I emailed the Vintage Bike Cave to re-affirm my interest in the Carlos and to explain that it would probably be another week before I could and buy and collect. They were pleased, said they rated the bike and they would alert me to any third party interest, thus providing me with the opportunity to stake my claim in advance – perhaps with a debit card number.
The next day I established that the funds for the Raleigh had been deposited into my account, but I had things to do and so taking the bike to my courier would have to wait until Monday (it was a Friday). And I thought that that was genuinely that, but on Saturday I couldn't help but have another sweep of Gumtree. To my surprise, I found an advert, which had been posted a mere 5 minutes earlier, for a vintage Holdsworth selling for £140. Holdsworth will need no introduction to those with an interest in classic bikes: it is a brand name that carries some weight. The advertisement read thus:
In Mint Condition Classic 1980s Holdsworth Racing Bike All In Perfect Working Order Also. I Need To Sell Due To Moving Away So If Anyone Wants A Beautiful Classic Holdsworth Bike For A Bargain Price Please Call Me On….
There was no current photograph of the bike (and the seller had insisted on capitalizing every word). Instead, he had sourced a page from an old Holdsworth catalogue showing a Triath-Elan VS in all its glory. It’s not that unusual for people to do this – we don’t all have cameras, or computers to upload our pictures on to – but I would normally take it as a sign to steer well clear. I did a bit of research anyway, discovered that the bike would have dated back to somewhere between 1984 and 1986, found some genuine photographs of the same model, looking resplendent in steel blue, and thought to myself that I’d quite like to ride that bike. The £140 asking price suggested the deal was too good to be true, but you never know with these things. I phoned the seller, who told me that a friend of his had placed the advert but that the picture his pal had posted was a true reflection of the bike he was selling and that it really was in very good condition indeed. He went on to tell me that the bike had been his dad’s, so he knew little about it other than it would suit someone of 5 foot 11 inches or thereabouts, for that was the height of his old man. I am 5 foot 11 inches. It sounded plausible – that he had inherited the bicycle from his father – but the way he talked about it aroused my suspicion; like he didn't actually want to talk about it. I decided to catch the train to Dalston Kingsland to see for myself.
I had my head in a book for most of the journey (The Great Game by Peter Hopkirk) but took a break somewhere around Brondesbury Park. It looked nice, Brondesbury, but then places often do from the vantage of the London over-ground. You’re up in the trees, and the spires of local churches have an advantage over the more low-rise clutter that subjugates one's view from street-level: an isosceles order amongst the chlorophylloid chaos. Further afield you might discern more exalted landmarks, or the city itself, and if there are interesting meteorological weather formations afoot, then they’re nice to behold too. So my 45 minutes train journey on a Saturday afternoon was actually quite pleasing and in complete contrast to the havoc that greeted me when I disembarked at Dalston.
Dalston Kingsland’s a weird one. On the surface it’s reminiscent of old Stratford, or the more unsavoury elements of Ealing, with dated shopping malls and boutiques without any real focus. Look more closely amongst the crowds and the shops selling cheap linen and you’ll see hipster types buzzing about on single-speed bikes, or socialist workers encouraging you to join them on demos. I suppose I live quite a cosseted existence out west, and so all this can seem rather exotic.
I’d texted my seller when one stop away from Dalston Kingsland and didn't have to wait long. As soon as I saw him I felt I knew his game. I might be wrong, and it could be awfully unfair of me to say, but my first thought was that the bicycle was probably a stolen one. I've never known anybody who’s owned a Holdsworth, but I’d wager that their offspring don’t generally turn out like this: wearing baseball caps at jaunty angles, with nicotine stained teeth, baggy tracksuit bottoms, dirty finger-nails and a gait that nods from side to side. To be fair, the man (of approximately 25 years) was terribly polite and did seem to know his subject. The bike was in good condition – very good condition – but it was not a Triath-Elan, nor was it steel blue, and the tyres weren't of the racing kind. It looked to me to be a lower-end model (although still with a Reynolds 531 frame), was black and its tyres were a right chunky pair of monsters. This gave me an escape clause and I could relax safe in the knowledge that I’d be under no obligation to buy something that hadn't met with my expectations – the expectations that he’d handed to me. But it was a nice bike… and it was only £140… but no, I couldn't live myself knowing it was stolen. But I didn't know if it was stolen. But I would have to do something about those tyres, and I don’t really like black coloured bikes… Sensing my disinterest, he asked me to make him an offer. I was confident I could sell it and make a profit, but this bike business was starting to get ridiculous. I declined, thanked him for coming to meet me, he said it was no problem, and I went home.
A Holdsworth Triath-Elan VS
Back at the office, as it was fast becoming, I thought I’d Google-search for stolen Holdsworths. I don’t think I had any intention of doing anything about this potential act of pilferage, should something come up, but it would satisfy my curiosity and validate my instinct. Nothing was immediately apparent but I then decided to run a search on the guy’s name and telephone number to see if that threw anything up. And it did: about 30 adverts on Gumtree (some live, some dead), most of them with appropriated images (but not all) and almost all of them selling bikes at £140 a go. He normally didn't even bother to explain the motivation behind the sell, although there was mention of him actively building up single-speeds here and there, and that he was ‘Moving Away’ again. The bikes were usually in ‘Perfect Working Order’ or ‘Looking New’ with ‘No Service Needed’.
By the end of the day the advert for the Holdsworth was no more.