No-one I knew ever got a new bike but at 13 it seemed everyone had some sort of bike except me. Now at that time I belonged to the CLB…the Church Lads Brigade of St Annes Church in Aigburth. Every few months a jumble sale would be held in the Church Hall and as young ‘conscripted volunteers’ we had the job of going around local streets with a large handcart to collect all the donated ‘jumble’.
Now the streets off Aigburth Road wasn’t exactly an affluent area but an established one with a huge assortment of people of all backgrounds, interests and levels of prosperity and never a shortage of items to collect. Always loads of books and a huge amount of clothes which were the favourite items sought by women who had less and larger families and others marketeers to sell on. It was also a time in the late 50’s where postwar optimism prevailed which included the idea that old was out and new was in. Remember that classic early DIY programme on TV with Barry Bucknall who demonstrated how to modernise an old period panel door by attaching sheets of hardboard over both sides of the door. Not many appreciated the aesthetics and value of antiques then except a quiet few. The contents In that handcart sometimes contained old original pictures and mirrors in huge ornate frames, boxes of bric a brac of the sort today you see at flea markets, furs and somtimes stuffed animals too.
Then on one occasion we were given a bicycle to put in the sale and loaded it onto the cart with the rest of the stuff. My heart suddenly started pounding with excitement and wishful thinking that perhaps, somehow, someway I could get that bicycle. I couldn’t exactly nick it could I ! although the thought crossed my mind, but Im a good little Christian boy doing my best for the Church, and the donor a good well known Church goer. The bike was wheeled into the Church Hall and stood up against a table loaded with books. I spoke to one of the Sale organisers…a WI member indicating I would love to have that bicycle and willing to buy it. She was a kindly middle age lady who said she would look into it. That night I lay in bed with only that bike on my mind peddling all over the world in my dreams. With only a day to go before the sale I had to act quickly and went on the Sat morning of the sale to find out more. Well for 17/6 it could be mine. That’s less than £1 ! But an awful lot of money then for a teenager. I legged it home and begged and begged my mother for a loan…She was so adamantly against it and refused any sort of loan arrangement. Then after a few words my dear Dad came to the rescue and produced a £1 pound note and I knew then that the glorious machine would be all mine. I legged it back to the Church Hall and paid and I became the proudest owner in the world. Riding high on that bike back home was simply glorious and the most cherished thing I've ever owned even more than the sporty BMW half a century later.. And whats more it was a Raleigh Sit up and Beg Ladies cycle.
But so what… it was my first wheels. We used to meet up at the APH … Aigburth Peoples Hall ground just off Sudley Road and where the elegant and historic Sudley House stands at the top of the field. There were my mates assembled with their bikes, some of them on Triumph Palm Beaches which were common then and of course one lad I didn’t know with a really fancy machine with campagnola and weinmann bits ! We will come onto that later! ….
‘What the bloody ell is that ? ’ said one looking at my beautiful treasure with me sat on the big squidgy saddle and he resting a buttock bone on his ‘brooks’ rock hard racing saddle.
‘Borrowed the old ladys bike, getting a new one soon’ I said. But I knew it had great potential.. It wasn’t so old as it didn't have stirrup rod brakes but cable brakes and had 3 speed Sturmey Archer gears too. So all that’s wrong was the ladies frame. Then one day visiting a mate in Woolton on me bike crossing a bit of open rough ground, there lying covered with litter and crap was a mans bike frame… complete with forks and chainwheel crank.. Great, so hooked it over me shoulder and off I peddled.
Now I've mentioned earlier my little hobbies shed up the garden, with a bench and vice and tools. Perfect for a bicycle gender conversion. I stripped all the parts off the Raleigh ladies bike and fitted them onto the newly hand painted Hercules frame Id found. I bought new straight handlebars, bright red grips and with several grand prix transfers looked just wonderful to a 14 yr old the whole world felt all mine.
At that time there were specialist bike shops everywhere as cycling was extremely popular… We all knew about the dream machines of RJ Quinn and Harry Quinn and Claud Butlers.. But there were ways of getting around spending a fortune to get the machine of dreams.. Throughout Liverpool in those days were many second hand bike shops filled with an alladins cave of spare parts.. You could literally build a bike of your dreams…
Then one day in the bike sheds at school a lad came up to me and said he wanted a more traditional bike like mine and would do a swap his for mine. Not an easy decision being my first bike and so treasured. His was a bit of a mongrel as bikes go, for a start it had huge chrome wheels and dynamo but was obviously once a racing bike as it had a never heard of ‘ Holdsworth’ badge on the front. The drop handlebars were ornately engraved in a pattern I never quite worked out and fitted with very ordinary chrome brakes. Although it had heavy chrome wheels with Sturmey Archer gears it also had all the lugs on the frame made for the levers for derailleur gears and double chainwheel. It also had a small and hardly legible label on the frame just below the saddle, ‘Reynolds 531’ … bloody great…Id heard of that !! The decision was made. From then on regular purchases from second hand shops transformed that bike into a head turner.
Just a quick memory flash reminds me of a shop called Liverpool Cycle Exchange near Renshaw Street on 2 floors with a cellar area recalls an idiot mate of mine who when out of sight spontaneously decides to nick a semi-inflated innertube and stuff it into his pocket…. Yep I know...Impossible!!!
A year on, my bike all re-painted with lots of transfers really looked the part. Fitted now with Italian 10 gear Campagnolo derailleurs with cotterless alloy chainset operated from 2 levers attached to the lugs and centre pull brakes of course was the bees knees of bikes and later leant Holdsworth were great bike makers and rivals of the famous Claude Butler. With its embossed Brooks racing saddle and a handlebar extension piece at least 6 inches long was the all important bit you held onto when standing around in a crowd.. And the alloy wheels with tubs not an inch wide…superb. By now I was 16 and your bike was a major part of your image on a similar level to the winklepickers you were seen out in.
But we rarely did serious cycling.. in fact mostly rode around wearing me winks stuck incongruously into racing toeclips. But occasionally there were serious rides out to N.Wales with memorable gatherings on the ferries where 100’s of lads and some lasses crossed the Mersey off to N.Wales with bobbing bums just like us.
A few years later it was all about motor cars, ‘Morris Minors’ , MG's…Oh and my first car a 1938 Rover 12.