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Steel is Cool though many will not understand this obsession with bicycles

Sat in my hallway is a nice (old) Gazelle Reynolds framed road-bike. Elsewhere there is an even older Dawes Super-Galaxy, again Renyolds framed, this one with a Brooks saddle. There is also an old-school Diamondback BMX.

I like bikes, I like them a lot, preferably steel, or titanium, and they don’t need to be too new either. For me a simple bike is a thing of beauty that combines engineering, design and minimalism.

Cinelli Track Bike

Cinelli Track Bike

As a teacher I used to do a design lesson where I showed pupils pictures of things I liked the design of; Guzzis, Porsches, Minis, Trangia cookers… The common link was design. I knew I was getting through when a Year 9 girl saw the Cinelli track bike (shown) and said “that’s dead sexy that is”. She meant it, she was correct too.

I love going to London in part because of the cycling scene there. Twenty (plus) years ago, as a student, I was a cycle courier, I guess it was a relatively new thing then. At the time I rode a mix of bikes: Rory O’Brien, Holdsworth, Ellis-Briggs and latterly an early Ridgeback. Sadly in the first week I crashed the Ellis Briggs, I rode into the back of a Ford Granada stopped outside Kings Cross station. I ended up lying on the guy’s boot and can still remember the look of surprise as he looked in his rear view mirror, fortunately he had checked before diving away with me there. The frame needed re-building and I had the pleasure of using Tom Board who was at the time making Paris cycles, this honour made the accident almost worthwhile.


The London scene is vibrant and organic. Recently we have sat outside pubs in Islington and watched as cycle polo teams have returned en-masse riding a selection of unique machines. On one occasion I was almost tempted to pull the classic Bob Jackson from the pile to protect it from damage. There is a range of styles and approaches but, once again, steel is king, whether it is an original or a fixie, and, if it is adorned by leather and a bit of canvas then so much the better.

Sometimes it is difficult to tell the recreations from the re-builds not that this is an issue. There are a number of boutique dealers such as Tokyo Fixed in Soho where you are likely to find all manner of classic machinery.

Colnago Mexico

For some this obsession is extended organised and published on the Internet for others to share and enjoy, none more than Ray Dobbin’s site. Ray has a collection of classics that he photographs in his garage..

Colnago Mexico Fork Crown

Colnago Mexico Fork Crown

Tokyo Fixed had a Colnago Mexico hanging up in the shop (amongst other classics) but Ray has done an extensive and excellent job of recording the full details of this and others in his collection.Colnago Mexico

God Is In The Detail

Ultimately the appeal of a cycle is that it is a supremely efficient simple machine. Fundamentally it is a set of strong traingles that allow energy to be transferred efficiently. The appeal of steel is that it is a comfortable ride as well as a strong material.

That is not to say that there isn’t scope for personal expression within this minimal engineering, no more so than the lug-work. Personalising lugs started as a way to ‘brand’ competitive cycles that weren’t allowed to carry logos and frame stickers. Beyond that though there is a huge amount of craft detail frequently hidden. I realise that for a closet minimalist this all sits slightly awkwardly but…

Recently I saw fine example of this craft in Topsham, in the form of a Robin Mather

Robin Mather Fork Crown

Robin Mather Fork Crown

Always an awkward moment when one stops to admire such work and finds that far from a quick glance the appreciation needs an extended period of time, stood, in a crowded street, looking at a locked up bike, while the owner sits in a pub opposite, looking at the man looking at his bike.

So, I am happy to acknowledge that many will not understand this obsession. However I am happy in the knowledge, clearly demonstrated from a day in London, that I am not alone.

I have a mountain bike, I built it around a frame found in a skip, I use it sometimes. I have a PC in the house, I use it to test websites on the troublesome IE6. I once read an article by psychologist Hugh Miller from NTU suggesting that PC users are more likely to find mountain bikes appealing whereas mac users favour simple road bikes.

This all makes perfect sense to me.

Less is More

Less is More

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