Monday, May 14, 2012

Along for the Ride with the Veteran Cycle Club of Northern Ireland

Over the weekend I rode with the Veteran Cycle Club of Northern Ireland, and am still re-living the experience. To say that there were rare bikes, stunning scenery, and a charming group of riders doesn't do it justice. Put it this way: It was certainly my most memorable group ride to date. The Veteran Cycling Club is a world-wide organisation that promotes riding and conservation of vintage bicycles, and the Northern Ireland section has been around for 3 years under the leadership of Chris Sharp - a vintage bicycle collector who is known worldwide thanks to the jaw-dropping contents of his flickr account.

VCC Northern Ireland Ride
When Chris learned that my stay in Antrim coincided with the date of the club's monthly ride, he honoured me with an invitation and I gladly accepted. I have never done a purely social group ride like this before, and did not know what to expect - other than, of course, a fleet of vintage bicycles that Mr. Sharp and friends are known for.

VCC Northern Ireland Ride
And so, on a fortuitously sunny Saturday morning, I found myself outside a rural community center near the town of Limavady, where 17 riders from all over Northern Ireland gathered with their fine machines.

VCC Northern Ireland Ride
The bicycles did not disappoint, though after some time my head began to spin from exposure to too many rare and never-before-seen bikes at once. I am easily excitable, I need small doses!

Elswick Loop Frame
I was so stunned by it all, that I didn't even manage to get decent shots of some of the most interesting stuff!

All-Original Lapierre Porteur
Highlights included an all-original Lapierre Porteur, which I even had a chance to ride very briefly. It was so strange to see a real French 650B lightweight with original components, having gotten used to contemporary tributes with Velo Orange parts!

All-Original Lapierre Porteur
The owner of this bicycle (also named Chris) is gradually restoring it and trying to locate a couple of original parts - not easy with French threading and 650B.

Gundle Work Bike
There was a fascinating Gundle Work Bike. The manufacturer was apparently the predecessor of Pashley Cycles.

Gundle Work Bike
The huge front carrier on this bike is built into the frame, right into the lugwork. It is meant to house a boxy basket.

Thatched Cottage, Bellarena NI
Keith enjoyed riding this bike very much, despite his racing background and penchant for roadbikes. I believe there was even a sprint finish involved.

Vintage Mystery Bike
Then there was the mystery bike - notice the peculiar frame construction.

Thatched Cottage, Bellarena NI
The frame is unmarked and the owner, Andy, does not know anything about its origin. He built it up beautifully. Any ideas as to what this frame could be? I seem to recall seeing pictures of German or Austrian frames in this style, but can't be sure.

VCC Northern Ireland Ride
Rose rode a stunningly elegant and very tall 1933 Elswick loop frame that Chris had lent her, and she honoured it with an appropriate outfit.

Thatched Cottage, Bellarena NI
And of course there were plenty of vintage Roadsters. This particular one is a Rudge.

Royal Enfield Sport Roadster
The bicycle I rode (also on loan from Chris) was a 1941 Royal Enfield Sport Roadster. I have a lot to say about this bike and will save it for another post. But let me assure you that it is not as innocent as it looks - and don't let the rod brakes fool you either!

Humber with Twin Fork Blades
This seemingly normal-looking Humber is pretty unusual as well if you look closely: It has twin fork blades! Presumably, this was done as an experimental suspension fork, to dampen vibrations from bad roads.

BSA Gear Shifter
There was more, much more - in particular the stunning details and the rarely seen components on the many pre-1940s bikes in attendance. But to list them all would risk turning this into a catalogue.

Elswick Head lamp
And so I suggest visiting Northern Ireland instead and taking part one of these rides yourself, naturally!

VCC Northern Ireland Ride
We set off around noon and pedaled along a route that was both beautiful and suitable for the sorts of bikes we were riding. There were a couple of hills, but vintage roadsters are not as ill-equipped for them as some think. Once we got going, our procession somehow naturally arranged itself into a fairly well-organised double paceline, and we would fall into single file when traffic called for it. Riding in a group like this really helped me become acclimated to the left-handed flow of traffic. As I followed the group on turns, it became more and more intuitive.

Let me tell you though... Riding bicycles on loan from Chris Sharp is not without its consequences. By the end of the day both Rose and I were referring to the bikes we were riding as "my bike." Chris almost began to get nervous, reminding us gently that we would be returning them after the ride. Thankfully, that is the only problem anyone in the group had with their bikes all day. All the bicycles present were impeccably well maintained by their owners!

VCC Northern Ireland Ride
The scenery we passed was out of this world beautiful. With green jagged hills ever present in the distance, we rode along the river Roe and to Lough Foyle - the body of water that separates the western part of Northern Ireland from County Donegal in the Republic of Ireland. 

Thatched Cottage, Bellarena NI
But the truly special thing about this ride was its destination. Around the halfway point of the ride, our group stopped for tea and pancakes in a traditional thatched Irish cottage. This cottage is privately owned, but by some behind-the-schenes magic they opened it up to us.

Cottage Interior
This cottage has remained unchanged through the centuries, which is a rarity nowadays. There was no heat or electricity, and so water was boiled on the open fire. 

Cottage Interior
The fire mesmerised everyone with its glow and for some time we all just sat there, content to be warmed by it. It is amazing how quickly a fire can warm up the interior of a small house. We were all thankful, as the outside temperature was quite brutal.

Cottage Interior
Also as if by magic (my God, I can only imagine how much work went into planning this behind the scenes...), a gorgeous and delicate tea service awaited us inside the cottage.

Cottage Interior
Delicious pancakes with butter were served to the hungry riders. 

Cottage Interior
The supply of both pancakes and hot tea seemed endless. It was not to be believed.

Thatched Cottage, Bellarena NI
With all our bicycles lined up outside the thatched cottage, it was quite a sight and everyone around got a kick out of it. Even in rural parts of Northern Ireland vintage roadsters are a very rare sight nowadays - let alone a fleet of them, outside a thatched cottage.

Thatched Cottage, Bellarena NI
It almost felt as if a festival was underway - which hopefully made it worth it for Michael to come all the way from Belfast to join the ride!

Rose and Andy, VCC NI Ride
On the return route, we stopped by a couple more scenic spots and photographed the heck out of each other and our bikes in the afternoon sunshine. Rose and Andy were particularly picturesque in their period-appropriate garments.

VCC Northern Ireland Ride
I had considered dressing up, but the morning was such a freezing one that my body just said "no" and I wore about 20 layers of wool instead.

Bryan, Gundle Work Bike
Once we were back from the ride, there was a great deal of trying out each other's bikes and discussing bikes, as well as discussing why and how we collect vintage bicycles. At this point, I am pretty sure my conversational skills had deteriorated to an incoherent babble as my eyes darted from headlamp to chaincase to porteur rack, to the beautiful green hills and baby lambs that surrounded us, unable to process it all as real.

VCC Northern Ireland Ride
By the time it was over, I felt drunk on tea, bikes, scenery, thatched cottages, and conversation. This was not a typical club ride, and not a typical club. It was not even a typical collector's society, compared to the others I've encountered. I do not know what to make of it, other than to say that I enjoyed it and would love to take part in more rides like this in future. Maybe it's time to consider a VCC membership? Thank you Chris, Susan, Keith, and everyone else I encountered for making me feel welcome. More pictures from the ride here and also from Chris Sharp over here.

53 comments:

  1. Looks like a total blast, and a memory to last a lifetime.

    Be warned: once you get used to riding on that side of the road, it feels totally wrong to ride on the other side! For some reason, riding on the left just feels better for me. Maybe it's turning my head one way over the other, I don't know. But I wish I could ride on that side over here!

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  2. Way cool! Authentic historical antique bicycles... and all ridden in a landscape that looks like a relic from 100 years ago. (Not a McDonald's sign in sight)

    It's easy to see how you could see how you'd get so excited.

    Thanks for sharing. It's nice to know there are still things like this going on in the world.

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  3. I'm so happy you've enjoyed your visit to the North! On my last stay in Antrim, there was no cycling, sadly. But next time, I will plan around it. I hope I'm fortunate enough to visit when the VCC is due for a meet-up. Thank you for sharing your adventures in this beautiful place.

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  4. You did so, so much better than I did!

    http://mikespokes.blogspot.com/2011/10/finally-three-speed-in-ireland.html

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    1. Thanks for linking to this. Don't know how I missed it! You make very valid points in your post; I will write up my impressions about cycling here soon and will link to your write-up as well.

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  5. Could the mystery bike be a Runwell, Birmingham?

    The Humber fork was not so experimental. They kept on with it at least until the 1954 that I owned. A lot of miles later I can't tell if it worked as suspension or not, and it didn't matter. It was a feature attraction

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  6. What a glorious ride. Thank you for the images! That's my kind of club. I often want to start something like that locally. BTW, I went to a local bike swap this evening. The local bike co-op unloaded a matching his and hers English Raleigh roadsters with complete chain cases. One was a 70s, the other an 80s Rampar version. I believe the chain cases were made in Taiwan. I rode the women's with version [with black rack] to compare it with my 1980 model [with silver rack], acquired earlier this year.

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  7. Could be a Runwell. Weird frames were very much part of the illicit time trialling scene of the early 20th century, the "Black Alpaca" days when no identifying markings on the rider or the frame was advisable. That's how we ended up with the curly Hetchins stays, the Cooke "Jug Handle" Superigid and the Baines Flying Gate; it's the only way you could have a bit of individuality on your bike!

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    1. Funny once you know about the history of those things. Re te Runwell you are probably thinking of this frame. Could be they tried an alternative design, though the owner of the bike is very knowledgeable and my guess is he ruled them out.

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    2. Unorthodox frames from Bates, Baines, Hetchins, Saxon, etc. were attempts to tackle specific challenges of frame design such as suspension (good flex), whip (bad flex), or the relationship between wheelbase and climbing ability. Joe Cooke introduced the jug handle on some Imperial Petrel frames as a way of stiffening the bottom bracket area. All or most of these designs pre-dated the short-lived ban in 1938-39 of marque names visible on amateurs' bikes. Hilary Stone explained it all here:
      http://search.bikelist.org/getmsg.asp?Filename=classicrendezvous.10011.0040.eml

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    3. It looks like a Runwell. Great name, but this example and V's have nothing to do with time trial bikes. These are "light" roadsters, the latter dressed up with Lauterwasser bars like the early 1930s Raleigh Sports.

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  8. The mystery bike is a Runwell, made in England

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  9. I would love to know what's going on with those lamps. Fantastic!

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    1. Those are old carbide gas lights. Some people still use carbide lighting for camping.

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    2. Yes, they used acetylene formed from the reaction with Calcium carbonate and water. used in Mining originally , they're still used by cavers and urban explorers.

      The illicit time trialing scene in the UK in the early to mid 20th cent was due to a ban on cycle racing on public roads. I recall chatting with an Octagenerian (who still raced) who recounted leaving the house dressed head to toe in black silk at 0300 hrs in the morning to go and race, the TT course numbers still used are a throwback from that era. Groups of riders were often sent out to distact the police from the real race, must have been great fun!

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  10. Wonderful accounting of a great day! This is the sort of thing I would love to do.

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  11. You would not believe how distracting these Ireland posts are... I've been thinking and day-dreaming about this stuff all day.

    Spindizzy

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  12. Your trip sounds wonderful, thanks for sharing, and giving us ideas for how vintage cycling clubs can be run.

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  13. Oh, that looks like so much fun! I'm off to follow the links and drool over more pictures of old bikes... :)

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  14. This post has hit the ball out of the proverbial park, to use an old Irish proverb. You gave enough info on your where-abouts for me to Google-street-view the area that you are staying in, and it is wonderful to see it. I'm so happy that you were able to meet up with such a great group of cyclists. Looks like they put on a great meeting.

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    1. I am not staying in the same area where the ride took place, but equally beautiful. The entire coast is just gorgeous here, though some areas are easier to cycle in than others.

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  15. Wow is right! What a great looking bunch on a fabulous day! That's got to be one of the finest and most picturesque rides you've posted. I rank it up there with your accidental century in Vienna last year. I feel like I'm on vacation with you and can only imagine that if this is what their usual monthly ride looks like, then their annual "Tweed Ride" must really be out of this world! Ha!

    I had a Humber Sports 3-Speed in my youth, and rode it everywhere. I miss that bike!

    Ride well and be safe out there!

    OKB

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  16. Wow, that looks like a kind of dream ride with the bikes, the scenery, and the friendly people! How wonderful that you were able to connect with this small group of like-minded folks while in that part of Ireland. The ability of the internet to make connections is amazing.

    Beautiful photographs!

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  17. What a fantastic visit - wow! This is going to leave you with wonderful memories. Sounds like a dream trip - and how unexpected. Those kind of moments are the best.

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  18. Hi, Just some info on a place you recently visited - http://www.irishtimes.com/blogs/best-place/2012/05/14/dun-laoghaire-3/.
    Alan

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    Replies
    1. That is pretty funny. I guess "best place to live" really depends on one's priorities and preferences.

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  19. I don't believe the mystery bike is a Runwell. It's a similar design, possibly a copy of concept, but subtly different. Runwell stuck with their odd frame for a number of years but to my knowledge the design remained the same. Am happy to be proved wrong!
    Here's mine: http://threespeedandsteel.blogspot.co.uk/2012/01/distinctive-bicycles.html

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  20. I don't have a discerning eye for distinctions between old bikes, but the standard black battler, usually a Raleigh with a Brooks sprung saddle and no gears or hub gears was the standard in Ireland up to the sixties and common even much later. It was the preferred bike both of farmers and policemen, and people going to work before they could afford a car. Then along comes the leisure bike, the road racer first, and people who can only afford one bike use the one they bought for fun as their main vehicle as well. So you get people going to work on road bikes with drop bars and with their lunch pack strapped to the bars or a wee knapsack on their backs.
    And, of course, it is the big solid black bike that prevails in India and probably a lot of other countries because it is robust and efficient. In India I have seen men ride them with their wives in sarees sitting side saddle on the carrier behind them. At traffic lights, she hops off, then runs alongside and jumps back on again. My father took three children to school on a bike like that in the fifties yet twenty years earlier he had been racing in Derry on a drop handlebar road bike that looks - in the old photographs - quite modern.

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  21. lovely post (and lovely lovely bikes), sounds an amazing experience - and very inspiring, sorry for all the superlatives, but it really is, it made me think about gathering a few friends, with old bikes and setting off on some touring

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  22. Lovely as always. I'm pretty sure some of the good people of VCCNI are aware of him but just in case here is a link to the Old Bicycle Co. http://www.theoldbicycleshowroom.co.uk/ and the owners facebook group Cycle Jumble https://www.facebook.com/groups/cyclejumble/

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  23. This is truly great. Fantastic bicycles, friendly & lovely people and the gorgeous landscape of Ireland. What more can you wish for?
    Since i discovered your blog i ride my bike way more often. Cycling is so much fun.
    Keep up your inspiring work and enjoy your time.

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  24. Wow, you are so lucky! I would love to ride with them too one day in that fantastic scenery

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    1. Oh yes Max, you would have been right at home on this ride!

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    2. if you are in munich on 26th may by accident you could join our veteran cycle tour too :)

      http://www.veliciousbicycles.com/2012/03/ausfahrt-2012.html

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  25. The VCC has a New England Section, check with Elton Pope-Lance @ Harris Cyclery.

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    1. Oh, I know. I didn't think I was interested in VCC before, but now I am reconsidering!

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  26. Fantastic photos and descriptions. Your tastes are so catholic! Just as I was getting a little bored with posts on modern bikes and brevets and radonneurs and such like things I don't understand (not that there is anything wrong with that - just not my cup of tea) you come up with beautiful black English bikes. The men's in your fourth pic could be a clone of my 61 year old Dawn Tourist that I just finished refurbishing Sunday, except for saddle and mudguard extension. It's cloudy so far this week in Boston, making it feel slightly like Ireland.

    There are enough old English bikes here to get traction for such rides. North Shore would be very pretty as well as Charles River (Dover/So Natick) and around Concord. Thanks so much for this and for link to VCC.

    I'll bet you were pedaling into a fierce wind quite a bit.

    Can you explain how the headlantern functions?

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  27. That carbide headlamp on the Elswick loop frame is a work of art. Thanks for sharing the story of your visit to Bicycle Brigadoon.

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  28. You were lucky with the weather, it turned awful the next day, at least here in Donegal, I assume it was the same in the Roe Valley, These are always great events, sorry I missed it.

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    1. It was pouring all of Sunday across the coast. But you know, rain can provide some dramatic scenery as well. Just got to dress right.

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  29. This place suits you. You look good in that scenery, on those bikes, and in those clothes.

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    1. I was just about to ask what you are wearing. You look like you stepped out of a film scene depicting a 1920s shooting party!

      Jake

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    2. Ha thanks : ) I am wearing regular clothes more or less, except that my trousers are rolled up. Clever Cycles Stealth Pantaloons and Nau Raincoat (links are to my reviews).

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  30. Lovely post, thank you. BTW, at almost the polar opposite of your tour, another two wheeled event, albeit motorized, is occuring this week no far from you at Coleraine - the Northwest 200. I would welcome your take on this event.

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  31. I am so pleased that you like it here, Lovely Bicycle! Looking forward to reading more of your impressions.

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  32. WOW!

    Closest thing I know to this in the US would be the ABCE Tour

    Aaron

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  33. Thanks for sharing this most charming anachronism.

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  34. Velouria, I thought you might get a kick out of this link. It's a club ride in the traditional (i.e., "you don't have to imitate Merxc/Armstrong etc") sense - pretty much what you wrote about here:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WGYngjxJP1I&feature=youtu.be

    And I found out about it from this thread on Bikeforums:

    http://www.bikeforums.net/showthread.php/775832-Anyone-made-their-own-3-speed-quot-Clubman-quot-type-road-bike

    As you can see, there's an interest in this kind of riding and this kind of bike! Perhaps you could test some of the other modern takes on the Clubman? The Pashley review was fascinating. I'd love to hear your opinion (or The Co-Habitant"s) of the Linus Gaston, Cooper Reims, Traitor Luggernaut or some such bike. Note: I saw a rider with a Gaston 5 a few minutes ago. After speaking with him, I got major bike envy.

    Well, you DID say that one shouldn't try to do it all with one bike...

    Rudy

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  35. Thank you for the inspiration on my next trip to Ireland. I adore the original, Lapierre Porteur.

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  36. Wonderful photography, and gorgious bike!

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