Thursday, 11 October 2012

AN APPROPRIATE BICYCLE - Pt. 2: THE JOY OF TRADE



It’s clear that if I'm to fulfil my ambition of sampling a flavour of competitive road cycling then I will need to enrol in an event. It’s also clear that I’m in no position to enter something very serious, and the most obvious avenue open to me is a charity ride, like the London to Brighton: it is 54 miles long and that feels about right. In fact, there are sportives being held all over country for much of the time, and they’re normally very accommodating, with ‘standard’ and ‘epic’ distances to suit. Which would best cater to my needs is moot: I have both a relative and a friend in mind who I hope to persuade to cycle with me, and I know they appreciate the London to Brighton, having both ridden it twice. They may well be up for a sportive at some point in time, but I wouldn't know how to go about choosing one. I’d like to get other people on board too, and the London to Brighton will incentivise in way the ‘Sussex Surrey Scramble’ cannot. One other person has indicated that he might like to partake, and I also reckon the guy who lives below me wouldn't mind giving it a go.
            All this can wait, but when the time comes to get this thing off the ground I’ll be the one doing the bulk of the work: event registration, booking hotels, arranging that people meet beforehand. It’s my project and my idea and therefore my responsibility. As Directeur Sportif I’ll be the one who names the team and describes its culture. I look forward to that.

I suppose my brush with Gumtree had been somewhat successful, for it had revealed to me that there were vintage bikes aplenty to be had (if no apparent bargains), and also – and more importantly – that there were small, independently owned businesses selling working models for reasonable prices. So I continued to purge Gumtree for road bicycles and would visit De Vlo’s website on a daily basis to see if they’d finished off the works-in-progress that they’d assured me were on the way. De Vlo’s website led to me their Facebook page, which in turn led me to a company called the Vintage Bike Cave, based in Highgate, north London. I’d already spotted the Vintage Bike Cave selling their wares on Gumtree but had been put off by the graphics employed on their website and the plethora of vintage spares they had on sale. One might have a degree of empathy with my feeling towards the former, but why should the latter hold any leeway when it came to buying a used bicycle? I suppose the recent explosion of interest in cycling – and its vintage component in particular – has made me wary of some of the newer businesses currently ploughing this rather specific furrow. I don’t know enough about bicycles to say either way, but is that Campagnolo group-set really worth that much? And is it reasonable to expect someone to pay a couple of hundred quid for a steel bicycle frame that looks like it was chanced upon in a skip? Having said that, the Vintage Bike Cave had a couple of bikes I liked the look of, not as immediately arresting as the beautifully photographed Diamant from De Vlo London, but priced along similar lines and of corresponding age. Further, they seemed to be an altogether beefier operation, and as such it occurred to me that they might be able to do me a deal on my Raleigh Record Ace – some sort of part-exchange, perhaps?
            First off, I decided to call in the specifications on the two bikes that appealed to me: a Peugeot Competition with a 531 Reynolds frame – possibly a PKN-10 dating back to the late 1970s – and a chrome Carlos 10-speed racer of indeterminate origin. They both had 700c sized wheels, which was now a prerequisite of mine, and were valued at £345 and £295 respectively. I liked the look of both.



 The Peugeot


The specs had them sized about the same as my Raleigh, but with the marginally smaller 700c wheels bringing them in at slightly under. Their wheelbases were a little shorter, too (we’re talking about a difference of 3 or 4 centimetres here). Next I enquired as to what sort of discount the Vintage Bike Cave might be able to offer me in return for my Raleigh. Not much, was the answer – or that which fell way short of my own valuation. They asked me what I was looking for, I told them about £170, and they said – based on the photographs I had emailed them – that the most they could give me in part-exchange was a discount of £100. This was not to say that they disapproved of the value I had placed on my bike, just that they would not be able to make a sufficient margin based on the amount I was asking for. They advised that I try and sell it myself, so I did.
            The prospect of selling the Raleigh on Gumtree was not one that I looked forward to. It was the logistical element that bothered me – having to meet with people and maybe haggle a bit over the price – but I decided to proceed. Here is what I wrote for my advert:

Raleigh Record Ace: size 22½"/57 cm - with 531 Reynolds double-butted lugged frame and forks, Campagnolo gear-set and Weinmann Brakes, dating back to approximately 1984.  All parts are original except for the Schwalbe Marathon tyres fitted 2 months ago.
There are the surface abrasions that one might expect (nothing terminal - just a bit scruffy) but it rides fast and well.  Could do with a new saddle and bar-tape.
Would make for a great conversion to fixed-gear/single-speed bike (if you did want to do that then you could sell the Campagnolo gear shifters for about £20 - maybe the same for the derailleurs; they are in excellent condition).
... or you can ride as it is, although I'd advise a basic service: it handles great at the front but the back wheel needs a little adjustment from when I changed the rear tyre - I'm not a great mechanic!
... or it could be restored to its former glory, which I intended to do before time and money got the better of me (I have another bike so cannot justify this).

The size would be ideal for somebody between 5 foot 9 inches and 6 foot 2 inches; the seat-post measures 57 cm and top-tube measures 57 cm too.
I am flexible with regards to times and could arrange to meet in either Richmond / Teddington / Chiswick / Hounslow / Kingston / Mortlake - otherwise I am based in Twickenham.  The more convenient for me, the more flexible I'll be with the price.


I was asking for £180, to cover the cost of the tyres and a little of my labour – the three hours I must have spent stripping down and cleaning the bike. Essentially, I was attempting to break about even.
            Interest was almost immediate but seemed rather speculative. One guy in particular appeared to be very keen however, a notion that I arrived at via the medium of text, but all other enquiries came to nothing. Then the keen guy came back with an offer of £170, which I was willing to accept. There was a problem, though: he lived in Edinburgh. It was still early days for my advert so I was quite happy to bide my time for now, but told the keen guy that I would look into the possibility of shipping the bike to the Scottish capital. The reason why I was prepared to explore this avenue of delivery was because I know someone who works in logistics, close enough to where I live for it not to be too much bother, and nice enough a guy to do me some sort of deal. Actually, when I called my contact I made it clear that I wasn't looking for any favours with regard to the price, because that was a cost I intended to pass on to the prospective buyer, but he offered me a fairly decent rate anyway. I presented the keen guy with my quote and he made me a revised offer of £190, to include postage. It was a little lower than I would have liked, given the hassle of having to find a designated box for the bike, and then the need to haul it over to my courier’s warehouse, but if I wanted to follow up on my interest in those bikes at the Vintage Bike Cave then it would certainly be of benefit to resolve the matter as soon as was possible.
            I was also starting to develop a fondness for my potential buyer. I tried to provide as much information on the bike as I could, and to be honest in doing so. Given the time I was going to have to put aside to sort all this out, I decided I would have to insist on being paid up front. I do not think I was being unreasonable in making this a condition of our transaction, but I'm not sure how willing I would have been to part with my money without knowing the person I was dealing with. The keen guy seemed to hold no such concerns, and so we came to an agreement, bank details were passed on and I set about finding a box.
            Finding a box turned out to be a breeze. I emailed Moore’s Cycles in Twickenham, who duly obliged. All I needed to do now was to wait for the money to materialise and then I could go about the actual shipping.
            In the meantime, I felt I should really get things rolling with the Vintage Bike Cave and have a look at those bikes. On checking that they were still for sale it was discovered that the Peugeot was currently reserved, pending a visit from a potential buyer who had submitted a deposit. It was still available for viewing, and the Carlos was still very much available for buying.
            I am not sure how absorbing it really is to read about a nascent cycling enthusiast attempting to sell a bike, but hopefully the acquisition of its replacement piques a little more interest. Wednesday night is bouldering night, so to save on the expense of travel I elected to visit the Vintage Bike Cave late on a Wednesday afternoon. Highgate was the destination, but I thought I’d pause for thought on the South Bank on my way, as can be my want. After drinking my coffee, I crossed the Thames to Embankment and joined the Northern Line from there.
            Highgate, when I arrived, was a far and pleasing cry from the environs of Bow that I had to trudge through on my way to see the Diamant the week prior. I had never been to Highgate before and passed the Boogaloo on Archway Road, a pub whose grand reputation precedes it and that I had one day always hoped to visit. Now was not the time but it felt like a good omen to see it there.
            The Vintage Bike Cave was smaller than I had envisaged, monopolising a cramped bunker of a room. A young man was there to let me in through the back entrance, for the cave occupied the lower floor of a building whose basements were not accessible from the front. The bikes were ready for my inspection, for I had fired off an email before I left to tell them that I was on my way. An older guy took a break from his lathe to move them onto track-stands so I might better appreciate the work that had been done on them. Like with De Vlo, the bikes were a testament to some great care and attention: they were clean and well-oiled, with new tyres, brake pads and bar-tape. Actually, the Peugeot – the more expensive of the two bikes – looked the more tired. This was probably because it was undoubtedly older than the Carlos, but maybe too because it was white, and white is a colour that doesn't tend to weather very well. It was still a nice looking bicycle, although it was the Carlos that was feeling its way under my skin.
            The older guy who had taken a break from his lathe couldn't tell me much about Carlos other than that they were a French company.  Further research established that they heralded from an area close to the Belgian border, but I uncovered nothing more than that.  This is not necessarily a bad thing and might account for the £50 price differential between; everybody’s heard of Peugeot but how many of us are aware of Carlos?
            I probably spent about 10 minutes poring over those two bikes before having a snoop around the workshop and chatting a little with the younger guy. I told him that I was very interested in the Carlos but that I could only instigate a purchase once my Raleigh had been officially sold. I added that I would be prepared to lay a deposit, should the Carlos illicit further interest, and that if all went well I’d be back in a week to take another look and, in all likelihood, hand over money. And then I walked south towards Holloway because I still had two hours to spare before I was due to boulder in London Bridge.


The Carlos


It is a pleasing experience, walking down the Archway road towards Upper Holloway. There’s a really good bit where the B540 passes over on high, and the iron bridge that supports it frames a view of the city beyond, The Shard inevitably taking centre-stage. Upper Holloway itself lies beyond that, and it’s pleasant enough – Archway Tower is the stand-out feature here. I elected then to take Junction Road south, but Holloway Road, St. John’s Way and Highgate Hill are all possibilities. The area around Holloway Tower and Junction Road differs to the approach down Archway Road. It’s a busier environment for one, and I’d dare to say a bit more cosmopolitan. It reminds me a little of Hammersmith, with a touch of Southwark thrown in for good measure. That it is to say that there’s a mix of both Victorian terracing and red-brick 1980s type developments, the sort that seem to cordon themselves from the street with high walls and indeterminate front doors. There are cafes that look like they might be kind of cool, but you can’t be entirely sure.
            One thing I become very aware of, as I continue my way down Junction Road, is the concentration of bicycles and people riding them. They’re everywhere, and with quite a substantial vintage presence – you don’t find that in West London. Then I hit Tufnell Park, but I'm not sure what to make of that.
            I have a sandwich on my person that needs to be eaten approximately two hours before I commence bouldering. It’s about 17.45 and I’d very much like to have it devoured by 18.15 – bouldering tends to commence at around 20.00 – and I am on the look-out for the appropriate seating.
            Down Fortress Road, now, and the architecture is mostly Victorian. I pass the Bike House and a red steel framed bicycle catches my eye from within. It’s your more typical sort of high-street bike shop but the owners have saw fit to sell a few second-hand steel numbers on the side. The red one’s quite nice but they want £400 for it, and I'm not sure it’s worth that.
            I make the transition into Kentish Town – a more familiar territory. There’s the Bull & Gate to my right. I went there once, when I was a student, to see some aspiring indie band – it was before Britpop had started and everything.
            I think I spot an eating opportunity on the corner of Kentish Town Road and Leighton Road, but I’d have to share with tramps. Down Kentish Town Road, I’d forgotten how vibrant this area was. I reach the confluence with Royal College Street and for the first time I hesitate as to what direction I should follow. My desert boots are not proving to be shoes made for much walking, and my heels are beginning to protest. I persevere with Royal College Street and soon pass a triangular park that looks the perfect place to pause for my sandwich. Alas, ‘College Gardens’ are locked up for the night. Or maybe it’s a private residential area?
            But Camden Road Station awaits just around the corner, and there are seats there – free from vagrants – where I can finally get stuck into that chicken sandwich I made earlier.  It’s rather dull fare but serves its purpose. It is approximately 18:15.
            It will take me about 20 minutes to arrive at London Bridge, so still too early to make my way there. I’ll wander up and down Camden High Street for half an hour or so, to kill time and review what I've been missing these last few years. Apart from the rappers and the Emo kids, not so much, but I like what they've done up by the lock where a vicious fire took hold some time ago. They have adapted old scooters for people to sit on, overlooking the canal, to eat from the many stalls selling ethnic strains of food. If our climate was only hotter it would make for a wonderful place to hang out.


[Images courtesy of Vintage Bike Cave . They may be contacted at http://vintagebikecave.com/]


[POST-SCRIPT: The Vintage Bike Cave has since changed the background graphic on their website, and it’s a big improvement. Regardless, one shouldn't be too quick to pass judgement off the back of these things: not every company can afford – or needs – to pay a web-designer to make their website look all pretty. A visit to the Vintage Bike Cave is a case in point, for they offer a genuine, practical and well-informed buying experience, which I cannot recommend highly enough.]

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