two geared model (flip flop hub) was ridden to Tour victory by Belgian Maurice De Waele in that same year. From 1927 to 1930, the French Alcyon team won back to back Tours, leading the organisers to insist on national teams to break the Alcyon dominance. Along with De Waele, Alcyon had signed up the eras best riders: Nicolas Frantz, Champion of Luxembourg; and André Leducq, the suave French Champion amongst them. With their Kingfisher blue bikes, they were a colourful sight dashing through the French countryside to delight of the adoring race fans.

After riding the 1929 Alcyon during most of the 2019 season, I was keen to add a later Alcyon to the stable and found a 1930s machine on French eBay, a bike with three gears, courtesy of the then state-of-the-art Super Champion gear (often known in the UK as an Osgear). Sealing the purchase, the bike arrived not long after, but sadly poorly packed in thin corrugated cardboard, which resulted in one side of the rear drop out being very badly bent. Long distance, online purchases do present problems but to find continental machines of great quality means the risk is unavoidable.

A local friend, who is a classic car restorer, was able to gently heat the drop out and return it to its correct angle and with no long-term damage done other than some inevitable paint loss. No matter, as the frame already sported over 80 years of marks and scratches, each one an important part of its story and I’ve just born witness to one more addition to this.

Taking the bike completely apart, a number of parts were dispensed with on the basis of being later additions. So now I needed brakes, pedals, wheels and various other small parts. The hunt for period correct replacements began. First a stroke of luck - an Alcyon branded bottom bracket of correct length and from the same seller and a matching headset, both rare as hens teeth. The wheelset would require me finding wooden rims. Wood was used widely during this era, not only for its lightness but also for its ride qualities over uneven ground, including plenty of cobbles. In fact, some modern racers still use wood on events such as Paris Roubaix.

Riding 80 year old wood might seem counter intuitive (dangerous even) but they can be found in well preserved states and, as a bonus over modern wood rims, they no longer possess a risk of warping during exposure to hot and cold weather. Their days of movement have long since come to an end. Luckily, I found a suitable pair of Super Champion rims from a friend in France, albeit still attached to another complete bike, which I was duty bound to purchase! The unwanted parts were then sold to new lucky owners, although I did keep a nice original hand painted number plate from it which will go well on the Alcyon to complete its race ready livery.

Now only a suitable brakes set is required before I can reassemble everything ready for road testing before the next Gert Lush. Three gears at the flick of a new-fangled down tube lever! Should make things slightly easier for me next time. Watch out for the kingfisher Alcyon with ancient wooden rimmed wheels.

Simon L’epine Ekless

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